What’s a gondola car?

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Gondola cars are specialized freight cars with low walls and open tops, designed for transporting bulky or dense materials. They were originally made of wood but later switched to steel for durability. Gondolas can be bottom or side-dump and can also be high-sided or covered. They are commonly used for transporting scrap metal, steel beams, lumber, and other heavy materials.

Contrary to popular belief, not all railroad cars are created equal. A gondola is just one example of a freight car that has its own specialty and therefore its own look. Gondola cars generally have low walls and open tops, and are better for transporting bulky or dense material. The railway gondola is named after the gondola boats often found in Venice, which are long, narrow boats usually used to carry passengers around the area. A gondola car has low sides and a flat bottom, much like the original gondola boats.

The characteristic low walls allowed such cars to be easily loaded and unloaded with heavy materials. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the ability to unload gondolas from below was invented. The flat bottom became a chute controlled by a lever, only to be pulled when the train stopped, and the materials ready to be dropped. Cargo was usually pushed to the side of the car, ready to be transported elsewhere.

At this time, the gondola car was still made of wood. The hopper required a change in construction from wood to steel, as only metal was strong enough not to give way when the contents of the car were dropped in such a manner. Since then, there have been other changes as well. For example, while the side-dump model uses hinged sides to tuck cargo out of the way, the bottom-dump type dumps the contents under the car. Both types are usually easy to spot, as one is hinged on the side and the other is only bottom-hinged.

Not long after the cargo unloading method was changed, the height of the sides of some cars was also changed. A gondola car with higher sides is appropriately called a high-sided gondola, and can be requested by the customer if load requirements dictate. Also, there are now some gondola train cars that are covered, particularly to protect expensive cargo from inclement weather.

A gondola cart is typically used to transport bulky or dense material. This could include scrap metal, steel beams, poles, coils, lumber, logs, and even pre-cast parts of railroad tracks. In addition, gravel, coal and wood chips have been transported in this type of railway carriage since its invention.

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