Santa Fe 390002 – “Super Hopper”
This unique car is known as a “Super Hopper,” a 166′ 7″ articulated five-unit aluminum-built hopper car classified as a Ga-221. Three prototype units were built for the AT&SF Railroad between January and February 1991 by the Thrall Car Manufacturing Company in their Chicago Heights, Illinois facility. The cars were numbered 390000-390002, this unit being the last built and is now the only surviving example.
The Super Hoppers could carry approximately 30% more grain than the comparative number of standard grain hopper cars, but weighed less than the same number of cars saving on fuel and maintenance costs. They were anticipated to revolutionize the grain-hauling industry, much as articulated units had for container traffic. As it turned out, shippers disliked the design. Most locations were set up to load and unload standard length cars and the five-unit articulated cars did not fit well within the existing infrastructure. No more Super Hoppers were ever built.
The three cars survived through the Santa Fe’s merger with the Burlington Northern and continued being utilized by BNSF in California hauling feed for livestock. The cars were deemed surplus in 2017, were retired and were slated for scrapping. The last built, car No. 390002, was sent instead to the Oklahoma Railway Museum and is now the only remaining unit. It is currently stored in Owanda Siding as it is regrettably covered in graffiti. After it is restored it will be put on display as well as being used for photo freights and special events.