Saturday, November 27, 2021

The GSC flat cars

General Steel Casting Corporation (GSC), with facilities in Granite City, Illinois and Eddystone, Pennsylvania, was a major supplier of steel castings to the railroad industry, particularly one-piece cast engine beds for steam locomotives. They also produced all kinds of other steel castings, from small to very large, for railroad use. For background, I recommend the Wikipedia article at:

Established in 1928 by co-owners Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Locomotive Company, and American Steel Foundries (a major supplier of truck sideframes), GSC built a new facility adjacent to the Baldwin plant at Eddystone, and a year later, acquired Commonwealth Steel Company, a major supplier of truck and other castings, in Granite City, Illinois. In 1961, the name would be changed to General Steel Industries.

In the 1930s, they worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad to develop a one-piece flat car frame and body, which the PRR designated as Class F30A. This was a 50-foot car, and was found to weigh less than a mechanically similar built-up and riveted 50-foot car. Moreover, it had a lower deck (which is why the top of the bolster was flush with the deck), and required a lot less maintenance.

Although the Association of American Railroads (AAR) proposed the F30A as a recommended standard in July 1941, few such cars were built outside of PRR during the war. But after the war, GSC refined the original PRR design, simplifying and lightening it somewhat and extending the length to the then-standard 53 feet, 6 inches. By the early 1950s, many roads had chosen this design for purchase, often buying only the casting and adding brake gear, trucks and couplers, and deck at their own shops.

Shown below is a GSC photo of one of these castings, from the 1953 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia. As is evident, stake pockets were cast integral with the body.

As a Southern Pacific modeler, I was aware that SP never acquired any of the distinctive GSC cars, though a number of major railroads did. (SP subsidiary T&NO did buy GSC pulpwood flat cars.) I wanted to include one of the general-service cars in my freight car fleet. Accordingly, I acquired a somewhat old Walthers kit (no. 932-3754, first produced in 1990) for a Santa Fe GSC car. These are readily purchased from on-line sellers.

The Santa Fe GSC cars are described in Richard Hendrickson’s book, Santa Fe Open-Top Cars: Flat, Gondola and Hopper Cars, 1902-1959 (Santa Fe Railway Rolling Stock Reference Series, Vol. 7, Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, Midwest City, Oklahoma, 2009). 

The first of several classes was Class FT-W, 200 cars acquired over several months, starting in September of 1951, ATSF 93300–93499. Like so many railroads, Santa Fe purchased the bare frames from GSC and added everything else at their Albuquerque Shops, including ASF A-3 “Ride Control” trucks. (I mention the trucks because the Walthers kit supplies roller-bearing trucks, which have to be replaced.) Below is a photo of the first of the the Class FT-W cars (Santa Fe photo, CSRM).

 Kit assembly is quite simple and straightforward, except for couplers. I’ll return to them in a moment. The underframe as modeled by Walthers isn’t accurate, in that it omits quite a few lightening holes in the center sills and cross-bearers, but at a glance it certainly resembles the prototype, as shown in the first photo in the present post.

The coupler boxes are evidently designed for horn-hook couplers (that’s what the kit provides), but the posts in the boxes are too fat to allow a Kadee coupler to pivot, and even when slimmed down with emery paper, then expand considerably when the provided self-tapping screws are driven into the holes. I simply cut off the posts, drilled and tapped the hole for 2-56, and used a Kadee box lid (upside down) to supply the posts for No. 58 couplers.

(You can buy extra Kadee boxes and lids as their part no. 232, with 20 of each. I use a lot of the lids for coupler installations in all kinds of equipment.)

The trucks I used are the Tangent Scale Models 70-ton ASF A-3 trucks (item 100). Yes, 70-ton trucks are a little different from 50-ton trucks, and this is a 70-ton car. These trucks are a perfect fit for the kit. Here is the model at this point, still needing weathering, especially of the deck, and painting of the metal wheels. This photo clearly shows the distinctive bolster and draft gear tops flush with the deck.

It probably isn’t evident in the image above, but the Walthers molding includes no route card board (perhaps because different railroads had different preferred locations). In the Santa Fe prototype car photo farther up in this post, you can see the route card board to the right of the left-hand truck (you can click on any image to enlarge it). I simply added a rectangle of styrene, attached with canopy glue, to model this board. 

Next I weathered the car. It’s only a few years old in my modeling year of 1953, so not heavily weathered. The deck, molded in gray, only needed some darkening to represent wood in service. (Santa Fe used pressure-treated wood for flat car decks, but not creosote.) I have covered my weathering method extensively in the “Reference pages” linked at the top right of every post, including my treatments of flat car decks. Here is the car, including the route card board:

The addition of repack stencils remains to be done, but otherwise this distinctive flat car is ready for service. It does have molded-on grab irons and sill steps, but for my intended use as a “mainline” freight car only, I’m pleased to add it to my fleet.

Tony Thompson


  1. Bill Parks sent me this question:
    In regard to the GSC flat cars, you mention that most railroads bought just the castings, and then shipped them to their own shops for final assembly. I assume that the castings were shipped on flat cars. Do you have any more details about this (e.g. how many castings per load, how they were secured, etc.)

  2. I have never seen a photo of one of these castings being shipped. But they weighed around 40,000 pounds, readily shipped even on a 50-ton flat car, possibly two per car. Blocking and restraint in the early days may not have been extensive, because of their weight, but in later years I would surmise that steel strapping would be freely applied.
    Tony Thompsn