In the beginning, powdered or granular products that needed protection from moisture were packed in bags or barrels and carried in boxcars. Loading and unloading was labor intensive and expensive.  Placing roofs on hopper cars was an obvious solution, but fine granular or powdered products required improved outlets to prevent leakage.

This led to the development of covered hoppers for specific commodities.


   The first covered hoppers to appear in significant numbers were small cars for dense commodities such as cement and sand.   By the late fifties larger cars were being developed for less dense commodities such as grain and plastic pellets.  New systems for unloading were developed; such as “fluidizing” powdered products with compressed air.  Finally, the center sill was eliminated to allow a single discharge outlet in the center of the car.  Despite the many variations in types of covered hoppers, all are included in the single AAR designation of “LO”.  The rather lengthy definition is as follows: “A permanently enclosed car, with or without insulation, having fixed sides and ends, and provided with openings for loading through roof or sides.  Loading openings fitted with weather-tight covers or doors.  Car may be provided with bottom openings for unloading, with tight fitting covers, doors or valves or may be provided with facilities for discharge of lading through openings in roof or sides.  Car may have one or more compartments.”


  Because of the many covered hopper models available in N-scale this will probably be the first of several pages.  I’m still not sure how to organize all that information, but I’ll begin with the “steam era” cars, followed by small two-bay cars.

LO PRR H30 (1).jpg




   The construction of skyscrapers in New York and other American cities spurred an increasing demand for concrete.  Needing an efficient way to transport it, the Pennsylvania Railroad developed one of the first covered hopper cars.  Designated H30, a total of 1,325 cars were built between 1935 and 1946: an additional 250 class H30a cars were constructed in 1951 and 1952.  The H30a cars varied in a few mechanical details, but were otherwise identical.  As with much of their rolling stock, this design was unique to the Pennsylvania Railroad, however the Norfolk & Western received a small fleet in 1937.


   Both of the Fox Valley Penn Central models wear a green scheme, which Penn Central adopted in 1971 to indicate cars in grain and feed service.  Catalog number 90510 carries the six-digit road numbers of cars in revenue service, while 90513 carries the five-digit road numbers of cars in company service (most likely for locomotive sand).  Both models carry the two-panel consolidated stencil, which would date the cars for 1974 or later.


   The Conrail model carries the five-digit road numbers of cars in company service.  A check of my Equipment Registers listed only two Conrail H30’s numbered for revenue service, 878507 and 878510.  However, there’s a bit of a mystery concerning the 878510; the Equipment Registers showed it with the dimensions of an H30, but the description listed it as an H40 Airslide car.    

Chart PRR H30.jpg
LO PRR H32.jpg




   The Pennsylvania built a fleet of 300 H32 hopper cars, numbered 253500-253799 in 1948.  They were essentially a stretched H30, and with a capacity of 3050 cubic feet, were used for lighter commodities.  Broadway Limited’s model is offered with the circle keystone in both brown and grey.  The brown model is the “as delivered” scheme; I doubt many cars were repainted in the grey scheme as the circle keystone was replaced by the shadow keystone logo in 1954.   The plain keystone scheme represents these cars as they were repainted between 1960 and the Penn Central merger in 1968.


   The grey Penn Central model represents a group of 44 H32’s rebuilt in 1968, presumably for special service numbered 885530-885539.  The remaining Pennsy H32’s were renumbered into the 884500-884576 series  According to the “Penn Central Color Guide to Passenger and Freight Equipment”, the PC began painting covered hoppers in grain and feed service green in 1971, and the green models are indeed numbered in the second series.  Both models carry two-panel consolidated stencils adopted about 1974.


   The model is offered in both a grey and a brown Conrail scheme.  Conrail’s H32’s kept their Penn Central numbers.  A lettering guide issued by Conrail stated that chemical, grain and flour service covered hoppers were painted grey and all others were painted brown.

Chart PRR H32.jpg
ACF 2 bay LO pic.jpg





   Initially, bulk commodities were usually transported in bags or barrels. A few railroads had experimented with putting roofs on ordinary hopper cars, but the bottom doors tended to leak.  In the mid-thirties ACF introduced a covered hopper designed specifically for hauling fine granulated substances.  They were distinguished by their square roof hatches, open cut-out between the bays and a capacity of 1,958 cubic feet. The design was popular and nearly every railroad owned at least a few.

   Arnold Rapido was the first to offer this body style in N-scale; though initially it was only available in a sketchy C&NW scheme, it was later re-run in six road names.  V-Line introduced a second version with rather thick detail, which was available in several road names, including special runs by Brooklyn Locomotive Works,  Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backwards) and others.  The model was later sold by Loco-Motives, and is currently offered in a plethora of road names by Deluxe Innovations who improved the detail on the casting.  Finally, Kato produced a nicely detailed model of the less-common variation without the cutout between the bays.

   These hoppers were primarily used to carry cement; a heavy commodity of relatively low value.  Shipping it long distances increased the cost, so the cars you choose for your layout should be from a railroad that’s close to home.  With a construction period of nearly three decades, these cars lasted a long time, and many were retained for non-revenue use.  Many were used for locomotive sand while others were converted to ballast cars by removing the roof.  Duluxe Innovations packaged this model as part of a sand loading facility kit and produced an Amtrak ballast car.

   The chart below lists those roads that owned ACF hoppers that were similar to the N-scale models.   A “C” in brackets in the “ROAD” column indicates cars that had a cut-out between the bays, while an “N” indicates cars without the cut-out.  A “#” in brackets indicates cars that differed from the significantly from the models, which is explained in the exceptions below.  Be advised that these notes aren’t comprehensive, as there are many series that I was unable to confirm.

CENTRAL NEW JERSEY- The V-line model is numbered for a later series of ACF hoppers that had round roof hatches and lacked the channel ribs at both ends of the car.

CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY- The CB&Q built a total of 2,250 cars over a period of 21 years in their shops which lacked cut-outs and were painted  in several different schemes.  The Kato & Loco-Motives models represent a group of 200 cars rebuilt in 1968 and numbered 182250-182449.  A group of 350 cars built in 1961 (181900-182245) were similar, except that the logo was on a placard rather than painted between the ribs.  The quantities listed in the chart are estimates based on 10% of the total Burlington hoppers.

DELAWARE, LACKAWANNA & WESTERN- The DL&W’s fleet of cement cars were similar to the model, but were three feet shorter and had angled side frames at the ends which gave them a fish belly appearance.

GREAT NORTHERN-  GN’s first three series of hoppers were delivered in a brown scheme and numbered  73795-73999, but had been renumbered to 72000-71404 by 1960.  All the photos I’ve been able to find of the renumbered cars show a grey paint scheme, so they were presumably repainted at that time.

LEHIGH & NEW ENGLAND- The L&NE began acquiring covered hoppers for its substantial cement business in 1939.  The majority of the cars, numbered 12101-12665, were three feet shorter than the model and had ten roof hatches.  Later cars, numbered 12666-12800, resembled the model and are included in the chart.

MISSOURI PACIFIC- By 1966, the MP had begun renumbering their ACF covered hoppers from 2000-2399 to 700000-700399.  Renumbered cars are marked with an asterisk in the chart.

NICKEL PLATE ROAD- The Deluxe Innovations model features the pre-war stacked name, which I believe should have “NYC&StL” above the reporting marks.  While the Kato model has the post-war straight name, I couldn’t find a photo of an NKP car without the cut-out, so the Arnold Rapido model might be your best choice here. According to my notebook, both Brooklyn Locomotive Works and Ak-Sar-Ben produced special run Nickel Plate hoppers.

​NORTHERN PACIFIC- The Loco-Motives model is numbered for a small series of cars that had similar dimensions to an ACF hopper except for a capacity of 2,136 cubic feet.  While most NP hoppers were light grey with black lettering, the model is dark grey with white lettering. The Northern Pacific Color Guide mentions a series of cars used for bulk grain service that were black with white lettering.  Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo for confirmation. 

ROCK ISLAND- Despite adopting their new “ROCK’ image in 1975, the Rock Island was dissolved in 1980.  The January, 1979 Equipment Register listed fifty-two cars with ROCK reporting marks in four series.

SOUTHERN PACIFIC- SP began renumbering their cars in 1956.  The Kato model carries an original number series of the 575 cars with no cut-outs.  Deluxe Innovations 71703 carries the post-1956 number series of 400600-400749, which were the only SP cars with cut-outs.   Photos show that some of these cars remained in their as-delivered scheme as late as 1980.  Former Texas & New Orleans cars were numbered 401550-401824.   

Presumably, the different lettering colors of later paint schemes indicated specific commodities, but I have been unable to confirm this.

UNION PACIFIC- The Deluxe model represents UP’s first covered hoppers which were painted brown and numbered 92000-92099.  They had been renumbered 1-100 by 1952 and 10001-10099 by 1963, though I don’t know if they had been repainted.  Kato’s model represents UP’s next batch, which were painted grey and numbered 101-999, but had been renumbered 10101-10999 by 1963.  The Arnold model represents a series of cars with similar dimensions except for a higher capacity of 2100 cubic feet.  They had been renumbered from 1000-1399 to 11000-11399 by 1963.  I can’t find a photo, but I’m guessing it’s an early PS-2 hopper.

GENERAL ELECTRIC- The Railroad Photo Archive contains two photos of ILDX cars: a 1968 photo shows a car still in the “GE Lamps” scheme, and a 1976 photo showing a car in a different scheme.

FUL-O-PEP FEEDS-  I couldn’t find photos of either the model or the prototype, but “Ful-O-Pep” was a real brand and North American Car did have a lease fleet of ACF hoppers numbered 30000-30500.

ACF  hopper chart.png