Friday, February 25, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-6: covered hoppers

In 1953, covered hoppers were still fairly rare. Nationally, they were less than 2 percent of all freight cars (actually 1.75%), and at that time were predominantly used for bulk cement service. In that same year, the SP fleet included just 587 covered hoppers out of a total fleet of 57,671 cars, or very close to 1%. At that time SP owned very few hoppers of any kind, with the balance of about 1700 cars being ballast cars with longitudinal-dumping doors, not traditional twin cross-hoppers.
     This means I don’t need many covered hoppers of any reporting marks. Further,  since cement is mostly a low-value commodity which can’t support the cost of long-distance shipping, there shouldn’t be covered hoppers from far-away railroads. The use of these cars for cement effectively means that they were only free-running cars for loads of that particular commodity. Chemical shipping was just beginning to make use of covered hoppers in 1953, and grain shipping in covered hoppers was off in the future.
     Photos of SP yards and trains in the early 1950s support this analysis, with fairly few covered hoppers visible in most places (near cement plants being an obvious exception). Accordingly, I plan to have four or five SP covered hoppers, all of which will be the square-hatch variety standard in 1953. The Pullman-Standard PS-2 with round hatches was not introduced until mid 1953, and SP bought none until 1954.
     Luckily, InterMountain currently produces a superb model of the square-hatch cars. For foreign-road cars, I have one each GN, ATSF, UP, and D&RGW, along with one each SHPX and NAHX private-lease cars, and all of these will operate sparingly. I may add a T&NO or SSW car. These will largely be in mainline service only.
     I do have one on-line destination which can accept cars of cement: my California Division of Highways yard, since in my era the CDH did some of its own building of roads and bridges, unlike today when CalTrans uses contractors for virtually all such work. Likely most deliveries will be SP cars.
     Here’s a photo at Shumala of one of the IM cars, inbound with a load. This car was also pictured in my original Dispatcher’s Office article, complete with waybill, but did not appear in the magazine. The corrected version is available, as mentioned in an earlier post, at Google Docs via this link: 

These InterMountain cars don’t require much work to be ready to roll, just a bit of cement spillage on a nearly new car like this one, so adding to the fleet will be easy.
Tony Thompson


  1. Back in the 1950-1970's time period the Coast Division was a major originating point for covered hopper cargoes. A lot of loads of sand came off the Monterey Branch from Asilomar, Sand City, Marina and Lapis. Sand and cement came off the Santa Cruz and Davenport branches in quantity daily. Diatomaceous earth came off the White Hills branch. Cement also came off the Los Altos branch from a large plant at Permanente.

    While the number of covered hoppers was relatively small on the total system, the large amount of covered hopper cargoes originating on the Coast Division would skew the need for covered hoppers to some multiples of what the system averages would dictate.

    Down where you model, I would think you would see some of the sand and cement cargoes from points north and certainly you would see some of that White Hills traffic as well.

    I also strongly recommend the Tahoe Model Works 70 Ton A-3 "Ride Control" trucks be used to replace the stock Intermountain trucks on your covered hoppers. Brian Leppert makes great trucks and these are some of his best work. The part number is TMW 210 for the semi-scale wheels, which I'm sure you would prefer.

  2. Greg, your description of traffic is certainly correct, BUT as you say, for the wide period 1950s to 1970s. As I model 1953, very early in that period, MOST of what you describe hasn't happened yet. Sand was still being shipped in gondolas, and the diatomaceous earth in sacked form in box cars. Cement certainly was handled as you describe and was by far the dominant use for covered hoppers at that time.

    I agree with you that the cement traffic on my main line should be significant, serving the building boom in Southern California, although a great deal of their cement came from Colton and other local sources; the Davenport and Permanente cement was largely consumed in the Bay Area's own building boom. I will have sand cargoes, but in GS gondolas.

    I entirely agree with your assessment of Tahoe Model Works trucks, and have used them where needed. I also do prefer, as you suggest, the "semi-scale" wheel treads for appearance. Nowadays I replace most wheelsets in trucks with Reboxx wheelsets of appropriate length, giving a free-rolling and better-looking truck. My biggest gripe in recent years has been the Red Caboose "equalized" trucks, with wheelsets badly mismatched to the sideframes in most cases. Replacement with Reboxx wheelsets magically transforms them into good-performing trucks.

    I have thought for awhile about doing a post on "freight car standards," the things I make sure are present as a MINIMUM on all my freight cars. The foregoing comments on wheelsets are part of such a topic.
    Tony Thompson