Colorado narrow gauge railways rostered a large number of tank cars to handle th growing traffic in petroleum products in the 1920s. Several of these particular UTLX narrow gauge tank cars would later go on to serve various narrow gauge railways around the country, including Hawaii. San Juan has produced a highly accurate model with fine, yet durable details of an interesting and long-lived car. It boasts excellent and exacting detailing along with very neat and well-executed paint and decoration, all in ready-to-run form.
Product Review: San Juan Car Co. UTLX narrow frame tank car in On3 and On30
Reviewed by Chris Lane/Photos by the Author
Since railroads first loaded vats onto flat cars to the load-specific cars of today, the tank car has always stood out in a train consist, and this is equally true for the narrow gauge railroads. While every narrow gauge railroad seemingly had at least one tank car, the Colorado narrow gauge railways rostered the largest number, with Conoco, Texaco and Union Tank Car Line all operating cars. San Juan Car Co. is offering a never-before-produced model of the most common of these tanks, the narrow frame UTLX car. It boasts excellent and exacting detailing along with very neat and well-executed paint and decoration, all in ready-to-run form. Best of all, this prototype was a bit of a "boomer" operating on the Denver & Rio Grande Western, Rio Grande Southern, Sumpter Valley, White Pass & Yukon, and the Oahu Railway.
As a rule, railroads didn't own the tank cars that ran on their lines; rather they contracted with a leasing company for their use. One such company was the Union Tank Car Line or as it is known by its reporting marks, UTLX. They started in the 1880's and are still in the business of providing rail cars to haul petroleum and other liquid products today.
Between 1924 and 1930, UTLX contracted with the car shops in Alamosa, Colorado on the Denver & Rio Grande Western to assemble 41 cars to serve on the narrow gauge lines. Conventional wisdom credited UTLX with providing the tanks and the D&RGW with building the cars, but a 1945 Union Tank Car memo provided to me by Steve Swanson (co-author of D&RGW Narrow Gauge Work/Box Outfit Cars) tells a different story.
It seems that the first group of 25 cars was built in 1924 at Lima, Ohio, and the memo refers to the cars as "Type X" with "new bodies (underframes) and trucks." Given the cutout and reinforcement around the truck bolsters, the holes absent rivets and the oval holes through the sides of the frames on some cars, I think it more likely that these "new" frames were in fact recycled from the old cars along with the tanks. 15 more cars were built in 1927; this time in Whiting, Indiana, and one final car was added in 1930. These "Type X" tanks, all in the nominally 6,500 gallon range, rode on channel underframes and 4'-8" archbar trucks. These cars kept their original numbers in the 12000-13999 series, but they were by no means sequential. Approximately half of these cars were equipped with tank heaters to aid in the unloading of cargo.
The first 25 tank cars were put to work moving crude from the oil fields in Farmington, New Mexico up to Durango, Colorado. The cars then moved along the RGS to Montrose, where the oil was transferred to standard gauge cars for the trip to the refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah. Oil traffic increased as the next 15 cars joined in service. In 1929, two events changed both the traffic pattern and the workload of these cars. First the landslide at Ames on the RGS cut that line in half for quite sometime and caused the cars to be routed east out of Durango. Secondly, a transfer station was completed in Salida for forwarding the Salt Lake City oil on the D&RGW standard gauge lines, allowing the narrow gauge cars to make more trips. Car loadings increased to over 150 per week.
In 1934, ULTX sold No. 13055 to the Sumpter Valley Railroad where it became No. 100. The next year, ULTX sold six cars to the Penn-Conley Tank Car Co. of Pittsburg. These cars stayed in service on the narrow gauge carrying Texaco gasoline and the reporting marks CYCX. These cars left Colorado sometime during WWII and at least one of the cars saw service in Hawaii on the Oahu Railway.
The Farmington oil movements, the opening of the Chama oil dock and Alamosa oil refinery, and extensive road projects in southwest Colorado requiring large shipments of road oil kept these cars busy. They were joined in 1937 by 25 of the Van Dyke frameless cars, many of which wore the famous "Gramps" logo. Robert Sloan in his book A Century + Ten of D&RGW Narrow Gauge Freight Cars, 1871-1981 repeats the rumor that narrow frame car No. 88131 also had the Gramps logo in 1952, but alas, no photographic evidence exists of it.
Sometime in the late 1930's 12 of the "No Heater" cars and 5 others in road oil service received dome platforms and ladders. The cars were renumbered in 1947 by ULTX according to their heater type (or lack thereof) finally bringing some sense to the numbering scheme. The No Heater cars were numbered in the 88000 to 88101 series, but with gaps between 88000 and 88005 and between 88015 and 888100 & 888101. The Type E Heater cars were numbered 88102-88120 with a gap between 88113 and 88120. Finally, the Type W heater cars were 88126-88131 sequentially. The final renumbering in 1956 put them all in order 11000-11033 with the No Heater cars coming first.
In 1958 Nos. 11007 and 11008 were sold to the D&RGW to become auxiliary water cars for rotary snow plows OM and OY. These cars still exist on their original trucks with cut down domes and added tool boxes in Chama, New Mexico. In 1962, 16 of the heated equipped cars were sold to the White Pass & Yukon and with the refinery closing in Alamosa that year, the remaining cars were sold to Floyd W. Reed of La Jara, Colorado for scrap in 1963.
A number of these cars were preserved after their service on the White Pass ended. Six can be seen in Chama, New Mexico on the Cumbres & Toltec, one has been restored on the Sumpter Valley near Baker, Oregon, one is found at the British Columbia Forestry Museum in Duncan, BC and two others can be seen at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. Note that the cars came back from Alaska sans trucks, and most of these cars now ride on American Steel Foundry trucks originally under the Van Dyke UTLX cars. Only the two water cars retain the as-built trucks.
The San Juan model is a faithful recreation of the platform equipped, 1947 numbering scheme car. Having spent many hours measuring and photographing these cars for my drawing of the narrow frame car (available in the new Slim Gauge Cars – Second Edition from Carstens), the dimensions of this car are spot on and the detail included is really quite remarkable. Brake rigging, air piping, reinforcement patches and rivets on the frame are all present and finely rendered. If there is a detail on the prototype cars that is absent on this model, I couldn't tell you what it might be. Careful research on San Juan's part has clearly paid off.
The side steps deserve special mention. These are quite fine and during the course of measuring and examining the model, I banged, dropped, rolled and was generally ham-handed with this model. I figured there was no way the steps and delicate brakewheel assembly would survive my attention without some repair before photography. I'm pleased to report that the engineering plastic is both tough and flexible, and came through in one piece.
The car rides on new free-rolling trucks tooled for this car. I especially like the new wheelsets with the ribbed-back, detailed centers and plated metal rims. The backs of the wheels really show in photos and it is great that detail is present. Speaking of wheelsets, San Juan has taken a different approach with this car. Before, On30 cars had different SKUs than the On3 versions and used On30 wheelsets in regular sideframes and a special On30 width bolster. The new cars come equipped with On3 wheels, but every car has a set of On30 wheels included mounted on On3 length axles. If you want On30, simply pop out the On3 wheelsets and replace with the On30 versions. This is very prototypical by the way as the D&RGW had a number of pieces of rolling stock that rode on standard gauge trucks with the wheels pressed into three foot gauge.
The car comes equipped with San Juan's Evolution™ couplers and the more I use these couplers, the more I like them. It is a magnetically-operated coupler completely compatible with the Kadee 803. While it lacks the patented Kadee "delayed action" it also lacks the annoying slack action bounce and its much finer scale appearance is more in keeping with the rest of this fine model.
San Juan Car Company
PO Box 1028
Durango, Colorado 81301
Phone: (970) 385-5256
Fax: (970) 385-1030
UTLX Narrow Frame Tank Car
Available in nine different road numbers: 88006, 88007, 88008, 88128, 88013, 88125, 88111, 88131, 88108
The decoration consists of matte black paint and the yellow-orange UTLX lettering. A Railroad Model Craftsman reader pointed out recently that UTLX referred to this color as "Chrome Yellow." Whatever you call the color, it matches perfectly with color photos of the UTLX cars. There are nine different car numbers available in the 88000-88131 series. The only thing lacking is the fine patina of road grime and oil spillage that these cars were famous for, and San Juan wisely choose not to steal that fun from the modeler. San Juan has produced a highly accurate model with fine, yet durable details of an interesting and long-lived car. You'll enjoy putting this car to work in oil service on your On3 or On30 railroad.