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Leave trucks loose on model railroad freight cars

By Steven Otte associate editor | October 26, 2021

“Three-point suspension” helps cars track uneven rails

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A screwdriver tightens a screw holding a truck to the bottom of a green boxcar
A screwdriver tightens a screw holding a truck to the bottom of a green boxcar
When tightening truck screws, one truck should be tight so it pivots freely but stays level. The other should be looser so it can wobble slightly. This actually makes a car more stable. Bill Zuback photo

Q: I’ve been a reader for several years, but don’t recall reading about the tightness of truck screws before your November issue. In “How to weather a covered cement hopper,” Cody Grivno writes, “One [truck] screw should be tight enough that the truck rotates freely but doesn’t wobble. The other should be loose enough that the truck has some lateral and longitudinal play.” Could you explain the rationale behind this? – Al Quosig, Elkhorn, Wis.

A: The reason is that track is not always smooth and level. If the screw on a model rail car’s truck is tightened down, the truck will be able to pivot right and left, but only in one level plane. If both trucks are tightened this way, then (in theory) all four axles will rotate on the same plane. But if that car encounters a spot where the track dips or rises, at least one side of one truck could lift from the rail, potentially causing a derailment. However, if one of the truck screws is left slightly loose so the truck can wobble, two of those wheelsets effectively become a single unit that pivots at the kingpin, forming what we call “three-point suspension.” When this car comes to an uneven section of track, the loose truck, or the entire car, can tilt slightly to keep all the wheels on the rails.

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One thought on “Leave trucks loose on model railroad freight cars

  1. It should be noted that the screws should not be tightened. Tighten the screws just enough to allow the one truck to swivel freely but not wobble. Over-tightening the trucks will cause them not to turn at all.

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