August 2017 – Forty Sugar Cane Wagons

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August 2017 – Forty Sugar Cane Wagons

By Martin Haywood

A couple of months ago, with a 16mm sugar cane event looming in June 2017, it became apparent rolling stock was required. Precious little is available in kit form or ready-to-run, and drawings or any technical data of prototypes are thin on the ground.

Researching into the wonderful CaneSIG website run by Lynn Zelmer, some field drawings are kindly made available. A wagon type used at Moreton Mill, Queensland, Australia was deemed suitable to build and, once the drawings were converted to 16mm, materials were obtained.

A photo of the prototype cane wagons at Moreton Mill in 1941. (Copyrighted image from the Robinson/Loveday Collection, used with permission.)

The materials

Wooden toffee apple sticks, wooden coffee stirrers, lollipop sticks, Roy Wood Models steel wheelsets, Tri-ang Big Big Train plastic wheelsets, Cambrian Models axle boxes, jewellery chain, and superglue.

The wagons were split into two batches: 19 with steel wheelsets and 21 with plastic wheelsets. This helped to break up the tedium of building en masse and reduce overall costs.

Having calculated the prototype coupling height and my own insistence on using Tri-ang Big Big tipper wagon wheelsets, axleboxes proved to be a sticking point. With such a large number required, I decided to buy some in. Fortunately Cambrian Models were able to quickly design a Hudson ‘Faro’ type to a bespoke size and 3D print all 40 wagons’ worth within a couple of weeks.

Cambrian Models Hudson ‘Faro’ type axleboxes.


Having cut and marked all of the parts, the axleboxes were first glued to the toffee apple stick side frames, the wheelsets inserted and the end frames glued onto the side frames. This has to be done in one swift manoeuvre, aided by markings on the frames for centre (allowing enough room for free running and lateral play), whilst checking for square on all planes of the model with particular attention to all 4 wheels. A flat work surface is helpful here, working with the wagon upside down. This is all very difficult on the first wagon and requires a level of dexterity to hold several parts simultaneously, but a routine is quickly established.

The stanchions (toffee apple sticks again) add vital extra contact points between the side and end frames. Without the stanchions it is more likely the frames could be pulled apart by the drag created in a long rake of wagons.

Four coffee stirrers act as the planking, with a lollipop stick as the larger central runner.

The underside of a wagon with visible construction guide marks. Lens distortion from the camera is making the wagon look skewed. It’s all square, honest.

The buffers are two toffee sticks glued together, sanded to shape and glued to the end frame. A few wagons sport prototypical hook couplings under the buffer, but these are non-functional. Each buffer is fitted with a familiar top hook and chain coupling.

The wagons were then finished in two coats of satin varnish, crudely blobbed on when my tolerance for the tedium bottomed out. Here are some wagons in-between coats.

Finishing touches

The winches were constructed from two ends of coffee stirrers and a short section of a wooden skewer. The jewellery chain was attached at the non-winch end with an eye pin and pulled tight to wrap around the winch, supergluing in place. Each wagon received a running number and white frame ends, painted on using white paint on a cocktail stick and a correction fluid pen. The first batch of wagons received some bolt head detailing.

Finished wagon.

The final results

All running tests were successful with the steel wheeled wagons running exceptionally smoothly. Despite their incredibly light weight they are safe in numbers and proved themselves at the sugar cane event. They are not perfectly prototypical however, and nit-picking will reveal missing X bracing, missing steel underframe bracing, and other marginal errors. I feel this hasn’t detracted from the overall result and they are easily identifiable as cane wagons.

Since the event, the wagons are now gradually gaining sugar cane loads in the form of coconut fibre normally used for pet bird nesting and dolls house thatched roofs.

A video of the wagons in action at the 2017 sugar cane event can be viewed below:

The first sugar cane harvest.

The forty cane wagons ready for work.

2017-07-29T22:33:41+00:00August 1st, 2017|Model of the Month|6 Comments


  1. Jamie Hart August 15th, 2017 at 8:58 am

    What a great video. You have really managed to catch the quirky atmosphere of the sugar cane railways so well. Great photography and locos moving at scale speeds, ie slowly! Many thanks.
    Jamie Hart

  2. Nicolas BEAL August 18th, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Wahoo very nice video , now you have to dismantle a lot of coco brooms to make your cane loads for the 40 wagons.I think it will be an unbelievable
    cane train going to the sugar mill. Would you please say me what has been used for cane load for the metal trucks, it seems bigger, but the trucks
    are not the same scale (7/8th) as yours (16mm).


    • Wllr Martin August 28th, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      I don’t know the load for the metal trucks. Possibly willow or some sort of bamboo? Thank you, Wllr Martin

  3. Chris Webster August 22nd, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    You have greater patience than me as my rake of very similar wagons (To go behind my Moreton Mill “Coolum”) got as far as 18 in number before I lost the will to live in terms of building things in batches! Mind you, I did succumb to the rivet counter in me in putting all the steel brackets and nut/bolt detail on them as well.

    Having just returned from a 4th trip to Java to visit the cane lines out there, I really must get on with building a rake of those as well. (I have one about 3/4 finished at present, but being of metal construction, building them in brass is an even more time consuming process!)

    Now if only Accucraft or Roundhouse could be persuaded to produce a nice Javan Mallet, I’d be well away………

  4. Vic Burles August 24th, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Brilliant video, brilliant railway!

  5. Wllr Martin August 28th, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you for the lovely comments everyone. Tthe wagons will be loaded with cane for next years’ event. More information can be found on the ever-growing 16mm Narrow Gauge Sugar Railway Modellers Facebook Group

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