Freight Car Friday – Pennsylvania GLa Hoppers

1 08 2014

With Lionel’s forthcoming models of the GLa and its copies, it’s worth taking a more in-depth look at the car itself. If one only looks at production numbers alone, the GLa has to rank near the top of any list of notable coal car designs. But of course the big picture is so much more interesting than that.

PRR GL

The precursor to the GLa was the GL. These were the first all-steel hoppers on the PRR. Despite similar classes, the GLa represented a major shift in the engineering behind the cars.

Rapid Innovation

The PRR began building its roster of GLa hoppers in 1904. The design emerged from previous GL, GLc and GLca cars which date back as early as 1898 and marked the beginning of steel hoppers on the PRR. The “G” in GL stood for gondola and the hopper as a car type in general was still early enough in its evolution from the gondola that the name hadn’t yet become common. Also, like the drop-bottom gondolas from which they grew, the strength of these early cars was still found in the frame,  with the sides being just extensions to contain the load.

plans

The GLa introduced an important new design change which allowed the sides of the car to carry more of the load.

Although the  class nomenclature would make it appear that this was just another subset, the GLa was really the start of the next era of PRR hopper design. It lacked the “fishbelly” side sills of the earlier car and instead relied upon the side sheets and posts to provide the structural integrity and support the load. This reduced the light weight of the car and increased capacity. In just a few short years, engineers had already made major strides toward maximizing the efficiencies of steel car design.

By the end of production in 1911, the PRR owned 30,256 GLa cars. Some of these were purchased slightly used from several coal companies. They were among the most common hopper on the railroad for the next fifty years.

Unprecedented Longevity

GLa

By its numbers on the PRR alone, the GLa was the most common hopper in the world at one time.

Despite being an “early” design, the cars held up well and had long careers. How many other car types could have locked couplers with both a H3 Consolidation and an SD45?

From 1917 to 1932, the only retirements seem to be due to wreck damage or normal wear. In fact, the PRR bought some additional GLa cars from some of the coal companies which had clones built for their own service. The fleet dropped by about 4000 during the Depression and then again leveled off for about two decades. Large retirements did not begin until the late 1950s. In 1956, the roster still included some 21,840 cars. To put this into perspective, consider that in 1956 the coal-hauling Reading owned 13,015 hoppers total.

shadow keystone

The PRR introduced the “Shadow Keystone” scheme in 1954, hundreds of GLa’s were repainted.

As late as 1973, 77 cars of this class still showed on the record books for Penn Central. All were likely by that time in company service and so far, no photo of one in PC paint has ever surfaced.

There were some production changes over the years. The more modern Berwind cars for example had power hand brakes and straight profile side posts. Other cars were modified over the years with changes in door locks and coupler draft gear. They were also upgraded from K to AB brakes relatively early. Overall however, the design of the cars remained remarkably consistent over their long careers.

Only one of the 30,256 GLa cars is known to survive. It can be found at the Western New York Railway Historical Society in Hamburg, NY.

Setting the Standard

Berwind

Berwind White owned one of the largest fleets of GLa “clones.” They were a common sight on PRR trains.

The impact of the GLa on the PRR wouldn’t end with just these 30,000+ cars. The GLa also influenced future production on the PRR. Though at first glance they are very different, the H21 four-bay hopper design is essentially a stretched GLa. These cars, huge by standards of the day, made use of the steel manufacturing lessons learned with the GLa. When all subclasses are considered, the H21 represents an additional 39,699 car extension of GLa engineering.

To build its massive roster, the PRR farmed out construction to any builder who could handle the project (which for all-steel freight car construction was a relatively small pool in 1904.) Consequently, these builders each had access to the design and also began building similar or identical cars for other customers. Many of these customers were coal companies in the PRR’s own territory. Berwind White Coal was the largest and most well-known. It had new cars built to GLa dimensions as late as the 1930s and some of their cars lasted into the 1970s. Others would be bought second-hand by the PRR itself.

As builders refined and resold the design, a new “standard” hopper was being developed. Looking back it is easy to see the evolution of what is now known as the “1905 Common Design” cars. We’ll take a closer look at these as the next chapter of the GLa’s story in a future Freight Car Friday blog.

 

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New Product Spotlight – Pennsylvania GLa Hoppers

28 07 2014

The Pennsylvania Railroad owned an impressive roster of more than 30,000 GLa class hoppers which served from the 1900s into the Penn Central years. As if the PRR’s own roster wasn’t impressive enough, the car was copied directly by several other companies and became the inspiration for several other popular hopper designs which blanketed the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. We’ll cover the interesting prototype history of these cars later this week and in subsequent Freight Car Friday posts. Today, let’s look at Lionel’s upcoming model of this car – one we think will be as popular as its prototype!

Capturing the Variety

GLa drawing

A 3-D drawing of the GLa version shows the many details these cars will feature.

These new hoppers will be the most detailed Lionel has ever produced. Starting with all new tooling, we’ve planned ahead so that we can not only capture the PRR’s GLa accurately, but also capture the key detail changes found in many of the cars which built off of this design.

Lionel’s design team worked from Pennsylvania Railroad drawings to create an accurate GLa. From the overall dimensions, to the distinctive boxy end sills, to proper 2D-F8 truck sideframes, this car will be PRR through and through.

1905 drawing

In 1905, builders began producing cars of similar design for other companies. Compare this plan with the GLa to see the detail differences. This view also shows how the cars will look if you install scale couplers.

When several car builders began building near-duplicates of the GLa in 1905, a car which has subsequently been dubbed the “1905 Common Design” by historians, the overall dimensions remained very close to the GLa, but there were several structural differences to be found – especially on the ends of the cars. By the time these designs had evolved into the USRA’s standard two-bay hopper in 1918, again dimensions were within a few inches of the GLa with more minor detail changes around the ends and hoppers.

Lionel is tooling these models so that the later car designs, using the GLa body, can have other details which more closely capture the look of the cars on these other roads. This will include the end sills, end posts, hand brake and grab iron arrangements and hopper door mechanisms.

Scale Improvements

couplers

The underframes have been designed for easy application of a standard scale coupler box.

In addition to the overall high level of detail on these cars, which will even include cross braces and rivet details on the interior of the car, Lionel is adding some new design features to these cars which will make them much friendlier to the 2-rail and 3-rail scale crowd.

Although the cars will come equipped with our standard operating couplers, mounting pads will be provided on the metal underframe of the car so that scale couplers can be easily added by the modeler if desired. No extensive body modification or even drilling new holes required!

We’ve also addressed another little detail that is sure to please many of the prototype-focused modelers; the “Built by Lionel” date stencil has been moved to the underside of the car. It’s still there for the collectors, but won’t detract from the rest of the graphics which have all been carefully researched from prototype photos.

We’re quite proud of these new cars, and think you’ll agree they are some of the finest scale models we’ve produced. Other features include:

sideframes

PRR and other GLa version cars will feature correct PRR 2D-F8 truck sideframes.

  • Die-cast metal sprung trucks and operating couplers with hidden uncoupling tabs. PRR GLa cars will have appropriate PRR truck sideframes.
  • Plastic carbody and die-cast metal underframe
  • High level of separately applied detail parts including many road-name specific variations
  • Opening hopper doors
  • Removable plastic coal load insert
  • Molded pads for easy conversion to scale couplers
  • Individual road numbers on each car in multi-car packs
  • O31 Minimum curve

The new GLa hoppers will be available as part of the Pennsy M1a Coal Hauler set (three PRR and one Berwind White Coal) as well as for separate sale in the following road names and quantities:

USRA

A third version of this car will be detailed to match USRA era details.

  • 6-81686 PRR (circle keystone scheme) 3-Pack GLa version
  • 6-81858 PRR (shadow keystone scheme) 3-Pack GLa version
  • 6-81793 Berwind White 3-Pack GLa version
  • 6-81687 Lehigh Valley 2-Pack USRA version
  • 6-81688 CB&Q 2-Pack USRA version
  • 6-81689 C&O 3-Pack USRA version
  • 6-81789 New Haven 2-Pack GLa version
  • 6-81824 P&WV 2-Pack 1905 Common Design version

Suggested retail price on the 2-Pack cars is $145.99. 3-Packs retail for $219.99. See your local Lionel dealer to place your order now, and look for some more background on these interesting cars starting this Friday on the blog!





Freight Car Friday – Ballast Cars

18 04 2014

Spring is finally here and with it comes the start of another busy maintenance season on the tracks and rights of way around the country. A proper roadbed is critical for keeping the tracks in proper alignment through all of those “April Showers.” Ballast provides a support for the ties and rail and also helps drain water away from the track. Keeping the ballast clean and replenished, requires a variety of specialized rail cars and equipment.

Ballast Hoppers

converted trucks

This ballast hopper was converted from a PS-2 covered hopper.

Railroads purchase their ballast from quarries in large lots. Online customers are preferred whenever possible of course, and railroads can be very particular about whose stone is used. Even today’s large carriers often purchase ballast from only a handful of suppliers. Often you could tell the owner of the railroad by the color of the ballast such as the Chicago and North Western’s “Pink Lady” stone.

Granite is the rock of choice, but to minimize expense railroads will often blend multiple grades of rock. Yards and sidings typically get a lower grade than the mainline and would see a higher concentration of limestone. In the steam era, cinders were frequently recycled for use in spurs.

UP ballast car

Union Pacific paints its company cars in a distinctive green, including this newer ballast hopper.

The hoppers which transport the ballast are typically no larger than 70 ton capacity cars. While it is not uncommon to see standard hoppers pressed into this service, most ballast cars are designed with different hopper door arrangements which disperse the stone along the sides and parallel with the rails as opposed to dumping piles in the middle of the gauge.

Herzog car

Herzog leases ballast cars like this to many railroads. The doors are pneumatically operated and the train features an extra set of air lines between the cars.

Ever thrifty with company cars, many railroads convert older hopper, gondola and even covered hoppers for use as ballast cars in addition to new purchases. Adding to the fun for modelers, equipment like this often passes down through owners or mergers and is usually at the bottom of the priority list for repainting. When work equipment is painted, different color schemes are often used to call immediate attention to its restricted use.

6-26847 dump car

Lionel and American Flyer side dump cars are perfect for work train duty.

In addition to hoppers, side dump cars are also used. These are normally reserved for right of way projects like fills and embankments. The side dump cars can carry rock, dirt and rip-rap in larger sizes than can be practically handled through hopper doors. And they can drop their load along the side of the rails almost anywhere.

Ballast cars may run as a dedicated train, or mixed in with a regular consist.

Work Equipment

ballast cleaner

A Union Pacific ballast cleaner is hard at work on the busy Nebraska mainline.

The cars used to haul the stone to the work site might be pretty straight forward, but the equipment used to finish the job is anything but ordinary. Once maintained by picks, shovels and sweat, today’s rights of way are groomed by specialized machines large and small – and sweat. While the labor force of a typical “section gang” can rebuild scores of miles of track today, the work is no less demanding and dangerous.

ballast regulator

A ballast regulator kicks up a cloud of dust as it sweeps stones off of the top of the ties. Meanwhile traffic keeps rolling on the neighboring track. Operations are fun to watch, but you would be well advised to keep a safe distance.

Typically ballast work is performed around other maintenance projects, including replacing ties, broken spikes or rail clips and other hardware as part of a comprehensive annual maintenance program.

If the ballast needs to be cleaned, this is done before dropping new stone.  “Cleaning” the ballast involves removing dirt, weeds, and any other impurities including spilled lading from the passing trains. All of these can clog the drainage field, leading to larger and more expensive problems if not kept in check. Ballast cleaners are enormous machines which continuously scoop up the stone, filter it through screens and redeposit the ballast on the track while discharging the waste to the side of the roadbed or into hoppers for removal.

work train

A similar ballast regulator to the one seen above is on its way to the next job along with dozens of other machines aboard a special work train.

After cleaning or after replenishing the roadbed with new ballast, the stones must be tamped around and under the ties to maintain a proper and consistent track profile. The alignment of the rails must be checked again and finally, the new stones must be groomed to a proper profile. These jobs are handled by smaller equipment, usually operated by one or two workers each.

ballast regulator

Lionel has offered models of ballast regulators in the past – an easy way to bring this operation to your layout.

Much of this smaller equipment is usually transported to the work area on board flatcars. In some cases, the workers travel with the train and can stay in bunk cars overnight. Most railroads today however have taken to paying for lodging in a local hotel and busing workers to the job site.

Ballast work is just one of many routine chores on the rails, but it can be an interesting addition to your model railroad. Whether you go with an animated track gang accessory or our more modern ballast regulator, such a scene is sure to draw attention on any layout.





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.





Freight Car Friday – Coal Cars

20 12 2013

When we think of coal cars, we traditionally think “hoppers.” But over the long history of moving coal by rail, many different types of cars have been used. So in the spirit of the season, let’s take a look at what might be bringing the coal to your stocking this year! (No train lover would ever really consider that a bad present after all.)

Early Coal Cars

early coal

Early coal cars, like those pulled by the Stourbridge Lion, showed little engineering imagination.

Coal was among the very first commodities carried by the early steam, gravity and horse-drawn railways of the Nineteenth Century. The first coal cars were the most simple of affairs. Essentially a topless wooden crate with pair of axles beneath it, these small cars held only a few tons of coal at best. Cars were unloaded by hand, or simply toppled over and then put back on the track. Chains served as couplers and brakes…who needs brakes?

As the efficiency of rail transportation and the potential power of steam locomotives became clear however, the need for refinements to these primitive designs were equally obvious. Gondolas would remain the car of choice for the first few decades owing to their simplicity of construction and the fact that hoppers would have to be spotted over some sort of pit or bridge to make gravity unloading practical. But standards, appliances and car capacities all quickly improved.

The first hopper cars, which could unload their contents from doors on the bottom, began to emerge in the 1850s. Prior (and even subsequently) to this there were drop-bottom gondolas which featured a doors in a flat floor. The angled ends (slope sheets) would offer faster unloading however and the lower hopper doors and bays improved both capacity and the cars’ center of gravity.

Wood to Steel

steel hopper

Pennsylvania 33164, a GL class car built in 1898 shows construction details typical of early steel cars. It is preserved today at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

By far, the majority of coal cars produced prior to 1895 were made predominantly of wood. The B&O had experimented with some iron “pots” as early as the 1840s but their tare weight was much too high. It was not until the pressed steel designs of the end of the Century that the railroads could begin to seriously consider steel as an option.

At first railroads were reluctant to switch to steel for its weight and cost. After only a few years in service however, the comparative economics of the more durable material became obvious. While wood remained a common building material for boxcars and reefers for the next several decades, the conversion to steel for hoppers happened relatively quickly. By 1910, with the exception of some composite wood and steel cars during the wars, construction of wood hoppers had nearly completely ended and those that remained in service would be retired over the coming decade.

Capacity

Nickel Plate

The 55 ton hopper was a standard size for decades. The offset-side design was one popular option.

After the switch to steel, there were numerous variations on the design of coal cars. Some of these were in search for a better construction method, lower tare weights or to address the concerns of specific shippers. Others were centered around increasing the overall capacity of the car. Since you could easily fill a book on the various designs, we’ll focus on the general capacity changes here.

The “standard” car from 1900 to 1960 carried 50 to 55 tons of coal. The 55 ton hopper remained common into the 1970s. There are a variety of reasons this capacity remained the standard for so long. From the shippers’ perspective, this size worked well for a variety of coal uses. Coal for home heating for example was typically shipped in smaller quantities to local distribution centers. Larger consumers still enjoyed the advantage of these small cars by blending several carloads of different grades of coal to get just the formula they demanded.

For the railroads, the size had as much to do about standardization of the dimensions and mechanical parts, in particular the wheels and journals, to make interchange of the coal cars easy among all carriers. There were however clearly cases where a larger hopper offered greater savings.

H21

The Pennsylvania’s H21 class of 70 ton cars were among the most numerous of this capacity produced before WWII.

Next up from the 55 ton car was the 70 ton hopper. These were generally used by larger customers including power and steel companies and for export coal. Although this size of car first showed up in the 1920s, they wouldn’t become a new standard on many lines until the 1960s.

There were also some early experiments into truly enormous coal cars for their day. The most successful of these were 100 and 120 ton gondolas built by the N&W and Virginian. Used only on their own routes for export coal, these “Battleship Gondolas” greatly reduced operating costs between the mines and new rotary car dumpers in Newport News, VA. It was a concept sixty years ahead of its time.

Unit Trains and the Return of the Gondola

PPL

Pennsylvania Power and Light was one of the first utility companies to embrace the unit train concept.

By the late 1960s, the economics of coal were changing. While it remained the number one commodity for the railroads, its shipping patterns were changing and coal cars would have to adapt to keep up. Smaller individual car-load shipments were giving way to bulk orders. New competition from government-funded coal slurry pipelines and inland waterways posed a significant threat.

Railroads met the challenge in two ways. First, unit trains offered improved service and much faster turnaround. The efficient dedicated trainload service cut railroad operating costs significantly. Consequently they could pass huge savings onto the big customers to keep them happy.

When these new schedules were combined with new larger equipment, the economic gains were magnified. First 70 ton and then quickly 90 and 100 ton hoppers became the standard. In the span of a decade, the average capacity of a coal car in North America nearly doubled.

UP train

Modern Railroading – A loaded train of bathtub gons descends Union Pacific’s Kirkwood Hill with an unmanned helper on the rear.

The rotary dumper also began to become widely accepted and installed at these major consumers. This rotating platforms could dump 100 tons of coal into the plant in under two minutes. It also meant that the hoppers, especially their mechanical doors, were no longer necessary. Many railroads rebuilt their hoppers into large gondolas to extend their life and reduce operating costs.

Today, the 120 ton capacity gondola is the standard. While you’ll still find plenty of hoppers on the rails for customers who don’t have dumpers (or who prefer the security of knowing their cars can still unload even if the dumper is broken) 100 car trains of these large gons show up regularly on railroads across North America.

The traffic patterns have shifted too. Today the majority of coal used in the United States, and exported from here around the world, comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. PRB coal has even found its way into plants in old-coal states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Mines there still fill trains however, including the rich Anthracite fields of eastern Pennsylvania whose product can’t be matched anywhere else. Those modern cars however sure look a lot different from the wooden boxes which descended the gravity switchbacks and inclined planes nearly 200 years earlier.





Freight Car Friday – Make Your Own Coal Loads

18 10 2013

Coal is still the top commodity by volume and revenue on America’s railroads. And coal loads are a common sight on our model railroads as well. Whether you want to improve the look of your existing loads or make your own, and whether you need loads of coal, iron ore, ballast, dirt or more, these simple techniques will work for you.

prototype load

Loads in a modern coal train often have a smooth profile thanks to flood loading tipples which load the cars as the train is in motion.

Study the prototype and you’ll find that coal loads take many shapes. The “mounds” found on most commercial loads are common on cars loaded from older tipples, dump trucks or other heavy equipment. Modern flood-loaders which pour in the coal as the train is moving will often leave a very smooth, flat profile on the top of the load. The size of the coal chunks will vary greatly as well. All of these effects are easy to reproduce and can give your hopper and gondola fleet some more variety and character.

Starting with a Form

The first step is to create a base for the load. There is no need to fill the entire car with coal dust (unless of course you have operating coal loaders and unloaders!)

foam block

Cut a basic block from insulating foam. A single sheet will make loads for many cars.

Many models come with a simulated plastic load. This is a good place to start. If you don’t have one of these or if you just want to start from scratch you can make your own from a piece of insulating foam. The pink or blue foam sheets are available at home centers and come in a variety of thicknesses. One inch foam will work well for most O Gauge loads. The foam is easy to cut and shape and also lightweight – this prevents the finished load from making the car top-heavy.

Cut the foam to size using the car as a template. If you are doing and entire coal train of similar cars, you can cut a group of loads quickly once you have the dimensions.

shape

After shaping the foam is ready for coal. This load will have a more smooth profile compared to the original Lionel load.

Test fit the block before you start to shape the profile. You want a snug fit, but not something so tight that you have to work hard to remove the load. Since different cars will have different interior dimensions, it can be helpful to write the car type on the bottom of the block. That way you’ll know that the load fits in any “Lionel 3-bay hopper” without having to test each load.

Next, carve the desired profile on the top of the foam block. You can use a hobby /  utility knife, rasp or files to get the desired contours.

Coal, stone, ore, etc. come in many colors and varieties – pink and blue are not among them. Paint the foam blocks with acrylic paints (do not use solvents as they will melt the foam.) Basic flat black will work for coal.

Adding the Load

coal load

Add full covering of crushed coal, or in this case dyed sand.

You can get finely crushed coal and stone from several commercial suppliers at your local hobby shop. An inexpensive alternative used for the load shown here is colored sand, available at craft stores. The black sand works very well for finely crushed coal. You could also use it for cinders around steam locomotive service facilities, fills and ballast in secondary tracks and yards. A two-pound container costs about $2.00.

Spread a layer of white glue across the entire load and sprinkle on your coal. It helps to work over a newspaper so you can collect and recycle the overflow. Once you have the load looking the way you’d like, mist it with some isopropyl alcohol from a spray bottle and pour on a little more white glue, this time diluted about 50/50 with water. Once the glue dries you’ll have a spill-free load. Note that you can do this with the molded loads that come with cars as well if you want to make them a little different or more detailed.

loaded hopper

The finished load adds a different look to this car. Spread out over a train-load, the materials cost less than $1 per car.

You can now place the load back in the car for a test fit. You may have to trim a few lumps of coal off from around edges. To make it easier to remove the loads, consider adding a small piece of ferrous metal to the inside of the foam load. (a few small roofing nails are an easy source – just press in from the bottom.) Now you can use a magnet to pull the load out of the car and avoid taking it off the layout all together!

By carving the load profiles yourself, each load will be unique. This is a great way to add an extra touch to your cars for little cost and a few hours of enjoyable work. Next week we’ll turn our attention to one of the most common cars on our railroads but one which is often neglected when it comes to loads – the boxcar.





Freight Car Friday – Wood Chip Cars

28 06 2013

Railroads are designed to handle heavy loads, but not every load breaks the scales. Wood chips are one of the least-dense loads commonly carried by rail. Because of their relatively light weight, the chips can be hauled in large volume in very big cars.

woodchip car

Cars like this Southern gondola, originally built for wood chips, are often seen in refuse service today. This car must be put in a rotary dumper to be unloaded.

Wood chips are used in a variety of products, from paper to construction material. The lumber industry is a model for raw material utilization. These chips are often the “left over” byproduct from milling operations. Rather than waste the material, it is collected, sold and shipped to other processing plants.

For the railroads, transporting the chips has always presented a challenge. How do you maximize the payload so that you can earn a profit while keeping the cars within the limits allowed by interchange rules?

hopper

This massive hopper was designed for wood chips.

Over the years, many railroads have created wood chip cars by converting older equipment. The cars have come from hoppers, gondolas, even boxcars. In almost every case, part of the process includes raising the sides of the car to the tallest height possible. Purpose-built wood chip hoppers and gondolas can also be found.

Many processing plants have large rotary dumpers, similar to those found for emptying coal and ore, which simply turn the entire car upside down to empty the load. In other cases, the hopper doors on the bottom of the car are used to empty the wood chips into a pit from which a conveyor delivers them to storage piles. Some boxcar conversions retained their doors so they could be unloaded by hand from the sides of the car.

In recent years, with a great rise in the amount of waste hauled by rail, some of these large cars have found new uses in bulk trash and scrap hauling service. Only certain types of refuge can be hauled in these cars. Compressed and heavy bales would overload their capacity very quickly. Like the wood chips, some of this scrap is recycled into other products.

coke hopper

Here’s an interesting twist on converting cars. A section of this wood chip car has been removed to make it smaller for coke service. Compare it to the conventional cars on either side.

There are several industries you could model which would take in these cars. Many, like paper and lumber mills, tend to be large complexes that will require many other types of rail cars as well. Or you could just add a few to the consist of your trains as they pass through your railroad on their way.

Creating an extended height conversion car could be done relatively easily by starting with one of our conventional hoppers or gondolas. Extended sides can be made from styrene plastic or basswood, available at most hobby shops. Don’t worry about being to precise – most of the prototype conversions were clearly after-market changes as well.

Loading your cars is easy – just sweep the sawdust off of the workbench or workshop floor after your next project. A car or two of wood chips is a great break from the many coal loads you’re already carrying.