Assembling the ECW 65' PRR G26 Mill Gondola
Text and drawings by Tom Gloger  Photography by Jeff Klein, except as noted.
This is a work in progress, last updated 2 July, 2015.

If you model any North American railroad, you model the Pennsy.   -- Frank Peacock
In its heyday, the fleet of freight cars fielded by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) far outnumbered those of its rivals.  If you are modeling American mainline railroading in the pre Penn Central (PC) days, at least one out of every ten freight cars should be from PRR.


At one time, a company named Eastern Car Works (ECW) made kits for the PRR class G26 65-foot mill gondola (ECW #3000) and the AAR version of the same length car (ECW #3010.)  The kit has working drop-down ends, enabling it to accommodate loads greater than 65 feet in length.

I was able to get a kit pre-painted and lettered by New River from Model Railroad Warehouse, but those are sold out.  You might be able to find one or two on eBay® or similar sites from time to time.

However! As of July, 2015, the Model Railroad Warehouse website said they were now producing the old Eastern Car Works (ECW) G26 kits, undecorated.

Overview:

This kit was molded "flat," meaning there are separate pieces for the floor, sides, end frame, and drop ends.  Other parts include underframe, coupler box covers, AB brake gear, grab irons, underbracing, and the Ajax brake wheel and housing.  It's a little more challenging than a shake-the-box kit.

There is no "weight" in the kit, leaving it far shy of the NMRA Recommended Practice weight of 5½ ounces, so I planned from the start to add weight, even if it meant giving up under-body detail.  I need cars that can run empty. 

In 2011, Mark Morgan wrote with his solution to adding weight.  Click here to see what he had to say.

The New River PRR lettering has a 16" diameter circle keystone logo, Pennsylvania is spelled out, and there are lines above and below the reporting marks.  (The circle keystone on the actual gondola was larger, and one panel closer to the center of the car.)  There is no lettering on the ends of the car.  The printing on my sample was a bit crooked, (see the far end of the photo) and not as sharp as lettering I've seen elsewhere; It was, in fact, hard to tell if the car number was 440576 or 440578.  I used a scriber to scrape away the white to make it more closely resemble a 6.

No instructions came with the kit.  My only guidance was two photos of G26 and G26a class cars in the PRR freight car photo album at Robert Schoenberg's excellent PRR web site.

Additional materials I used when building this car include:

You may wish to include:

As designed, the Eastern Car Works model sits much higher above its trucks than the real car, and the width of the coupler boxes would have made it unable to negotiate the 18-inch radius curves of my layout's interchange and industrial tracks.  Some simple modifications to the truck bolster and coupler mounting will overcome these shortcomings.

Assembly:

The sections of this article which are indented like this are to explain things I did because of situations you may or may not face.  I encourage you to learn from my mistakes.
Before beginning the assembly, to prepare for raising the coupler in relation to the body of the car, remove about 1/32" from the part of the floor where the couplers were to be mounted, making them about even with the two rows of rivets that run down the center.  Also remove about 1/32" from the end casting in the area above the coupler pockets.

Before assembling, note that the two car sides are not identical, nor are the two end castings.  During assembly of the body, make sure the retainer valve (cast onto one of the sides near the top of the right-most panel) winds up next to the end casting with the recesses designed to take the brake wheel housing.  As for the floor, I'm not sure which end is which; to me, it didn't matter.

Assemble the sides to the floor by placing the car upside down on a flat surface, with square blocks against the sides to keep the sides parallel with each other and at right angles to the floor (or at least symmetrical.)  Make sure the ends of all the pieces line up before cementing.

Note that the drop ends have an inside and an outside.  The outside has an overhang on the top, the inside doesn't.  Check the pictures if you're not sure.  Assemble the two ends and cement the end frames to the correct ends of the body.

Truck Mounting:

Saw the underframe apart in four places, cutting about ¼" on each side of each truck bolster, and discard the coupler pockets.  You can cement the center section of the centerframe in place as is, or substitute 1/8" brass channel stock filled with some kind of weights.  Install the two cross-braces to give the body a little more strength.

File the top surface of the truck bolsters (that which attaches to the underside of the floor) until it is about ¼" from the face on which the truck rides, then cement the bolsters in place.

I stopped filing too soon, but was able to lower the face on which the truck rides by making a cutting tool from 0.125" ID (5/32" OD) brass tubing.  This had the side benefit of lengthening the 1/8" pin that fits into the hole in the truck, which seemed to be on the short side.  The tool left a ridge of uncut material around the outside of the face, which I removed with a hobby knife.
The face on which the truck rides should be about 5/32" from the main surface of the bottom of the car floor.  When the truck is that close to the body, the wheel flanges will rub on the nearby crossbraces cast into the bottom of the car floor.  Remove these, four places.
My trucks required a washer to keep the head of the sheet metal screws from slipping through.  I think the washers I used came with the couplers.

Couplers:

The extreme length of this 65' car, combined with my 18" minimum radius on industrial trackage, make it necessary for both the trucks and couplers to be able to swing more than usual (see photo), but rigidly-mounted draft gear (coupler pockets) wide enough to allow sufficient coupler swing interferes with truck swing.  For this reason, I made both the coupler and the draft gear able to swing independently on the same axis.

I intended to have independent centering springs for the draft gear and couplers.  In theory, as the curve of the track increased, pressure from the next car would pull the coupler aside until it touched the side of the draft gear and (if needed) push it aside as well.  As the curve decreases, first the draft gear and then the coupler would return to their centered positions.  As of 2001, when I wrote this page, I hadn't come up with a workable plan that fits in the area available, but I did later.

The scratch-built draft gear is built loosely around the coupler's shank like a box.  This box has an inside width of about 1/8" and an inside height that is just enough to allow the box to move freely from side to side on the coupler shaft.

The draft gear in this case is purely cosmetic, it doesn't carry any load, just provides something for the coupler to protrude from.  Here's a drawing:  (Coupler image used with permission of Kadee Quality Products.)

  1. #1 × ¼" Flathead sheet metal screw, with its point filed off, making it about 0.220" long.
  2. Support Plate made from part of the Kadee graft gear.  The hole is about 3/32" diameter, allowing the screw to hold it firmly on top of part G.  Its purpose is to limit the amount of sag when the model is turned upright.
  3. Draft Gear Bottom, made from 0.030" styrene, about 0.188" wide.  Start with a hole smaller than 0.125".  You can enlarge it after assembly until it will fit over and freely turn on part G.
  4. Kadee #36 Coupler.  A #26 or maybe a #46 would probably work just as well, as they are all long, centerset, couplers, but with the #36 you get the makings for part B.  I used long-shank couplers to minimize the angling of the coupler heads on sharp curves.
  5. Draft Gear Sides, made from 0.030" Styrene.  Short enough to fit between the coupler head and the wide spot on the coupler shank, with room to spare.
  6. Draft Gear Bottom, made from 0.010" Styrene.  Like part C, but thinner.
  7. 0.125" Styrene Tube, firmly cemented to the underside of the floor of the car.  Make it a little longer than needed.
  8. Draft Gear Collar, B End only, made from HO scale 2×4 plastic wrapped around the end, to give it a heftier look.

First, cement the draft gear sides (E) to the graft gear bottom (C), making sure the ends closest to the coupler's head line up with each other.  Put the coupler in the box, making sure it will fit loosely.  Cement on the top (F), and let it set.

Once the cement has set, make sure the coupler can still move from side to side inside the draft gear, then very carefully enlarge the holes in the top & bottom (F & C) with a round needle file until they are just large enough to rotate on the 0.125" tubing (G).

The two prototype photos mentioned above seem to show the draft gear (coupler pockets) extending farther from the body on the end with the brake wheel.  This makes sense to me, due to the unconventional way the brake wheel housing is mounted.  The extra clearance would help protect the wheel from the next car or its load.  But the official PRR "car diagram" for the G26 doesn't show this, so it's up to you.

On the end with the brake wheel (the B end), I positioned the tube (part G) so that about one scale foot of draft gear is visible when looking from the top.

On the other end, I positioned the tube to allow the draft gear to protrude only a few scale inches.

Cement the tubes firmly in place on the underside of the floor, sighting along the underframe to be sure they line up with the truck bolsters.

When the cement has dried for several hours, trim the tube to length.  The easiest way I've found to neatly trim plastic tube to length is with a regular metal-cutting twist drill bit slightly larger than the tube itself.  Hold the drill bit held in your hand and twist.  After trimming to length, deepen the hole in part G into the underside of the floor with a 1/16" (or #54) drill bit in a pin vise, working carefully until a bump begins to show on the floor of the car.  If caught soon enough, this bump can be flattened and repainted.

Had the hole had broken through, I planned to cover it with a bit of scrap or dunnage "left over from the last load," but that wasn't the case. I deepened the truck bolster holes too, but I'm not sure I needed to.
If you made the tool, use it to remove any excess melted plastic where the tube meets the floor.

File the points off the #1 × ¼" flathead sheet metal screws until they are about 7/32" long.  If you run them through a piece of scrap first, they will be easier to hold.

Coupler Centering:

The design of centering springs for the draft gear and couplers is a work-in-progress.  The photo on the right shows the alignment as if the G26 (red) were on 18" radius track and the black car on straight track.  It also shows an early centering spring idea, but 0.010" styrene doesn't spring back like metal.

After the pictures were taken, I removed the plastic centering springs and made new springs from some 0.008" diameter steel wire, "cutting" it to size by bending it back and forth several times until it broke.  The arms of the spring are parallel to the sides of the draft gear, holding it centered.  I cut a slot in the underframe with a razor saw, and held the wire in place with a plate of 0.010" styrene that is a little wider than the end of the spring it covers.  The sketch on the left (not to scale!) illustrates the shape of the springs and how the three pieces are oriented.  The loops on the end are to keep the ends from digging into the sides of the draft gear.  Had these springs been too strong, I would have made new springs with a few zig-zags in the arms.

The photo on the right shows the B end of the car with the springs along each side of the draft gear, keeping it parallel to the car when not on a curve.

I have temporarily "given up" on centering the coupler within the draft gear, on the theory that the narrow draft gear will bring the couplers close enough.
Happily, the "draft gear" is only screwed to the body, so it will be a simple matter to change it if a better design comes to mind.  Whatever the design, you can see the springs must fit in a very narrow area.

Weighty Matters:

For weight, I decided to take advantage of the low-hanging sides and the 3/8" square openings between the crossbraces on the underside of the floor, dispense with the brake system parts, and pack as much weight as I could in between the frame members.  I cast a couple lead sheets about 3/16" thick, and cut them into 3/8" squares with heavy tin snips.  To be sure they would fit in the spaces on the underside of the car, I tapped them into shape with hammer and anvil, using a 9mm (0.354") open-end wrench as a gage. 

After making the weights, I weighed them relative to each other so I could make sure each side of the car got about the same weight. 

I used RTV rubber to hold them in place.  Wash your hands after handling lead, and paint the weights after they're installed so you won't have to wash your hands after every time you handle the car.

I only got the total weight up to 4½ ounces, but not all my weights were as large as they could have been.  It wasn't until later that I thought of making them exactly to size by pounding a 3/8" drive socketwrench socket down over them.  Always wear safety goggles when misusing tools.

If you don't use lead, it may be possible to add 3¼ ounces using steel weights cut from 3/8" square stock.  There are other areas that can take weight too, and the low center of gravity helps.

Finishing Touches:

Some of the custom touches I added include: Install the grabs and brake wheel when finished, and touch up any unpainted plastic.

My Results

Here's a photo of the model in about the same view as the G26 photo on the PRR web site.  Amazing how a photograph brings out things one would otherwise overlook:  I have already lowered the brake wheel, added a flange around the draft gear, and replaced that broken step with a plastic brush bristle.  Some snow brushes and scrub brushes have straight, durable, bristles suitable for many modeling purposes.

Unfinished Touches:

There's a few things I may do later. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it came out. 

Loads

The next problem is come up with some loads worthy of a car this size!

Photo by Tom Gloger

My daughter gave me a cast resin truss girder flatcar load (made by Chooch?) for Christmas.  Of all the gondolas I own, only the G26 was long enough to hold it, but it turns out not all gondolas are the same width.  The inside width of the G26 is just a little over one inch, too narrow for the base of the load.

I eventually removed some of the load's width with my Dremel tool.

I gripped the body of the Dremel (lightly!) with my drill press vise, shimmed it to the right height to remove about half of the excess width, then passed the load under it from right to left. 

I then removed some of the shimming and removed the rest of the excess from the other side of the load.

Another load I like is just a 10 to 12 inch length of metal tube, which gives me an excuse to drop the ends and add idler flats.


Another way to add weight

Here's the comments I received from Mark Morgan in 2011, along with some photos he sent.  Note that he suggests 3/16 (0.188") stock while I suggest 1/8 (0.125") channel.  The actual underframe measures 0.158, or about 5/32.

Greetings Tom

I have three of the AAR cars.  The first thing that goes is the underframe.  The plastic beam that the underframe covers is removed.  File and sand as smooth and flat.  Glue a piece of 3/16 steel square between the bolsters (purchased at hardware store). I used Selley/Bowser bolsters, they are lower and add weight. 

The car is not correct for B&O but will do.  Still needs a few decals.


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