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


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:


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:


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!

New Product Spotlight – LEGACY USRA Heavy Mikado

30 06 2014

When the United States Railroad Administration released their standard steam locomotive designs, many of the road engines came in both a “light” and “heavy” version to meet the demands of the different roads they would serve. The light Mikado is one of the best known and most-modeled of the USRA designs. Lionel is happy to finally bring its larger cousin to the O Gauge world.

Prototype Background


6-81182 Louisville and Nashville

By the time the USRA was formed, the Mikado had already emerged as the new common design for freight steam. Across the United States, railroads were buying and building 2-8-2s as they moved on from the Consolidations which had been the go-to freight engine for the previous two decades. Consequently, the 2-8-2s were among the first of the USRA’s standard designs to be completed and released.

The USRA offered two standard Mikados. The “light” version weighed in at 290,800 lbs. and produced 54,724 lbs. of tractive effort. The “heavy” locomotive was the same in most major dimensions except those of the boiler and firebox. It tipped the scales at 325,000 lbs. and produced 59,801 lbs. of tractive effort.

3D Mikado

This 3D printed boiler provides a first look at the new locomotive. The finished models will have a die-cast boiler.

With 233 built under USRA auspices, the Heavy Mikado was the third most popular of its designs behind the 0-6-0 and the Light Mikado. Thirty came from Baldwin, the rest from Alco with orders filled at both Brooks and Schenectady. The first arrived in 1918. Baldwin built a pair for Atlanta and West Point which were modern locomotives of USRA Heavy Mikado dimensions in 1944.

Original allocations are sketchy based on the refusal of locomotives by some roads, transfers, eventual copies and of course the clouds which come from the passage of time. For example, the Frisco’s locomotives were originally refused by the PRR, then the IHB and even the SLSF itself before they were finally accepted. Multiple sources confirm the USRA Heavy Mikado was originally delivered to these railroads:

  • CNJ

    6-81185 Central of New Jersey

    Central RR of New Jersey

  • Chicago Burlington and Quincy
  • Chicago Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific
  • Chicago, St Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha
  • Erie
  • Fort Worth and Denver (CB&Q)
  • Great Northern
  • Louisville and Nashville
  • Pittsburgh and Lake Erie (NYC)
  • Frisco

    6-81186 Frisco

    Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny (NYC)

  • St Louis – San Francisco
  • Wheeling and Lake Erie

Additionally, following the end of the USRA, many railroads ordered copies of this design, or locomotives based largely around its dimensions. All together, nearly 1,000 locomotives were built to this design. The USRA Mikados and their kin are the closest thing the United States ever had to a nationwide “standard” freight steam locomotive.

Lionel’s Model


6-81192 Great Northern

Like the prototype, our new Heavy Mikado shares many of the same components as our previous releases of the Light Mikado. The locomotive shares the same frame, wheels and running gear as well as the same tender. The boiler and all of its attached parts are completely new tooling however. The larger boiler made it even easier to include a feature that is a favorite of many – whistle steam!

The Lionel model will have all of these great features:

  • LEGACY Control System equipped – able to run in LEGACY Control mode, in TrainMaster Command Control mode, or in Conventional mode with a standard transformer
  • Odyssey II Speed Control with On/Off switch
  • LEGACYRailSounds system featuring:
    • CrewTalk dialog and TowerCom announcements, each with different scenarios depending on whether the locomotive is in motion or stopped
    • Six official railroad speeds with Crewtalk dialog
    • DynaChuff synchronized with 32 levels of intensity as the locomotive gains speed
    • LEGACY “Real-Time Quilling Whistle” control with instant response for realistic signature ‘quilling’ and correctly timed warning signals
    • Single hit or continuous mechanical bell sounds
    • Sequence Control plays the sound effects of an entire trip, including warning sounds and announcements, based on the movement and speed of the locomotive
    • Current speed and fuel dialog, refueling sound effects
  • NYC

    6-81188 New York Central

    Whistle Steam effect

  • Powerful maintenance-free motor with momentum flywheel
  • Wireless Tether connection between locomotive and tender
  • ElectroCoupler on rear of tender
  • Directional lighting including operating headlight and back-up light on rear of tender
  • Illuminated classification lights on the front of locomotive and tender
  • C&IM

    6-81187 Chicago and Illinois Midland

    Traction tires

  • Fan-driven smoke unit
  • Adjustable smoke output
  • Interior illumination in cab
  • Die-cast metal locomotive body, pilot, and frame
  • Die-cast metal tender body and trucks
  • High level of separately applied metal details
  • Separately applied builder’s plates
  • Authentically detailed cab interior
  • Glowing ashpan and firebox in cab
  • Cab glass windows
  • Engineer and fireman figures
  • O-54 Minimum curve

6-81184 Pittsburgh and West Virginia

The USRA Heavy Mikados are being built to order. They were presented in C&IM, CNJ, Great Northern, L&N, NYC, P&WV, Frisco and as an undecorated Pilot model. Look to see them at your dealer later this year with a suggested retail of $1299.99.

Freight Car Friday – USRA Double-Sheathed Boxcars

15 11 2013

Last week we took an overall look at the freight cars developed by the United States Railway Administration during World War I. Let’s follow up on that this week with a closer look at one of the USRA prototypes reproduced by Lionel – the double-sheathed boxcar.

What’s a Double-Sheathed Boxcar?


Plans for the USRA double-sheathed boxcar from the Railway Mechanical Engineer show the prominence of the fish-belly underframe.

A double-sheathed boxcar has sheathing, or siding, on both sides of the structural members which make up the sides of the car. This gives the car a smooth-sided appearance on the exterior. On the USRA’s double-sheathed car, those interior braces were made of wood, not steel. This reduced the weight of the car and construction costs, but it also lessened its capacity and durability.

To help compensate for the reduced strength of the wood construction of the walls compared to the single-sheathed design which had an exposed steel Warren Truss frame, the double-sheathed cars were rated at 40 tons while the single-sheathed version carried a 50 ton rating. Also, the double-sheathed cars featured a fish-belly underframe. This thicker casting was one of the distinctive features of the car.


The C&NW owned 1250 USRA double-sheathed boxcars – all given even numbers.

When the USRA was formed, the merits of single vs. double-sheathed designs were still very much in debate among the American railroads. (Such discord was more common than agreement in those years.) The same was true among members of the committee.

There were concerns over production costs and delays due to the special length of boards required for the single-sheath car. There was also great debate over the need for cars as large as 50 ton capacity. Consequently the USRA split their intended orders for boxcars and proceeded with both designs for production.

Roster of USRA Cars

The double-sheathed boxcar was initially assigned to 28 railroads. For a variety of reasons, some of these cars were not delivered and reallocated to other lines. 500 of the initial 25,000 car order were never delivered. Those 500 cars can be attributed to an order of ventilated boxcars for the Florida East Coast car Ferry Company.


USRA Double-Sheathed Boxcar Roster


The roster shown here includes the initial and final assignments. Not included are any of the “USRA clones” built after the war. Click here for a pdf version of the roster: USRA double sheathed boxcar roster *Data for the roster was compiled from “USRA Freight Cars: An Experiment in Standardization” by James E. Lane, DBA, CPA in Railroad History No. 128, published by the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society in Spring, 1973.

The vast majority of these cars were built by American Car and Foundry, with 11,000 assigned. Other builders included Keith Car and Manufacturing Co. (1500), Laconia Car Co. (1000), Lenoir Car Works (2000), Liberty Car and Equipment Co. (1000), McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Co. (500), Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Co. (4000), Pacific Car and Foundry Co. (2000), Standard Steel Car Co. (2000).

After the War

ATSF box

Even after years of revenue service, many of the USRA cars ended their careers in company service. The Santa Fe had one of the largest fleets of these cars when new.

Following the war, these cars still had a lot of service life in them of course. Many railroads rebuilt their cars with steel sides. Often, they would retain the original fish-belly frame making these rebuilds much easier to spot. Some cars lasted long enough to help out in the war effort again in World War II. Rebuilding programs varied from road to road with some extending the height of the car, replacing roofs and or ends in addition to simply re-sheathing with steel.

While the USRA cars were not the last double-sheathed boxcars built, they were certainly the design’s final hurrah. As this design was on its way out of favor, the single-sheathed USRA boxcar design was the car of choice for railroads looking to build duplicates, although there were also duplicates of this design built at least as late as 1951. With the quantities and variety of operating roads, one of these cars should look right at home on just about any steam-era layout.

Freight Car Friday – USRA Standard Freight Cars

8 11 2013

On December 28, 1917, amid the chaos created on the rails from the unprecedented traffic demands of the “Great War,” President Woodrow Wilson shifted control of America’s railroads to the newly-created United States Railroad Administration. Most model railroaders are already familiar with the USRA’s standard steam locomotive designs. Much less has been written about the 100,000 USRA standard freight cars.


The need to create these freight cars is seen in the purpose of the USRA itself. In the months leading up to the government takeover, America’s railroads were grinding themselves and the entire industrial infrastructure to a halt. Much has been written and

USRA Mallet

The USRA’s standardized steam locomotives are well documented and widely accepted. The 100,000 freight cars ordered have received less attention and acclaim.

speculated as to the factors behind this failure; the causes were many and muddied. The result however was clear. Thousands of tons of goods were piling up on the ground and rotting in the fields because the railroads could not deliver them fast enough to the ports for shipment to our armies fighting in Europe.

Sighting the need for efficient rail transportation to the war effort, President Wilson used his wartime powers to place the private companies under temporary government control. It was no doubt as controversial in 1917 as it would be today but there was no time for debate.

single sheathed

The single-sheathed boxcar was the most common of the USRA designs.

Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo assumed control of the USRA in addition to his regular duties. The USRA set forth to improve the efficiency of railroads by implementing a number of local changes in line with a nation-wide plan and goal. Equipment would be pooled, terminals and yards shared, routings made more direct (except in cases where a circuitous routing would be more efficient due to congested areas like Pittsburgh) and operations like passenger ticketing and freight classifications centralized. And of course to meet the need for additional equipment the USRA would order thousands of locomotives and freight cars to standardized designs.

The Fight for Standardization

Railroads had made some minor moves towards national standards prior to WWI. The Master Car Builders Association had created universal standards for trucks, couplers and airbrake components – essential for the free interchange of cars between lines – in the first decades of the 1900s. Other roads that operated as part of “systems” or under common ownership also often adopted standardized car or locomotive designs among themselves.

composite gon

The composite gondola had unloading doors in the floor making it suitable for a variety of loads including coal.

But as far as the design and construction of cars and locomotives as a whole, each of the major railroads still considered its needs unique and its engineers superior to the competition. Indeed the efficacy of the USRA’s standardization was as much debated after the war as prior to the exercise.

Again, the USRA did not have time for the luxury of debate over the value of standardization as a whole. There would of course be plenty of dialog over what would constitute the “best” standard design. Despite this, the USRA announced designs for freight cars by the end of March, 1918 – just three months after its creation. This was in no small part to existing studies which had been performed by the American Railroad Association leading up to the war. The ARA’s findings were no less criticized by the railroads, but the USRA had the unmatched ability to put the debate into practice.

The Cars

Although more cars were designed, and as well there were some “non-standard” cars built under the USRA’s license and operation, the 100,000-delivered freight car fleet came down to just five designs:

  • 50 ton single-sheathed boxcar
  • 40 ton double-sheathed boxcar
  • 55 ton all-steel hopper
  • 50 ton composite drop-bottom gondola
  • 70 ton all-steel mill gondola

The 55 ton hopper was similar to several common hopper designs already in service in the Northeast. These drawings can be found in the April, 1918 issue of Railway Mechanical Engineer.

The designs are reflective on the standard practices of the era with a mixture of wood and steel being used. This was as much for fast assembly and availability of materials as for the still ongoing debate over the best uses of both materials – the strength of steel vs. the light weight of wood.

Note the lack of any flat, tank, stock, reefer, or covered hoppers from the list. Covered hoppers had not really come into vogue yet. Most of the commodities we now associate with them were hauled in boxcars in 1918. Existing fleets of the other designs must have been deemed adequate by the USRA and the railroads as no cars were ordered or produced although there were plans and recommendations for improvements for reefers and even baggage and passenger equipment.

The USRA placed an unprecedented order for 100,000 total cars with 17 different builders for a total cost of $289,453,450 on May 1, 1918. That’s over $4.3 billion in 2012 dollars!

Allocating the Cars

DLW double sheathed

The DL&W received 800 USRA 40-ton double-sheathed boxcars. We’ll take a closer look at the prototype for these Lionel models next week.

Perhaps the only thing more controversial to the railroads than the standards of the cars was who would get them. Some roads asked for cars the USRA determined they really didn’t need. Others did everything they could not to accept the cars they were assigned including going to court. Complicating all of this for the USRA was the fact that peace broke out before all of this construction and allocation could be completed.

Some cars were built before a buyer could be had. These were stenciled with the reporting marks GET (Government Equipment Trust) until the USRA could convince a railroad to take them. The cars were not gifts from Uncle Sam – each road paid for their allotment. Though one has to think that an inventory of excess cars on hand probably didn’t work to the taxpayers’ benefit when the disputed cars were finally sold.

Ultimately, 64 railroads received USRA cars. The breakdown included 50,000 boxcars (25,000 single and 24,500 double sheathed + 500 non-standard ventilated boxcars), 24,500 composite drop-bottom gons, 7,000 hoppers (4,500 standard cars, 500 non-standard twin hoppers and 3,000 non-standard 70 ton 3-bay hoppers) and 4,500 steel gons.


Were the standard freight car designs a success? Like the steam locomotives the grade you give the USRA’s freight cars depends on your perspective. As to the cars themselves, most were in service long enough to serve in the next World War. They were generally regarded as good cars of solid construction and could interchange between railroads without problem.

steel gon

The 70 ton steel gondola was built in relatively low numbers and delivered to only five railroads; all of whom served a large number of steel mills.

The steel hopper, produced in “small” numbers in comparison during the war was adopted with minor changes as a standard car design by the Association of American Railroads and cloned by the tens of thousands.

The boxcars were among the first cars to be rebuilt. The debate over the preferred boxcar design ended quickly after the war in favor of all steel or at the very least single-sheathed cars. Most of the USRA cars would be rebuilt however with improved ends and steel sides. Many of these rebuilt cars would see another 40 years of service.

Ultimately, the USRA may not have been able to settle the argument on the merits of standardization but they did at least open the eyes of many who had dismissed it outright. Over the coming decades the railroads and car builders would continue the trend.

Learning More

Very little has been written in modern publications on these cars. Some of the best information, including the plans shown in these images, can be found from the time of their production. See Volume 92 of the Railway Mechanical Engineer (1918) for lots of great information. An article with drawings can be found in the April issue, but you’ll find smaller news clips about both the standard cars and locomotives scattered throughout the year.

An excellent article on the cars also appeared in Railroad History, Volume 128 of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society (Spring, 1973.) James E. Lane’s history of the cars includes tables outlining both planned and final ownership allocations of the the entire fleet.