Why so MUCH discussion on coal car models? Trackside in Dulutrh...Rumored to be the MidWest

gary laakso

My trusty "Trackside in Duluth" shows on pages 54,68 and 69 a Northern Pacific W-3 2-8-2 hauling a train in January, 1958, the first car of which is an Erie 52'-6" drop-end gondola; on pages 78 and 79 another NP mike is hauling coal cars, the first car of which is a Southern 2 bay hopper 285736 in May of 1957 and perhaps, rarest of all a MP boxcar on the DM&IR , shown on page 21. A couple of the yard/ steam locomotive storage tracks of Great Northen in Superior, WS show a fleet of GN hoppers and gons ready to move the coal out.

gary laakso
south of Mike Brock

----- Original Message -----
From: np328
To: STMFC@...
Sent: 7/7/2009 12:15:51 PM
Subject: [STMFC] Re: Why so MUCH discussion on coal car models?

At the risk of giving Richard Hendrickson carpal tunnel from repeatedly jumping for the delete button, may I continue the coal
car discussion just a bit further.

First I think Armand make a great comment regarding regional differences. It fits for my neck of the woods, the upper Midwest, specifically the Mpls/St. Paul area. Gary Laakso commented that
there was a great amount of coal that came in through the Twin
Ports of Duluth and Superior. And this coal trade continued until most domestic use of coal for heating ended in the late fifties.
On the NP, between Twin Ports and Twin Cities tonnage ran, well
as a letter in NP File 10629 reads" The flow of traffic over this line is southbound and consists mainly of coal moving from the
Head of the Lakes to destinations in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Iowa." (Gary, I think that would apply to the GN also.)

Given all the grain that went in the reverse direction
(which is what I would have believed to be the predominant tonnage) that was quite a surprise when I first saw that. All the roads out
of the Twin Ports (NP, GN, MILW, C&NW, SOO and I would image DW&P
to smaller extent) competed for this coal traffic. In the Twin Cities, some of this traffic was interchanged with lines like the M&STL ending up on the "Landmesser List". (Thanks for taking the
time to transcribe and post that info at the M&StL Site.)

Given that the NP could mine the Colstrip lignite for about $1.50 and haul it on line one would expect no use of "Lake Coal"
at for locomotives on the NP (and much, much later this was true.) However for quite a while the dividing line was Mandan, ND, the middle of North Dakota, 375 miles from Coalstrip. Lignite, I will admit has less BTU value than anthracite much less. The NP figured that one ton of anthracite had a value of 148 units of heat vs a
ton of lignite at 100. Taking all of this into account, that meant
by the time transportation costs were added to the cost of $1.50
per ton lignite, BTU's were valued in, it equaled a $6.10 price,
833 miles later in Duluth/Superior. They could purchase the lake
coal for $3.70-3.90, explaining why the NP used lake coal on the
east end of the NP.

Of all that has been talked about so far, transportation
costs have not been mentioned once. The NP found that on the
basis of BTU's rendered, (this is really what the end user is
paying for - isn't it?) the transportation costs overtook the
cheaper costs of the lignite after about 400 miles.
What I am driving at here is those hoppers crossing Sherman
Hill or cooling their wheels in LA must have had a very good
reason to be there. The shipping costs had to be quite appreciable; all of which supports Armand's "regional" comment.

And regarding Richard's comment about Gons, drop bottom gons
and so on; The traffic and mechanical departments of the NP
regarded all these cars as "open top cars" and perfectly interchangeable. I suspect other western roads may have felt
this way also. However, it is the consignee who has a say in
how they wish it delivered, be it hopper, drop gon, or boxcar.

PS - Burlington Bulletin #35, which was mentioned, explains
why there were so many Q gons, the mines were set up to handle
gons, but not always hoppers, if I recall correctly.

To sum up, I think there is a good argument for the coal cars to roam, but not too far as there seem to be natural barriers. The Great Lakes are one barrier. Richard's point about the oil and gas fields of the southwest are another. The Illinois coal fields would seem to be a barrier to the eastern coal based on shipping costs. Coal from Illinois was price competetive with lake coal in the Twin Cities. Utah coal and Montana coal out of Red Lodge competed against one another based on the transportation costs.
All of these would serve to keep cars near home rails. And photos tell much, but not why some of these cars went as far from home as they did. Jim Dick - Roseville, MN

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