Thursday, March 24, 2022

Evaluating the car fleet anew: Gondolas

 Perhaps as many as 30 years ago, I began to try to rationally plan my fleet of freight cars for the layout. I did this by analyzing the cars of each type that I had (say, stock cars), and then determining what traffic they might be needed to carry, to and from what points, and how often. The latter aspects provided an idea of how many cars of that particular type I might need, and which ones.

There was a hiatus in layout activity following my move from Pittsburgh, PA to California, because I didn’t have suitable home layout space. But in 2005 we moved to a house with a fine space, though not overly large, and layout work resumed. I have written a bunch of blog posts about the rebuilding (“rebuilding layout” should be a good search term in the search box at right, if you’re interested), but one post that captures the transition activities is this one: .

Once rebuilding was well underway, and I was beginning to actually do some switching on the layout, I re-opened the idea of analyzing the car fleet composition. The new layout would have different features and somewhat different goals, so the fleet would necessarily differ. In addition, many new (and much better) HO scale freight cars were coming on the market, so older cars could be replaced.

I found the old computer files of my fleet planning lists, and set about revising them. Several of the revisions led to blog posts in 2011 and 2012. One of the car fleet areas I summarized was gondolas (see the post about it here: ). I recently realized that I needed to re-visit this car type.

The traffic analysis in the blog post just cited is fine, and I wouldn’t alter the thrust of it at all. But my emphasis today is a little different. I have begun to use more General Service (GS) gondolas in ballast service, taking advantage of building some more Red Caboose kits and acquiring some Challenger brass models. Now I can run divisional ballast trains like the one below (this was also discussed in my recent Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH article, see ), seen here passing Shumala.

Of course these cars are not limited to ballast loads. One load needed regularly at Shumala on my layout is sand for the new sand house (construction described in an MRH article in the January 2021 issue ). Below you see one of my venerable Ulrich cast white-metal gondolas (produced in the 1950s), being switched to the sand house. They are a little oversize, but are prototypically correct in their details.

Turning away from GS gondolas, tight-bottom or GB gondola are also important, and nearly all the foreign-road gondolas in my fleet are GB types, along with representative Southern Pacific GB types. One of the great things about model gondolas, of course, is the interesting loads that can be carried in them. I show below just one of my own examples, a steel beam long enough that both drop ends needed to be lowered. It’s seen here at the end of a passing train on the Coast Division main line.

The model shown here, PRR 439197, Class G26, is a 65-foot car modified from an E&B Valley kit to match the Pennsylvania Railroad prototype. The large girder is made from Atlas bridge parts.

Another important aspect of car choice is to recognize the railroads that had substantial rosters of GB cars and thus would have some likelihood of showing up on my California layout (referencing, of course, the Gilbert-Nelson hypothesis — for more info, use that term in the search box at top right). 

A major example, in addition to the PRR and the Pennsy car shown above, would be New York Central and its subsidiaries, such as Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. Below I show a load of steel beams, on the way to a team track on my branch line, spotted here at Shumala en route to its destination.

Here the model, P&LE 40205, is from a Proto2000 kit, and the load is simply Evergreen beams. One of the nice things about these kits is the interior detail, rare on commercial gondola models until recent years.

I continue to refine my gondola fleet, occasionally selling off or adding a car, but for the most part, my fleet matches my updated goals for this car type, so this part of the fleet management job is substantially complete.

Tony Thompson

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