Phil's Practical - Load your beer wagons


Did you know St Pancras station was designed around the storage of beer barrels? Movement of ale was an important traffic for railways, so we show you how to load your wagons with casks.

The 1957 BR guide – Instructions for handling and loading specified traffics, provides a couple of illustrations to guide the loading of empty casks. Like most official information, this isn't actually that useful as modellers first have to find casks that will fit in the wagon as neatly as drawn.

Slaters produce barrels in two scales. The larger is 7mm scale – 18.5mm tall and 14mm diameter. 4mm modellers get 11mm tall and 8.5 diameter. Both are technically “Barrels” in their respective scales but you can also use the larger one as a “Butt” in 4mm scale.

The simplest way to load barrels is simply to stand them on their chimbs (the flat end). This 7mm wagon will hold 24 barrels this way, just over 3 packs.

It's easy to save some money here as the larger barrels are moulded in two halves. Cut a sheet of plastic slightly smaller than the wagon floor and stick the half barrels on top.

Underneath, a couple of strips 9mm tall will support the load at the correct height. Taper the ends to make removal easier so wagons can run loaded and empty.

A photo in a book showing barrels loaded at a docks provides inspiration for this arrangement in 4mm scale. Mounted on plastic, some of the barrels needed their sides sanding a little to fit but once everything is painted, no-one will spot it.

According to the official instructions, larger barrels were “to be loaded on their bilges, lengthways along both sides of the wagon. They must be securely roped over the sides of the wagon.” Basically, laid end-to-end on their sides supported by lengths of wood, which are made from cut down matchsticks in this OO gauge model.

My wagon has moulded hooks on the solebar, which are replaced with bent brass wires glued in place. Then some linen thread is tied to them and run over the tops of the barrels. Superglue makes fixing much easier than tying tiny knots. A wash of weathering ink gives the thread a bit of age.

Barrel sizes

Butt – 108 gallons – 50 inches tall

Hogshead – 54 gallons – 37 inches tall

Barrel – 36 gallons – 15 ½ inches tall

Firkin – 9 gallons – 18 inches tall