Modeling Gondolas - Product Reviews and Tips

Gondolas are a common and diverse group of railcars. The most common form on today's railroads are larger capacity cars used for coal. Smaller gondolas carry iron ore and taconite. In between are cars which carry steel, wood products, trash and goods of all shapes and sizes.

For modelers, gondolas offer great modeling potential not only for their own variety but also the loads they carry.

Every model railroad could use an assortment of gondolas. Here are some product reviews, modeling tips and...MORE prototype photos to help you choose the right cars for your layout, make them accurate and put them in the right roles for your operating sessions.

  • 01 of 11
    ITFX gondola 93021
    ITFX gondola 93021. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

     The best way to learn about or model any freight car is to start by studying the prototype. These photos present a good overview of some distinctive gondola variations.

  • 02 of 11

    Narrow Gauge Gondolas

    DRGW 1232
    D&RGW 1232 carries the Royal Gorge Route paint scheme and factory-applied weathering. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

     Narrow gauge cars often offer a look at some of the most simple forms of a freight car type. The Rio Grande used lots of gons to extract the minerals from the many mines along its routes as well as for its own company use. The major classes of these cars included high-sided gondolas for coal and drop-bottom cars which could empty their load through the floor.

  • 03 of 11

    70 Ton Mill Gondolas

    tangent gondola
    End to end, Tangent's ACF gondola captures the distinctive look of this prototype in every detail. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

     Gondolas of this size and general construction were among the most common from the 1950s through the 1970s. Used for a great variety of finished steel and other products, these "mill gondolas" featured smooth interior walls. Often drop ends were provided to allow even longer loads to be carried. Cars like these Tangent HO American Car and Foundry models (identical cars are made by BLMA in N scale) are a must for any layout.

  • 04 of 11

    Coil Cars

    ExactRail's new HO CoilShield captures the look of its unique prototype beautifully. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Beginning in the 1960s specialized gondolas emerged for the specific handling of rolled steel coils. Most of these cars use separate covers or "hoods" to help protect the coils in transit as well as special cradles and cushioning devices to protect the heavy but delicate loads. These designs have become even more unique in modern years as evidenced by the CoilShield and NSC designs seen in these HO model reviews.

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  • 05 of 11
    Southern Gon
    The Southern's "Silverside" gons are nicely represented by the new Walthers Mainline models. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    The most common gondolas today carry coal from mines to power plants, mills and ports. These cars must be turned upside down in large rotary dumpers to be unloaded. While this machinery is more complex, the simplicity of the gondola saves costs by eliminating the opening bottom doors of hopper cars. The Walthers HO cars reviewed here are just one of the many styles and model options to recreate a modern unit coal train.

  • 06 of 11
    finished gondola
    The finished gondola looks like its about ready to head to the scrapyard. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

     Gondolas usually take a beating in their service. Modeling these cars even a few years into their career can provide opportunities for extensive weathering. This how-to feature explains multiple weathering tactics including denting the car sides, recreating heavy rust and even relettering the car.

  • 07 of 11

    Model a Company Service Gondola

    The yellow end on this gondola was an easy and low cost way for the railroad to identify a car in captive company service. You can convert your cars just like the prototype. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Many gondolas, especially older cars, end up in company service for the railroad that owns them. These cars carry track materials and stores for the maintenance shops. Because they are in dedicated roles, many wear special markings to denote their service. They also often carry interesting loads like easy-to-model railroad ties. 

  • 08 of 11
    Weathering the car inside and out is a must for an old gondola like this. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    In the 1960s, Evans built a small number of specialized coil cars with integral covers. The hood design was a failure, but the cars were converted into more traditional gondolas and rolled on for more than forty years. This step-by-step takes you through a similar conversion, transforming an inexpensive train-set car to contest-quality model in the process.

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  • 09 of 11
    stump car
    The load, combined with weathering, makes an eye-catching model. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    These gondolas were converted from older gondola and flatcars for the rough duty of hauling tree stumps harvested for their rosin. This project step-by-step will walk you through the process of assembling a craftsman kit, painting and weathering. You'll also want to make one of these distinctive loads!

  • 10 of 11

    Modeling Empty Gons

    Although it has been unloaded, there is still plenty of scrap left in the bottom of this gondola. ®2009 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

     Even "empty" gondolas often have interesting things inside. Don't overlook these details on your models.

  • 11 of 11
    finished load
    The finished load can be removed or placed in other gondolas of the same size. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    The loads we put on gondolas are often more interesting and challenging projects than the cars themselves. Check out these pages for ideas on loads to model from scrap metal to wood chips and ways to mount them to your gons.