Freight Car Friday – Bethlehem Steel

28 02 2014

Most modelers may associate Bethlehem Steel with products they’d find loaded on a train car, not necessarily a builder of the cars themselves. But Bethlehem did have a long history of freight car construction.

Bethlehem Steel acquired it railcar operations through the acquisition of Midvale Steel in 1923. Railcar construction was based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem continued production at this plant until 1991 when the division was sold and became Johnstown America. While the company built many different types of cars, it has always been best known for coal car production.

PPL

Pennsylvania Power and Light was one of the first utility companies to embrace the unit train concept – aided by Bethlehem Steel.

As a division of a steel manufacturer, it is no surprise that the company was always an innovator when it came to the steel make up of its cars. The company first used its Mayari R steel in an all-welded hopper for the Lehigh Valley in 1947. This highly resilient steel was well suited for coal cars as it resisted corrosion from the acidic coal loads. (Many later cars were not even painted except for the necessary markings.)

ppl hopper

A testament to construction and materials, the original side sheets of one of the first PP&L hoppers are seen here in 2010. The cars were not painted yet most of the original graphics applied to the Mayari R steel are still clearly visible nearly 50 years later.

Bethlehem saw its markets explode in the 1960s. Working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Railroad and Pennsylvania Power and Light, Bethlehem began construction of large numbers of 100 ton capacity hoppers for new unit coal trains. The origin of the design can be traced to a Norfolk and Western prototype. With the PRR being the common connection between all of the parties (owning a majority interest in the N&W, primary transportation provider to PP&L and a long-time partner with BSC whose Johnstown plant sat adjacent to their historic mainline) the 100 ton car quickly spread beyond the Virginia and Pennsylvania coal fields.

UP Gondolas

Bethlehem moved on from hoppers to gondolas as the industry evolved in the 1990s.

Besides selling finished cars, Bethlehem Steel often supplied its cars in “kit” form. Partially completed frames, sides, trucks and hardware were loaded into gondolas and flatcars and shipped to a railroad’s home shop for final assembly. This hastened production, cut costs and helped some railroads keep their own shop forces busy. Thousands of kits made the short trip over the mountain and around Horse Shoe Curve to the Pennsylvania’s own car shops in Hollidaysburg well into the Conrail era.

CR gon

Conrail assembled many Bethlehem gondola “kits” in its Hollidaysburg Shops. The cars were rebuilt on the frames of older hoppers – most also built from BSC kits!

Bethlehem Steel followed on the success of their unit train hopper cars with pioneering coal gondolas in the late 1980s. This included cars built predominantly and somewhat ironically of aluminum. Like the hoppers before them, these rotary-dump coal gondolas would become the standard for many railroads and utilities. Some of Bethlehem / Johnstown America’s more interesting coal cars include the Burlington Northern’s experimental “Trough Train” – an articulated gondola.

autorack

BSC built more than coal cars. The flatcar under this autorack is another Bethlehem product.

Besides hoppers and gondolas, BSC’s most common cars were 89′ flatcars used in intermodal and other services.

Successor Johnstown American became FreightCar America in 2004. The company now has operations in four states. Today they are the leading builder of aluminum-bodied coal cars in the United States, with additional car designs for ore, aggregates, automotive and intermodal traffic – all continuing the strengths established decades before by Bethlehem Steel.

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4 responses

28 02 2014
bruette

Another fantastic article, this one hit especially close to home. Having been a coal sampler and growing up not far from Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows point Plant. I even sold and serviced commercial tires to Bethlehem Steel and other contractors working at the plant and ship yard. Thank you Lionel

28 02 2014
Richard Fritz

Having lived in Nazareth, PA for many years Bethlehem Steel and the Lehigh Valley became a key point of interest for me in my model railroad loco and rolling stock collecting and planning. Although I now live in SC, my heart still remains in the LV; however, it is hard to ignore the beautiful color schemes of the Southern Railroad and Atlantic Coast Lines.

28 02 2014
Peter Lupkowski

As a railroad buff that grew up with Lionel Trains I can’t tell you how mush I appreciate these e-mails. They are enjoyable, educational, and intriguing all at the same time. Peter Lupkowski Wellsboro, PA

On Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 8:32 AM, Lionel Trains

28 02 2014
Conductor Andrew

Reblogged this on theredcaboose1.

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