Model photos by Stuart Thayer
Just like many modelers, the real railroads are always looking for ways to extend the life of old but still useful equipment. One railroad notorious for stretching the life of equipment is the Southern. The Southern roster of the 1960s, '70s, and even the early '80s, was full of old, refurbished 40' boxcars and several models of "re-modeled" hoppers. The Southern was one of the first railroads to purchase large numbers of 100-ton hoppers in the 1960s, but they still had thousands of older 55-ton twins with years of life left in them. Although many of these hoppers spent the rest of their days in near original condition, many others received an 18" height extension.
According to the July 1968 Official Railway Equipment Register, the Southern had several groups of these modified hoppers. Most of the hoppers were pulled from various orders of 55-ton offset cars built in the early 1940s and placed into classes 106000-106499 (500 cars) and 110000-110643 (644 cars). Later ORERs list another large class, 103000-103299 (300 cars). According to the Southern Railway Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment by James Kinkaid, the 110000-series cars were modified sometime in 1965. The ORER lists the modified cars with the following stats: interior length 33', interior width 10'4", outside length 36' 9", height from rail 12'2", cubic feet 2,592 (compared to 10'8" and 2,145 for unmodified cars), and capacity 110,000 lbs. The simple 18" extension expanded the cars' cubic capacity by nearly 20%. This would allow the load capacity to be fully maxed-out before the car was bulked-out with coal.
Most of the hoppers converted in this manner spent their last years in shuttle service on the Southern's coal-rich lines in Virginia. One such operation was over the former Interstate Railroad in southwestern Virginia. According to Ed Wolfe's The Interstate Railroad, the shuttle cars picked-up coal at more than a dozen different loadouts in Wise county and were brought to the huge Bullitt complex near Appalachia, VA. Here, at Westmoreland Coal's transloading facility, the shuttle cars were unloaded via rotary dumper. The coal was then blended to a customer's specific needs and shipped south in unit trains. The 55-ton shuttle cars, also known as "yellow balls" in shuttle service, were used throughout the 1970s until newer, 70-ton hoppers took their place. By 1982, the year of the Norfolk Southern merger, the thousands of 55-ton hoppers had dwindled to dozens. The April 1982 ORER reveals that 42 cars remained in the 110000 class and only 20 cars in the 106000 class.
The Athearn 34' offset-side twin hopper is an excellent starting point for modeling a Southern shuttle hopper. It has the correct rib spacing and overall basic dimensions. To begin the project, I modified some of the molded-on detail of the Athearn model. I removed the top three grabirons on the sides and the top two on the ends as well as the long bracing rods under the slope sheets. If you're careful, you can save the molded-on bolts and washers. I also removed the existing lip from over the tops of the ladders on all four sides and filed them flush with the sides. I drilled the holes for the replacement grabs and rods directly under the bolt moldings. For the remaining grabs, I used a VERY sharp X-Acto blade to remove the back portion of the grabs to leave a thin, more prototypical grab. I've found this method saves time over replacing them and produces the same effect. To slim down the steps, I used a file to shave about half of the bulk from the rear of the step and cleaned things up with the X-Acto blade.
Next, I glued the weights in place under the ends. I used sections of 3/64" L-girder to create the T-shaped slope-sheet braces. Note that the vertical members come together in a V-shape and are not parallel as on later hopper designs. I found it was easier to attach the cross member directly to the weight and then add the vertical members to it. I don't have exact dimensions, I simply eye balled it to leave about a 35° angle from upright for the vertical members. My crossmembers ended up 5/16" from the ends. I notched the vertical members on one end and filed them to a wedge on the other to make them fit into place.
I assembled the undercarriage per direction switch only a few exceptions. First, I tilled-in the existing hole for the triple valve and drilled a new one directly behind the coupler pocket. For the air cylinder, I drilled a hole in the back of the vertical wall so that the tank's fittings would rest horizontally and not vertically as Athearn's assembly diagram shows. I added a piece of wire in between the air cylinder and the triple valve to simulate the piping (it's kind of cramped down there, and it's hard to see everything anyway). Finally, I installed Kadee #5 couplers (with the trip pins removed) into the existing pockets. I went ahead and glued the undercarriage in place at this time.
Now for the fun part! To begin, I cut the four panels which would make up the basic extension from .025 sheet styrene. The side panels measured 7/16" x 4 17/32" and the end panels measured 7/32" x 1 9/32". Next, I cut ten 1/4" long pieces of .015 x .020 styrene strip. Using the existing ribs in the Athearn car as a guide, I glued these small rib extensions to the inside of the hopper touching the upper edge of the existing ribs and protruding above the existing lip. The extensions were glued to every other rib for a total of five on each side. I have no idea if these extensions existed on the prototype. In fact, I'm almost sure they didn't; they simply make modeling the extension a lot easier. Next, I bent the extension sides slightly inward near the ends to match the contour of the existing sides and glued the sides and ends in place against the rib extensions.
I made 14 new external ribs from Plastruct 1/16" T-section styrene. To make them appear less obtrusive, I sanded the backs of the ribs to about half of their original thick ness. I attached the ribs to the new sides and ends using the existing ribs as a guide. Again, I went every other rib on the sides. Don't worry about any overhang at this point. After everything had dried, I filed the tops of the ribs level with the tops of the new sides and filed the outside of the ribs flush with the outside of the existing lip they were sitting on. The new lip for the extension was made with .025 sheet styrene cut oversized. I started with strips 3/32" wide. I lined up the edge with the outside of the ribs leaving the extra width on the inside of the car. When everything had dried, I used an X-Acto blade and a file to make the inside of the lip flush with the insides. This method takes into account the contour of the new sides at the ends of the car where they cant in a little. Finally, I made new corner caps from small squares of .010 styrene. I allowed the square to overlap the inside corner just a hair. When dry, I tiled out the notch in the inside corner and rounded the outside corner slightly. I've found the corners also look better if the corner pieces are slightly rounded all along their top, outside edges.
With all of the main structure in place, I added all of the new grabs to the top of the ladders. I drilled new holes for a sixth rung near the top of the new extension on both sides and the ends and installed grabs. I bent some .015 wire to replace the molded-on bracing at the ends. I used drop-style grabs on the ends on either side of the coupler. The brake line was made from a piece of .020 wire with three eyebolts securing it under one side of the car. This line runs underneath the side of the hopper farthest from the brake wheel. I installed the lift bars and air hoses per instructions. Under the sides at each end, the prototype cars had to wing loops installed. I made these from .015 wire bent around the trip pins from Kadee couplers. I've found this leaves them just about the right diameter. I inserted them into small holes drilled under the sidesills.
I first sprayed the entire car black with an airbrush and Testors Flat Black. This leaves a more consistent and realistic color when the red is sprayed. The entire model was painted with Floquil Boxcar Red and left to dry. Alight spray of Testors Glosscote allowed the decals to set better. For the heralds and numbers, I used Microscale 87-13. For the data, I used Micro scale 87-2. A touch of white paint for the tow loops and some rust-colored paint for the glad-hands on the air hoses finished-out the coloring. Because my model railroad is set in the late '70s, near the end of these cars' lives, I weathered the model fairly heavily. The trucks and sides got a liberal spray of Testors FS 30219 Tan followed by a lighter spray of Flat Black. I dry brushed some homemade rust color over the sides to high light the rivets, and that's it!
Now I have a nice little model of a Southern shuttle car. If you build several of these cars, as I intend to do, the unit cost per car is well under ten dollars. What a deal! A couple of evenings' worth of enjoyment for under $10! I would like to extend a special thanks to Stuart Thayer for his help in researching these cars and getting me started. I can't wait to put these "yellow balls" into service on my HO scale model of the Interstate Railroad...I can already see them swaying and creaking as they crawl toward the transloader with another load of Virginia black diamonds!