The Hopper wagons of the GSSR

It seems to have been generally accepted that the hopper wagons used by the GSSR were of American origin by the company Hurst Nelson. A member of ASAFAL, Francisco Martin Sanchez in an article for the Society has cast doubt on this assumption. Below is a translation of his article.

The W-hoppers of the LBA (GSSR)

This article tries to expose the doubts of the author upon the origin of the characteristic wagons of the Lorca to Baza and Águilas Railroad and the result of his investigations.

The main purpose of the LBA was the transportation of iron mineral extracted mainly from the mining areas of Serón and Bacares. This was behind the construction of the line and what prompted its close when the mines stopped operating.

When the line arrived at Serón (September 1894) they immediately took iron ore to Águilas. The railroad company made use of two axled wagons, built by G.R. Turner. There were 25 wagons without brake (only 5 had screw down brakes), short (less than 5,5 m) and they took 15 tons of mineral. Such material was totally insufficient to do a serious exploitation of the mines of the upper Almanzora, so the company used the services of, surprisingly, an American company, to provide something capable of satisfying its traffic needs.

The photos of the time (summer of 1903) show that at the time when El Hornillo was opened, the railway was relying on wagons of an American nature.

How did these 100 wagons get from Pittsburgh to Águilas and who built them?

José Antonio Gómez Martínez y José Vicente Coves Navarro, en their magnificent work Trenes, minas y cables de Almería say that “... they were built by Hurst Nelson & Co. Ltd of Pittsburgh from 1903...”

Before continuing, I will need to say that my means for the investigation are very limited, my modest library and Internet, no official or private archives no files and no trips. So what I expound in this article is just a hypothesis but I am pretty sure of my facts.

So, in the work cited, some lines further on refer to how the company acquired "...9 wagons more of the same type from Hurst Nelson & Co. of Motherwell, Scotland. .." What? Two companies with the same name? Type in Hurst Nelson & Co. in the window of my search engine and - surprise! No reference exists on the Internet that ties the said name with a builder of material railway worker in the USA, and that that the number of web pages in that country is more than that of all the others in almost any theme. The English constructor appears in a multitude of references as manufacturer of cars, wagons and trolleys, of unmistakably British style. Nothing to be seen of the famous "yanquis", as the personnel called them.

Therefore I suspect that the authors, upon not documenting the first quotation (something that they do very frequently) is that they did not rely on written documents. Perhaps it was an oral testimony that gave them the name of the builder. But that will be seen further on.

Another trail came from the catalogue of Mabar (a Barcelona establishment dedicated to railway modelism for many years). This was the one that represented some hopper wagons of American construction, a Westerfield, suspiciously like ours and that are the same that produced by our companion of the Association, Manolo Casas, which can be seen in our social headquarters (at Huercal de Almeria - DG).

Using the marvelous Internet and seeking Westerfield I found a little of the history of said hoppers, or as them they call them, "ore cars" or mineral wagons of , since they reserve the word hopper for wagons of dry coal.. The Westerfield catalogue offers the following information:

“It was the first one wagon of mineral built integrally in steel. Its production began between 1899 and 1901 and they were used until the 60s”.

As technology developed the hopper wagons were "all steel" The Pressed Steel Car Co. developed mineral wagons of 40 and 50 tons in 1899. The majority of the wagons supplied to the railway companies of the district of the Lake Superior between 1899 and 1901 were by them.

They were so well built that they continued being used during decades (in other companies). After that technical advances began to diminish their uses.

The Great Northern acquired 500 of these wagons between 1899 and 1900 for its traffic of the Area of Missabe (iron mines in Minnesota). As they were supplied they had steps in the right side and two holes on each side. The wagons were modernised in 1913.

The Algoma Central bought 200 more in 1900 and they were in use until the 1930s.

The Lake Champlain & Moriah railroad acquired 25 units. In a curious incident, some fell over 110 ft cliff. PSC repaired the wagons and offered in its advertisements, images of before and after the repair.”

Therefore, we conclude that a large business such as the Pressed Steel Car Co. that had great experience in the production of hopper wagons (thousands of units) developed a specific model for mineral that seemed a lot like that of the LBA, save the maximum load (35 tons) imposed by the Spanish weight by axle and the height limitations, less generous than the American. The Spanish wagon is smaller than the American, and their bogies are proportionally more separated one from the other, so as not to exceed the weight by axle. This is obtained also by extending the frame, not the hopper.

So far, so good, but how are they known here, or at least in London? Once more the Westerfield catalogue offers us a possible solution:

"The GL hoppers of the Pennsylvania line had so much success that Pressed Steel Car Co. offers to the market a generic version in 1899. It was 18 inches (some 46 cm) shorter than the GL and carried a blocking mechanism at the discharge points.

Thousands of these wagons were sold up to 1904 and ran for 40 or 50 years.

Pressed Steel took five "all steel" wagons to the Universal Exposition of Paris of 1900, three gondolas, a mineral wagon and a 30 foot hopper."

That is to say, a hopper came to Europe, to Paris, where the best and most modern technology was on offer.

It is more than probable that directors of the company, especially Mr. Gillman, went to the Expo of Paris where the they had occasion of seeing the American material, that was light years ahead of the European manufacturers: weight, robustness, capacity and facility of load and discharge. Clearly this is to enter into speculation.

It remains to ascertain why do the authors of Trains, mines... make reference to a manufacturer of Pittsburgh that we have seen that does not exist but that is called Hurst (try it to pronounce in Spanish "URST"); after all who knew to speak English in the Spain of the end of the 19th century? And if we look on the Internet?

Really, Hurst does not appear as an American manufacturer of railway material but there existed the USRS (be noted the phonetic similarity), acronyms of United States Rolling Stock Company or American Company of rolling stock material , founded in 1883 by A. Hegewisch, an important businessman (he came to found a city in Illinois with his surname). The purpose of the company was to build railroad wagons. In 1912 its name changed to the Western Steel Car & Foundry, that also produced foundry and special steels.

Finally the company changed its name to the Pressed Steel Car Company and would have had a noticeable role in both world wars as supplier of railway material including armoured cars.

But what interests us as railroad enthusiasts in this little corner of Spain, is that when the LBA bought its first 100 wagons, they did not order them from the PSC, since that name did not yet exist, but probably to a business with factory in Pittsburgh (and in other places) called the United States Rolling Stock Company, USRS, that approximately 10 years later was called Pressed Steel Car Company. Subsequently the series was expanded "to the 125 units in 1911 and to 150 in 1913, all from the same builder"

I will finish with this last point: In the museum at Águilas can be seen a photograph of a hopper factory like the ones we are considering, with the following inscription: "Great Southern of Spain Railway. Steel hopper Wagon of 35 tons.. Called Nº 294? .. Built by the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Co. Ltd. Workshops at Wednesbury. England, 1913"

Therefore USRS (later called PSC) would have built the 100 first wagons, but it is unknown who built the first increase to 125. The second increase, to 150, would be from Metropolitan and included wagons with cabin for the brakeman, that do not appear in photographs of the earliest times. Finally, Hurst; Nelson & Co. Ltd. would have built 9 containers to replace the wagons destroyed in the accident at Pulpí, while Vereinigte Stalhlewerke would have contributed the axles and the wheels.

Consequently, it lacks rigor in my opinion to call them "Nelson Hoppers " when Hurst, Nelson built only 9 units and then not completely, this is, less than the 6% of the total of the series!

I propose therefore that we call them "yanquis", "USRS Hoppers " or at least, as the title of the present article: the W-hoppers of the LBA, this cannot be disagreed with.

If we did not have the mania of throwing away anything old, we might have had the necessary files to answer these questions, but in this as in so many other cases, almost all the documentation generated during almost 100 years was thrown into the trash can.

Books consulted:

Internet references:

Many of these pages include images where one can see the great similarity between them and those of the LBA. Some of them have been preserved. Note. The references below are for information only, they are not links.

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