Traffic Research

Freight Flows: Anthracite Coal

A quartet of U25Bs make a move in the Nevins Yard in Framingham during June of 1966. In the background is the shed of Framingham Coal, a one-time Hudson Coal dealer and affiliate to Claflin-Sumner. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

In the first half of the 20th Century, anthracite coal was a major commodity of Northeastern railroads. It seems like every station on every railroad had at least one coal retailer. After World War II, the nation accelerated its transition to other fuels and these facilities vanished from the landscape. As I sketched out plans for the Claflin-Sumner Ludlow Street coal yard I wanted to get a better sense of what the volumes and traffic patterns would look like in a mid-1960s setting to better model these shipments. To figure that out, I dug into the Carload Waybill and Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I railroads. Here is what I found.


While the B&A isn’t a railroad usually associated with anthracite, the numbers show it had a significant share of the area’s hard coal – about 20%.

Anthracite volumes 1930-1965. B&A data after 1948 is estimated from MA data based on B&A’s 1948 market share. B&A 1930 and 1933 carloads estimated by using B&M tons per car for those years.
When coal was king the B&A handled over a million tons a year. Major terminals like this 5,000 ton bunker on the corner of Grafton and Franklin St. in Worcester were common. As the industry retrenched, it reverted back to small, simple sheds.

The data showed that tonnage declined dramatically with the onset of the Great Depression and then stabilized with a little bump from WWII. After the war there was a major conversion to home heating oil and natural gas. Over 80% of the tonnage was lost between 1948 and 1958. By 1963, the B&A was down to less than 2 cars per day – about 4% of the tonnage from 1930 when they were handling 48 cars per day.

Still, a couple cars a day isn’t zero. Maybe half of that volume terminated east of Springfield, so a car in a through freight every other session works out about right. What about the coal yard at Jamesville though? It appears that it closed not long after 1960, it’s sister yard on Webster Street stayed open past 1966 though and a dozen other yards were open in the city during 1963. With that in mind, it isn’t a stretch to use a little modeler’s license to extend its life.

Origins and Routes

All anthracite was mined in Northeastern PA in four fields. The northern field around Scranton-Wilkes Barre declined dramatically after the mines flooded in a tragic accident in 1955. The other three fields to the south fared a little better. The Anthracite Coal Division 1965 Annual Report published by the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries of Pennsylvania (link) showed hundreds of mine sites still in operation with 140 preparation plants processing coal (breakers, washeries etc…). The top coal producing companies were the following [company, tons produced, breakers used (location – if different, serving RR)]:

  • Glen Alden Corp. (Blue Coal) 2,111,988 Huber (Ashley, CNJ), Loree (Larksville ex-Hudson Coal, D&H )
  • Lehigh Valley Anthracite 1,461,675 Hazleton Shaft (LV), Morea (PRR), Dorrance (Wilkes-Barre, EL ex-L&WV), Loomis (Hanover Township, EL ex-DL&W – closed 6/65), Mammoth (Raven Run, LV)
  • Reading Anthracite 1,287,293 St. Nicholas (RDG), New St. Nicholas (Duncott, RDG), Trevorton (RDG)
  • Greenwood Mining (ex-Lehigh Coal & Navigation) 762,861 Greenwood (Coaldale, RDG ex L&NE)
  • Glen Nan Coal Co. 649,618 Glen Lyon (PRR), Bel Air (Old Forge, LV)
  • Jeddo-Highland Coal Co. 643,678 Jeddo #7 (Harleigh, LV), Highland #5, Lion (Cunningham Coal, Hazleton, LV), Midvalley Fine Coal Plant (Wilburton, LV)

By 1963 the Class I railroads originating this traffic had contracted to the six carriers listed below:

RailroadLocalForwardedTotal Originated
Anthracite tonnage volume from the 1963 Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I Railroads publication – this is the last year that individual railroad statistics were listed

The category we are most interested here are the tons forwarded, since all the traffic to Massachusetts would fall into this category. Lehigh Valley and Reading led the pack by a wide margin. Although Reading’s totals include the Jersey Central, CNJ’s tonnage was always smaller and was hit badly by the collapse of the northern field. It is interesting to see that the Pennsy was the third overall in anthracite tonnage originated, but 2/3 of it stayed local to the PRR.

A Lehigh Valley hopper at Framinginam in January 1966. The LV was the leading anthracite carrier in 1965. The car is a variation of the offset design featuring ribs. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

Routes to the Boston & Albany from these origins include the following based on a 1947 New York Central routing guide:

  • E-L (D)-Utica-NYC (E/WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • E-L (E)-Binghamton-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • PRR-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or LV-National Jct.-NYC (WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • RDG-Haucks-CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or RDG-Allentown/Quakeake-LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
This map was a test image, right click on it to open in a new tab for a clearer version.

This shows the the D&H, which had the most direct route from the B&A to the anthracite region, enjoyed the lion’s share of the traffic to the B&A. As the B&A’s only direct connection to the anthracite region, it should not come as a surprise that several of the large dealers on the line, incluing Claflin-Sumner, sold Hudson Coal – a D&H affiliate. Hudson Coal was acquired by Glen Alden in 1963. So while LV and RDG led carriers handling hard coal, the B&A’s long term ties with the D&H may have given them a larger market share on this line. Regardless of routing, all cars from all these routes would come east in BA-6 and return west on a BV extra.

About 15-20% of the business on the B&A was overhead. New Haven and B&M didn’t participate in any through routes with the NYC to the origin carriers over the B&A. That may mean that the bridge traffic went to the CV at Palmer, G&U at North Grafton plus the NYC Harlem Division and Rutland at Chatham, NY.


Rochdale Fuel in Rochdale, MA typical of larger northeast retailers. A trestle ran through the middle of the building, locomotives were not permitted to run on it per the rules in the employee timetable. Jack Leonard Photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

In 1963 there were still over a dozen retail dealers on the B&A proper from Worcester to Boston that were listed in the Freight Delivery Circular as receiving coal. These are only customers served at common points with outer lines. Perhaps there were two dozen firms still using B&A routings. That gives an average of one car every 12 days on average. Since I model winter, and Claflin-Sumner was a bigger firm, maybe a single car every 8-10 sessions is appropriate.

Barney Coal in Milford in 1975. While this industry was on the New Haven, it was open to reciprocal switching from the B&A. The main building survives in 2021 as does their sidetrack, but the sheds are gone. Although they haven’t received a hopper in many years, Barney may be the last coal dealer with a serviceable rail siding in all of New England. DigitalCommonwealth photo, used under Creative Commons license.


The retail coal business was on its last legs in 1965. The infrastructure to support the massive volumes of years past was already disappearing, although much was still in place. What was left was closed or vastly underutilized. The Claflin-Sumner yard should reflect this decline and look run-down and only receive limited shipments.

Critical Cars

Freight Car Progress

As I was waiting for my Flexi-Flo cars to arrive, I cleaned up my spray booth to get ready paint their trucks and add a layer of Dullcoat. With a clean booth, I kept on going and decided to paint, decal and weather a couple of cars this winter’s hit list.

Both of these cars wound up on my roster as a result of studying shipments on the Grafton & Upton in May of 1965. One observation I made about the gondolas in this study, was the variety of lengths in the mix. It is easy to fall into the trap of modeling mostly 52′ gons, but in the sample there were cars of 39′, 40′, 41′, 42′, 45′, 46′, 48′, 49′ and 50′ lengths and they made up nearly 2/3 of the shipments. Both of these cars were selected, not only because they showed up multiple times in the sample and are significant cars on their respective fleets, but also because they help create some variety in my fleet.

B&M Magor Drop Bottom Gondola

A New Haven high hood Alco switcher moves a B&M gondola in South Boston April, 1961. Note switch tender and the open-air armstrong interlocking plant. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

This car is an old Funaro & Camerlengo kit that is based on B&M and MEC’s 40′ drop bottom gons. The B&M had 1250 cars (92000-93249 – with 25 assigned Mystic Terminal reporting marks) while the affiliated Maine Central received 250 (3200-3449). The B&M fleet saw varied use but were mostly intended for the Eastern Gas & Fuel coke works and pig iron furnace in Everett, Mass (served both by B&M and B&A). The pig iron plant closed in 1956 and the coke works closed in 1960, but these cars were still fairly common around New England for years afterwards. For my purpose, it will represent a car in a joint NYC-B&M pool of empties for scrap loading within the Boston Switching District (Prolerizer in Everett and Schiavone in Charlestown).

A New York Central local heads east to the Coke Works, with a B&M 40′ gondola six cars back. The time and place is Draw 7 over the Mystic River on the Grand Junction Branch at Everett, Mass. circa 1959. Photo by Alan Thomas, collection of Dave Hamilton, used with permission..

By October of 1966 there were only 446 cars left in interchange service, with 313 of these rebuilt with solid steel floors and renumbered into the 9200-9899 series. As of this writing Pan Am Railways still has 5 of these cars in their short welded rail train and a couple others converted to wheel cars assigned to Waterville, ME.

New Haven freight bill for a pig iron shipment from Hanna Furnace, Buffalo, NY to Draper Corp., Hopedale, MA via LV-Easton-L&HR-Maybrook-NH-Milford-G&U – 5/15/65 shipped in B&M 9822.

I opted to model a rebuilt car, as they were more numerous and doing so saved me from adding all the tiny Wine door latch hardware. I used Proto 2000 plankless trucks, A-Line stirrups, Kadee #158 couplers, Tangent uncoupling levers and Hi-Tech air hoses to finish the model.

The one complication I had was that most of these cars featured a small McGinnis logo with a white B and and blue M – a decal that is not readily available in HO scale. I contacted Highball Graphics to see if a logo from another set was the right size. They asked the size and printed a bunch for me special instead. You can’t beat that kind of customer service! I painted the car Model Master Flat Black and weathered it with a wash of raw sienna oil paint followed by an application of Pan Pastels.

My completed B&M kit, the McGinnis logo was worth the extra leg work as it looks more at home in a 1960’s setting and gives me a one-of-a-kind model. After taking the picture I realized I forgot to add chalk marks, this has since been corrected.

N&W G-5 Mill Gondola

N&W 90179 Worthington, OH 6/65. The car is carrying signal masts for installation on the Columbus-Sandusky line that the N&W had recently purchased from the Pennsylvania as part of the Nickel Plate-Wabash merger. Lynn Roberts photos, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

The other car I finished was a Norfolk & Western G-5 class 46′ mill gondola. Three showed up in Hopedale, MA during 5/65, so I had highlighted it as a potential car to model. That small sample aside, the numbers make this a statistically significant car by themselves. The N&W’s fleet of gondolas was the 5th largest in the US in 1966 at 12,047 cars (including ex-NKP, P&WV, WAB and VGN cars) and G-5 was their biggest class. Originally numbering 2,500 cars (88000-90499), they were built in five separate orders between 1952 and 1956 by various builders.

Freight bill pig iron shipped from Republic Steel in Troy, NY to Draper Corp. at Hopedale, MA 5/18/65 via NYC (B)-North Grafton-G&U shipped in N&W 88301.

This was a resin kit from Pocahontas Models, it was later offered by Speedwitch Media. Although it is still cataloged, it has been out of production for quite a while. I failed to acquire one when it was available, but managed to score an unopened secondhand kit at the Springfield Show a few years ago. It was another simple kit to build with a one-piece body. The one part that I did different than the instructions was the installation of the lading band anchors. The instructions called for them to be mounted on top of the top chord, when in fact they need to be mounted on the side. A detail shot of a car on the RR-Fallen Flags made this clear. I was expecting the assembly process on this part to be very difficult, but I figured a way to cut them from the fret leaving a mounting pin and a Glue Looper made the application of CA a simple, mess-free process.

Note the placement of the lading band anchor and tie down loops. Lynn Roberts photos, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

I used Kato 70-Ton ASF Ride Control trucks, A-Line stirrups, Kadee #22 couplers, Tangent uncoupling levers and Hi-Tech air hoses to finish the model. The choice of #22 couplers was because the car body would have had to sit too high with #158s. I also attempted to model the tie down loops on the top chord, they came out bad and I removed them. I skipped redoing them in the interest of actually finishing the model. I may fix this when I add a load to the car.

I painted the model with Model Master Flat Black and lettered it with the supplied decals. In retrospect the big “N&W” looks undersize, but I’m not aware of a source for correct size lettering. It looks OK as long as you aren’t directly comparing it to a prototype photo. The car was weathered with oil paints and Pan Pastels after sealing with Dullcoat. I masked off some lettering to simulate repack and reweigh stencils. Some chalk marks drawn with a white colored pencil completed the job.

The finished car, I tried to copy the weathering from the Roberts photo, but I may need to tone the light gray streaks down a bit.

While these probably took longer than they should have to finish, I’m happy to have two more check marks on my list of this winter’s projects. On to the next one.