Canadian Mill Gondolas – Part 1

I find Gondolas to be the most interesting piece of railroad equipment.  Perhaps this is because I grew up in a steel town where battered and beaten gondolas full of scrap and finished steel abound.  In order to realistically reproduce the rag-tag effect of a long string of gondolas, there needs to be variety in their shape and size.  Unfortunately, there are not enough different models available to choose from, and my challenge is made more difficult by the fact that commercially available models of Canadian prototypes are even less abundant.  Narrow things down to prototype cars that were in use during the 70s and my challenge is compounded.  Every model is a compromise, but my enjoyment of the hobby seems to increase in an inverse proportion to those compromises.  In this post, and a few that will follow, I’ll outline how I came up with reasonable stand-in models of some Canadian gondolas using a very common model of an American prototype.

The gondolas I’m focusing on were built in the 1950s.  Not surprisingly, the technology used to build railcars by the Canadian builders was no different from that being used by builders in the U.S.  I’m not an expert on the matter, but my understanding is that the railcar building situation in Canada during that time was such that there were three major players, and all three were distinctly Canadian companies.  Canadian Car & Foundry in Montreal, National Steel Car in Hamilton Ontario, and Eastern Car Company in Trenton Nova Scotia were the big players in Canada.  There were other smaller and specialized operations, but these were the three companies building large numbers of freight cars from the period after WWII until about the early 60s when Hawker Siddeley came into the picture. [note: Chris Van Der Heide provided a handy overview of the history of railcar builders in Canada after WWII in the comments for this post.]  Canadian railroads tended to buy from Canadian railcar builders, likely because there was a bureaucratic incentive, but possibly because these builders were also customers.  For instance, National Steel Car was a big customer of TH&B, and most of the TH&B rolling stock was built by NSC.

I model the 1970s, but I’m focusing on that post-WWII era for this series because the cars I’m modelling would still be in revenue service during the 70s, but they would already be pretty heavily worn from rough handling. Mill gondolas are very simple pieces of rolling stock, and because of the nature of what they carry and how they carry it, those post-war all-steel gondolas were useable for a very long time.  In the photo below, a TH&B mill gondola was bad-ordered after 30 years of service.


TH&B mill gondola 2491 on track 2 of Kinnear Old South Yard awaiting movement to Intermetco in Welland for scrapping on May 15th 1989. Photo by Gerry Schaefer.

Before I built up my models, I did a bit of research on the prototypes I wanted to depict. The TH&B car in the photo above was built in May of 1957 by National Steel Car.  TH&B bought 100 copies of this car, numbered 2400-2499, and they took delivery of 50 more in the fall of 1957 numbered 2500-2549.  These are 156,000 lb or 70 ton capacity cars that measure 52’6″ in length.  Notice that the car in the photo has no drop ends, and is built with rivet construction during a time when welded construction was becoming more common throughout the rail car industry.   I find it curious that they purchased a riveted car in 1957.  Perhaps they wanted cars that were exactly the same as the same as the 100 car order they placed with National Steel Car in 1953.  Those cars are were numbered 2300-2399, and were identical to the 1957 orders.


Taken in 1989, this photo shows an example of a 2300 series car at Aberdeen Yard behind the car shops. This car was out of revenue service and loaded with debris from the process of demolishing various TH&B facilities in Hamilton, undertaken by CP, the new owners. Photo by Gerry Schaefer

TH&B 70 ton mill gondola 2470 in Welland Yard September 18th 1988. This car was bad ordered for deteriorated floor decking on August 26, 1983 and was scrapped at Intermetco in Welland, ON on April 26, 1989. Lance Brown photo.

TH&B 70 ton mill gondola 2470 in Welland Yard September 18th 1988. This car was bad ordered for deteriorated floor decking on August 26, 1983 and was scrapped at Intermetco in Welland, ON on April 26, 1989. Lance Brown photo.

Canadian Pacific gondolas from the same era were very similar, dimensionally at least, and  represent the standard design practices of the late 40s, which carried over into the 50s:  70 ton capacity, riveted steel construction, wooden floors, 52’6″ in length, and drop ends for loads that are longer than the car.  The following photos are from the Canadian Freight Car Gallery, a great source for photos.

Peter J. Vincent took this photo of CP 341810 in Chicago in 1979.  This car was built by Easter Car Works in 1956 and represents the prototype for my two CP models.

Peter J. Vincent took this photo of CP 341810 in Chicago in 1979. This car was built by Easter Car Company in 1956 and represents the prototype for my two CP models.

Jurgen Kleylein took this photo of CP 338714.  This car was built by Easter Car Works in 1951.  It has been repainted from the black block lettering with which it was delivered.

Jurgen Kleylein took this photo of CP 338714. This car was built by Easter Car Company in 1951. It has been repainted from black with block lettering (in which it was delivered) to sport CP’s Multimark logo on Action Red.

Knowing a bit more about the prototype cars, I was able to move forward with some models.  In Part 2, I’ll describe how I built up, and then beat up, one TH&B and two CP  mill gondolas as they might have appeared in the 1970s.

17 thoughts on “Canadian Mill Gondolas – Part 1

    • The P2K gondolas are slightly less similar to the TH&B prototypes. On the P2K model, there’s a an end sill (I think that’s what it’s called) that goes across the end of the car above the coupler. The CP car that I’m modelling has that sill. The TH&B car does not. I considered cutting that part out for the TH&B car, but I decided against it for a few reasons. First, the model was already assembled and doing that modification is slightly more difficult. Second, and I’ll outline this a bit more in the next post, I decided that I would only do one major modification to the car and stop there, for fear of “mission creep” taking the project into an all-out kit bash. I think the car looks pretty good in its finished state. You can judge for yourself.

      • The heavy end sill is related to the model being a drop-end car. On a fixed end car like the THB cars pictured above, the end is structural. On a drop-end car, the end is moveable and decidedly not a structural component of the car, so the end required a frame with a heavy bottom brace/sill to hold it together.

  1. Some additional general comments on the history of Canada’s major builders, for anyone interested but unaware or unfamiliar with them.

    As noted above, in the 1950s (and ’40s, ’30s…) the “Big Three” Canadian builders were CC&F (Montreal & Thunder Bay), ECC (Trenton, NS), and NSC (Hamilton).

    By the mid to late 1960s, Marine Industries Ltd. (a major Canadian shipbuilding company) had emerged as a major player on the Canadian freight car manufacturing scene, and by the early 1970s ECC (then known as Dominion Coal and Steel Company (DOSCO) as a result of some mergers with other Nova Scotia corporations) and CC&F had been folded into the above noted Hawker-Siddeley Canada.

    So for the 1970s-80s the “Big Three” were NSC, MIL and HS.

    By the mid-1980s, MIL had dropped out of the freight car business, and Hawker-Siddeley sold off its Canadian freight car interests. The Thunder Bay plant (ex-CC&F) was sold to UTDC and then Bombardier (this is where the GO Transit fleet was built) and the Trenton (ex-ECC/DOSCO) plant was purchased by SNC Lavalin and later shut down and acquired by the Nova Scotia government and operated independently as Trenton Works Ltd. for a few years before being sold to Greenbrier (owner of Gunderson Inc. (formerly FMC), one of the major American builders). Under Greenbrier, the Trenton Works plant remained a major North American builder until it closed around 2007.

    Which leaves NSC as the last man standing on the Canadian railcar manfuacturing scene today.

    • Thanks for expanding on the information that was in the post, Chris. To everyone reading this, Chris was my source of information about the major railcar builders during the post-WWII period in which these cars were constructed.

    • Oh, one builder I completely left out was PROCOR in Oakville, ON, which mainly built tank cars. PROCOR was a subsidiary of Union Tank Car, one of the largest builders of railway tank cars in North America.
      PROCOR was a major builder, but I don’t believe they’ve built any new cars in the last ten years or so, all production now handled by UTC.

  2. Also note that CP and PGE (and probably CN too but I haven’t confirmed this) also rostered fixed end gondolas identical to the THB cars pictured here. A lot of the CP cars were rebuilt to woodchip cars and covered gondolas of various descriptions, so I don’t have too many photos of them in original configurations on CP.

    See the following image for an example:
    The photo is nice and square on the side, so you can’t really see the end, but its clear that it lacks the heavy end sill that would be required on a drop-end car.

      • Thanks for your comment Ken. That ONR car seems to have more in common with other mid-60s gondolas than these older riveted cars I’m modelling, which use fabrication technology from the 1940s. But in the end, a compromise is better than no ONR gondola at all, so I see where you’re coming from.

        If I were to build this ONR car, I might be inclined to try doing something with the Tangent welded 70 ton ACF gondola rather than the P2K kit. While the Tangent gondola is just as much a compromise as the P2K car, I think the Tangent car captures the general appearance of this 1960s-era welded car.

        We Canadian modellers are accustomed to compromises in our models. I think it’s always tough to sort out how to best fake a Canadian car. This can be a very subjective thing.

  3. I believe, prior to the 1980″s free trade agreement, there were punitive taxes and terrifs on equipment made outside Canada. I would love to see a summary of how this worked, as it is a foundation stone of why Canadian locomotives and cars were different than US ones, and really shaped what we see as “Canadian” rail from the 70’s back to the war, or before.

    Chris Bennett

    • I don’t know the legal details of it, but the C&O and NYC also purchased locomotives from GMDD in London for service on their Canadian divisions. US power would run through, but anything permanently assigned to the Canadian division were Canadian built because of import regulations etc.
      Basically all of Canada’s major locomotive builders were subsidiaries of major US firms, created to build locomotives for Canadian railways in Canada. GMDD was of course a subsidiary of EMD (a subsidiary of GM), CLC in Kingston was Fairbanks-Morse’s Canadian subsidiary and MLW was a subsidiary of ALCO.

  4. I’m wondering what sort of model you’ll be starting with. The P2K cars are the ones we have been using at the club so far, since there were riveted, and the correct dimensions. The only modification we make usually is shortening the fishbelly, since Canadian cars almost universally have a slope between two ribs, while American cars slope between two, thus making the fishbelly deeper. Trimming off the excess side sheets and rib extensions below the point where the slope reaches the first rib does a remarkable job of transforming the appearance of the Greenville prototype into something more Canadian-looking.

    The other main observation I made on Canadian gons is that they can generally be divided between Z-braced sides and hat ribbed sides. The P2K is more hat-shaped than Z-braced. I think the cars you are working on are hat ribbed as well; and that’s good, because it’s a bit easier to model. Z-bracing was older technology, and used on earlier cars.

    As for the cars being riveted, in Canada riveted construction was the norm with Canadian car builders until around 1960. There were few boxcars built with welded sides before they switched to 50 foot construction in the 60s.


  5. HI,
    very interesting facts for the gondolas.I´m in the progress of building some for my layout.Have some of those P2K Gondolas and thought waht´s easier,converting them or scratchbuild the sides,ends etc and only use the P2K underframe if I can get it off from the kit…

    Regards,Christian from Germany

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