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What is an idler flat car and how is it different from just a flat car?

I see Accucraft is getting ready to come out with one in 1:20.3.

I read on Wiki that they are used on either sides of gondolas or other cars that had loads that overhang? Or in front of a crane? I thought I read somewhere that they are also used for switching, with multiple coupler types?
 

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Often they were used in switching ferries and the like where the the slip wasn't strong enough to bear the weight of a locomotive. The idler flat(s) provided enough "reach" to allow the loco to push cars onto and pull cars off of the ferry without itself running onto the ferry slip.

Generally speaking, they are flat cars that are used to provide additional space - both for possible structural reasons like ferry slips or to provide room for overhanging stuff from other cars as in the case of pipe gons, crane booms, etc. Often they were stripped of unneeded hardware such as stake pockets, etc. especially if they were dedicated idler cars.
 

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The D&RGW used two types of idler cars.
One was on a very short frame and I think that the wheels were set for standard gauge. This car was equipped with standard gauge and narrow gauge couplers. The Standard gauge couplers were centered on the end beam and the Narrow gauge couplers were off to the side. This was used to pull standard gauge cars between Alamosa and Antonito with narrow gauge engines. The idler cars would precede and follow the standard gauge cars while all of the other cars in the train were narrow gauge. The train could stop along the route for picking up and dropping off cars.
The second type of idler car that they used was a regular narrow gauge flat. This was used on either end of a gondola on which the ends had been removed. This was done because the drilling pipe that was being shipped to Farmington, N. M. was too long for the gondolas and over hung on the flat. The drilling pipe trains were made up as follows: flat, gondola, flat, gondola, flat, etc.

Accucraft is making the open ended gondolas and the idler flats will go with those cars. They had to relocate the break wheel and staff to the side of the car so that it would not interfere with the pipe load. I would imagine the the Accucraft car would have the modified brake system.

Hope this helps.
Chuck N
 

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Correction to The post by Chuck N. The idler flats used with Pipe gons were not regular flats in most cases. DRGW did not have enough flats. So they were often cut down stock cars, gons or other house cars. Since the body had been removed and only the frame and floor remained, they were a bit flexible. This was solved by the use of a piece of rail along the frame sides and attached with huge U-bolts. Also, the brake staff was not always relocated to the side, and in most cases was simply shortened to bring the brake wheel down to the deck to clear the swing of the pipe ends. The idler flats used with the pipe gons also did not have side stake pockets.
Jonathan/EMw
 
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