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Zonker's LEGO(*) Freight Container Car

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page updated 3.18.2002 - dkzh

This page is dedicated to the documentation of one particular piece of my rolling stock; my Freight Container Cars. Basically, it is a series of flat cars, which share a common set of wheels between flat car beds. In my case, the car bodies have been built to carry the boxy Freight Containers from the 4549 Road 'N Rail Hauler.

My models have inspired a couple folks to create their own versions, and two of them have created sets for sale. If you are interested, you should check out Steve Chapple's and Devin Holmes' model pages. You can also view Steve Chapple's Steve Chapple's Freight Model Page. If there are other models that should be listed here, please let me know, and I'll add a link.

The first version I built had three body sections, which means there were two sets of "end trucks" (two axles, buffer and coupler), and two more "middle trucks" (two axles, and two 2x2 swivel plates). You would have an "end", a body, a "middle", a body, a "middle", a body, and an "end". I later extended this version to have 6 beds, in preparation for an appearance at the SuperTrain 2001 show in Calgary, Canada.

In most of the photos here, the car does not have the hinged side walls along the length of the car bodies which were in my original sketches. But you can put some 1x2 tiles in the right spots on the body parts, and this will help keep your containers on the cars. In the original design, there was a 1-stud gap between the ends of the freight container loads and the end wall of the bed. It turns out that the 1x2 tiles don't do much to hold the containers on the bed, and double-stacked loads could toss the upper load, if not both levels around curves at high speed.

I hadn't taken the time to try to redesign these cars before the SuperTrain show. While my trains were in Canada, Steve Chapple became inspired to come up with another design. (Steve's new design used a few ideas that I'd written down, but hadn't tried, as well as trying a couple ideas of his own.) This stirred my interest in variations on the Intermodal Freight theme, so I bought a couple good books, some decals, and I made some time to try putting my new ideas into ABS form. This resulted in the phase 2 design, and then my reading/web homework encouraged more changes in the Phase 3 photos.

My favorite reference book for intermodal freight is Intermodal Modeler's Guide - Volume 2 (Randy Lee, Highland Station Inc., ISBN 0-9655365-2-1), which seems to be a favorite of the NMRA. (If you're an NMRA member, you may be able to get this at a discount through NMRA.) This book shows a few types of 'well car' trains, and it shows many pictures of prototype (i.e. 'real') containers, trailers, and flatcars, as well as detailing how to modify certain HO- and N-scale model kits with various details. The accompanying text was also very informative. I bought mine at The Train Shop, in Santa Clara, California.

Photos of my Freight Container Car
    Images 1-7 were taken with a Kodak DC-40 digital camera.
    Images 8-18 are from photo prints, using a STORM Technologies photo scanner.
    All other images were taken with a Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 digital camera.

Phase 1 - the original incarnation into LEGO bricks...

What I sent to SuperTrain 2001 in Calgary
    (Images captured with Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 camera)

The gallery below shows some of the different freight loads I've built, and also shows the trains that I packed for the display in Canada.

The images below are links to the larger versions of each image, so click on any image to get a better look.


The flag-freight, shown above (top row, fourth from the left), is taking on a life of it's own, as I have found nearly two dozen flags I can represent with simple LEGO colors and construction. I'm planning to show the Flag Train at the GATS show in August 2002, in Daly City, Calif.

Suggestions I learned about shipping your LEGO stuff to other folks, if you expect to get them back;

I didn't have any trouble getting my stuff back, but I learned the tip about bagging things after the show, because someone else's models crumbled, and parts mixed, and the folks borrowing the models weren't sure how to put Humpty-Dumpty together again, in time for the show. Having a few pictures on the web makes it easy to send an email telling someone "in the photo, I'm referring to the green container in the second row"...

Here's how I packed all of the flat cars for shipping, with the wheelsets beside them, and the freight is packed on the car bodies, and around the beds.

Phase 2 - incorporating my planned modifications.
    (Images captured with Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 camera)

After the SuperTrain 2000 show in Calgary, and discussing the things I had been planning to change on the next revision, I decided to try building some of the ideas, and see what would actually work. The changes included trying other color schemes, removing the spare studs on either end of the bed, and lowering the floor of the bed, so that the side walls could help hold the lower container, which worked really well! The newer version and older version are shown side by side for ease of comparison.

The images below are links to the larger versions of each image, so click on any image to get a better look.



Phase 3 - changes made after reading up on the topic.
    (Images captured with Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 camera)

This set of changes was made after doing more reading on the topic of Intermodal Trains, and sitting 'track side' to see the different styles of 'well cars'. The first couple images were deliberately built using different, distinctive colors, in case anyone wanted to see how I built these structures. The next photos show the same structures, built with red parts.

The images below are links to the larger versions of each image, so click on any image to get a better look.


The links below are for the same images, and are only here to help folks who don't let images auto-load.


Phase 4 - trying to solve the balance problem on the 'end' trucks.
    (Images captured with Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 camera)

When all of the height rests on a balance point closer to the car body, the coupler-end of the truck wants to rise up, making derailments more likely, especially when there is no other car coupled to that end. (There is sufficient weight on the 'middle' trucks to keep this from being a problem in the middle.)

I wanted to experiment with using a balance point closer to the middle of the truck, putting the weight in between the two axles somehow. This would also be a precursor to making both beds use the same peg-mount on the mid-body trucks, to be more like the real thing. There are a couple modifications to the top of the trucks, using tiles and technic pegs instead of bogie plates. (Ideally, the beds could all be the same, rather than having 'end' and 'mid' car beds.)

The images below are links to the larger versions of each image, so click on any image to get a better look.


I've been collecting parts for the next variations, even though my building area has been packed up while we rearrange the house. I should be back to building in January, and I hope to have the next phase ready to show at BricksWest 2002 in Carlsbad in February!

These pages are NOT sponsored or endorsed by the LEGO companies.
They are the creation of an enthusiast of LEGO bricks.
The official LEGO home page is
(The LEGO companies have their own pages. This page is mine. :-)

Copyright 1996-2001, David K. Z. Harris, N6UOW
Questions? Comments? Additions? Email frenezulo at

Developed on a PowerBook DUO 230!
Web Page Creation: CLARIS Home Page 2.0
Photo Scanning: STORM Technologies EasyPhoto
Photo Thumbnails: Canon PowerShot Pro A-70 camera