Gondolas are among the most versatile and abused freight cars on the rails. These yeomen cars can carry many different loads, but are often assigned some of the heaviest and hard to handle.
If there is one industry that relies on gondolas more than any other, it is steel. From finished coils, slabs and structural shapes to scrap, steel loads of all shapes and sizes travel in gondolas. Often these heavy loads take a toll on the cars. Scratches and rust, bulging sides even sagging floors are all trademarks of gondolas. It is no wonder they enjoy some of the shortest careers in railroading. If you like heavy weathering, then gondolas are for you!
There is a variety in the gondolas themselves as well. Gondolas can be found in almost any length, height and capacity and with many other adaptations. Over the past 20 years, gondolas have replaced thousands of hoppers in coal service. With more power plants using rotary dumpers to empty their cars, the cheaper and more simple gondola has an advantage over hoppers. Mill gondolas have ends that can be lowered to carry longer loads. Some cars have even featured removable sides. Others have featured doors in the floor for easier unloading or removable roofs or hoods to protect the loads.
With a great variety of possible loads, gondolas make an interesting addition to your roster. Lionel offers many loads for your cars, others can be easily modeled from items you’ll find around the house or hobby shop. Of course there are many operating accessories available to help load and unload these cars too!
Empty cars can be just as interesting to detail. Most “empty” gondolas still carry discarded boards, straps and other “trash” used to secure previous loads. Many railroads put special clean-out tracks in yards to remove this debris before delivering cars to shippers. Such a track is an easy addition to your yard and can be used to provide another “spot” to send your freight cars.
With all of this action, the simple gondola offers a lot of fun for its size. You could build a train of thirty gondolas and not load any two the same! Whether you model a heavy industry, or just like interesting loads, gondolas are the perfect addition to your roster.