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 a war emergency two bay composite hopper.  The cars were a standard design and had a length of thirty-three feet.  The models are a good representation for most of the road names offered except for Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania.  These earlier versions were a couple feet shorter, but still featured a six-panel Pratt truss.  In addition, Micro-Trains offered a car lettered for the Nickel Plate Road, which constructed a series of similar cars in 1923.  The chart below is a comprehensive list of war emergency hoppers.

Chart HM war emergency.jpg



   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 chart below is a comprehensive list.

Chart HM War emergency rebuild.jpg
HM Bowser GLa hopper.jpg




   First constructed in 1904, Pennsy’s Gla hopper was a pioneering all-steel hopper car design, featuring eight 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 so are outside the scope of this discussion.  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 8-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”.  An asterisk in the totals column indicates “BWC” cars.

Chart Gla hoppers.jpg




   During the First World War, the USRA designed an all-steel eight-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 is stretched a couple feet to fit on a common under frame shared with their other twin-bay models.   Micro Trains models come in three variations: 56000 with flat ends, 89000 with notched peaked ends and 91000 with peaked ends.


  The USRA hoppers were originally constructed with a vertical brake wheel.   The Bluford Shops model features a lever type handbrake which I believe were seldom used on hopper cars.  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 eight-panel cars  A few roads owned longer eight-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 ten-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 ten-panel cars with peaked ends that were rebuilt from offset hoppers in the early sixties.  Micro-Trains 89010 represents 35-foot ten-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 ten-panel cars rebuilt from offset hoppers.  However, it’s likely that some 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.

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.jpg
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.jpg
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.jpg
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 ten-panel cars.


   Atlas, Bluford Shops and Micro-Trains all offer N-scale models of offset-side hoppers.  All are models of ten-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.

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 lack of 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.

Chart HM offset.jpg
HM Bluford 10 panel.jpg




   While the majority of early two-bay hoppers were eight-panel cars, a few roads such as the Pennsylvania, Reading, and Baltimore & Ohio owned ten-panel cars.  By 1940, most of the new two-bay hoppers constructed were ten-panel cars, culminating in the Pullman Standard PS-3 design in the early fifties.  However, the big boom in ten-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.


   Bluford Shops advertises their model as an eight-panel hopper, however I’ve always included the end panels and will refer to them here as ten-panel cars.  The model matches the 31 foot 6 inch inside length and uneven rib pattern of a New York Central rebuilt car.  Since many of the models represent longer cars, I’ve included the inside length of those cars in the “ROAD” column of the chart below.


  The other N-scale ten-panel hopper is a model of Pullman Standard’s PS-3 a ten 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 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 eight 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 ten-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.

Chart HM 10-panel.jpg