From the early 20th Century to the 1960s, the 55 ton hopper was a standard of North American railroading. The size worked well for smaller deliveries of coal and rock (as opposed to larger 70 and later 100 ton cars). This was especially true for anthracite coal which dominated the home heating market. Even larger consumers often made good use of the smaller cars. By loading cars with different grades of coal, customers could blend coal on site to achieve specific mixtures at more economical prices.
These 55 ton cars came in several typical designs. Nearly all featured two bays, or sloped sets of doors and a length of around 34 feet. The two biggest variations are what modelers commonly call “outside braced” and “offset side” hoppers. On the former, the vertical supporting posts are on the outside of the sheet metal sides. On the latter, the sheet metal sides bulge out to wrap around the posts.
The offset side hopper offers increased volume capacity without increasing the overall width of the car. But there is a drawback. The primary commodity hauled in these hoppers, coal, is highly acidic. A combination of coal dust and moisture causes residue to cling to the interior surfaces of the car, which in this case includes structural supports. Consequently, repairs to offset side cars were more extensive and expensive. Use of the cars was largely up to the preferences of individual prototypes. Some roads, like the New York Central and Lehigh and New England relied heavily on the design. Other big coal haulers like the Reading and the Chesapeake and Ohio had large fleets of both offset and outside braced cars. Then there were roads like the Norfolk and Western and Pennsylvania that few or none.
By the 1970s, changing markets spelled and end for the 55 ton car overall and the offset-side cars in particular. While a few lasted long enough to see Conrail and Chessie System paint, the cars were all but extinct by 1980.
Lionel’s Scale Models
Three more road names will be rolling on to dealer’s shelves on these popular cars in 2012. The Nickel Plate, Wheeling and Lake Erie and Canadian Pacific were all users of these cars. And unlike today’s unit trains, in their time these cars roamed very freely onto other railroads in single-car shipments or as part of equipment pools in larger coal movements. So feel free to add some more variety to your roster no matter what railroad you model.
The scale models feature sprung metal trucks and working couplers with hidden uncoupling tabs. A metal carbody provides plenty of weight for tracking. A realistic one-piece coal load is included and the cars feature working hopper doors for those who’d like to ship real loads. The cars will negotiate O-31 curves and retail for $69.99. Look for these on your dealer shelves just in time for summer!