Freight Car Friday – Evans “Breadbox” Coil Cars

25 07 2014

The subject for this week’s post is a very obscure prototype that actually found its way into the Lionel product line in the 1970s. Although only 60 of the prototype cars ever existed, they have been reproduced by the thousands in HO scale by Lionel and other manufacturers.

Steel coils are a challenging load. They are heavy, shift or topple easily in transit and often require protection from the elements and careful handling to avoid scratches and dents that will incur costly claims on these expensive loads. Car builders, railroads and steel companies began looking for more efficient ways of handling steel coils in the 1960s. Traditional gondolas offered easier loading but lacked the restraints necessary to support the coils or protection from the elements. Boxcars were difficult to load and presented a poor car weight / capacity to load-limit ratio.

coil car

From the Lionel Archives, the 5-8620 “B&LE Cable Car” captured the unique shape and features of these Evans coil carriers.

Evans Products would emerge as a leader in coil car design and production, but all of their designs weren’t as successful. Evans’ first coil cars came in 1964. In 1967, they produced an experimental car which more closely represented a traditional gondola. This single 42′ prototype led to slightly larger 50′ cars that same year.

The inside of the gondola held a wooden trough which ran the length of the car to support the sides of the coils. Adding to the load protection were large cushioned coupler draft gear boxes on the ends of the car. But the cars’ most distinctive feature was the large retractable steel canopy which could be closed over the load in transit. The distinctive roof gave the cars the nickname “breadboxes.”

Unlike other cars whose covers were separate pieces, the integrated design of the breadbox was conceived as a way to correct the problems these covers caused at the mills. Separate covers required additional storage space. They were frequently mismatched with other cars when being replaced which led to some colorful cars but an accounting nightmare. The hoods were also subject to rough handling by crane crews this damage could cause the covers to leak or not fit properly on the car.


Lionel’s HO model came with opening doors and a simulated cable reel load. While not a common lading, these cars did haul other products which could fit in the cradle and required cover.

The breadbox hoods were designed to be manually opened and closed by a worker at the end of the car. This eliminated the need to use cranes and, since the open hoods stayed attached, also eliminated the need to store and sort the hoods. The potential for reduced damage claims was enough for the steel hauling-giant Pittsburgh and Lake Erie to lease 50 of the cars in 1967. Bessemer and Lake Erie took another 10.

While the cars were designed so that no mechanical assistance was needed to open or close the lids, hasty mill workers often used overhead cranes to do so anyway. This damaged the closing mechanism so that when the hoods were reopened again, instead of a controlled and gradual opening they came crashing apart as soon as they were unlocked. The resulting clash of steel on steel inside a mill had to be not only deafening but put the worker on the car’s end platform at extremely high-risk of injury.

In 1973, the P&LE sent all the cars back to Evans and terminated the lease. The hoods were removed and the cars were used for transporting hot coils which did not require protection from the elements. P&LE bought the reconfigured cars and used them through 1990 when the remaining cars were purchased by H & S Railroad. Bessemer also removed their covers but did supply their 10 cars with new removable hoods. Despite the changes up top, the old breadboxes always stood out in a train with their cushioned draft gear, fishbelly side sills and a pair of large, curved side posts which once supported the opening doors. Most remained in service into the 2000s.

Although their time in the spotlight was brief, these cars commanded a lot of press and promise at their introduction. P&LE featured a rendering of one of the cars on their 1968 Annual Report. With the distinctive look and added play value of the opening hood, Lionel included these cars in two sets in the 1976 HO Catalog – one in P&LE and one in B&LE lettering. Cars were also sold separately. The tooling for the models has since been used by other manufacturers and collectors can still easily find these cars at shows and online auctions.

Freight Car Friday – Coil Steel Cariers

21 09 2012

Steel products have long been a big commodity on the rails. This finished steel comes in all shapes and sizes. Among the most common is thin sheet steel rolled into large coils. Used in making everything from cars to washing machines, these coils require careful handling.


Steel coils come in many sizes and ride in different cars.

Not all coils are created equal. Depending on their final use, some require different handling than others. Often, railroads will transport rough coils from the main rolling mill to smaller finishing mills where the steel is plated or treated to refine it for final consumption. The railroad may get this haul too.

Steel that doesn’t require extra care can be carried in open gondolas. Often these cars are equipped with cradles that run the length of the car. These wedge-shaped braces help hold the coils upright. Not only is this better for the load, it also makes it much easier to unload. In other cases, the coils are simply laid flat in the car. Generally, gondolas used in coil service are restricted from hauling other loads.

open gon

Some coils are carried openly in gondolas. Most cars don’t carry a full load like this due to the weight of the coils. Coils are loaded over the trucks to reduce strain on the car.

Often, steel coils need more protection from the elements. This can come in several forms. Covered gondolas have similar coil cradles to the open cars with additional removable roof covers. In the 1970s, some cars were designed with hinged covers fixed on the cars. The added complications of these devices usually proved less beneficial than the expense to maintain them.

covered gondola

Covered gondolas offer added protection.

In the 1960s, the coil steel gondola began to evolve into a more specialized car that lowered the overall car weight while increasing the protection for the load. These cars featured a more basic frame and cradle arrangement, eliminating the sides of the gondola. Additionally, the cars were equipped with cushioned underframes and coupler draft gear that reduce damage to the load by absorbing the forces caused by coupling and coupler slack action in the moving train. Many cars were also equipped with removable hoods to protect the load.

coil car

The coil car evolved into a specialized hauler.

These coil cars have continued to evolve over the years. Then and now, many railroads gravitated to common designs by builders like Evans and National Steel Car. This meant that hoods could often be interchanged between cars and it is not uncommon to see a car with covers from different roads. Some roads like the Pennsylvania designed and built their own unique cars as well.

Coils aren’t limited to just gondolas. In the 1990s, Conrail experimented with special small cradles attached to bulkhead flatcars for smaller shipments. And although they are more difficult to load, boxcars are also an option. Weirton Steel for example uses a small fleet of old boxcars with doors removed for intraplant movements at its West Virginia mill.

On Your Layout

Because they have so many uses and forms, there are many ways to add coil steel operations to your railroad. You don’t have to model an entire large steel mill or automotive stamping plant to use the cars.


There are as many uses for coilcars on your railroad as there are styles.

Smaller assembly plants would fit many layout plans and still provide a lot of switching opportunity. Don’t forget boxcars for the finished products too! Many of these buildings could be modeled along a backdrop to save layout space.

A small finishing mill can generate shipments both ways. Inbound coils could arrive in open gondolas with finished loads departing under cover.

early coil car

This unique-looking car was built for the New York Central and is now working for its fourth owner (Norfolk Southern.) The designs have evolved a lot since then. Note additional coils in the more traditional gondola behind.

Another way to add operations without any industry at all is to include a clean out track in one of your yards. Customers shipping finished coils don’t want the steel scratched by debris left in the cradle. This could include old banding straps, broken cradle boards or other trash just tossed in along the way.

An extra track in the yard with some dumpsters located nearby and racks for workers tools is all you need to add this important but often overlooked operation to your layout. And of course you can spot other “dirty” cars here too!

And of course, whether it’s an interesting load in an open gondola or a colorful specialized car, these will look great just rolling by in a passing train too!