We recently looked at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s GLa hoppers, the inspiration for Lionel’s upcoming new models. These well-designed cars were also the inspiration for many prototype railroads as well.
With an urgent need for an enormous quantity of steel coal cars, the Pennsylvania Railroad had to farm out production across several builders. No single company at the time could have produced all of the cars needed fast enough to meet the railroad’s demands. A consequence of these actions was that most of the major steel car builders now had copies of the new design which they were more than happy to repurpose for other customers.
The cars which followed are today collectively referred to as the “1905 Common Design.” 1905 because this was the year the new hopper designs were first delivered. “Common Design” because they had all emerged from the same drawings and shared in common most of the major design elements. They were not however a truly uniform “Standard Design” such as the later USRA cars which were all built to exactly the same plans. Despite overwhelming similarities to the PRR’s GLa, different builders and customers did make subtle changes to their cars. Still, there is enough uniformity within this family that it is worth linking them together through the common design description.
Production of cars of this general size lasted for several decades. Most of the major Eastern and Midwestern roads had at least a few, if not a few thousand, on their roster. For most, these would be their first all-steel hoppers, replacing wood hoppers or gondolas.
In most cases, cars differed in major dimensions from the PRR GLa by five inches or less in any category. Construction details were also very similar. The most common and obvious differences were changes in the end sills and posts, brake wheel and grab iron or ladder placements, and hopper door hardware.
These cars fell neatly in a time of freight car construction where new standards for construction and safety equipment were being refined and made universal. The Railroad Safety Appliance Act had started the process in 1893, but revisions in the law were still being made as late as 1910. Through collective organizations like the Master Car Builders’ Association, standards for everything from hand-holds to the printing of dimensional data and reporting marks were being standardized across all common-carrier railroads. The 1905 Common Design hoppers both reflect those changes and helped implement them as railroads realized the benefits of shared designs.
These standards allowed a more safe and efficient interchange of cars between railroads. The improvements in these steel cars over the older wooden cars meant greater payloads and longer service lives. Many of these cars would serve the railroads as late as the 1940s.
The 1905 hoppers are an important chapter in freight car history, but they are far from the end of the story. These cars cleared a path for similar developments with other car designs in the years leading up to World War I. It was during the War that the cars would take the next step towards a truly standard design under the auspices of the USRA. We’ll look at those cars and see their roots in these 1905 Common Design and the PRR’s GLa in the coming weeks.