How To Build a large-scale shipping container for your garden railroad

Build a large-scale shipping container for your garden railroad

By Gordon Walbroehl | March 9, 2021

Make one using part of a vinyl fence post

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Scratchbuilt large-scale container car load
Scratchbuilt large-scale container car load
Photo by Gordon Walbroehl

Intermodal container cars are a staple of modern railroads. Anyone who models the current era on their garden railroad will want a number of these, both on the rails and waiting for shipment. While several commercial models are available, I found a less expensive way to make them.

Standardized shipping containers are essentially rectangular boxes, measuring eight feet wide by either 20’ or 40’ long. The typical height is 8’6”, unless it’s a High Cube. I choose to model a 20’-long version. Generally, making a 1:20 model would require a model that’s approximately 12” long and approximately 4” wide.

While surfing my local big box hardware store’s web site I discovered white vinyl fence posts. These run 4 by 4 inches and come in a variety of lengths. The standard LGB European long container (1:22.5 scale) is 4” by 4 1/8” and just a tad under 12” long. If I bought one four-foot length of vinyl fence post; I could cut it with a thin saw blade into four units, each one just a shade under one foot in length. While this isn’t exactly to scale, it’s close enough and looked good to me.

I asked a friend who owns a table saw to do the cutting, and then went back home with my four future containers. To make the end pieces, I used a variety of materials—plastic scraps, Masonite, and plasticized paper. To simulate end hinges and latches, I glued pieces of plastic sprue to the ends. Since these units would be used as background items, I wasn’t too worried about fine detail.

Scratchbuilt large-scale container car load showing end details
Plastic scraps form details on the ends of the car. Photo by Gordon Walbroehl

Some units received extra attention, as I decided to use some in trains. I pulled plastic pieces from my scrap bin to build a refrigeration unit for one of the containers.

After painting the entire piece, the final step was to find appropriate lettering/logos for the containers. I searched online and found a variety of logos, which I downloaded, sized, then printed out on decal paper.

Three scratchbuilt large-scale container car loads
Create any number of containers by varying the paint color and decals! Photo by Gordon Walbroehl

I placed some units on regular flatcars while others were glued to or screwed into underframes with no actual decking. The remainder were used as industrial background pieces. Each container cost about $3 to make, plus scrap pieces, some paint, and a small cost for decal paper. While these are not true scale models, they will still give the impression of a container yard. For the price, you can easily make a fleet of them for your railroad.

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