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   Hopper cars lead a rough life.  The heavy mineral loads are often dumped into the car from above, so all-steel hoppers were appearing as early as the 1890’s.  When the USRA freight cars appeared during the First World War, boxcars and gondolas were of composite wood and steel construction, while hopper cars were all steel.  Few composite hoppers were built from this point on until World War II, when composite “War Emergency” cars were developed to save steel for the war effort.  


     Two-bay hoppers carry the AAR designation of HM.  As household use of coal declined in the fifties, the coal dealers located in nearly every town began to disappear.  Along with them went the two-bay hopper in the local freight.  The remaining coal traffic went primarily to large industrial users in large capacity hoppers operated in unit trains. 


   In the period between the wars several types of hoppers were developed to increase capacity; panel side, offset side, and fishbelly hoppers.  The lengths of these new types of cars increased to; thirty-three feet, and finally thirty-five feet.  Two bay hoppers are well represented in N-scale, with a wide variety to choose from.


HM Micro Trains war emergency hopper.jpg



  Both Micro-Trains and Bluford Shops offer an N-scale war emergency two-bay composite hopper.  Introduced in 1943, the cars were a standard design with a four-panel Pratt truss and an inside length of thirty-three feet.  The Nickel Plate and Monon acquired composite hopper cars in the twenties; though they differed in a few details, they featured the same Pratt truss.  Exceptions are noted below: 


CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY- Burlington’s cars were used primarily for hauling sugar beets, and retained their wood sides to the end.


LEHIGH VALLEY- Micro-Trains 57030 in numbered for the 14001-14560 series, which were delivered in 1942 which had an inside length of 30’9”.  Bluford Shops 63150 is numbered for series 15751-15811; one of two series of standard war emergency cars delivered in 1943.


MONON- The CI&L acquired a series of composite hoppers in 1925 which were similar to the war-emergency cars.  Bluford Shops 63170 carries MON reporting marks, which were adopted in 1956.


NICKEL PLATE ROAD- Micro-Trains 57050 is painted brown, which I believe is an incorrect scheme.  Bluford Shops 63180 is painted black with a service date of 11/37.  Both models feature the "NYC&St.L" initials above the reporting marks which was discontinued in the early forties.


PENNSYLVANIA- Delivered in 1942, Pennsy’s war-emergency cars had an inside length of 31’1” but were otherwise similar to the model.  The “Buy war bonds” scheme on Micro-Trains 57100 was likely applied to only a few cars, and didn’t last long after the war.


SOUTHERN- Bluford Shops 63200 is painted in the as-delivered black scheme.  Micro-Trains 57040 is painted brown, which I think is incorrect, as Southern began painting their hoppers brown in 1954, when their war emergency hoppers had already been rebuilt with steel sides.


Chart HM War emergency hoppers.png



      By the mid-fifties most of the war emergency hoppers had been rebuilt with steel sides and Bluford shops also offers this version.  The Central of Georgia (64071) and Southern  (64041) cars feature ACI Kartrak labels which were adopted in 1967.  If you’re willing to ignore or remove them you can backdate the cars to about 1961.  I believe the Southern’s articulated cars were put together  with several type of hoppers, so I’m not sure how many were made up from war emergency hoppers.  The Gulf Mobile & Ohio as well as the Virginian removed the diagonals when rebuilding their cars, which is probably why Bluford Shops didn’t produce those road names.  The chart below is a comprehensive list of war emergency rebuilds

Chart rebuilt war emergency hoppers.png
HM Bowser GLa hopper.jpg



   First constructed in 1904, Pennsy’s Gla hopper was a pioneering all-steel hopper car design, featuring six-panel sides, an inside length of 30’ 5” and a capacity of 1,683 cubic feet.  The design was typical of hoppers built prior to the First World war and the USRA hopper designed fifteen years later was essentially identical.  Visually, the biggest difference between the Gla and the later USRA hopper is the heavy sill at the ends of the car.


   Bowser’s n-scale model comes in a plethora of road names, however, many are inappropriate for the post-war era and are outside the scope of this discussion.  The chart below lists those models that are appropriate for the post-war period. A hash tag (#) in the “Road” column indicates a car series with dimensions that don’t match those of the Gla hopper.  Most had an inside length of only 30’, but all were likely similar six-panel cars.  Some notes on individual railroads:


CAMBRIA & INDIANA- The model has a built date of 6/11 and the road number doesn’t match any series listed in my Equipment Registers.  However, the series listed in the chart matches the Gla dimensions, and the model is definitely painted in a post-war scheme.


PENNSYLVANIA- Besides those listed, Bowser also offers cars painted in yellow maintenance-of-way schemes.  Though they would have not left the home road, they probably hung on for years, possibly well into the Conrail era.


RUTLAND- The model is painted in the “as-built” scheme from 1915, though it’s unlikely this scheme lasted into the post-war era, it will have to do until Bowser offers a post-war Rutland scheme (Like they did in HO).


 BERWIND-WHITE COAL-  The Pennsylvania Railroad had taken ownership of the Berwind-White cars by 1966.  The Pennsy changed the reporting marks to “BWC”, by simply painting out the “X”.  The asterisk in the totals column indicates “BWC” cars.


Chart Gla hoppers.jpg





During the First World War, the USRA designed an all-steel six-panel hopper car with an inside length of 30’6” and capacity of 1880 cubic feet.  The car was well received and similar cars were constructed both before and after the First World War.


   USRA hoppers are available in N-scale from Bluford Shops, Bachmann and Micro-Trains.  While the Bachmann and Bluford Shops models are the correct length, the Micro-Trains model has an inside length of 33'.  I don't know if it is a stretched USRA hopper or a model of later cars owned by several roads. The  Micro-Trains model comes in three variations: 56000 with flat ends, 89000 with notched peaked ends and 91000 with peaked ends.  The Bluford Shops model features a lever type handbrake, while the Micro-Trains and Bachmann models feature a horizontal brake wheel, which were found on some cars in later years.


   The chart below lists those USRA models that are appropriate for the post-war period. A single hash tag (#) in the “Road” column indicates a car series with dimensions that don’t match those of a USRA hopper, but are probably similar six-panel cars.  A few roads owned longer six-panel cars which are better represented by the Micro-Trains model.  The length of such cars is shown in the “ROAD” column when it exceeds 32’6”.  A double hashtag (##) indicates models that are “stand-ins” for significantly different cars as listed below:  


BALTIMORE & OHIO- Micro-Trains 91020 (Runner pack #118) represents a series of 33-foot eight-panel cars with peaked ends.  They were rebuilt from offset-side hoppers by the C&O and transferred to the B&O.


LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE-  Bachmann 19560 represents 33-foot eight-panel cars with peaked ends that were rebuilt from offset hoppers in the early sixties.  Micro-Trains 89010 represents 35-foot eight-panel peaked end PS-3 hoppers delivered in 1952.


NEW YORK CENTRAL- The Gothic lettering version of Micro-Trains 56170 is numbered for a series of eight-panel cars rebuilt from offset hoppers.  However, it’s likely that a few USRA cars were repainted in the Gothic scheme.

NORFOLK & WESTERN- Norfolk & Western’s hoppers had peaked ends and were slightly shorter and taller than standard USRA cars.


SOUTHERN PACIFIC-  Micro-Trains 56250  and 56340represent type HK “Hart Selective” hoppers,  with hoppers that dumped to the side.  Used primarily for ballast, they likely never left SP rails.  This was the longest-lived series of six-panel hoppers; the July 1999 Equipment register listed six cars.


WESTERN MARYLAND-  Western Maryland’s cars differed from the models in having U-channel ribs.  The black version of Micro-Trains 56090 is an incorrect scheme.  Bachmann 19552 is numbered for a series of Fishbelly cars, but not the ones that received the “Speed Letters” scheme, which are listed in chart.


BERWIND-WHITE COAL- The Pennsylvania Railroad had taken ownership of the Berwind-White cars by 1966.  The Pennsy changed the reporting marks to “BWC”, by simply painting out the “X”.  An asterisk in the totals column indicates “BWC” cars.


FORD MOTOR COMPANY- Micro-Trains 56020 is a yellow car with a built date of 2/61; I can’t find a reference to this car in any of my Equipment Registers.  However, Ford owned a fleet of hoppers in the forties and early fifties that were decorated in a black scheme

Chart HM USRA hoppers.png
HM Bluford USRA panel.jpg




  In an effort to increase their capacity, several railroads rebuilt their USRA hoppers with indented panels.  These panels utilized the space between the ribs, and increased the carrying capacity by about 100 cubic feet.  The new panels turned out to be susceptible to corrosion, and several roads ended up replacing the panels with flat sides.


   Both Bluford Shops and Micro-Trains offer models of these cars.  As with the USRA car, the Micro-Trains cars are stretched a few feet to fit on a common underframe.  That being said, the Wabash supplemented their USRA cars with 1,800 brand new panel-side cars that were 33-feet long; some of which ended up on the Ann Arbor.

Chart HM panel.png
HM Atlas fishbelly.jpg




   Another method of increasing the capacity of hopper cars was to drop the body between the trucks.  This gave the car a “fishbelly” appearance and increased the cubic capacity by about 100 cubic feet or so.  With few exceptions these cars had an inside length of 31 feet.  The Norfolk & Western had a large fleet of cars and they were popular with the anthracite roads of the northeast.


  Atlas produced a model of this car in both a flat end and peaked end version.  Those car series that had peaked ends are indicated with a “P” in the ROAD column in the chart below.  The model should be a close match for most road names, with possible exceptions noted below:


ATLANTIC COAST LINE- The dimensions in the Equipment Registers for series 80475-81499 indicate a car without peaked ends; however the Atlas models numbered for this series have peaked ends.

BALTIMORE & OHIO- The B&O leased cars from the Jersey Central; however, none of my Equipment Registers list them, so the lease must have been short lived.

CAMBRIA & INDIANA- I can’t confirm that the series 200-399 were fishbelly cars; they had an inside length of 33 feet and the dimensions had changed in the July 1969 Register to those matching an offset-side car.

DELAWARE & HUDSON- The D&H had two different groups of fishbelly cars; one with the standard inside length of 31 feet and one with an inside length of only 29 feet.

WESTERN MARYLAND- The final series of cars (14401-14900) was painted in the speed letters scheme and had an inside length of 32 feet 8 inches, though they had the same cubic capacity of 2028 cubic feet.  The   “Port of Baltimore” scheme was most likely used on only a few cars; a web search found only two road numbers.

Chart HM fishbelly.png
HM Micro-Trains offset.jpg



   The most popular method for increasing the capacity of hopper cars was to put the side walls on the outside of the ribs.  In order to prevent the load from catching on the top chord when dumped, the side walls were slanted (or offset) to the inside of the ribs at the top of the car.  Offset-side hoppers cars also grew in length, with the majority having an inside length of 33 feet, providing an extra 200-250 cubic feet of capacity.  The extra length required two extra ribs, making most offset-side hoppers eight-panel cars.


   Atlas, Bluford Shops and Micro-Trains all offer N-scale models of offset-side hoppers.  All are models of eight-panel cars with unevenly spaced ribs.  The main visual difference is the offset taper on the end panels; the taper on the Micro-Trains car goes all the way to the end of the car, while the Atlas and Bluford Shops models have a taper that ends halfway across the end panels.  The Micro-Trains car matches the common 33-foot length, however, I can’t give any insight as to the length of the Atlas or Bluford Shops cars as I haven’t bought any yet.  After all, the Micro-Trains model was introduced in 1977, and I’ve bought quite a few since then!


  The chart below lists the available N-scale models.  A (P) in the “ROADS” column indicates a car series that had peaked or arched ends; variations available from both Atlas and Micro-Trains.  The inside length will be included in the “ROADS” column when car series have a length other than 33 feet.   Other exceptions are noted below:


GENESEE & WYOMING- Micro-Trains 55050 represents a series of cars that carried salt; they were type HMR cars equipped with a “MacGregor opening self storing roof”.


KEWAUNEE, GREEN BAY & WESTERN- These cars were transferred to Green Bay & Western in the mid-sixties; quantities marked with an asterisk indicate GB&W cars.  I would assume this was done by simply painting out the “K” in the reporting marks!


PACIFIC GREAT EASTERN- These cars were type HK side dump hoppers, with an inside length of 40 feet.  Although the PGE became British Columbia Railway in 1972, the July 1999 Equipment Register listed three cars with PGE reporting marks.


READING- Micro-Trains 55490 represents a car modified for sand service with a flat floor and designated as type GT.  I don’t know how this affected its exterior appearance, but a sand load would hide the interior modifications.


ROCK ISLAND- Micro-trains 90010 represents a series of cars with peaked ends; most of which were type HMR cars equipped with temporary roofs.  The amounts listed in the columns indicate the amount of type HM cars without roofs.


TEXAS & NORTHERN- Micro-Trains 55350 is marked for maintenance of way service, and the number on the model doesn’t show in any of my Equipment Registers.  However, the T&N did acquire a group of offset-side hoppers in the late fifties.


HALLETT (HCTX)- Hallett Construction owned several small series of second-hand offset side hoppers with different dimensions; the amounts in the chart represent all cars.  Atlas 50006137 is numbered for a series that appeared only in the July 1981 Equipment Register, and features a 1978 wheel inspection dot.


Chart HM offset.png
HM Bluford 10 panel.jpg




    While the majority of early two-bay hoppers were six-panel cars, a few roads such as the Pennsylvania, Reading, and Baltimore & Ohio owned eight-panel cars.  By 1940, most of the new two-bay hoppers constructed were eight-panel cars, culminating in the Pullman Standard PS-3 design in the early fifties.  However, the big boom in eight-panel cars came from the rebuilding of offset-side hoppers. Over time, the weight of the load tended to separate the side walls from the ribs of offset-side hoppers.  Those roads with large fleets of offset-side cars such as New York Central, Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Louisville & Nashville chose to rebuild them as conventional hoppers.


   Though I’m not sure of its prototype, the Bluford Shops model of a eight-panel hopper, is typical of the thousands of 33-foot offset-side hoppers as rebuilt by several railroads.  Since some roads owned shorter or longer cars, I’ve included the inside length of those cars that differed from the model in the “ROAD” column.


   The other N-scale ten-panel hopper is a model of Pullman Standard’s PS-3 an eight-panel hopper with an inside length of 35 feet.  The PS-3 was introduced in the early fifties when forty-foot hoppers were becoming the norm, so only a few roads bought them.  Several manufacturers have offered an N-scale PS-3 over the years.  Roco (Austria) made a model that was sold by Atlas, Roco, Con-Cor, and Eastern Seaboard Models, while a copy made by Mehano (Jugoslavia) was sold by Life like, Model Power, and MRC.  Both of these models featured peaked ends, which were used by only a few railroads.  For some models, cutting off the peaked ends would make them a bit closer to the prototype.  In the chart below, cars with peaked ends are indicated by a (P) in the “ROAD” column.  While most of the PS-3 models are generic stand-ins at best, Roco produced the model in two roads that actually had them:  Louisville & Nashville and Clinchfield.  Eastern Seaboard Models produced a set of Lackawanna, Erie and Erie Lackawanna; the length of the Lackawanna cars was similar to the PS-3 and the model would be a close match if you cut off the peaked ends.


CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY (Atlas 2245)- If you cut off the peaked ends and ignore the extra rib, this model could be a stand-in for CB&Q’s six-panel hoppers, though the Micro-Trains model would be a better choice.


NORFOLK & WESTERN (ConCor  175207) -  The PS-3 was similar to N&W’s three-bay H2a hopper, which is available from Broadway Limited Imports.


PENNSYLVANIA (Con Cor 175204)- I seem to recall that this model was painted in the circle keystone scheme, but can’t find a picture to confirm it.  If so, they could stand in for Pennsy’s Glca hopper, an early eight-panel car with a fishbelly side frame.


SOO LINE (Atlas 2241) This model represents a series of hoppers with similar dimensions to the PS-3, though I don’t know what they looked like.


SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Bluford Shops 65181 represents the first of several series of two-bay hoppers acquired by SP in the seventies.  However, subsequent series were taller ten-panel cars.  The July 1999 Equipment Register listed thirty-seven cars in the original series.


Chart HM 8-panel.png
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