Blackstone Models UTLX narrow gauge tank cars

The ULTX tanks cars were a staple of D&RGW and RGS freight trains from 1924 until abandonment, and the new Blackstone cars duplicate them with high detail, excellent operating characteristics and beautiful decoration.

Blackstone Models UTLX narrow gauge tank cars

By Chris Lane/photos by the author

Blackstone Models has recently released two HOn3 versions of the UTLX narrow gauge tank car. Once used to haul petroleum products on the D&RGW and RGS lines, some of these cars made it as far west as Hawaii and as far north as Alaska and British Columbia. These ready-to-run cars are beautifully detailed and will help you build a tank train fleet for your HOn3 layout.

The narrow gauge lines of Colorado and New Mexico were once the home to a variety of tank cars. The Continental Oil Company (CONOCO) of Poncha City, Okla., had a fleet of cars ranging from tanks-on-a-flat, to steel channel underframed cars all carrying the reporting mark CONX. These cars operated on the Colorado & Southern, Rio Grande Southern and Denver & Rio Grande Western. The Texas Oil Company (Texaco) owned cars on two separate occasions, including some very lanky and distinctive two-dome cars. But far and away the largest operator of narrow gauge tank cars was the Union Tank Car Line or UTLX.

A division of the Standard Oil Company, the Union Tank Car Line got into the leasing business in the 1890’s, and brought tank cars to Colorado and New Mexico starting in 1924. UTLX took twenty-five 6500-gallon standard gauge tank cars and revised the frames for narrow gauge service in their Lima, Ohio, shops. These were forwarded to the D&RGW car shops in Alamosa, Colo., along with 4′-8″ wheelbase archbar trucks for final assembly.

The first 25 tank cars were put to work moving crude from the oil fields in Farmington, N.M., up to Durango, Colo. 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 a new oil refinery in Alamosa came online and a new narrow gauge to standard gauge transfer facility 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.


15 more cars were built in 1927 to meet this demand; this time in Whiting, Indiana, and one final car was added in 1930. These “Type X” tanks, all in the nominally 6500 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. These cars were equipped with tank heaters to aid in the unloading of cargo, while about half of the 1924 batch of cars were not.

The Farmington oil movments, 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, (see below) many of which wore the famous “Gramps” logo.


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.

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 & OY. These cars still exist on their original trucks with cut down domes and added tool boxes in Chama, N.M. 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, Colo., 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, N.M., on the Cumbres & Toltec, one has been restored on the Sumpter Valley near Baker, Ore., one is found at the British Columbia Forestry Museum in Duncan, B.C., and two others can be seen at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. Note that the cars came back from Alaska riding on American Steel Foundry trucks originally under the Van Dyke UTLX cars. Only the two water cars retain the as-built trucks, although the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec has obtained six sets of the original trucks last summer and plans to get the cars on those as they have time and manpower. These trucks were retrieved from the Adler Gulch Shortline in Montana. Charles Bovey, owner of Virginia City at the time, obtained the trucks from the scrapper in Alamosa and put them under the ex-F&CC cars he rescued from the Montana Southern. The Colorado Railroad Museum is looking into obtaining trucks for their cars also, but nothing is confirmed at this date.

The “Type V” or Van Dyke cars were leased in 1937 to haul road oil for the US Highway 160 paving project. Named for Union Tank Car Line employee and inventor John Van Dyke, these cars rode on a special reinforcing bolster and the tank body itself acted as the frame. Van Dyke had actually invented this design in the early 1900’s but conservative railroads insisted on using the “tried and true” steel frame as seen on the narrow frame cars. By the 1930’s, the Van Dyke design had proved itself, and cars of the 6500 gallon capacity were available to convert to narrow gauge. 18 of the 55000 series and 7 of the 58000 were used for this conversion, with the cars again keeping their original UTLX numbers. The tanks were shipped to Alamosa on standard gauge trucks, (with the road oil already loaded in!), and they were then placed on 50,000lb capacity cast steel Andrews trucks borrowed from D&RGW 34 foot stock cars. Conversion proved to be simple enough that additional cars in the 55000 series were placed on narrow gauge trucks as traffic warranted, and converted back to standard gauge when the demand slackened.

The Rio Grande insisted at the end of 1939 that the cars needed higher capacity trucks, and the UTLX provided 25 sets of 60,000lb capacity bettendorf-type cast steel trucks with the understanding that the D&RGW would buy the trucks from them at cost less depreciation when the cars were no longer needed. Two points here that have confused modelers and historians. Some sources show that the D&RGW bought the new trucks in 1940 from UTLX, but a careful reading of the ULTX memos shows they bought the original standard gauge trucks the cars rode to Alamosa on. Clearly the Rio Grande and UTLX intended these cars to be assigned to the narrow gauge lines for some time. Also while these trucks are often identified as Bettendorfs, they in fact are American Steel Foundry trucks. The Bettendorf Company’s patents had expired at this point allowing other companies to make a “bettendorf-type” with the journal cast integral to the sideframe, as opposed to the Andrews which had a cast sideframe, and bolt-on separate journals.

The GRAMPS lettering was applied in 1938. Alamosa oil refinery owner Lafayette Hughes was leasing the cars to move oil from the Farmington, New Mexico oil fields to his refinery and lettered the cars so he could point out “his” cars to his grandchildren. It is important to note that while only the frameless cars received the “Gramps” lettering, not all the cars did. Any with side ladders were excluded, and the photographic evidence suggests there were at least a few others that never wore the logo.

These cars were also renumbered in 1947 based on tank heater style (all these cars were so equipped) and were done sequentially this time. The Van Dyke cars were renumbered 88150-88157 and this makes the Blackstone car correct for the 1938-1947 time period. All the cars were renumbered a final time in 1956 to 11034-11058. All of these cars made it to the end of oil movement operations in 1964 except Nos. 11034 and 11038, which were sold to the D&RGW for “overseas service.” No additional information on that has come to light. The other 23 cars were conveyed to the Floyd W. Reed Company in 1965 for scrapping, but that is far from the end of the story. As noted before, the trucks from these cars were sent up to Alaska with the narrow frame cars the White Pass bought. Also Bob Richardson, founder of the Colorado Railroad Museum bought eight pairs from the Alamosa shop foreman. More importantly, several of the cars still exist in complete form. 11045, 11051, 11058 are preserved at the CRRM in Golden. The No. 11050 is owned the Colorado Historical Society and can be seen in Silver Plume. The Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec, after years of negotiation, purchased the bodies of 11036 and 11037 and are restoring them in Antonito. These will ride on the trucks currently under the narrow frame cars. Nos. 11054 and 11056 (or at least their bodies) also survived scrapping but their current status is unknown

With the prototype cars handy for study, and the source material from UTLX records, Blackstone had plenty of data available, and it shows in their new models. These are extremely accurate 1/87th representations of the prototype down to the trucks, brake rigging and rivets.

The cars come packaged in a windowed dark blue box. The models are cradled in a plastic clamshell that holds the model most securely without damaging the beautiful paint and decoration. As long as the modeler is careful replacing the model in the packaging correctly, it will keep the cars safe and serviceable for many, many years. As good as the packing is, and as nice as the models look in it, one hopes the models find their way to operating layouts as the cars run as good as they look. The cars ride on new free-rolling HOn3 truck models of either the 4′-8″ heavy duty archbar or the 30 ton ASF cast truck. Blackstone equipped the cars with Kadee® #714 HOn3 couplers installed at proper HOn3 height. They can get around a 15″ radius, which may not be that helpful, as the Blackstone K-27 minimum radius is 18″. The car weighs 1.6 ounces, which puts them a little shy of the NMRA recommended weight, but in practice, 1.6 oz has proven to be about ideal. In general, these cars operate as well or better than any ready-to-run cars Blackstone has produced to date.

I compared the cars with drawings published in the new Slim Gauge Cars – Second Edition (Carstens Publications, 2011) and found the cars to measure up very well. Body and frame length, tank and brake wheel diameter, piping and truck wheels base were among the sample dimensions I checked and the Blackstone cars were on the money in all of them. I was particularly impressed with the fineness of the grab irons, stanchions, piping, brake chain and rivet detail. The sides ladders are engineering plastic and are rigid enough to look good, but seem to have enough flex to survive normal layout use. Over all, both cars show a high attention to detail and are neatly assembled, with no obvious glue marks or loose parts. Blackstone has made it a habit to include extra detail parts, and for the tank cars these are the material placards. These came in two styles on the prototype, and were placed any number of places on the cars, depending on era and style of car. By providing them loose, Blackstone has allowed the modeler to place them in the correct location per the prototype.

In addition to having models of the two different prototype cars, I also had the two different finishes Blackstone offers. My narrow frame car came in a matte black finish with all the correct lettering for the 1924-1947 period, done in what UTLX called “Chrome Yellow.” When new, these cars were quite glossy, but it didn’t take long to lose some of that sheen, and the Blackstone decoration replicates that nicely. The “Gramps” car is the weathered version, and this is a great rendition of a car that has been on the road awhile. It is so nice, you might be tempted to put it to work on your layout as is, but I think I’d add some oil spillage around the dome, and down the sides. Factory weathering jobs can be a mixed bag, but these cars are very well done, and a super starting point for a little weathering artistry by the modeler. They are also available in unlettered, unweathered versions. Finally, should you want to put your cars in a different era, you can take a cue from UTLX and dab black paint over the number and give it a different one! These “patch” paint jobs show up clearly in photos of the prototype cars after renumberings.

The ULTX tanks cars were a staple of D&RGW and RGS freight trains from 1924 until abandonment, and the new Blackstone cars duplicate them with high detail, excellent operating characteristics and beautiful decoration. I foresee a bunch of HOn3 tank car trains operating over a bunch of HOn3 Windy Points.

Blackstone Models
210 Rock Point Drive
Durango, CO 81301-7744
(970) 259-0690

UTLX narrow frame or Van Dyke tank cars: $54.95 MSRP

Unlettered UTLX narrow frame or Van Dyke tank cars: $54.95MSRP

Weathered UTLX narrow frame or Van Dyke tank cars: $59.95MSRP

This article was posted on: April 1, 2011