Woodchip Traffic on the ACR

Wood chip traffic on the ACR primarily derived from the sawmills and Dubreuilville and Mead. Both mills were large sources of chip traffic – although not at the same time.

Newaygo Forest Products (Mead, ON)

In 1974 Newaygo Forest Products built a new modern mill 20 miles south of Hearst on the ACR at Mead to produce lumber and wood chips for export to the United States. The woodchips would be shipped to a paper mill in Appleton, Wisconsin.

To supply cars for this traffic the Algoma Central purchased 89 cars from National Steel Car in 1974, with unique ACIS reporting marks designating them under some customs rules or regulations for International Service. A further 23 cars with regular AC reporting marks were added in 1980.

These large capacity cars, the biggest cars on the ACR roster and painted a unique pale green colour with yellow end doors and “billboard” lettering cut a striking appearance, and travelling over almost the entire length of the railway and into Michigan and Wisconsin, there are several good photos of both of these car series available.

They seemed to ship up to about half a dozen cars at a time from Mead, and extra empty cars would often be stored in the siding at Horsey or Coppel, on either side of Mead.

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ACIS 1433, one of a few survivors from the Algoma Central’s woodchip car fleet at Steelton yard in 2001. Blair Smith photo.

The mill at Mead shut down in 1985 bringing this traffic to an end.

Dubreuil Forest Products (Dubreuilville, ON)

In about 1986 or 1987, Dubreuil Forest Products installed a new chip spur and loader at their mill at Dubreuilville to load woodchips for the pulp mill on the Canadian Pacific at Marathon.

Cars for this service were 52′-60′ gondolas provided from Canadian Pacific. Over 100 cars were provided, with empties stored in the sidings at Goudreau and Wanda north and south of Dubreuilville to protect the loadings at the mill.


1991 switchlist showing cars in the transfer track at Franz. The dozen empty CP 343xxx series gondolas listed are woodchip cars for Dubreuilville.

Despite the large numbers of car loads involved, since they operated only between the interchange at Franz and the mill at Dubreuilville about 10 miles south, and both locations being a bit more than just slightly off the beaten path, this traffic wasn’t too visible and I haven’t seen much in the way of photographs of these cars in ACR trains, unlike the much more visible AC/ACIS woodchip gondolas that were used to service the Newaygo mill. Fortunately the cars have been well photographed in other locations, particularly as many survivors have recently been used in tie service.


A common variation of CP’s woodchip gondolas rebuilt from a 52′ gondola with extended sides. Bill Grandin photo.

During the 1990s, the AC (and later WC) ran an weekday evening “Franz Turn” out of Hawk Junction to switch lumber and chip loads at Dubreuilville and the interchange at Franz.

The mill at Dubreuilville closed in 2007.

Lecours Lumber (Calstock, ON)

After Newaygo shut down their operations at Mead, the fleet of AC and ACIS woodchip cars were sold off, with many cars being transferred to Newaygo for use on other operations.

One place where ex-Algoma Central cars with Newaygo (NFPX) markings seemed to show up regularly in the 1990s and early 2000s was at the Lecours Lumber stud mill west of Hearst, on trackage now operated by Ontario Northland. These chips apparently headed down into the US somewhere, so by a curious twist of fate, these ex-Algoma Central cars continued to operate over the former Algoma Central rails for several years.

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NFPX 1511 with a load of woodchips at Steelton yard, 1999. Blair Smith photo.

I’m not sure when this service ended (or if indeed it still continues on a periodic basis) but in my few visits to the area over the last few years I’ve never seen any chip cars.

Woodchip Gondola Basic Underframe and Body Assembly

Another project starting to look like something.

I’ve been slowly working on the basic underframe for these three cars over the last several weeks, and this afternoon I got the all of the body components put together.


There’s a lot of underframe & body details to do yet, obviously, but with the main pieces assembled into bodies, they at least start to give the impression of what these will look like.


Net Storage Boxes

These storage boxes are a simple detail, but due to their position right at the top centre of the door (yep, the box is actually mounted right on the door itself) makes for a prominent feature on the A end of the car.

These boxes were used to stow mesh netting, which would be used to cover a load of woodchips to (try to) prevent the contents from blowing out of the car while in transit.


The boxes of course are straightforward simple construction, with a front cut from .020″ sheet and sides and bottoms cut from pieces of .020x.100″ strip. Of course the one wrinkle is that the box does come over the top frame of the door, so the top corners have to be carefully notched .040x.040″ to clear the frame but not leave any visible gap when finished.

The lids (installed after the assembled boxes were cemented to the end assembly) are pieces of .010x.080″ strip.


Here’s one of the partly completed ends with the storage box installed.

Apart from grab iron and ladder details, my stack of parts is really starting to look like something now.

AC Woodchip Car Progress and Doors


Over the could of weeks I’ve been continuing to make some progress on my scratchbuilt Algoma Central woodchip gondolas. I’ve completed some more sides so that I have enough for three cars currently and I’ve also been getting some work done on the door ends of the cars.

These took some careful laying out, but other than that have been going together fairly well. Like the other parts of the car so far, this mainly consists of a .020″ sheet forming the backing of the main door with .040″ square styrene strip for the vertical ribs on the door. The corner posts are .060″ square and the top beam is .080″. These parts of the frame are glued to the edges of the .020″ door sheet, not using the surface backing.

The trickiest part actually turned out to be cutting the angles on the bottom sheet representing the reinforced end sill on theses cars (since the majority of the end isn’t structural, but a top-hinged door that can open up like a dump truck). I had to throw out a few attempts that weren’t quite symmetrical.


The hinge detail was also a little tricky to manipulate due to the extreme small size of the pieces, but otherwise the design is pretty straightforward.

The vertical parts of the hinges attached to the door are .010x.040″ strip while the hinge mounts were carefully cut out of bits of .010x.080″ strip.

There’s still some additional detail to add (ladders, grab irons, latches and a storage box attached to the door for mesh nets used to contain loads and prevent chips from blowing away in transit), but otherwise I have all the major pieces now to complete three bodies except for the next major project: the underframe/floor.

AC 61′ Woodchip Gondola Scratchbuild

Enjoying a rare weekend home by myself with no other major plans, apart from taking the opportunity to spend a few hours on in the nice weather on Saturday afternoon trackside here in Sarnia, this has been my weekend project: attempting to tackle a scratchbuild of one of the Algoma Central’s big 61′ woodchip gondolas.

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The Algoma Central received two groups of these cars from National Steel Car in Hamilton, ON. The first group, comprising 90 cars numbered ACIS 1401-1489 was built and delivered in 1974. The second group, delivered in 1981, were the 23 cars of series AC 1501-1523. The photo above, courtesy of Blair Smith, represents of the 1500-series cars in the early 1990s, after being sold off to Newaygo Forest Products.

While outwardly similar in appearance and dimensions, the two series did have slight differences, most notably in the design of the both the door and the fixed end of the car. While the 1400-series cars had a stamped sheet metal end in the fashion of NSC boxcars of the time (familiar to Canadian modellers as a late “NSC-3” type end), the 1500-series cars had an end fabricated from steel channel and other standard structural bar shapes, again much like the more modern NSC boxcar designs of the late 1970s-early 1980s.

Similar or identical cars to the 1400 series were built for CN and Pacific Great Eastern/British Columbia Railway during the 1970s, and cars similar or identical to the 1500 series were built in the 1980s for Quebec-Ontario Paper (QOPX) and Euro-Can Pulp & Paper (EURX).

Much of the actual physical work shown below was done Sunday afternoon and evening, while I spent a good time on Saturday evening revising notes, figuring measurements and making new construction notes and sketches to help plan the build.

I actually took an initial crack at scratchbuilding a 1500 series car (as the fabricated end with its square welded shapes is easier to model) several years ago, building a couple of test sides, and end and about half of an underframe. I consider both side attempts tests that will not be reused, although the end will definitely find its way into a finished car. Parts of the unfinished underframe have warped over time, so it too will not be reused, but provides some material to learn from, and revise for my next attempt.

After drawing up some new sketches and measurements for the car body Saturday night (I may decide to scan and share these notes and (sketch, not to scale) drawings later for other wanting to model these AC cars or similar cars like the QOPX or EURX cars, although I may revise them slightly still as the components are actually constructed.

While working out the measurements and spacing I built two more test sides, scrapping at least the first attempt with a spacing too narrow to evenly do the entire car side. You will be surprised how significant a difference of 0.003 inches can be when trying to evenly space out 20 side posts over a 62 scale foot car side. Let that sink in the next time someone complains about “rivet counters” making a big deal about a scale foot error in some production model (about 0.12″ actual) – when that error is over a dimension that should be about 10 scale feet, that’s a 10% error and that eighth of an inch *is* quite noticeable when placed next to something that is actually correct. (I’m looking at you, Canadian Hobbycraft RS-10.)

Anyway, after refining my measurements with throwaway test sides, I cranked out a couple of production sides and another end.


When evenly spacing ribs over a long car like this, absolute precision is required. I cut a spacer block out of styrene sheet and using my dial calipers and a fine file made sure it was exactly the precise width I needed. Also use several small squares to keep everything in alignment and make sure that the tiniest imperfection in the spacer block doesn’t progressively cause subsequent ribs to ever so slightly start to angle.

The photo above show my basic approach, using the spacer block to set the correct spacing of each successive rib, and using the mini-square to keep things, well, square. Using a very fine brush I apply a *very* small drop of liquid plastic cement to the top and bottom of the rib base; apply right along the edge and the cement is drawn into the joint by capillary action. With a little “tack weld” to hold the rib in place, pull away the square and carefully run the brush along the exposed edge to cement it down, and then follow on the other side after removing the spacer.

Using an extremely fine brush is absolutely key, you want to run the tip of the brush right along the edge of the joint and touch the flat surface of the styrene sheet as little as absolutely possible, and only apply sparing amounts of cement to the joint, the brush can’t be too wet or a drop of cement could mar the surface.


The side ribs on the prototype NSC cars have a small flange along the base of the rib where it is welded to the side. It’s a subtle feature, but I replicated it by making each vertical side post out of two pieces of styrene strip: a .010x.080″ bottom strip for the flange, and a .030x.060″ strip on top of that for the main rib, giving the overall effect of a 4×6 rib with a small fillet along the base. You can see in the above photo the first half dozen main ribs applied on top of the base strip.


While the sides are certainly far from the most complicated part of this project, the ends of the 1500 series cars are by comparison simplicity itself. Simply a (scale) 9’3″ x 11’0″ rectangle of .020″ styrene, the top chord is a 4×4, and the rest of the ribs are scale 4×6 strip with a 6″ spacing between the ribs (simply use a scrap piece of the 4×6 strip as a spacer to space out the ribs from the bottom of the end, adding a total of 9 ribs to the end.

The door ends will be a bit more complicated and detailed, but I have some designs and dimensions sketched out, and will hopefully be attempting one this coming week, although I may be short on a couple of specific sizes of styrene strip and may need to be restocking a few things in my raw materials inventory on my next trip east.