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Jul 16, 2007, 11:17 AM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Thread OP

Cheap fun barges

RubberMaid sells styrene drawer organizers, 15" x 6"x 2". They are available at Walmart, Staples, hardwarestores, etc.

They make nice O gauge scale (1:48) barges for my Vac U Tug, quick to build and fairly sturdy to play with. I superglue a wood block on each end to hold 1/4" dowel bollards. I add a couple keel strips cut from lathe, both for strength and to make the barges tow straight. Walmart's 96cent red primer serves to paint it all. The load/floatation is 1.5" pink styrofoam painted gray with waterbased paint and glued to the floor. The barges will hold sand on top of the styrofoam. If you load too much and the barge sinks, it tries to turtle and dump the sand, saving your tug from a watery grave, at least if you are towing on the hawser :-). The photo of the tug and 4 barges shows you what a 200 fathom towline looks like. This is a typical length hawser for tows offshore.

The barges are fun to tow on-the-hip. I merely rubberband together the bollards of 4 of them to make a single (scale) 250' barge. The bumper between tug and barge is a piece of hot water pipe insulation. It mimics a Yokohama bumper, though mine is longer than the bumpers I've seen on the water. In the photos you can make out the 3 lines needed to make up an on-the-hip tow: bow line (or backing line), spring line (or tow strap), and stern line. Adjusting the lengths and tension of the bow and stern line allows you to angle the barges across the bow of the tug slightly, just like real practice. My tug has a left hand prop, so the stern walks to starboard in reverse. If the tug is made up on the port side of the barge, this paddle wheel action of the prop in reverse helps sharpen turns to port, making the rig quite manuverable. I have a lot of fun setting a buoy near the shore, then trying to run the tug and barge combo through the gap without running aground. The paddlewheel effect in reverse can be reduced by loosening the sternline and increasing the angle of barge to tug, if you have need to back straight.
Last edited by Brooks; Jul 16, 2007 at 11:28 AM.
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Jul 16, 2007, 11:30 AM
Capt.Crash's Avatar
Those are cool Brooks. I need some twice that size to be in scale with the Atlantic Harbor Tug. I hope I'm lucky enough to find some for it. I plan to build some when I get time, but right now I'm full tilt boogie on the tug. I got a lot done on her this weekend to include a new turbo diesel under the hood and some paint and will take some pics tonight and post.

Captain Slick
Jul 16, 2007, 02:23 PM
Registered User
tim slocum's Avatar
Thanks for posting Brooks, I've been looking for a low cost barge for my Vac u tug. Can you post any closeup pics of the barge?Thanks

PS Hows the steam vac u tug going?
Jul 16, 2007, 02:41 PM
Registered User
tim slocum's Avatar
This have my creative juices flowing,do you think it would work to glue or bolt two of these together and make one, larger barge? I could cut out a 1/8" ply deck to go around edges of the barge.Then I could install some bollards to that. Do you think that would work?Brooks, how are your towing bitts attached to your deck?(on your tug)Right now, mine are only superglued to the deck.To tow, Im sure Ill have to make a more secure connection.
Jul 16, 2007, 10:39 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Thread OP
Tim - The trays have a slight rake to the ends, so if you are going to bolt them together, you'd probably want a thin, wedge shaped spacer between them. Or, perhaps you could simply screw each tray to the deck and let the deck serve as the connector. Either way, you will need to fill the gap due to the rake to make the result look like a single hull.... wood wedge + bondo? On second thought, Bondo would probably dry too hard, relative to the styrene, and be hard to sand flush w/o damaging the plastic hull; maybe a styrene filler would be a better choice.

I don't sand the wood end pieces even with the barge sides, ie waterline, which you might be able to detect in one of the photos. I do try to drill the holes for the bollards perpendicular to the waterline, however. I glue the wood to the end of the barge, then drill in place, eyeballing perpendicular. The wood grabs my bit when I do this, and one barge ended up with a hole through the bottom when the bit dug itself in faster than I could react. For these barges, a leak is not a problem since they will float, due to the styrofoam, even when full of water. Since my normal load is wet sand anyway, water inside is normal.

My first set of barges used 1" pink styrofoam in the 2" hulls; I though I'd need to leave room for the sand. Turns out, wet sand is so heavy, you can't really pile it up very high before the barge tries to sink. For the succeeding barges, I used 1.5" styrofoam. I left a little rim (not using 2" styrofoam) in case I wanted to carry other cargo. If you are building a deck barge (which is what many sand barges actually were, as opposed to dump barges whose cargo rested in the hold), then 2" foam would probably work better as it would support the deck in the middle.

The trays have little feet on each corner, which are easily knocked down with sandpaper. The keels (cut from wood lathe) don't necessarily fit tight to the hull their entire length (lathes are sometimes warped a bit). The trays are flexible, so if you do weight them down to get a better hull/keel joint, be sure you are not inducing a warp to the tray....been there done that :-) So far, even the gappy joints have held; 5 yr old Bob pulls the barges through the sand after loading them, and no keel has ripped off yet.

For wood-styrene joints, I use the black, rubberized CA by Bob Smith Industries. It seems to work better than the same stuff from Pacer/Zap. For the styrofoam-styrene joint I use Zap's Foam Safe CA.
Steam powered Vac U Tug: I have set that project aside until it cools off a little here in Bozeman; the shop gets hot. I did help John with his steam-powered tramp, making a few fittings and offering advice on a ceramic burner. We ran it for the first time this afternoon, and it worked great. I'll post more about it once he gets the superstructure on. Today's run was hull and machinery only. The Midwest Heritage engine and boiler were fired with propane, and ran the tramp at a very satisfactory, scale-like speed. The 1st run was perfect, the 2nd one resulted in a real rescue by my tug when the fire went out with the tramp offshore.....the heat melted the fuel line (Sullivan gas hose). Better heat shielding should solve that problem, or we could go to a copper fuel line.
My tug's bow and stern towbits are attached to the deck with the black rubberized CA (surfaces sanded free of paint first, of course). There is a plywood backing plate glued to the underside of the deck, but there is no bolt going from bollard to backing plate. So far, this arrangement has held. I try not to jerk my barges too much when starting a tow. Bob has not run his tug enough to tell if a more vigorous captain will pop a bollard, but I have heard that it happens :-). These unloaded barges are pretty light, so there is not too much force on the towline, I think. My side towbits are set in the rail which is filled from below with microballoon epoxy. I have not used the side bits for any towing so far, only to suspend the Yokohama bumper.
Last edited by Brooks; Jul 17, 2007 at 08:47 PM.
Jul 16, 2007, 10:49 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Thread OP
Tim, I really like your tug. My steam one will look similar, except for square windows instead of round portholes. I just need to get off my duff and get after it :-).

Capt. S, looking forward to your pictures.
Jul 16, 2007, 11:37 PM
USA'd ex Brit
toesup's Avatar
Originally Posted by Brooks
..Detail of wooden endbeam and 1/4" dowel bollards...
*slaps forehead*
Jul 18, 2007, 12:27 AM
Registered User
tim slocum's Avatar
Brooks, thanks for going to the trouble of posting all the info and pics.Its appreciated.I was planing on making a trip to the barge store(WalMart) today, but instead I tried to get heatstroke by washing and waxing my truck.I thought your suppose to get smarter with age? I've been mulling over my plan to connect two of the hulls together,it might be more work that its worth.I also looked all over the web for larger plastic containers for a larger hull,but didnt find anything better.In the end, Ill probably end up with something very near to yours.This should add alot of fun to operating the tug.I kind of got bored just sailing it around and around. You look like your really having fun with yours. From what I gather, your steam tug will probably turn out alot like what I originally was going to do with mine.Somewhere along the line,my theme took a turn.I still like the result though.While Im at Wally World, Im going to try and find a cable so I can download pictures from the digital camera to the computer.If successful, Ill post an updated picture of the tug as theres been alot of improvement since the old pics.
Jul 18, 2007, 06:26 AM
Registered User
rlboats2003's Avatar

Brooks What a great idea

If they are styrene life is really good - and they are the perfect size for the smaller barges that use to move coal or grain from harbor to distributior along the rivers and canals.

Tim's idea about bonding two together is really great since you could use sheet styrene as the re-enforcement plate. The other thing that could be done would be to cut one end on angle to make it look like the bow of the barge.

Check out American Model Builders they make HO laser cut barges for the model railroaders. a really nice covered barge and I think he has a 2 bay open barge. Great thought provokers for so styrene sheet magic.

Darn good thought provoking ideas guys,
Jul 18, 2007, 08:34 AM
Registered User
tim slocum's Avatar
I do have quite a bit of sheet styrene around here...hmmmmmmmm
Jul 18, 2007, 02:29 PM
Registered User
tim slocum's Avatar

Im back from the "hull" store.

I purchased two barge hulls today.I can see why you added the strips to the bottom.I noticed theres a little lip that has to be removed from one side.For bollards,I think Im going to us brass tube with upholstry tacks glued to the top.This will give them a rim to help keep the rope from comming off. As for posting pictures from my camera, I got the usb cord,but then realized that when the daughter threw away the cord,she also threw away the software! So, I have Vivitar support looking for old driver software for my camera. We'll see what happens.
Jul 18, 2007, 06:04 PM
Damp and Dizzy member
Brooks's Avatar
Thread OP
Hi Tim - I left the lip on my barges, it is not very noticiable at sea, and it adds some strength to the side. It also catches my bow fender, helping keep the bow from sliding off, when I try pushing from the side. Side pushing is "ship handling" practice. I have used it to rescue the tramp when the casualty did not have any rescue towline dangling from it's bow for my towhook to snag. I did not want to entangle a towline/towhook in the tramp's prop&rudder, the usual rescue method. With practice, it is possible, with a fiber bow fender (terrycloth thrummed with hemp yarn) to get it to smear-stick to the side of the casualty's hull (even w/o the lip) and bring the vessel back to shore. When wet, the fiber bow fender will stick to a slick surface if you don't push at too small an angle. This stickiness is one of the differences between a soft fiber bumper and a harder, rubber one, a difference experienced by the real tugs when they stopped making fenders out of old hawsers.

Vivitar driver sites, from a Google search of "vivitar driver software". Maybe one of these sites could help:

RLBoats - Thanks for the tip about RR floats, they'd be fun to load and shove around. Though spendy, these 2 books have a wealth of info about RR barges: New York Harbor Railroads in Color vols 1 & 2. They might be available only from the publisher:
Last edited by Brooks; Jul 18, 2007 at 06:16 PM.
Jul 18, 2007, 06:36 PM
Grumpa Tom
Kmot's Avatar
Build article!
Jul 18, 2007, 06:51 PM
"day ain't over yet-"
der kapitan's Avatar
A barge has to have useful cargo to tote, how many cans of beer can these babies carry?
Jul 18, 2007, 07:57 PM
Registered User
Indeed! Cheers Der Kapitan!

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