Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Voume 1

Vol. 1 Gondolas and Stock Cars

by Anthony W. Thompson


Full Text of a Review:

Review from Model Railroad News magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4, April, 2003, pp. 31, 32.

"Every time I read this book, I learn something new. Among other things, I discovered why Gondolas and Stock Cars came first before Boxcars in the books of this series. That was one of the first questions I asked myself, and I quickly found the answer.

"Gondolas are the real story here. Each railroad is an entity unto itself, and during the period from 1900 to 1960--the general period covered by the book--SP owned far more gons than hoppers. Other railroads were just the other way around, owning more hoppers than gons. SP had gons with solid bottoms, gons with bottoms that dumped in the center or to the side. They had gons with drop ends, gons to be rolled over in rotary dumpers, gons of almost every sort. The author makes clear that SP bought cars to serve its customers' needs. The brass apparently felt that specific gon designs suited customer needs better than other cars.

"For example, gons were used to haul sugar beets to market. Big, open gons with extended sides made up long, heavy trains headed for sugar processors. This was a big business for SP and they had lots of beet gons. They also had wood-chip gons. Some were old with extended wood sides, while some were brand new, built just for that job. Some dumped out the sides or bottom, but more of them were intended for rotary dumping.

"SP used gons to haul coal, ore, mill products, scrap metal, trash, machinery, poles, logs, rock, gravel, and plenty of other cargoes too numerous to name here. They may have owned more boxcars, but gondolas weren't far behind. Every railroad owned boxcars, so gondolas became the story, just because SP used them in so many ways.

"Yet gons alone would not have filled a book, so author Anthony Thompson filled the remaining space with a smaller but not less important subject: stock cars. We tend to think of them as ventilated boxcars, but they aren't. Stock cars are designed and constructed from the track upward. SP ran through livestock country and hauled cattle, sheep, pigs, and more. By the time you get through this section, you have had time to appreciate what the author states about SP buying cars to serve its customers.

The Book

"The book is organized into four sections. The first covers the prologue and acknowledgments, table of contents, introduction, and Freight Car basics. The next section consists of nine chapters on gondolas. The following section has three chapters on stock cars while the final section contains a bibliography and index.

"The first part of the gondola section is roughly chronological, letting us see the development and growth of gondolas on the SP. An entire section is devoted to gondola side extensions, a fascinating topic. Another deals with some differences found on the Texas & New Orleans, a subsidiary of SP.

"Stock cars take a similar, chronological approach, but end up with a chapter devoted to some of the more unusual attempts to serve livestock customers. Many details of stock car construction are explained, answering long-held questions of my own.

"Mr. Thompson's approach is highly photographic and this suits me fine. While most of the photos are black and white, attention to reproduction has kept most of them vital and energetic. Fine printing on glossy paper helps greatly. Additionally, there are mechanical drawings of many cars, complete with measurement specs, making this a fine book for model makers. Mr. Thompson also gives us tables showing the renumbering and survival of various car types.

"For example, on page 157, 1 found Table 8-2 on Wood-chip Gondolas from 1960 to 1975, a growth and change period for this type of car. During this period, SP experimented with gondolas having an interior height of over 12 feet, much taller than Plate C! In 1960, they didn't have any this size from class G-50 (Gondola, 50 tons), but by 1965 ran 53 of them. In 1970, they had 80 of them, but by 1975 were down to) ust 3. During that time, SP had learned that extending older gons for high volume service wasn't as practical as buying cars designed for that use. Another table, 8-1, reveals part of the answer to why SP made the change. They bought, among other designs, 400 cars in class G-100-11, GT gondolas with a 13 foot interior height and a capacity of 7466 cubic feet. The GT AAR specification meant that they had solid bottoms and were designed to be unloaded in a rotary dumper.

"I especially appreciate the association of photos to text. Not only are there builder's photos of cars in pristine condition, we also get to see them in use with loads going in or out, with cranes, rotary dumpers, plus loading and unloading chutes. He even shows us a Lidgerwood-pulled steel plow which ran inside the car, forcing the load out through side doors. There are docks, bucket loaders, overhead cranes, and all sorts of other loading and unloading facilities. Again, the model maker should be in heaven here because there is all of the industrial scenery you could want.

"Not only do we get scenery, we also see photo sequences of cars being built by SP shops. Dotted around various pictures are automobiles and trucks of the period, helping the modeler better populate a layout. Trees and trackage combine to offer a larger view than simply gondolas and stock. cars. This book is a visual treat.

"Locomotives? They are in the book, thank you! Let's run the checklist for SP motive power: Cab forwards, Black widow F-units, Black Widow Geeps, Consolidations, "Valley Mallets" (these are 2-6-0 Moguls used in farming country), 2-10-2s, Mikados, Alco switchers and RS units, GE U-boats, Baldwin road switchers, and F-M Trainmasters? Oh yeah! Here is some serious, historical trainchasing from the comfort of your armchair.


"I learn something new every time I read this book. I said that earlier, but it bears repeating. I like to learn. I think there are pleasure endorphins released when I learn something interesting about trains. If that's true, this book is going to make me feel good for years to come. I guess I'll have to have the next volumes, too, and I'll be glad to let you know if they are as pleasurable."

-- John Sipple