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.
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.
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.
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.