Boston & Maine Railroad
Coal Cars


Serving industrial New England, hauling coal was another important facet of B&M operations. During the first three decades of the 20th century, the manner in which the region's coal traffic was handled was changing, and the B&M acquired the equipment to facilitate the change in practices, if not quite keeping with the state of the art practiced in other regions of the country.

It is important to consider coal handling on the B&M as falling into two distinct categories: all-rail routings from (predominately) Pennsylvania origins, and tidewater coal landing at a variety of New England ports, including Boston, Salem, MA, Portsmouth, NH, and Portland, ME.  The photo above shows one such facility, this one being the Salem Terminal Wharf loading operation of the Tenney Company, as it appeared in 1925 after having been built by filling between the old Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron Company's wharf and the old Phillips wharf east of Fort Ave in Salem.1  With the unavoidable exceptions, all-rail routings were hauled in foreign road coal cars, be they self-clearing hopper cars or flat-bottom and drop-bottom gondola cars.  On the other hand, tidewater coal was most typically loaded into B&M cars, and an important part of the B&M's total freight car fleet was acquired with this traffic in mind.

However, because the B&M also originated important quantities of bulk materials such as stone, sand, and gravel, as well as general merchandise such as brick, the road chose to purchase rolling stock that would meet a variety of needs rather than be limited to one commodity- coal.  Even after some early trials of self-clearing hopper cars, the B&M chose to concentrate mostly on acquiring maximum utility, drop-bottom gondola cars.

Turn-of-the-Century Equipment

In 1900, the B&M had a diverse collection of wood underframe gondola cars from its equally diverse collection of predecessor roads, mostly of 15 to 25 ton capacity, with small numbers of larger capacity cars reaching 30 tons.  The newest equipment was a series of 34' wood underframe, 30 ton capacity, drop end, sideboard gondola cars that had been built at the Concord, NH shops starting in the previous year.  These were essentially flat cars with low sides, and cannot be considered modern cars by any stretch of the imagination: numerous roads in coal hauling states had begun purchasing all steel twin hopper cars around the same time, having been quickly convinced of the dramatic capacity, operational, and longevity improvements the new technology and design offered.

State of the Art coal hauling in 1900: PRR GLc 33164, built 1898. State of coal hauling on the B&M in 1900.

Two other notable designs were also present in the B&M coal hauling fleet in 1900. The first of these was the fascinating Pratt Pattern gondola car.  With an under frame nearly identical to the 34' sideboard gons, the Pratt Pattern cars featured a more versatile side arrangement, by which the top half of the side was able to fold down, and the bottom half could fold up. Critical to this versatility was an iron post that incorporated the hinge and latching points for each side's 8 doors.  These cars appear to be strictly a New England design, and were also used on the NYNH&H.

B&M 6898 and 7668 at J.H.DeCourcy Coal Co., Manchester, NH, ca. 1914.  DeCourcy was located along the Portsmouth branch on the east side of the city; this coal may have landed at Portsmouth.

B&M 7670 at the Mystic Wharf coal facility in Boston, 1914.  This image, excerpted from a much larger photo, shows the top doors folded down with the iron posts projecting upwards.  The light area above "BOSTON" is two unpainted replacement boards.

The last of the turn-of-the-century competing designs was a 30 ton hopper bottom gondola, again featuring an underframe substantially similar to the sideboard gondolas.  More needed here...

In 1901, the B&M began to take delivery of their first Hart Convertible ballast cars.  This design incorporated features that allowed the car to serve as a flat bottom gondola able to dump outside the rails, as well as having a hopper beneath the floor able to dump between the rails.  While never numerically significant on the B&M, the Hart Convertible cars would be purchased again over the years, albeit to updated designs, reasonably implying that the road was satisfied with them over the long term. While these more specialized cars were probably most often used in company service, it is believed that they would also be used for revenue loads as the occasion warranted.

The B&M's last experiment in coal cars was a 1905 delivery of 100 steel frame hopper cars, originally ordered by the Delaware & Hudson to their common "Seley" hopper car design.  Despite the D&H SSC builder's photo below, no hopper cars were ever rostered on that road in that series, as they were inexplicably delivered to the B&M instead.

Never appearing in D&H equipment lists, #4320 and its like were instead delivered to the B&M as car numbers 5900-5999.
Standard Steel Car Co., Keith Letterer collection.

Although another 200 Pratt Pattern gondolas were acquired in 1905, the B&M mechanical department appears to have settled on the 34' sideboard gondolas as their preferred open top car.  Beginning in 1906 and continuing into 1908, nearly 4000 additional copies of the design were acquired.  While the B&M would continue to acquire newer design gondolas over the next decade, the 34' cars would remain the dominate coal carrying equipment for over a decade.  Upon seizure of management control by Morgan interests acting as the NYNH&H in 1907, this period of experimentation came to an abrupt halt.  On the eve of Charles Mellen's presidency, the B&M's coal hauling fleet was thus:

Roster graph here

The Steel Cars Arrive

Laconia Car Co. builder's photo, Laconia, NH, 12/1909

Salem, MA, 1925, author's collection

Portsmouth, NH, 1937, author's collection

Bigger's Better on Hannauer's Road


Cars built after 1900

LotNumbersBuilderBlt DateQtyDescriptionTon CapyConstruction
75900-5999SSC1905100"Seley" composite twin hopper42.5Steel frame
87481-7680Lac1905200Pratt Pattern gondola30Wood underframe
488000-8499SSC1929500ARA offset quad hopper70Steel
548500-8999SSC1930500ARA offset quad hopper70Steel
178900-8999ACF1907100Hart Convertible ballast car40Wood underframe
49000-9039Rodger1901-240Hart Convertible ballast car40Wood underframe
409100-9199ACF1923100Hart Convertible ballast car50Steel frame
121400-21994B&M1899-1900595Drop end, flat bottom gondola30Wood underframe
13, 20, 2421995-24987Lac1906-82993Drop end, flat bottom gondola30Wood underframe
2539000-39999Lac19081000Drop end, flat bottom gondola30Wood underframe
3280000-80999Lac1909-101000Drop bottom gondola40Steel
3781000-81499PSC1913-14500Drop bottom gondola50Steel
3990000-91499PSC19191500USRA composite gondola50Steel frame


1. Part II: Salem Harbor Power Station in the Last Century, Jerome Curley, Salem Patch, 5/16/2011 Online
    (For the curious wishing to read the first part of the story, see Part I Here)

Posted 1/31/16.  Updated 8/29/16.  Maintained by Earl Tuson.