Car floats and tugboats


I've been doing alot of reading and research on carflaots and tugboats. Along the way I found the Sylvan Models produces both a car float and a tugboat in N-Scale. They aren't exactly cheap nor are they exactly what I have been looking for but as they say beggars can't be choosy. Or can they?

The Sylvan tug has possibilities but the carfloat is too small for what I have in mind. If you've been following my posting, you'll remembet that I am going to model the operations of the New York Connecting Railroad as far as car float operations are concerned. The tracks owned by the NYCR didn't extend to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn where the car float operations were. Those tracks belonged to the Long Island Railroad. Until 1985 the LIRR belonged to the Pennsylvania Railroad and it's successors and since the Pennsy was one of two owners of the NYCR (the other was the New Haven) operations on LIRR tracks were obviously not a problem.

Conrail did want to have anything to do with car float operations and they redirected the trains that once went to Greenville, NJ for car float transportation to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Selkirk Yard which is south of Albany, NY. In effect, what Conrail did was to remove 95% of the traffic that flowed thru Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to other places. My assumption is that didn't happen nor did the sale of Conrail to NS and CSX, So what I have is still a viable operation though not at the same volume (the line once handled 1,000 cars a day). So what I do I need from car fdloat operations? Here's what I have come up with so far.

I Googled the Bay Ridge yard to see whats there. Currently there are two new and unused aprons in place of the original 4. Historically the Bay Ridge car float operations were based on 4 aprons which operated virtually 24 hours a day at peak periods. These car floats could carry 19 40 foot cars each on 3 tracks (7 - 5 - 7) and seem to have been brouht over two at a time. So you had two aprons receiving cars from Greenville and two loading cars cars bound for Greenville. I am not going to try to have such an operation because I think it would be too much for one individual to handle. So what I plan to do is to have two aprons with each handling two car floats simultaneously (one tugboat load). The person assigned to handle the car float operation will then have to get these cars into the yard for sorting and block int a train bound up the line.

After unloading the carfloat, that same individual will have to load another 15 cars onto each car float for transportation of the line and into staging. When loaded, the car floats will be removed form the aprons and put into a storage rack and another taken two loaded car floats take from those storage racks and attached to aprons and the cycle will reapeat. Meanwhile the cars taken off the first set of car floats will be sorted and blocked into trains that will depart for the specific points up the line. I haven't toatlly worked out the scheme and ther are probably things I haven't considered but I'll need to have the tracks down and the car floats built and made ready for use.

So what are my car floats going to look like? To answer honestly, they will not be 100% realistic sice there are only two real ones left. One is 290 feet in length and the other is 360 feet in length. Mine will probably be somewhere in between. They'll still have three tracks and they'll have to be loaded with locomotives equipped with idler flats just on the real carfloats. However I have concluded that to create fwere design and operation problems, each apron will operate 3 tracks with the center track being joined to one on the right before entereing the yard. This way I don't have to deal with special trackwork either on the car float or the apron. It isn't prototypical but I think I can live with this after all it's my railroad.

So what will that actual car float itself consist of? Well my thinking is take a 1/2 inch basswood plank and cut it to size and bevel the front end. I'll then put Code 80 N-Scale track on it and cover that with either thin plastic card or balsa wood or some combination of the two so that it looks like the track is installed directly on the car float's deck. It may not be elegant but I think it'll be workable. I don't know how long or how wide the plank will be yet because I have to work that out.

I still need to figure out how long an interval I need to allow between the departure of car floats and the next ones arrival will be. That'll be determined by how long it takes to sort out the arriving cars and get them on the appropriate yard tracks. I am thinking that 15-20 minutes should suffice but I'll try it with 1/2 hour of actual time do as not to put too much pressure on the operator of that section of the layout.

So, reader, what are your thoughts?

I think it's a neat concept! 

I think it's a neat concept!  I had been flirting with that idea [carfloat as staging yard] for my own layout early in the design process, but determined there was no way for me to fit it in beside my ore dock and have it look plausible.

At any rate, making your own floats should be relatively easy, considering their simple hull shape.  Keep us posted with pics as soon as you make the first one!


Ken Larsen

car floats, aprons and tugboats

I am going to have to make the aprons at the same time as the car floats or they won't fit together nicely. I can't do it right now but I should have some plans at least by teh end of October.


tetters's picture

If I may.

I found a resin kit dealer who makes a railroad tug if you are interested.  It even comes in N-scale.  Price seems pretty reasonable to me for the N-scale kit.  I bought the HO one for myself.  I have not put it together yet so I cannot speak for the quality of the kit.  Although the website also sells mold release cleaner for the resin kits and has some good advice on assembly, painting and cleaning.  Check them out if you are interested.    

 Shane T.


Car floats and tugboats

Dear feldman 718:

If you want to be more exact about your carfloats, there is a wealth of information in "the Transfer," magazine of the Rail Marine Special Interest Group of the NMRA. They sell individual copies, or photocopies of the issues out of print and they include some plans for carfloats so you can simulate at least a few different prototypes. I just looked at their index online for another project earlier this evening.

 Unfortunately, the Walthers carfloat model in HO Scale has not been identified as to its specfici protoype, but it has the details of a typical New York Harbor float. A good look at (at least the photos) of the model will give a good idea where the various docking hardware, tracks and other appliances go. Tom Flagg's two volumes "New York Harbor Railroads" (probably still in print) from Morning Sun are full of good photos that would be of help to model a specific craft and are the best source for a lot of photos of this type of operation. Personally, I think that if your layout looks like Brooklyn and your tug is painted in the colors of the boats using those floatbridges that few would be able to fault the fact that a Sylvan tug and float were not correct for models of craft in service at Bay Ridge.

 I fully understand that you might want to have something to which you can hold the calipers to. However, for a fully organized service, the variety of things that floated around the harbor were amazing to me. There were many different lengths of carfloats, some moored singly to a tug, or in other cases the tug might have a float on each side. This evening I even saw an online photo of  a PRR boat with three covered (lighter)barges with one on one side and two on the other- After growing up in the harbor district since the 1950s, this was a new one to me. Floating grain elevators which looked more like the Tower of Babel floating across the Hudson was another surprise.  I even remember seeing tugs towing strings of assorted barges behind them. (not carfloats, but just about everything else you can think of. 

As for the Sylvan tug, before the diesels, no two fleets were the same even within a given company. New York Central seemed to have several varieties of tugs in quantity, for example. And when you add the low bridge variations with short stacks and low pilot houses (CNJ and LV had them--I am pretty sure Erie did too, and probably the other roads serving the Bronx) to get under the bridges on the Harlem River, again there was such a variety that I think the Sylvan tug might fit in unmodified. And there were occasions over the years that leased tugs from the commercial towing companies were used to haul carfloats. (New Haven was one that did this, I think in the '60s)

If you can tolerate the hull shape of the Sylvan model tug, probably the most difficult part to make yourself you might start with their kit,  build up the cabin from wood or styrene, the stack from a stick, tube or other common item. The pilot house could start with a block of wood up to the floor of the cabin: Wrap this with thin styrene and fit it to a roof of styrene or basswood as you prefer. Paint the model and add thin flexible clear plastic for the cabin windows, and add the roof. The Sylvan model probably has most of the small details you would need such as the deck hardware.

 For tugboat plans, check the spring and summer 1983  articles in Railroad Model Craftsman which had a couple of very good plans for an LV postwar diesel tug. Other plans are around too.  I hope this is of help. Best wishes.- la.484.sp

Car Floats and Tugboats

Thanks for your advice. It is much appreciated.

I know about "The Transfer" and the Rail Marine Special Interest Group of the NMRA. I've visited their site from time to time as well.

I have the Flagg books and refer to them often. They sure bring back memories of seeing car floats on the East River of NYC in the mid to late 1950s when I was 7 or 8. Those things have fascinated me ever since.

The Walther's car float doesn't interest me since I model in N scale. I do know that scales pretty close to th real 290 foot x 41 foot car float that is operated today by the New York Cross Harbor (or whatever its name is this week). If Wlathers came out with an N scale version it would be great and would save me a great deal of work trying to make 4 of them myself from planks of basswood.

As for tugboats, well after everything is said and done, I'll probably get a couple of the Sylvan tugs to use with my scratch-built car floats. I've still got a lot of work to do and some more reasearch to complete before tackling these things but lots of things are on hold for the moment. Winning the lotery sure wouldn't hurt at this point.


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