SSC photo, Keith Retterer collection

In the first half decade of the 20th Century, the NYNH&H owned a fleet of wood underframe gondolas, ranging in capacity from 10 to 30 tons, used for a variety of commodities, perhaps the most common being tidewater coal delivered to customers throughout southern New England.  While most appear to have been an unremarkable assortment of low side cars, a large proportion of the newest gondolas were of a uniquely New England road design called a Pratt Pattern gondola, with pairs of doors running the length of the sides, with the bottom half swinging upward and the top half folding downward. This enabled the payload to be pushed out the car sides by crews rather than lifting the entirety of the load over the sideboards with shovels.  However, beginning in 1906, the New Haven began to substantially modernize its gondola fleet.

The new gondolas, eventually numbering 6,450 cars, were a radical departure from the previous Pratt Pattern design.  The 40 ton, all steel cars, designed and substantially built by Standard Steel Car Co., featured four small drop door hoppers extending below the otherwise flat steel floor.  Their 38' inside length had a shallow 3'9" interior height.  The load was supported by a double 15" channel center sill and 8 panel, pressed side stake sides, with the panels having an uneven spacing at the center.  Similarly, the ends were strengthened with two vertical pressed stakes.  Sometime after production was shifted to Keith Car Co., a heavier tapered end sill was added, with the final 500 cars receiving this.  (At that time, house cars built by Keith for the NH and other roads were also constructed with a very comparable tapered end sill, suggestive of Keith moving toward a degree of uniformity in their process.)

Source: 1906 Car Builders Dictionary (click link to Internet Archive hi-res scans.)
These drawings appear to match the NH cars in dimensions and most details, but there are some small differences.  Note the plate that the door mechanism is mounted to in comparison to the builders photo above, and the notation of these cars as being 50 ton capacity.  Interestingly, the class diagrams below also show the trapezoidal plate, unlike the builders photo.


Source: (click link to .pdf files.)

As the new gondolas began to show up on the roster, the NH moved quickly to retire the old wood underframe cars.  However, the influx of new equipment was so great that over the five years of fresh construction, the road's overall coal carrying fleet nearly doubled over that period.  However, the traffic conditions did not truly warrant such a large total capacity.  Once the new cars were all on property, the NH also moved to aggressively retire the very large fleet of Pratt Pattern cars, despite some of them being only a decade old.  By 1916, all of those were gone, leaving the new 38' gons to make up well over 90% of the road's total open top roster.

Click for larger .pdf file.

The NH's 51000 series of gondolas would be the dominant open top freight car on the road for the two decades after they were installed.  The steel gondolas retained their hoppers until retirement and were supplemented by purchases of twin hopper cars in the teens and twenties.  A total of 1165 40' and 42' drop bottom coal and coke gons were added from 1929 through 1937.  Quantities of the 38' gondolas began to be retired in the late 20's, but those retirements slowed during the first half of the Depression.  Their numbers resumed the decline in the latter 30's, and the cars were largely gone prior to the outbreak of the war.

Larry Berger collection,

NH 56510, ca. 1921                                NH gondolas, Jan 1930
Leslie Jones collection, cropped from larger images
(click links to Boston Public Library full images.)

NH 57184, ca. 1923, Steamtown Collection, Image X2880 (click link for full image.)

In-service photos of the 38' coal gons are not numerous, but the cars built with pre-Saftery Appliance Act hardware had to have been refitted for compliance.  The images above show the arrangement of grab irons on the end in later years.  Lettering had to be updated from time to time, but it is unlikely that many would have received the roadname spelled out on the side as first seen on the 60000 series gondolas of 1930.


Posted 1/15/21.  Updated 8/10/22.  Copyright Earl Tuson