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.
40' USRA COMPOSITE GONDOLA
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.
40' WAR-EMERGENCY GONDOLAS
ATLAS, WALTHERS and BACHMANN
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.
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.
40' COMPOSITE GS GONDOLA
INTERMOUNTAIN and DIMI TRAINS
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.
40' COMPOSITE SUGAR BEET GONDOLA
INTERMOUNTAIN and DIMI TRAINS
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!
50’ STRAIGHT SIDE COMPOSITE GONDOLAS
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.
50’ COMPOSITE FISHBELLY GONDOLAS
MICRO-TRAINS and ARNOLD
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.
ALL STEEL DROP BOTTOM GONDOLAS
In the steam era, railroad freight car fleets consisted of only a few types of “general purpose” freight cars which were used to haul different commodities. One such car was the drop bottom gondola, which was equipped with doors in the floor to permit rapid unloading of commodities such as coal. There were two basic types of drop bottom gondolas: type GS cars had two rows of doors hinged at the center sill to dump outside of the rails, while type GA cars had doors were hinged crosswise to dump between the rails.
The type GS cars were common among western roads, which used them in lieu of coal hoppers. With up to sixteen drop doors, type GS gondolas were a maintenance headache and had fallen out of favor by the sixties. Their numbers declined as many were rebuilt into type GB gondolas with solid floors or modified with bulkheads or racks for handling pulpwood.
Micro-Trains offers a model of a typical 40’ type GS gondola with eight panel sides and sixteen drop doors, while the Trainworx model represents the less common 46’ version of the same car. Many of the road names offered by Trainworx were for 40’ cars, but the difference isn’t apparent unless the Micro-Trains and Trainworx cars are used together.
The chart below lists all-steel type GS gondolas by length, and the quantities indicate those which had remained in their original condition, except as noted in the exceptions below.
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE- The Santa Fe’s single series of steel GS gondolas differed from the model by having corrugated side panels.
BURLINGTON NORTHERN- The quantities listed are for both type GS gondolas and those rebuilt into solid-bottom type GB gondolas.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL- The black “Split Rail” models represent a series of GS gondolas rebuilt into solid-bottom type GB gondolas
ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF- Both the Micro-Trains and Trainworx models are numbered for a small series of type LG gondolas used to haul containers. The quantities include this series as well as cars rebuilt into solid bottom type GB gondolas.
MISSOURI PACIFIC- Trainworx 2603-01 is numbered for a series of 40’ solid-bottom type GB gondolas. However, the MP owned a small series of 48’6” type GS gondolas which is listed with the 46’ gondolas. They also owned a large fleet of 46' type GB solid bottom gondolas, which are listed in the 40' type GB chart below.
NACIONAL de MEXICO- Micro-Trains 08300130 is numbered for a series of type GD gondolas, which had doors in the sides instead of the floor. Though the series was listed in the 1947 Equipment Register, the service date on the model is 6/75 and it was no longer listed in the July, 1981 Equipment Register.
NORFOLK & WESTERN- The Trainworx model represents a small series of 48’6” type GS gondolas with higher sides used to haul coke; so they likely differed in appearance from the model.
UNION PACIFIC- Micro-Trains 08300100 is numbered for UP’s series of 46’ gondolas, which were the only cars that were delivered in the “large name in yellow” scheme. However, it could represent 40’ cars as repainted after 1957.
40’ TYPE GB SOLID BOTTOM GONDOLAS
ATLAS, ARNOLD, BACHMANN, MINITRIX and ROCO
The good news is that 40’ solid bottom gondolas are available in N-scale from several manufacturers; the bad news is that all but one is a model of an eight-panel car with no apparent prototype. My best guess is that they were adaptations of a type GS drop-bottom gondola. The only eight panel type GB gondolas I could find were rebuilt from type GS cars; the majority of 40’ type GB gondolas had ten or more panels.
Atlas has the largest offering by far, originally selling Rivarossi made cars (2400 series), and later producing an American made version (3500 series) which is now made in China. Bachmann’s cars were originally made in Hong Kong, with two subsequent series coming from China. The Minitrix gondolas were manufactured by Roco; who later offered a series under their own name. While the printing on the Minitrix models was rather rough, the subsequent Roco models were nicely done. Arnold Rapido produced a ten-panel gondola, which was offered in only three road names; the only one worth mentioning is Pennsylvania which had a large fleet of eleven panel gondolas. This model dates from the earliest days of N-scale, and early versions had stamped metal trucks and weird couplers. However, with a little work, the later version could make a decent model of any of the ten-panel cars listed in the chart below.
The chart below is a generic list of type GB steel gondolas between 40 and 42 feet long with dimensions similar to the N-scale models. Unless otherwise noted it does not include low side, high side, or rebuilt composite cars with diagonal braces. In order to keep exceptions to a minimum, characteristics of the car are listed in the ROAD column in parentheses as follows: different lengths (46’), different types (GS), number of panels when known (10p) and rebuilt cars with diagonal braces (RWD). An asterisk indicates that some of the type GB cars had been rebuilt from type GS cars, so likely were eight panel cars. A question mark indicates improbable schemes that were probably never applied to 40’ gondolas.
BURLINGTON NORTHERN- The quantities listed are for all type GB gondolas, many of which were former type GS cars.
MISSOURI PACIFIC- Atlas 35186 is numbered for a series of 45’ 12-panel type GB gondolas. However, the MP owned a small series of 40” type GB gondolas which is listed in the drop bottom gondola chart above.
NACIONAL de MEXICO- Atlas 50001368 wins the “Least like the Prototype” award; it represents a modern 53’ gondola with fifteen panels.
NORFOLK & WESTERN- In the late forties and early fifties, N&W owned a large fleet of 41’ ten-panel type GA drop bottom gondolas. They acquired a fleet of type GB cars in 1960, with more inherited from the Wabash and Nickel Plate in 1964. Both the Atlas and Bachmann models are numbered for a series of cars apparently rebuilt from former Nickel Plate cars in 1966.
SEABOARD COAST LINE- By 1981, many SCL gondolas had been modified with a slot in the sidewalls just above the floor for “Stump service”.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Though the chart lists SP’s type GB gondolas, the models would be decent stand-ins for Espee’s large fleet of type GS gondolas which are listed in the drop-bottom gondola chart.
SOUTHERN RAILWAY- Runner up for the “Least like the prototype” award goes to the ubiquitous silver Southern 40’ gondolas. They represent a series of aluminum type GT high side gondolas with twelve panels and an inside length of 47 feet; an accurate model of which is available from Fox Valley models.