Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet, Part 10: ore cars

There was little usage of “classic” Missabe-Range-style ore cars in the Far West, particularly on SP’s Coast Division, but there definitely was a certain amount of mining activity. I have only a few ore cars and don’t want more, partly because of the ubiquitous SP GS gondolas which are known to have been used for such service. For what traffic could I use the classic ore car?
     Among the minerals found in many parts of California is chromite. In high-grade form, it can be smelted to yield chromium metal, but the California deposits are well below that quality. Their main use, therefore, was twofold: smelting for ferroalloys (mixtures of iron with other elements, which in turn were used in making alloy steels), and use in refractory brick. Chromite is a temperature-resisting mineral and “chromite” brick, as it’s called, is a premium refractory used in extreme conditions. This latter usage is appropriate for shipments of chromite ore.
     In one of my posts containing part of a Mac Gaddis interview, he mentioned chromite shipments near San Luis Obispo (link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line_19.html), so this is part of my thinking. There was a company called Monarch Mining at one time in the central coast area, and it was involved in the chromite traffic. I can use GS gondolas, as Gaddis mentioned, or perhaps an ore car or two in Monarch lettering. (I should mention that I have no evidence that Monarch in fact ever owned any railroad cars.) The likely destination of the chromite would be the Kaiser refractory brick plant at Moss Landing, near Watsonville. Kaiser made magnesia brick there, and magnesia-chromite brick is a common type.
     In the central coast area of California, there were also low-grade deposits of lead-zinc ore. This was mostly smelted at Selby (along Carquinez Strait) at the American Smelting & Refining Company (Asarco) facility. Whether I will eventually model any traffic of that kind, I haven’t decided.
     Incidentally, for California or anywhere, there are extensive research resources on mineral deposits and usage. (The term “mineral deposit” is used rather than “ore,” because the definition of an ore is an “economic mineral deposit,” and of course what is economic in one time or place may not be in another.) I have used the following for my own research: J.S. Diller, Guidebook to the Western United States, Part D. The Coast Line, Bulletin 614, U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, DC, 1915. Also of value was The Central Coast Geologic Guidebook, Bulletin 61A, Division of Mines, State of California, Sacramento, 1937, and an older but still interesting volume entitled California Mines and Minerals, Calif. Miners Association, San Francisco, 1899.
     One model of a Monarch car, using MMCX reporting marks, is shown below. (In 1953, there was no assigned holder of an MMCX reporting mark.) It is built from an old Model Die Casting white metal kit. It is depicted coupled to an Ulrich gondola model, lettered for Utah Coal Route. Both open-top cars contain removable loads, built on balsa wood platforms which are fitted to the particular HO scale car model, with real mineral glued to them. Switching at Shumala is Class C-10 Consolidation no. 2836.

I mentioned the reasons for coal traffic in my post about my gondola fleet choices, available at:  http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/04/choosing-model-car-fleet-8-gondolas.html.
     Thus although my needs for ore cars hover dangerously close to zero, I will probably roster and operate a few of them, in keeping with what I know about central California ore deposits and mining.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, where is your branch in relation to Lompoc? Maybe you could ship Diatomaceous Earth across your branch?

  2. It's well north of Surf and the Lompoc branch. Certainly the Surf turn, coming back from Lompoc, will have diatomaceous earth (DE) cargoes, which would have been in box cars in my day. But I am not aware of any DE deposits anywhere near Guadalupe or my branch area.
    Tony Thompson