Remember the gondola in the train set you had when you were a kid?  The flat floor provided a stable base for army men and Matchbox cars, while the sides kept loads such as Lego bricks or marbles from falling out.  Gondolas are equally useful in real life, carrying just about anything that doesn’t need protection from the elements.  One common commodity was steel, both fresh from the mill and as scrap.  Many cars featured drop ends which allowed for loads that were longer than the car.  Other gondolas featured drop doors in the floor or doors in the side walls which facilitated unloading commodities such as coal.   The AAR designations for various gondola types are listed below:

GA- A car with fixed sides and ends and drop bottom, consisting of doors hinged crosswise of car to dump between rails.  This type of car was most common on eastern railroads.

GB- A car with fixed sides, fixed or drop ends and solid bottom, suitable for mill trade.

GD- A car with fixed or drop ends, solid bottom and sides equipped with doors for dumping.

GH- A car with fixed sides, drop ends and drop bottom, consisting of doors hinged at center sills to dump outside of rails.

GRA- A car with fixed sides and ends and level bottom with one or more hoppers dumping outside of rails.

GS- A car having fixed sides and ends and drop bottom, consisting of doors hinged at center sills to dump outside of rails.  This type of car was common on western roads, which used them to haul coal.

GT- A car having high fixed sides and ends and solid bottom, suitable for unloading coal on dumping machines only, but not suitable for mill trade.

GW Intermountain USRA.jpg




  During World War One, the USRA developed a forty-foot composite gondola with a nine panel Howe truss.  Around 25,000 cars were delivered to twenty-five railroads.  A distinctive feature of these cars is a lack of diagonal braces in the center panel.  Though most USRA gondolas were type GS cars, a few railroads ordered type GA cars.   Many of these cars had been rebuilt into all-steel cars by World War Two.  Attrition on the remaining cars occurred rapidly in the late forties and early fifties.  The Burlington and the Frisco had the largest postwar fleets, as they acquired additional USRA copies in the twenties.


Intermountain’s model is a nicely detailed car with laser-cut wood sides and floor.  The inside of the model looks really sharp, so you’ll want to run them as empties.  The chart below lists the appropriate Intermountain models for the post-war era.

Chart USRA gons.jpg
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In order to conserve steel during World War II, a series of composite freight car designs was developed.  One was a forty-foot gondola with a ten-panel Pratt truss.  The good news is that three companies have offered this model in N-scale.  The bad news is that not one road name offered was accurate for the model!  Bachmann and Walthers came close with a Wabash model, but it’s decorated in the black USRA scheme while the later war emergency cars were brown.  The four road names offered by Atlas were too modern, but most of the Bachmann cars and all of the Walthers cars make decent generic stand-ins for transition era forty-foot composite gondolas.  The chart below lists the road names.

Chart 40 War Emergency gons generic.jpg

   For those who’d like an accurate model, the chart below is a comprehensive list of war-emergency cars.  The September, 1999 issue of Model Railroader contains an article on improving N-scale war-emergency models which includes photos of Texas & New Orleans, Gulf Mobile & Ohio, Wabash and Southern cars.

Chart  40 war emergency specific.jpg
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  During World War II, a few roads acquired composite GS gondolas that differed from the standard war emergency gondolas in having an eight-panel Pratt truss.  Dimi-Trains once offered an undecorated kit for these cars, which is now offered in ready-to-run form by Intermountain Railway.  The model is accurate for the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific cars, however, the Rio Grande cars were longer with an inside length of forty-six feet.  Both the UP and D&RGW rebuilt their cars with steel sides in the early fifties.  The Southern Pacific cars remained composite cars, but were modified with taller sides to haul sugar beets.  The chart below lists only the unmodified SP cars; quantities marked with an asterisk indicate cars that had been rebuilt with steel sides.

Chart GW 40 foot GS.jpg



   In the early fifties, Southern Pacific added extended sides to a large number of their composite GS gondolas for sugar beet service.  The original gondolas, built in 1948, were probably the last composite cars ever constructed.  They were also the longest-lived, as SP’s cars were sold to Union Sugar in 1981.  The new owners simply “patched” the new reporting marks and road numbers onto the cars.  They were presumably retired when friction bearings were outlawed for interchange on 1/1/1994.


   Intermountain Railway offers a model of the SP sugar beet gondola which was also once a Dimi-Trains kit.  It was offered in four other road names which operated similar cars for hauling wood chips.   I believe these other road names would be considered stand-ins, as I don’t think any of the roads had gondolas with an eight-panel Pratt truss.   The Milwaukee Road cars were listed as being “steel”, while the Western Pacific cars were equipped with “wood racks” and had a height from the top of the rails of seventeen feet!

Chart GW 40 foot sugar beet.jpg
GW Micro-Trains composite.jpg




   In the late twenties, several railroads acquired fleets of long composite gondolas.   Most had an inside length of 48’ 6” and were type “GH” or “GS” cars with drop bottoms for handling coal.  Some were equipped with drop end so they could be used for the mill trade.   Micro-Trains offers a model of these cars with both a drop-end (60000 series) and a fixed end (61000 series).   The model was designed to fit atop the standard underframe for gondolas and flats, and as a result is about 1-1/2 feet too long.  The road names offered are discussed below:


   CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY-  The apparent prototype for the model was Burlington series 195000-196499.   They were solid bottom type “GB” gondolas featuring a ten-panel Howe truss and drop ends like the model.  The model differs in having a fishbelly underframe and small cleanout doors at the bottom of the second and ninth panels.

MILWAUKEE ROAD- The model is numbered for Milwaukee series 80000-81034, one of three type “GH” series with a twelve-panel Howe truss, higher sides, and eight drop bottom doors.   The figures in the chart are the totals for all three series.

ROCK ISLAND- The Rock Island cars were type “GS” with eighteen drop doors and fixed ends. Like the forty-foot USRA gondolas, they had a nine-panel Howe truss with no diagonal brace in the center panel.   Some cars were rebuilt with steel sides, though I don’t know if the diagonal braces were retained.  Figures on the chart marked with an asterisk indicate steel rebuilt cars.

Chart GW 50 straight.jpg
GW Micro Trains war emergency.jpg



 In order to conserve steel during World War II, a series of composite freight car designs was developed.  One was a type GB gondola with an inside length of 52’ 6” and a fourteen-panel fishbelly truss.  Known as “war emergency” cars, they were designed to be easily rebuilt with steel sides after the war.


   The Micro-Trains composite fishbelly gondola is a model of these war-emergency cars.  Though a decent model, they suffer from being compressed to a fifty-foot length in order to fit on the common underframe used by Micro-trains for its gondolas and flat cars.  Arnold Rapido sold a model with the correct length years ago, but none of the road names offered were appropriate for the car.


The Micro-Trains model came in two variations: with drop ends (62000 series) and fixed ends (63000).  The seam detail on the wood sides of the model is rather faint, so these models could easily pass for cars rebuilt with steel sides.  Two of the road names offered by Micro-Trains actually represent rebuilt cars, and several could pass for cars with either wood or steel sides.  As this was a standard design, all of the road names should be accurate for the model.  However, there were some interesting developments…


CENTRAL NEW JERSEY-  In 1946, the CNJ re-lettered many of its cars for the Central Railroad of Pennsylvania, a paper subsidiary established to avoid New Jersey taxes.  This arrangement was struck down by the courts in 1952, and the cars were gradually re-lettered for the CNJ.

GRAND TRUNK WESTERN- The GTW was the only railroad to have cars with fixed ends.

NORFOLK & WESTERN- Most of N&W’s cars were designated as type “LG” cars for carrying bulk containers of lime, carbide or coke. 

PENNSYLVANIA-   Micro-Trains 62010 represents the as-delivered cars, which were designated G30; while 62070 represents a rebuilt G30a car.

READING- The green Reading model (62060) represents a series of rebuilt cars purchased second-hand from the Jersey Central in 1968.

O-T-D CORPORATION-  In examining the chart below, these were most likely second-hand cars from Rock Island.  The Equipment Registers indicate that they carried seven “rubber containers”.  I don’t know whether this meant the containers were made of rubber or carried it.


  The chart below is a comprehensive list of war emergency gondolas.  The totals include rebuilt cars which are marked with an asterisk.  Perhaps this information will spur a manufacturer into producing a correct-length run of these cars; or at least some more road names (NYC!) from Micro-Trains.  

Chart GW 50 war emergency.jpg