DIVISION, ATLAS O TEAM UP ON PENNSY H21A COAL HOPPER
MODEL RAILROAD NEWS –
Review by John
H21a 4-Bay Hopper Car
MSRP: $59.95 (3-rail), $64.95 (2-rail)
The Middle Division
(For Pennsy versions)
P.O. Box 332
New Cumberland, PA 17070-0332
Atlas O, LLC (for
Penn Central and other versions)
378 Florence Ave.
Hillside, NJ 07205
In an interesting
joining of effort, The Middle Division of New Cumberland, PA and
Atlas O from New Jersey have teamed up to produce the
Pennsylvania Railroad’s ubiquitous H21a coal hoppers in both a
3-rail and 2-rail O scale. The first run consisted of 12
roadnumbers in the “Circle Keystone” paint. The second run
offers 4 new roadnumbers of “Circle Keystone” and 4 more of the
“Shadow” paint scheme. These are all offered by Middle Division.
Atlas O will also market the non-Pennsy roadname versions,
including Penn Central, Virginian and Norfolk & Western (these
latter two roads leased H21s during WWII.) Atlas states the
minimum curve for this product is O-45 track for 3-rail, 24-inch
radius for 2-rail.
The Pennsy H21a
Pennsy was, for all of
its other railroading activities, a coal road. From steel mills
to home furnaces, from locomotives to giant steam ships, all
burned coal. I know you understand this, but it must be said in
order to appreciate how a railroad could have 39,000 of the same
kind of car.
Wait. Did I
inadvertently add a zero? Let me spell it out: thirty-nine
thousand! Starting around 1903, the Pennsylvania Railroad began
to construct what they called the H21a Hopper car. This
quad-hopper coal hauler had ten full panels on each side (or 11
ribs) and could handle 70 tons of coal. Mines which fed into the
PRR filled these cars everyday. Sometimes the cars were sped off
to market and sometimes they sat loaded for varying periods of
time like merchandise on a shelf. For the approximately 16 years
of their general production, some vast number was built, mostly
by Pennsy’s own car shops.
They were constructed in
two general groups: clamshell and saw-tooth hoppers. Our sample
is the saw-tooth variety, so we’ll concentrate there. The cars
were 42 feet over the end sills and stood 11 feet 3-3/4 inches
from the railhead to the top of the brake wheel staff. At 10
feet 2-1/4 inches wide, they had a box capacity of 2,547 cubic
feet, a planned heap of 286 cubic feet, giving them a total
2,833 cubic feet of volume capacity.
stopped in 1918, the numbers on the PRR continued to swell,
particularly after the onset of the Depression when several
smaller roads with fleets of H21a cars collapsed and Pennsy
acquired their rosters. At various times, numbers of the similar
H22 class had their coke extension racks removed, making them
into H21a versions. Sometime during World War II, the number of
H21a hoppers on Pennsy’s roster grew to 39,000. In fact, later
in the war they leased a couple of herds to Virginian and
Norfolk & Western to help those roads until they could build
more hoppers of their own.
A considerable number of
the H21a fleet survived to wear the “twisted worms” of the Penn
Central. That any freight car could survive a half century is
fairly remarkable; that a coal hopper could last that long is
truly incredible. While coal is only a fraction of the weight of
gravel and doesn’t gouge the sides as badly, wet coal gives off
acids which eat away any paint and the underlying steel.
Obviously, these cars were oft rebuilt during their long lives.
The Middle Division
Atlas is well known for
its manufacturing potential, both in America and abroad. The
Middle Division, a separate company which has long specialized
in Pennsy-related products, brought a remarkable body of
research, model railroading expertise, and their checkbook to
the table. The result is just as remarkable as the prototype on
which it is based. It has been faithfully reproduced in pure
1:48 scale proportions.
Until this release, the
only other way to get an H21a hopper in O scale was to buy
brass. It would be tempting to draw comparisons between the
brass version and this injection-molded product, but that would
be counterproductive. The brass version costs about five times
as much per car, so unless a buyer has very deep pockets, he
isn’t going to build a string of them. And you will want at
least a string, if not more.
Coal hoppers rarely go
anywhere alone. We have all seen the photos of trains a hundred
hopper cars long and railyards with a dozen tracks filled with
coal haulers. Coal is the kind of volume product that keeps
railroads alive and justifies their existence, so it is only
reasonable to wish to model this. Middle Division has produced
more than the 12 original and 8 new roadnumbers; each car has
different build dates and repacking information, courtesy of
prodigious research into the original car cards. I have car
number 189133, which says it was built in June 1913 and repacked
June 11 1947.
I took the magnifier to
the model and found that old Atlas magic on both paint and
lettering. The paint is smoothly, evenly, and perfectly applied,
despite the challenges of irregular surfaces. Right down to the
smallest of words, the lettering is razor-sharp, even under
magnification. I lingered to marvel at the rivet detail and even
paused to count a few. As you examine the car inside and out,
you can see how the odd-numbered ribs are riveted all the way
through while the even numbered ribs are part of the crossbrace
assemblies. The sheet metal and rivet detail extended to the
inside of the car when the coal load is removed so you can see
The coal load is easily
one of the nicest I’ve seen. Viewed from the side, it looks very
much like a heap of coal which will show shiny highlights in
real life, just as it does here. Look down from above, and
you’ll see that this isn’t screened coal; it is mine run with
chunks of varying sizes. The load snaps in and out quite easily
so you can model full and empty cars, as you see fit.
Grabs and handrails are
separately- applied metal and are very close to scale size. Even
the foot rungs are squared metal. In side the “B” end is all the
airbrake plumbing, while the handbrake gear is faithfully
modeled, as well. The bottom frame of the car is die-cast metal,
adding rolling weight while lowering the center of gravity.
Handbrake rigging continues under the car, and the plastic
hopper doors actually open.
I was unable to place
the exact truck sideframe, though it looks somewhat similar to a
2D-F2 Crown Cast Steel model. While real springs are used in the
truck frames, they aren’t part of the suspension of the car.
Black brake shoes add a nice touch, and the train-line pipes and
hoses extend out to the sides of the couplers. Our car is a
3-rail version , so it has the truck-mounted magnetic couplers
of that genre.
I don’t normally get to
play with O scale stuff, but now that I have, I repeat what
I’ve always said: I’ve never met a scale I didn’t like. I’m a
big Atlas fan, of course, but The Middle Division is winning me
over with their devotion to research and quality. Together, they
have produced a 4-bay hopper car that begs to be bought as a
string. Start thinking coal tipple and all the rest, because
it’s a very good time to be in O scale.