Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet, Part 7: hoppers

Modeling the SP in California means that hopper cars are simply not very visible, and moreover company cars will almost all be ballast cars with longitudinal dump doors, not conventional twin cross-hoppers. I have some versions of the SP ballast hoppers already and will build more (details below), but as with other aspects of the hopper car topic, it’s important to realize that SP, like many Western railroads, used drop-bottom or GS gondolas for many bulk cargoes which would move in cross-hoppers in the eastern U.S. Thus at least some of the bulk traffic I model will be handled in my car fleet of gondolas, not hoppers. I will discuss my fleet plans for gondolas in a separate post.
     Company ballast hoppers are only part of the story, and there are a few uses for cross-hoppers on my layout. Coal and coke fuel was used to some degree in California in foundries and other industrial heating applications into the 1950s, and this largely came from the coal fields in eastern Utah/western Colorado. Carriers were D&RGW, UP, and the Utah Coal Route, but largely in GS gondolas. In the early 1950s, D&RGW was beginning to buy conventional triple hoppers, and I can model those in addition to the GS gons.
     There are some intriguing documents relating to California coal and coke use during miners’ strikes in Utah/Colorado, with coal coming from the southern Illinois coal fields and even from the Pennsylvania/West Virginia/Virginia area. I will probably model this by occasionally operating C&O or WM or N&W hoppers which I have; all three roads did have substantial off-road customers for coal, much of it marketed through fuel brokers. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I modified an old Ulrich cast metal hopper car kit as a Montour car, and despite the unlikelihood of such a car reaching the west coast, I may operate it occasionally too.
     Limestone was moved along the Coast Line, both for processing of sugar beets and for use in foundries. Non-SP hoppers, such as ATSF, can be used for this traffic, and I have a Santa Fe hopper already which is suitable. Other “wandering” twin hoppers would be plausible for such use, such as NP or CB&Q, but as yet I have not built any such models. The SP ballast hoppers were sometimes used in this kind of revenue service also.
     There is photographic evidence for hoppers from anthracite carriers such as Reading showing up in California. The anthracite was apparently used in water treatment plants and elsewhere as an inexpensive “activated charcoal” for purification. I have not decided whether to model this traffic.
     As for modeling SP’s ballast cars, the early Hart Selective cars, with very long dump doors, present a challenge. I have modified an Athearn twin as a stand-in, but the slope sheet angle is too low and the doors are oversize to hide the hopper outlets. A correct car would require considerably more modification to the Athearn or other conventional twin hoppers. Here’s my version:

As a stand-in for Class H-50-6, this can serve in mainline use.
     After World War II, SP began to buy welded ballast cars, and changed from their earlier preference for Hart Selective designs to Enterprise ballast doors. The first of these was Class H-70-11, and this class can be modeled with the resin cars long available at Bruce’s Train Shop in Sacramento (whether they will continue to be available remains to be seen). The prototypes were built in 1953, so are just within my modeling time frame. The photo below shows one of these models.

I will need to build additional cars like this to serve, alongside GS gondolas, in company ballast service.
     Finally, this may be the place to mention SP’s elderly Rodger-Hart convertible ballast cars. By World War II, the survivors had been converted to bottom-dumping only, so were effectively hopper cars dumping between the rails. The old Silver Streak HO kit, though about 10 per cent oversize in all dimensions, does effectively model these cars, and correctly has the underbody truss located behind the plane of the car sides, unlike the plastic version by Train Miniature/Walthers. Here's my Silver Streak model for Class W-50-3:

     Beyond these ballast cars, I will have to develop the foreign-road hopper fleet for bulk traffic judiciously, and as stated will address bulk traffic more completely in a post about my plans for a gondola car fleet.
Tony Thompson


  1. Bruce's Trains in Sacramento is gone. Maybe the recin models are available through Railroad Hobbies in Roseville?

  2. One thing I'm curious to know about early SP hopper cars in particular is whether or not the SP's very first steel hopper cars, class H-50-1, and the USRA 55-ton standard design open hopper car resembled each other or if there are noticeable differences between the two designs. I'm wondering this because I know that Bluford Shops did release a few N-scale replicas of USRA 55-ton standard design open hoppers in SP livery back in 2019 and the numbers on them mean that they're supposed to be replicas of class H-50-1 hoppers. For example, the individual car, which sold for $25, is car #90980. However, although I was able to figure out the class and building dates (September of 1907) of these cars, I can't know for sure if Bluford Shops' models of them accurately match them in design or if they're little more than just similar "stand-ins," if you would. The reason is because I haven't seen any photographs or even any scale drawings of the real cars anywhere on the Internet.

    1. Okay, I have actually found out just now that neither the H-50-1 nor the USRA standard design 55-ton twin-bay open hopper car are the same design. Their cubic foot capacities are different with the USRA design having a lot more at 1880 cubic feet than the H-50-1's 1650 cubic feet, so they can't have the same exact design. The fact that the SP never actually rostered any of the USRA's 55-ton twin-bay hoppers and that the majority of models that represent early SP open hoppers but use the USRA design are already "stand-ins" based on what I've already researched certainly helps, so I now know that the Bluford Shops cars are also "stand-ins."