Scale Test Car 10302 Model

In the previous post, I discussed background information on the Algoma Central’s old steel ore hoppers from the early 1900s, and the surviving example that was converted to a scale test car and operated into the mid 1980s.

Fortunately Westerfield makes a detailed craftsman kit for a couple of variations of the Pressed Steel Co. ore hopper, making it possible (although a bit of work) to model either the early 1900s ore fleet or the surviving scale test car.

The instructions provided with the kit are quite detailed, so I won’t go into a detailed blow-by-blow of the construction, except to point out the major deviations and additions I made based on the modernizations performed on the prototype car.

The most obvious modification when modeling the scale car conversion is of course the steel roof that was added to the car. This was simply fashioned from some .020″ sheet with some interior bracing and a 1×4 ridge pole to set the appropriate peak height and slope. This was glued to the tops of the sides with ACC. Fascia trimwork on the ends was added with 1×4 strip cemented to the roof.

Tichy running boards support and brass wire corner grabs added. I plan to try to add the actual wood running boards using weathered strip wood later once the car is painted.

Another modernization feature on the prototype car is upgraded grab iron arrangements with full ladder grabs at the opposite corners of the car. This required drilling a number of new holes for the additional grab irons and bending them from brass wire.

Also, the original hand brake was upgraded with a power hand brake with the familiar vertically mounted brake wheel with geared housing, although the car retained the original split “K” air brakes. This was added by building up the mounting bracket for the brake wheel housing with styrene strip and adding a brake wheel & housing from a Tichy brake detail sprue.

One last note I should make on the brake equipment is that the kit box contained a Tichy parts sprue for a standard “one-piece” K brake, when the car should have a split K brake with separate piston and air reservoir. This may have just been a packaging mistake on my car, but I had to obtain another Tichy part sprue for the split version of the K brake system. The extra Tichy parts may eventually find their way under other old work equipment at some point.

The car still needs to be painted, and custom decals made to finish it off.

Scale Test Car 10302 and AC&HB Pressed Steel Car Ore Hoppers

In the early 1980s, the Algoma Central rostered a single scale test car, for testing the calibration of track weigh scales, that was also a historical artifact from the earliest days of the railway.


Scale test car AC 10302 was originally built new in 1901 for the Algoma Central Railway as an ore hopper in series AC 4201-4399 (odd numbered only) and is the only remaining survivor of the original fleet that served the iron ore mines of the Wawa range at the beginning of the 20th century.


This ancient car was pretty much celebrating its 80th birthday when photographed in active service at Wawa in March 1981 (photographer unknown, my collection), present to test the calibration of the local scale. Amazingly, this car still survives to this day, its existence having been discovered by members of the Canadian Historical Railway Association in the 1980s and acquired for preservation at the Canadian Railway Museum/ExpoRail in St.-Constant, Quebec as an extremely early example of an all steel hopper car. While restoring the car, volunteers actually managed to find traces of the previous Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway lettering, and this was recreated and restored.


(Above photo at ExpoRail in St-Constant, QC., courtesy of Michael Eby.)

Roster information is a little spotty for the early years, but there appear to have been 200 such cars built in 1900-1901 for the AC/AC&HB, and another 100 were acquired second-hand in 1916 from the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad in Minnesota. They seem to have been eliminated from the roster by the early 1930s.

Based on the best information available, the following roster information is compiled:

Series Qty. Build Date Notes
(Original Series 1900-1904):
3101-3150* 50 1900 re# 4001-4050 /1904
3151-3200* 50 1900 re# 4051-4100 /1904
4201-4399 (odd) 100 1901 re# 4101-4200 /1904
(Secondary Numbers 1904-1933):
3901-4000 100 1901 ex-D&IR 3050-3399 series /1916
4001-4050 50 1900 ex-3101-3150* /1904
4051-4100 50 1900 ex-3151-3200* /1904
4101-4200 100 1901 ex-4201-4399 /1904

Some questions and a lot of unknowns still exist here though as some sources list the original two 1900 groups as AC 3001-3099 and 3101-3199 (both groups odd numbers only) instead of the AC 3101-3200 (unbroken) series I used above, but a builder’s photo exists which shows car ACR 3200, which is not accounted for under the apparent odd-numbers only numbering scheme suggested for the original cars. The next year in 1901 another 100 cars were acquired numbered AC (or AC&HB) 4201-4399 (odd numbers only). The entire mess was renumbered around 1903-04 to AC&HB 4001-4200 (unbroken) to clear up the jumbled numbers. Another 100 cars acquired secondhand in 1916 from the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad were slotted directly under the existing cars as ACR 3901-4000.

The ACR 3200 builder’s photo also shows a completely different style of lettering than the restored lettering on AC&HB 4341 above (and displaying the railway’s original name as only “Algoma Central Railway”, not the later “Algoma Central & Hudson Bay Railway”); and Dale Wilson’s newest book “More Black Bear Tracks” has a 1917 photo of ACR 3903, one of the ex-D&IR cars, with a simplified paint job with only “ACR” initials and basic car data.

These ore hoppers were primarily used to transport iron ore from Algoma Steel’s Helen, Magpie and Josephine mines in the Michipicoten Iron Range around what is today the Wawa area to the ore dock at Michipicoten harbour. However the last of these mines shut down in the early 1920s and Helen Mine wouldn’t be redeveloped until nearly two decades later in 1939 at which point a “new” fleet of secondhand twin hoppers from various American roads was acquired to handle this service, making it all the more amazing such a relic ever survived.

Notes on an old Slide Collection III: Michipicoten Branch

A few more from the collection. This batch is all related to the Michipicoten subdivision branchline west of Hawk Junction.

The Michipicoten branch runs 26 miles from Hawk Junction west to Wawa and the harbour on Lake Superior at Michipicoten. Primarily serving the Algoma Ore Properties (a subsidiary of Algoma Steel) iron mines and sinter plant at Wawa, this line was the domain of the ore trains.


East of Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.

An empty ore train westbound between Hawk Junction and Wawa. East of Wawa there is a significant area where the landscape has been ravaged by the fallout of nearly a century of iron ore processing in the area. Those familiar with north-central Ontario will be aware of the similar treeless blackened landscape that made the Sudbury region [in]famous before INCO built the “super-stack” there to disperse (and thereby dilute) emissions over a larger area, and a concerted environmental remediation program was undertaken.

Here we see the ore train snaking through the rocky terrain of the treeless zone. The winter contrast of white snow against the black rocks only increases the starkness of the scene. I guess on the plus side, you get a pretty good view of the entire train, which isn’t very common on the remote lines twisting their way through the northern Ontario forests.

Look closely and note in particular the first four cars of the train – not ore hoppers but empty flatcars and a gondola for pulpwood loading at a log spur west of Wawa.

This location can be deduced to be Trembley, a siding approximately 3-4 miles west of Wawa. The timetable additionally lists two loading spurs at Trembley, one operated by Abitibi Paper (later St. Marys Paper) and the other by Newaygo Forest Products (a company that also had significant operations at Mosher and Mead on the Northern Subdivision).

Close inspection of the photo shows one of the spurs curving off far in the background to the left of the engines of the train. Based on the sequence of slides in this batch, and also comparing the layout to the traces left behind and visible on overhead satellite imagery, this photo is taken at the east end of Trembley siding from the caboose of the same train as the ore train seen above. The train is westbound to Michipicoten harbour and standing on the main track at Trembley. The engines visible in this photo are NOT from the same train however. Close inspection of both photos shows a pair of SD40 type locomotives on the head of the ore train, and there are at least 3 GP7 locomotives on the pulpwood extra seen here. (Note that timetables through the 1970s and ’80s did not list any regular trains on the branch, and all trains were run as extras.)

While the above photo at first glance may appear to show an arriving train pulling into the siding, there are a number of things that don’t make sense about that, not the least of which is that it appears to be showing a *loaded* train of pulpwood arriving from the east, and pulpwood loads should be heading back in that direction. Clearly this train was likely already here and waiting in the siding for the arrival of “our” train and has resumed actively switching the Abitibi spur in the distance, while our train has stopped on the main track to set off those 4 empty cars for pulpwood loading seen at the front of the train in the first photograph.

The branch is mostly known for the ore related traffic, and solid trains of hoppers, but this photo really shows the scale of pulpwood operations here; clearly there was enough traffic to be running both a pulpwood extra and an ore extra (which also had 4 more empty cars to drop off for pulpwood loading!) The 1978 Time Table lists car capacities of the Abitibi and Newaygo spurs at Trembley at 45 and 24 cars, respectively (at 50′ per car), and in addition to the 44 car passing siding, instead of a car capacity in the house track column is the notation “Yard”, suggesting the presence of perhaps two or more side tracks for car storage in addition to the identified customer spurs. This definitely expands the operational possibilities on the branch line, and for pulpwood loads in general.


Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.

Wawa. The primary raison d’être of the Michipicoten branch of the Algoma Central Railway was to serve the iron mining of the Wawa area. The mining industry in the area has had a rocky history, with various operations stopping and re-starting in the early part of the 20th century.

From its incorporation in 1899, the Algoma Central was built to move iron ore from a large deposit discovered near Wawa to a harbour built at Michipicoten Bay on Lake Superior. The harbour featured a elaborate wooden ore dock and a commercial dock where passenger boats called and other ships loaded pulpwood. Ore and pulpwood was shipped south over the lake to the various industrial interests in Sault Ste. Marie. The ACR also (slowly) pushed north from Sault Ste. Marie but the 1903 financial crash of the industrial empire of which the ACR was a part brought things to a halt with construction not beginning again until 1909. It was only in 1912 that the main line reached what is now Hawk Junction and connected Wawa to the Sault directly.

The first iron ore sintering plant at Wawa was built in 1939, and was significantly expanded several times over the next 50 years. By the 1980s, ore from the MacLeod Mine (a 2000 foot deep underground mine located adjacent to the site of the original 1899 Helen open pit mine) was delivered directly to the sinter plant via the world’s tallest single-lift conveyor belt. Here the ore was heated and blended with additives such as limestone and other ore fines brought in through the harbour at Michipicoten to upgrade the ore for the Algoma Steel blast furnaces at Sault Ste. Marie. In 1998 however, the Algoma Ore operations around Wawa were shut down, with the steel mill sourcing taconite ores from south of the border, and the sinter plant was eventually torn down. Absolutely nothing in the above photo save for the rocky terrain itself still exists today.


AC scale test car 10302. Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.

This scale test car photographed at Wawa was converted from one of the first steel hopper cars rostered by the Algoma Central. These cars were built by the Pressed Steel Car Company in 1900-1901, meaning this car was somewhere around its 80th birthday when photographed in the winter of 1980-81. Amazingly this car actually still exists today; it’s preserved at the Canadian Railway Museum in Delson, Quebec.


AC hopper 6056 (ex-ONT). Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.

From the oldest to the newest. Built in 1971 by National Steel Car for the Ontario Northland Railway, these are actually older than the 8201-8500 series rapid-discharge cars acquired new in 1974-75, but these 30 cars acquired secondhand from the ONR in 1978 were the last hoppers acquired by the Algoma Central Railway before they were absorbed by the Wisconsin Central in 1995. For several years they kept their old Ontario Northland numbers with the reporting marks re-stencilled “AC”, but around 1986 these cars were renumbered into a proper AC number series, AC 8600-8629. A check of the UMLER (computerized equipment register) shows that many of these cars are actually still in service, making them the last surviving hopper cars in AC markings.


Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.


Wawa, winter 1980-81. Photographer unknown. Chris vanderHeide collection.

Express freight shed at Wawa. Front and back sides. This is pure gold for being able to model this structure. While much larger, some similarities in construction can be seen between the Wawa shed and the smaller shed at Hawk Junction, seen in the previous post.


And finally, on the frozen shores of Lake Superior at Michipicoten harbour. This photo is taken from the modern dock at Michipicoten, which was built as a coal dock in 1929 (and extended in size several times over the years) to replace the original ore dock. From the 1920s to the 1960s, this was a port to bring in coal to fuel northern Ontario paper mills and also for CNR locomotive coal for northern terminals. In 1939 when the sinter plant was constructed at Wawa, an ore unloading bridge was added to tranship ore from rail to ship. It’s too bad there were no slides that showed the opposite direction, looking towards the old facilities on the coal dock – a video I have from the late 1980s shows that some remnants of the old steel work was abandoned but actually still standing at this time. By the 1980s all of the previous operations at Michipicoten had been abandoned but the dock continued to see significant traffic. Self-unloading ships depositing huge stockpiles of limestone, coke and other ore fines on the dock, and these were loaded into hoppers using large front-end loaders and shipped as required to Wawa to support the operations of the sinter plant there.

The old rotting wooden dock visible in the above photo is the remains of the original commercial dock, abandoned some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s