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Wagon tarpaulins using Solartex

by Mel
This idea originaly came from Graham (JSJ) who purchased a roll of Solartex from his local radio controlled model aircraft shop. He very kindly sent me a sample of this fabric to see if it was suitable for making wagon tarpaulins. The answer to this was a resounding yes.
Solar make a range of materials designed for skinning model aircraft over a wooden frame. Solartex is the heaviest of these materials and also has a textured, fabric like finish which makes it ideal for making realistic tarps in our scale range. The reverse side of the material is impregnated with glue, which sticks the material to the framework (or itself) when a warm iron is passed over it. This ironing process also causes the material to shrink slightly, causing it to tighten up like a drum skin when used on model aircraft. Solartex is available in a wide range of colours, including Dark Green, Black and Olive Drab which would be ideal for model tarps. However, it also takes paint very readily (I've used matt enamels), so you can finish up with whatever colour of tarp that you desire. A roll of Solartex is currently available via the net at around the ten to twelve pounds mark. A roll will make a heck of a lot of wagon tarps in 16mm/G scale. One word of warning - make sure that you buy SolarTEX. I recently made the mistake of buying SolarFILM and it is useless for this job.
Making a load
Before making your tarp, you need to make a load for it to cover. I use various sized off-cuts of wood (I keep any off-cuts in a carrier bag - never throw such things away), cut again to a convenient size and simply glue/nail together. You're imagination can be allowed to run wild when it comes to designing loads, but woodworking skills are not really essential as the tarp will cover everything up.
This load is simply a piece of ply as a base (cut to fit the wagon) with 2 different sizes of soft wood nailed and glued to it.

Applying the Solartex
Next we need to cut a tarp sized piece from our sheet of Solartex (it cuts easily with scissors or a craft knife). Attached to the inside (glossy) surface of the Solartex will be a clear film which protects the glue impregnated surface. This film needs to be peeled away. The material can now be wrapped around our load and "ironed" in place. The same model aircraft supplier that sold you the Solartex will also probably sell you a specially designed iron for doing this. However, unless you're planning to make hundreds of tarped loads, this purchase isn't neccasary. My strategy was to wait until the wife went out and use the normal, domestic steam iron. Don't worry, you shouldn't really touch the material with the iron and if you do, it won't mark the iron's surface - as long as you leave the painting until the tarp is finished!!
The iron needs to be set to one of it's "coolest" settings, around the synthetics/silk range - I don't need to tell you how to do that do I????
Tack the Solartex to the top of the load (once you've got it all nicely lined up) by passing the iron as close as possible to the material without actually touching it. If you do touch it, don't worry, as long as the iron isn't too hot, all will be right. Now tuck everything in (hospital corner style) and run the iron around the creases. This will cause the Solartex to stick to itself and shrink slightly, tightening everything up nicely. On the load above I also ironed the Solartex to the "base" of the load to finish everything off nicely.
So here is the load positioned in the wagon. You will have noticed that this is a bit ..... errrrr ..... blue. The reason is that this is all they had in the shop when JSJ bought it. Would make a passable modern tarp though.
However, I wanted something a little more suptle. No probs, as I said earlier, this stuff takes paint nicely. In this case - a dark grey/green.
Tie-down ropes
As you can see, this tarp has been tied down to the wagon (something I'll have to re-do now that JR has done his tie-down rings article). The "ropes" started life as soft, off white string from a garden centre. This string is 3 ply making it a little too thick for our needs, but if you cut it to the desired length, you can seperate the plys to end up with 3 individual lengths of string of around the ideal diameter. Seperate slowly and carefully, otherwise you'll end up with 3 pieces of ALMOST the right length, and one huge knot!
The string is a little too clean, so I dip the lengths into a pot of heavily diluted Tamiya arylic dark grey paint. These lengths are left to drip dry and then simply tied in place nice and tightly.
On this Accucraft wagon the ropes were attached to the tarp by ironing it in place (careful here, hot irons and plastic wagons are a recipe for a potential disaster), and then making rope holes with a sharpened screwdriver through which the ropes were tied. The Solartex is pretty tough, but you still need to be careful when tying the ropes so that they don't tear the material. Some small eyelets would be great, but I couldn't find any small enough.
These Welshpool & Llanfair wagons didn't have tie-down rings, they had small cleats on the underside of the floor near the frames. As an aside - I've read that the reason that you see so many tarped loads on the W&L, is that the closed vans were so small that they were a real pain to load and unload. Therefore, they would often put weather sensitive loads into open wagons and cover it with a tarp instead.
Finally, an alternative use for a Solartex tarp. The roof of this grounded van body has obviously sprung a leak and a tarp repesented a quick fix. This model has been out side in all weathers for about a year without any deterioration, including the paint finish. So it looks as if a Solartex tarpaulin is every bit as durable as a real one.