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The Arrowhead Models HO Scale Rio Grande “Committee Design” Hopper

In January 2023 Arrowhead Model announced it was making another run at the popular Rio Grande Committee Design hoppers are available online from local hobby shops. This release represents the original October 1960 delivery of the hopper car.

The Arrowhead model matches the specific details of the Bethlehem Steel-built cars consisting of 167 parts per car and is the most detailed, part-intensive open hopper in HO scale today. The ready-to-run model details include 70-ton ASF ‘Ride Control’ roller bearing trucks,  L-shaped AR/BL superior grab iron, Wine double door locks, Wine hopper doors and frames, Miner 1942 handbrake, Retaining valve location, Retaining, and releasing valve rods, and the Pullman defect card holder. Meticulously researched, prototypical paint and graphics, MSRP is $58.95 each.

In total, 18 road numbers are available through Arrowhead Models; 12 road numbers (17506, 17513, 17521, 17534, 17549, 17555, 17562, 17571, 17587, 17592, 17600, 17615) are available from Arrowhead Models.  An additional 6 road numbers (17628, 17639, 17640, 17654, 17666, 17678) are available for pre-order only from Spring Creek Model Trains.

See www.springcreekmodeltrains.com for more information on these additional cars.

For more information on the hopper model see https://arrowheadmodels.com.


Some members may remember that the society offered exclusive pre-orders of the initial run of the Arrowhead “Committee Design” hopper models back in late 2018.  Blaine Hadfield was gracious enough to give society a sneak peek of the car during our 2018 RGM&HS Convention in Kansas City.  Our Prospector Editor, Dave Lotz wrote an extensive 3-page review of the Arrowhead model car in the October 2018 Green Light.

Product Review: Arrowhead Model’s HO Scale Rio Grande “Committee Design” Hopper

(from the October 2018 RGM&HS Green Light)

by Dave Lotz, Prospector Editor

In 1960, the Denver & Rio Grande Western purchased a lot of 200 “Committee Design” hoppers from Bethlehem Car Co. Although these weren’t the first 70-ton open hopper the Rio Grande acquired, they were the first to have design elements characteristic of a ‘modern’ conveyance. Previous orders were fulfilled by General American and American Car and Foundry, and these cars had (mostly) welded side posts. Welded joints have a greater tendency break at the weld seam of the side sheet and post, and it is a construction method that was soon viewed as less favorable than riveted methods.

Depending on how one tells the story, the committee design hopper will mean different things to different people. To the D&RGW, they owned 800 committee design hoppers, 44% of its 70-ton hopper fleet. Given that the remainder of the fleet was provided by three other builders, it is the most prominent 70-ton hopper on the system from 1966 onward. However, the committee design story doesn’t begin with the D&RGW, it begins with R. H. Smith, president of the Norfolk & Western. And, depending on where you stand, the committee design hopper either represents one of the largest, single classes of freight car (of any type) to ever be constructed, or, it represents a failure for cooperating railroads to standardize around a single design.

In the 1950s, the American Association of Railroads (A.A.R.) re-drafted gross weight specifications to allow for 70-ton cars in interchange service. This set into play the conditions for the development of new cars. Where the Norfolk & Western railroad had long embraced practices of standardization on its own railroad, the president of the N&W, R. H. Smith, thought to reap the advantages of this concept through the cooperation of other railroads as well. The idea was that, if cooperating railroads could standardize the design of a single car, economies of scale would result in material efficiencies for all of the parties.

Smith found agreement with the Pennsylvania and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads. These three railroads were among the largest carriers of coal. Collectively, they rostered 31% of the nation’s hopper cars--an impressive statistic when one considers that the attrition of the 1960s and 1970s hadn’t yet ravaged the railroad industry with mergers and bankruptcies. Although the design of the car was a committee effort, the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad directly managed the task through it’s Mechanical Design Office in Richmond, Virginia. By December of 1957, there was consensus on the design of a 70-ton, 13-post car with 39’-10” interior length, 10’-6.75” exterior width dimensions and a combination of 45 and 30 degree slope sheets.

In 1958, the three railroads agreed to build one prototype each: C&O built car No. 300006 at it’s Raceland car shops, (It was assigned the H33 car class.) N&W built car No. 59000 in 1958 at it’s Roanoke car shops, (It was assigned the H12 car class.) and Pennsylvania built car No. 274001 in 1958 at it’s Hollidaysburg car shops. (It was assigned the H39 class.) Immediately following construction of its prototype, the C&O sent No. 300006 to the National Malleable and Steel Castings Company in Cleveland, Ohio, for testing. The N&W left their car unpainted for a period for strain testing. Only the PRR moved the design forward for immediate production. Eventually, the PRR would construct 16,133 committee design cars. This car comprised its massive H39 fleet--one of the largest car classes of any car type.

The Norfolk & Western railroad, however, resisted the proposal of constructing additional cars. They took the position that the 70-ton cars were larger than the loading capacity necessitated, and the dimensions should be reduced. According to   Andrew Dow, the Norfolk and Western had experience with cars with spare cubic capacity as being “both dangerous and expensive to operate.” And to underscore this perspective, N&W’s H10-class hopper had been in service since 1956. N&W H10s were smaller, lighter and less expensive than the committee design car, and yet despite this, it was rated to carry the same load. The N&W did not see the committee design car as a step forward, and therefore, not the right platform to rally its standardization efforts around. Other than the prototype, No. 59000, the N&W would never build another committee design car. That said, the N&W did employ lessons of the committee project to design its H11 design hopper--a car with many design similarities as the committee car. And, not unlike PRR’s H39 committee cars, the H11 class is among the largest single car classes ever constructed.

Arrowhead Model President Blaine Hadfield unveiled the “Committee Design” hopper for the first time at the RGM&HS convention in Kansas City

After a year of testing its prototype car, No. 300006, the Chesapeake & Ohio reoriented it’s priorities. It forwarded the proposition to re-dimension the committee car and for five years, the C&O pursued the development of larger, 85-ton cars. However, in 1963, the C&O constructed 500 committee design cars at its Raceland car shops in the series 151500-151599. By this point, the C&O was well entrenched in the 85-ton conveyances, and so in a move that seems anachronistic to some historians, it is interesting that the railroad reverted back to an isolated order of 70-ton capacity cars and then roll those cars into it massive fleet of steel, 3-bay hoppers. Yet, the 151500-15199 series is a true “Committee design” car. True to the prototype car, this lot had heap shields, and they are unique in that they are the only production, committee design cars to have them.

The Rio Grande never looked back--both in terms of the committee design and it’s builder, Bethlehem Car Co. From 1960 forward, every new, HT AAR class car that the Rio Grande purchased was from Bethlehem, and every new, 70-ton HT-class car the Rio Grande acquired from here forward was of the committee design.

The Rio Grande owned a total of 800 Bethlehem 2603 hoppers. They were purchased from Bethlehem Car Co. in three lots. The first 200 hoppers were acquired in 1960; these were placed into the 17500-17699 equipment series. Then, in June of 1962, the D&RGW followed up with a second order for an additional 200 cars. These were placed into the 14700-14899 series. Finally, the D&RGW acquired a final lot of 400 cars in 1966. These cars were placed into the 14600-14999 equipment series.

Like the PRR and, in some sense, like the N&W, the Rio Grande had found a design concept that would serve as a platform for standardization. Even the Rio Grande’s massive “Great Steel Fleet” of Bethlehem 3483 Hoppers is a 100-ton derivation of the committee design. In fact, it seems self-evident from the author’s perspective, that nothing did more to influence the characteristics of D&RGW’s fleet of open hoppers than the decisions made between the PRR, C&O and N&W in 1957.

Arrowhead Models produces a true, state-of-the-art, HO scale replica of the Bethlehem Committee Design Hopper!

Finally, Rio Grande modelers can have a state-of-the-art model of the Bethlehem “Committee Design” hopper, and it isn’t just nice, Arrowhead Models (www.arrowheadmodels.com) has produced what may be the finest open hopper ever seen in HO Scale. (Although, it is only fair to admit that the author is well biased!) In addition to dimensional accuracy, it features a host of details that, to date, have never been seen in the industry. This includes a 4-piece 1955 Apex hand brakes, which accurately replicate the internal gear, chain, rod and the release lever of the hand brake housing. It also includes 3-piece Wine double door locks, Wine hopper frames and gate doors, 2-piece ABD valves, 3-piece air reservoirs to capture the subtle curves of the emergency half, flange and auxiliary half of the air reservoir body. Arrowhead’s model utilizes brass parts in applications where injection molding is weak to give the same fidelity. These include brass parts to replicate the broke steel mounting platforms of the brake cylinder and ABD valve, brass hopper frame angle braces and slack adjuster guards. The model also has a gamett of wire parts, including wire brake rods, retaining valve line and rods, release valve rods, air reservoir, brake cylinder and ABD lines--all in addition to the wire parts that we would expect from a top-shelf model, like brake rods, grab irons and coupler cut levers. Furthermore, the model has an Apex etched metal brake step, separate air hoses, Kadee #158 couplers, CNC-machined metal wheels sets and crafted loads with prototypical asymmetry. Arrowhead has gone so far as to produce the most spectacularly detailed slack adjuster we have ever seen, and the part isn’t even visible. It is completely concealed under a slack adjuster guard. Considerations for this kind of detail are astounding; this model stands apart.

Member Greg Long examines the new hopper car firsthand during Blaine Hadfield’s presentation

The lettering is an exceptional match for the June 1966 delivery/14600-14999 series hoppers. The pad printing is both precise and accurate, from the lubrication stencils on the inferior sill to the large flying Rio Grande on the car side. This equipment series of cars represents the final 400 hoppers delivered to the railroad. They remained in revenue service well into the 1990s, and some may continue to serve in Union Pacific Maintenance of Way service today.

If you have an interest in the Rio Grande from 1960 to 2000, the Bethlehem Committee Design hopper is exceptionally important class of rolling stock, and Arrowhead Models has produced a replica that is well worth standing applause.


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