The result was surprisingly realistic, and makes a handsome addition to my freight car fleet. So without further ado...let's revitalize a flatcar!
Step 1: Supplies
-Toothpicks (You'll need roughly 100)
-A flatcar (I used HO, may not work in other scales)
-A pair of good, sharp scissors
-hobby/X-acto knife (optional)
-Glue (I used tacky glue, but plain ol' Emer's white glue and similar products should work also)
-Strip of scrap cardboard
Step 2: A Word of Warning Before You Start...
Step 3: Begin Assembly
Now you should have a flatcar frame with a hollowed-out top. Get a toothpick, and cut off one end with the scissors, just past the point where it begins to taper. Next you'll need to measure your flatcar's width. (Remember to measure from the inside edges.) Mine was just under 11/4 inches wide.
Get the toothpick and lay it beside the ruler. Measure with the flat end at the zero. Make a little mark on the toothpick at the width you measured on the flatcar, and cut the toothpick with the scissors using the mark you made. You should now have three sections of toothpick. Throw away the smallest fragment, but keep the other two. The piece with both ends flat will be used in the decking, while you can use the longer tapered piece for staves.
Also, I used a cup while cutting the toothpicks to help keep them from flying everywhere when cut.
Step 4: Sanding and Test-fit
While you cut, you should sand down the ends of each toothpick a little. This will help make the cuts from earlier a bit cleaner, and will be essential if a toothpick won't fit into the groove.
As you finish with this sanding, you should test-fit your toothpicks, lining them up and making sure you have enough to fill the entire length of the flatcar. Simply set a toothpick on the flatcar and slide it flush against the others. If you have an irregular space at one end (such as where a brake wheel extends partly into the end of the deck), you can cut the toothpicks to fit the space.
When you have finished, dump all of the toothpicks and proceed to the next step.
Step 5: Gluing the Deck
It may be tempting to start slapping down your "planks", but if you do so now you will end up with unseemly globs of glue oozing up through the decking. It may dry clear, but it's still not pretty. Instead, use the strip of cardboard to spread the glue around, being careful to get the entire length of the car and not to get it over the sides. This will make the glue go farther, and will prevent excess seepage.
Now your glue is laid and 'splayed', start to put the toothpicks back into the deck space. Drop them into position and push them firmly up next to each previous toothpick. Put them all into position and...
Step 6: You're Done!
Here are some pictures of how mine turned out, and a comparison with a "regular" flatcar with the factory-made plastic decking. If you want your flatcar to have staves, continue to the next step. And, of course, I have more pictures of the end result in the very last step.
Step 7: Adding Staves
First, get those toothpick pieces I told you not to throw out earlier. (I used 26) Take the hobby knife and cut a notch halfway through the bottom on the flat end. Remove the little bit of wood, and then shave off the sides in a tapering square. That's about it; stick the cut end in the stave slots along the flatcar's side (you may need to test-fit first) and firmly shove in to hold. If you want to use the flatcar again without staves, leave them like this, allowing friction to hold them in place. If you want the staves more securely and permanently placed, you can add a dab of glue to the end before putting each toothpick in its slot.
In addition to being removable, these toothpick staves work on other flatcars which may not have a toothpick deck. Since I am perpetually losing my flatcar staves, this makes for an easy way to replace them!