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Model Railroading > Walthers Car Float question

Date: 02/13/20 12:39
Walthers Car Float question
Author: cn1063

Hello all,

I’m currently building an HO Scale Walthers Carfloat Kit, I was wondering if anyone out there has built this kit using code 83 rail instead of the plastic rail that comes with the kit. I would like to be able to run locomotives and an RDC on the barge.

Date: 02/13/20 13:18
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: pilotblue


I have built this kit. First you will find that the deck sections are a little to long to fit the hull. No sweat, just trim the ends a bit and test fit them AFTER you have built the hull. Trimming off the molded rail will be a bit of work but worth it. I would use ca+ glue along with a track gauge when installing the metal rail. Use a code of rail that roughly matches the height of the molded on rail.

It was rare that a locomotive would be placed on a carfloat but it did happen on occasion, mostly in remote areas. When that did occur, it was usually the only item placed onboard, and then it would be on centerline, midship. I don't recall any RDC's being transported that way but maybe another TO member can help with that. You never know, someone may be able to point you to a photo. There's a prototype for everything. It doesn't matter, do what you want on your layout, have fun and post some photos of the completed project.

Date: 02/13/20 13:38
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: gnguy

You may want to work your car float in a more prototypical manner to increase the time and enjoyment.
Use dedicated idler cars (flats or gons) to pull cars and not put the loco on the float or on the apron (enforce this by not powering the tracks on the float or apron)
Load and unload the float evenly so it won't capsize.

When I first worked a float I had the cars off in about 2 minutes in two pulls with the loco going on the apron and the float.
The layout owner educated me and the next time it took about 20 minutes to do it 'right' and it was a lot more fun. (thanks Bob Osborne)

Mike Stewart
Oakley, CA

Date: 02/13/20 13:41
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: penncentral74

I seem to remember a TRAINS article called 'The train that took a ferry to work' or something like that.  It was the CP on the Ketchikan peninsula or somewhere.  It was standard operating procedure to take the locomotive to the island and return it on the ferry.

As long as the load remains balanced an engine can be hauled as easily as cars.

You are correct in that most ferry loading/unloading was done using flat cars as 'reachers' or 'handles' to keep the weight of the locomotive off the apron and barge.

Date: 02/13/20 13:45
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: Bob3985

We use idler flats on our layout car floats.

Bob Krieger
Cheyenne, WY

Date: 02/13/20 14:06
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: NormSchultze

I 'd really like to see pix of the car float operation.  Video would be even nicer. I've never seen an operation car float in model railroading.

Date: 02/13/20 14:09
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: cn1063

Thank you to all for the replies, for those curious, RDCs made the trip from Vancouver to Vancouver Island by barge, not a regular occurrence, but a neat part to model

Date: 02/13/20 14:19
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: kbs651


in Southern British Columbia CP Rail ran barges very well into the 1980s. Often the locos were ferried across the lakes together with their train, as it seems especially towards the end. I never read of any RDCs ferried, which does not mean much. A very reasonable photographic overview would be Railways of the West, Kootenay Part 1, ISBN 0-9690813-8-3. The book should still be available.



Date: 02/13/20 15:02
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: TCnR

The Walthers Car float is based on operations around New York City in the 40's and 50's or so, there's also a few similar kits on the boat model builders side of the hobby (can't find the links right now).

Here's a general purpose Wiki about the concept though:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_float

Here's some Google Images on the CP car float:

During that era there were also car floats on the Great Lakes, the SF Bay Area, Seattle and all around Vancouver / Victoria BC. The Milwaukee car floats and the CP Lake car float are possibly  the most interesting and are occasionally modelled. There is an operation from Seattle to Alaska still in operation but it doesn't look anything like the Walthers Kit. All these locations occasionally show up on the TO Nostalgia and History page, you might try doing a search on there.

Here's a site on Milwaukee on Puget Sound around Seattle, interesting stuff:

Huge amount of info in this site but tough to search:


Date: 02/13/20 16:17
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: sixaxlecentury

The old "Locomotives can’t ride floats" is a magazine lie that just won’t go away.   In fact, it was done almost daily in NYC. I have seen 6 GP38-2s riding a float.  The same with reach cars, more often than not, they were not used.  

Now, there is a few things at play here, one being geography, and the other being type of equipment at play.  

In NYC, Carfloats are wide, flat bottom barges.   They are pretty darn stable from the get-go.   Compare this with Great Lakes Carferrys, which are large ships, lots more weight being thrown around a small frame.    They big, big key to this, is balance.   Keep things even for the most part.    The third thing is transfer bridge construction.  Some are very light duty, and cannot handle the weight and buff forces of locomotives, compared to the ones in say NYC, which were designed for exactly that, However, this goes out the window starting in the 1950s, when the cars got heavier then the engines.  

The other thing I won’t dismiss is railroad rules.  Every railroad had specific rules concerning the use of idler cars.   As I said before, some used them, some did not.   

I have many friends that have worked for rail-marine operations that have backed this up.  A few years ago, me and a friend put together this diagram to help my own operators with loading and unloading.   The biggest thing I would see is guys would cherry pick cars.  One here...two there...No.   It’s a continuous flow, and to unload a fully loaded 320' float, is only a 15-minute process in real time.   They can turn a float - bridge, unload, load, leave, in about 35 minutes. 

If I recall correctly, the Walthers float will take Micro Engineering Code 83 with no issue.  I have just used contact cement to put it down.  (Walthers Goo, Barge Cement, Weldwood)

Check this page out, as it explains more in detail a bunch of the above topics, especially pertaining to traditional, NYC carfloat operations, which the Walthers carfloat is.   There is also links to videos of NYNJ Rail loading and unloading floats.  

Date: 02/13/20 18:18
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: RuleG

In 1997, Walthers published the book Railroading Along the Waterfront.  It samples railroad/waterfront operations, including many car floats along the Gulf Coast, East and West Coasts and Great Lakes.  Canadian operations are included, too.  It's a great overview.

The book is out of print, but Rons Books has a copy and it can be found on other Internet-based book sellers.

Date: 02/13/20 19:24
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: NGotwalt

I remember photos of a car float with a CP Jubilee on the float in one of the magazines.


Posted from iPhone

Date: 02/13/20 20:08
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: railstiesballast

When I rode the VIA RDCs on Vancouver Island in 1983, the engineer told me that earlier that summer the Prime Minister rode the line and that to provide a kitchen and dining opportunity they had ferried over the BC Ry. RDC.  
On prototype barges, the "rails" may not be railroad rails.  The codes for computing hull strength don't have ratings for rails, but they do have ratings for rectangular steel bars.  Therefor if they install steel bars (e.g. 2"x6") it become a part of the hull frame, and the RR wheels roll along it as if it were a rail.

Date: 02/13/20 20:28
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: sixaxlecentury

Every railroad barge I have been on, or have seen blueprints of is 100lb rail, that sits on rail chairs and then clips welded to hold it.   On the OLD stuff the clips were bolted.  

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/13/20 20:32 by sixaxlecentury.

Date: 02/14/20 09:44
Re: Walthers Car Float question
Author: navarch2

You pull the port and starboard trancks first, leaving the centerline track to provide a bit ot counter-heeling moment to the barge. 

Back when NAFTA was all the rage, I designed a 700 foot, two deck ocean railcar barge whose job it would be to run railcars from Tampa to the Yucatan. It had a 105 foot beam but was a pushed AT/B barge and as such she had a relatively fine shape. Here unloading sequence was the same as sixaxlecentrury showed above...you started at the first tracks outboard of the centerline one (we had 7 tracks across, total)  on the main deck (reducing her center of gravity and helping to minimize heel and trim)  followed by the outermost tracks, then the next one outboard of centerline, then the next furthest outboard, etc...etc....You emptied the main deck first, then used the single track elevator to start emptyiing the hold tracks... You had a 250 ton capacity, 200 foot long, elevator that was on centerline - it ran from the main deck down into the hold.  The main deck had cleaqrances for enclosed autoracks...the hold for 89 foot high cube boxcars.   A battery-electric  trackmobile worked below deck to spot cars on the elevator two at a time. Trusting recall, you could get all 120 cars, and all 80 trailers on the top deck,  off the barge and fully reload in 12 hours.

It was a 17 knot unit.....


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