Tangent GATX 8000 Gal. Acid Tank Cars

A few weeks before the holidays, I ordered and received a pair of 8000 gal. acid tank cars from Tim at Action Hobbies in Kingsville.  These cars are by Tangent Scale Models and, like the rest of their product line, are very nicely detailed and finished.  I dare you to click on the link to Tangent’s web site and not be overcome by the urge to buy at least one model.

Models like these are expensive, by any measure, but one of the benefits of building a small layout is that I can put more resources into each model.  The paint scheme on the two cars I bought represents cars from a GATX lease fleet.  You may have noticed them in a photo from my December 29, 2014 post celebrating the installation of an NCE DCC system on my home layout.  Here is a shot of GATX 24941, off-spot at International Paper (on my layout, of course).


A keen eye will reveal that the car in the photo above is lettered for a pool of cars assigned to haul phosphoric acid, a food additive that provides tanginess.  As they stand, these models are out of place at a paper plant.  By default, my plan is to cycle these cars into the consist of trains TF-2/FT-1, COJ-32, or any of the CASO trains once I build the North Tonawanda yard across from the paper plant.  However, I’m exploring another possibility.

According to my limited understanding of the paper making process, sulphuric acid is used to manage Ph levels of the digested pulp as it passes through the washer and thickening machines.  It’s also used to make chlorine dioxide to bleach fine paper products to a brilliant white.  I’ll definitely need some sulphuric acid tank cars for my paper plant at Tonawanda Island.

Sulphuric acid is very dense, and is therefore moved in tank cars of relatively small volume, by modern standards.  At 8000 gallons, the prototype for these spectacular models by Tangent are approximately the right size to have been in pool of cars assigned to haul sulphuric acid.  I’ll have to do some research and reach out to my friends who are more knowledgeable about the details of freight car useage to figure this out.  The best-case scenario would have me undertaking some minor relettering to repurpose these two models.  I’m hoping that will be the case, but if not, these cars are fine addition to the various through trains that will be modelled in the next phase of the layout.


5 thoughts on “Tangent GATX 8000 Gal. Acid Tank Cars

  1. What kind of paper did your mill produce? As you have noted, the paper type drives the raw material input and will also drive the cars used for shipping finished product types — rolls of newsprint versus boxed office papers on pallets versus corrugated rolls.

    In your time frame there may have been less specialization but during the late 1980s/early 1990s when I had a lot of focus on recycling and the paper industry the only reason some mills survived was that they were sole source suppliers of certain paper types. At the time the over capacity of the industry was greater than all of the paper produced in Wisconsin but most of the mills there were specialty mills so they continued on.

  2. Bill, you make a good point. The International Paper mill at North Tonawanda produced a range of fine paper products, which includes office and consumer writing stationary. There is no evidence of any kind of recycled paper operation happening, which is not surprising given the era.

    Interestingly, the input of wood changed in the 1960s, just before the era I’m modelling. The mill originally received logs by ship. In the 1960s, they invested in facilities to offload wood chips from boxcars. I know this because I found a newspaper article that was presumably extracted from a press release. Photos of the plant during the Penn Central era show a vacant space where the “log yard” once was. Wood chips were stockpiled a few hundred feet away from that space, immediately adjacent to the unloading facility. Wood chips were conveyed the digester from the new chip yard.

    The plant I’m modelling was closed by the mid 70s, which would seem to coincide with your description of the industry’s general surplus of production capacity. The conversion from logs to wood chips at this plant is one of those situation where a substantial capital investment is undertaken within a decade of closing a plant down. It seems illogical to invest in a plant and then close it down, but these things are never as simple as they seem on the surface.

    • I wonder if they had any rag content in their fine papers? An excuse for some bales of rags to arrive via a box car to be shredded.

      My input on the recycling side for the mills was to get permits to create extruded fuel pellets out of short paper fiber (waste) blended with recovered plastic film from warehousing operations to replace coal in the mill power plants. We could blend to match the BTU value of the coal we replaced. Because the plants were next to rivers we had to have the recycling exemption as waste processing was a prohibited activity. Which raises the issue how is your mill powered?

      Trust me, it was easier to load cardboard into containers and ship it to China for them to make new cardboard and ship products back!

      • It’s interesting that you bring up the power plant. According to my research, the plant burned up to 150 tons of coal per day. That sounds like a great deal, but I’m no expert on these things. My photos reveal a few hopper cars of coal in the small storage yard behind the plant, so I know the coal came in by rail. But I’m still trying to sort out a couple of mysteries about the coal.

        First, I know it was stockpiled next to one of the employee parking lots, but I don’t have a photo of exactly how the coal was unloaded from the hoppers. The coal came in by hopper car, so it wasn’t unloaded by hand. There must have been some sort of unloading pit and conveyor, but I have no photos of it. In one photo it looks like there might be some kind of bulldozer or front-end loader next to the coal pile, but I can’t be certain.

        Second, I don’t know how the coal got from the stockpile to the powerhouse. There is no above ground conveyor. Someone suggested that they might have built a conveyor under ground, but that seems unlikely to me. The plant was on a relatively small island in the Niagara River, and I don’t know how economical it would have been to dig a trench in the limestone when they could have built a much more economical above-ground conveyor. The ground around the powerhouse looks to be paved, and I’m wondering if there was a track into the powerhouse that hasn’t shown up in the photos. The hoppers could have been spotted directly in the powerhouse for unloading. If that was the case, they could have used an empty hopper to move coal from the stockpile to the powerhouse. It’s also possible that they used a dump truck to transfer the coal between the stockpile and the powerhouse, or a combination of the two (if, in fact, there was a track leading into the powerhouse.

        These are some things I’ll need to sort out over time. In the meantime, I’m moving ahead with some assumptions.

        • 55 ton hoppers imply 3 per day 70 ton imply 2+. In your era a front end loader would make sense but what about the time when the plant was first built? A shallow dump pit with a portable conveyor elevator to move the coal to a surface pile would have worked but certainly would not be very efficient.

          So much of the construction equipment we see today didn’t exist in the early 1950 time frame — I recall a real steam shovel digging a residential basement on the lot next door circa 1952 — it created a ramp so it could crawl out when finished. A steam roller also paved the street. Great times for a 5 year old!

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