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Building the FR Unit Train Coalporter Gondola

Built by Bethlehem Steel's Johnstown American Corporation, 48' Unit Train Coalporter gondolas can be seen on railroads across the country, with more than 10,000 cars in service. Coalporters represent the latest in coal gondola technology, with all-aluminum construction (it weighs under 43,000 pounds) and a unique trough-style bottom for added carrying capacity (up to a 244,000 pound payload). Because there are no discharge chutes on the bottom of the car, these cars are unloaded strictly by rotary dump.

Like the FR Gunderson Husky-Stack Car, FR coalporters are made from photo-etched nickel-silver, and are a great match for the American Z Lines' C44-9W. It's available fully built and detailed by Harald himself, or in kit form.

The following instructions are from my experience building my FR Coalporter kit.

In this article:

See also:

Feel free to write me if you have any additions or corrections to this page. I'm afraid I don't have any photos yet, but will be adding some soon.

Before You Begin

Here are a few general getting-started tips for building photo-etched nickel-silver, stainless-steel, and brass kits:


  1. Cut all etched parts and smooth the edges with a fine file or rotary tool. The exception is the step board (the small rectangular piece next to the brake wheel): the sprues act as supports, and should be left intact to aid in assembly.

  2. Start by bending the bottom plate to shape, so that it follows the contours of the side walls. Make sure the four fold lines are on top, and the two wide grooves are on the bottom of the car. The two inner folds should be bent 90 degrees upward, and the two outer folds should be bent about 75 degrees downward.

  3. Line up the index lines on the bottom plate with index lines on the side walls, and solder into place. Use a supporting tool (such as the rectangular FR model Teflon tool) to ensure a 90-degree joint. The easiest way to get a clean joint is to heat the outsides of the side walls with the soldering iron or torch, and apply the solder to the inside of the car. Start with the floor, and then solder the bent-up parts of the bottom plate, keeping the plate aligned with the contours of the side walls.

  4. Eyeball the side walls and make sure they're even; resolder if necessary. Line up the top edges of the end pieces with the tops of the side walls, and solder the ends into place.

  5. Remove the screws from the two bolster pins, insert the pins into the round holes in the bottom plate, and glue or solder into place. The pins must be pointing 90 degrees from horizontal, or the car will be crooked, and may leap off the track and kill some little plastic spectators.

  6. Cut two 4 cm (1-9/16") lengths of the C' bar. Use a rotary tool or file to trim the pieces so that they fit comfortably in the two grooves in the bottom of the car (forming the troughs), making sure to smooth and square the edges. Glue into place.

  7. Bend the two square pieces to form a U' shape, and insert them into the slots in bottom plate, next to the bolster pins. They should be inserted from above so that they point downward. Glue into place.

  8. One of the end pieces has markings for the brake wheel and platform; glue the wheel over the little dot, and attach the brake platform by inserting the left-over sprues into the tiny holes beneath the wheel.

  9. After the glue has hardened and your soldering iron burns have healed, install the trucks (Micro-Trains #956 Roller Bearing trucks with couplers), and perform a test run. If the hopper runs well, remove the trucks, and prepare for painting. Start by cleaning the hopper with alcohol, and then coating the entire model with a metal surface primer paint.

  10. Paint the model as desired; see the enclosed reference diagrams and photos for colors and decal positions.

  11. The dry-transfer "rub on" decals are applied by holding the sheet against the model, and gently rubbing (one or two passes ought to do it) with a smooth, blunt instrument until they adhere to the hopper body. For best results, use the large stripe as a guide (but don't apply the stripe yet) and hold the sheet in place with masking tape. To help position the small lettering between the ribs, try cutting a window in the sheet under the CSX logo, as shown in the photo. To apply the stripe, trim the unnecessary portion of the decal sheet, and re-attach the masking tape, taking care not to disturb the other decals. Lastly, put a piece of paper over the lettering and rub again to fasten the letters, digits and the yellow stripe. Any residual decal adhesive can be carefully removed with lighter patrol and a soft brush.

  12. Spray a coat of semi-gloss transparent coating to protect the paint and decals.

  13. Insert the coal load (it should rest on the bottom plate supports), and glue if desired. Screw on the trucks and you're ready to roll!

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