The Gilpin Tramway Ore Car – History and Models

Gilpin Tramway Ore Car Model in 13.7 scale
Gilpin Tramway Ore Car Model in 13.7 scale

This post will provide a brief history of the Gilpin Tramway Ore Car including notes on how to build a model of this iconic railroad car.

The Gilpin Tramway (aka Gilpin Gold Tram) was located in Gilpin County, Colorado. It was built in the 1880’s to serve the gold mines and mills of the area. You can read a brief history of the Gilpin Tramway here.


The historical information on the Gilpin Tramway was derived from two books that contain a gold mine (no pun intended) of information. The authors of these books have deeply researched local newspaper accounts and documents from the Gilpin Tramway and the Colorado & Southern who purchased the Gilpin.

  • The Gilpin Gold Tram: Colorado’s Unique Narrow-Gauge Hardcover – January 1, 1970 – by Mallory Hope Ferrell (Author)
  • The Gilpin Railroad Era: Black Hawk, Central City, Nevadaville and Russell Gulch Hardcover – January 1, 2009 – by Dan Abbott (Author), Dell A. McCoy (Author), Robert W. McLeod (Editor)


The Gilpin Tramway’s primary purpose was to haul gold ore from the mountains in Gilpin County Colorado to the mills in Blackhawk Colorado. The ore was quartz rock with a small percentage of actual gold. The mills would crush the rock and then refine the ore to a much higher concentration. At this point the ore was shipped to Denver on the Colorado & Southern which was a three foot gauge railroad that connected Blackhawk to Denver via Golden.

gilpin tramway ore car factory new
gilpin tramway ore car factory new

The ore car pictured above was manufactured in Lima Ohio by the Lima Machine Works company. This ore car is factory new.

Purchase History

During its lifetime the Gilpin built up a fleet of 150 ore cars. The design evolved somewhat over time but in general had the look of the car pictured above.

Year# OrderedNumberedComment
1887205-24First built with 14″ wheels and 1/2 “cord” capacity.
18885025-74Increased in size to 1 “cord” and 20″ wheels.
18892075 – 94Some were renumbered to replace earlier cars.
18901095-104Some were renumbered to replace earlier cars.
189x50106 – 155Last order from Lima Machine Works.
1901714-20Ordered from local machine shop.
Ore Car Order History

The initial car order proved to be insufficient for the task of hauling quartz ore. The ore bin was increased to 3/4 “cord” size and the wheels were increased to 20″ but the cars quickly wore out and were removed from the roster by 1895. The term “cord” was locally defined as 8 tons. Just like with firewood, a “cord” doesn’t have an agreed upon definition. Anyway, the 2nd order of ore cars was described as 1 “cord” but other references list them as supporting 20,000 lbs of ore. This was the size for the remaining orders. The cars where improved over time with better bracing and connections between the wooden frames and the steel ore bin. One interesting variation added a 4th angle iron to the side of the ore bin (not pictured).


Gilpin Tramway Ore Car
Gilpin Tramway Ore Car

The ore cars were initially lettered as shown above. This is a block font painted on the car using stencils. The car number would also be shown on front and back panels opposite the brake wheel post (not seen in this picture). When the C&S bought the Gilpin Tramway the lettering changed to GRR on the top with the number below (not pictured). To learn more about how I recreated the font used to letter the ore cars check out this post.


Gilpin Tramway Ore Car Model in 13.7 scale
Gilpin Tramway Ore Car Model in 13.7 scale

Pictured on the author’s garden railway, a Gilpin Tramway ore car built to 7/8’s scale. This scale uses 45mm track (AKA “G” gauge) to represent 2 foot gauge railways. This model was created entirely of 3D printed parts with the exception of the wheels and springs which were purchased. At this size, the drop doors are hinged and functional.

If you want to see more of my modeling efforts I post on 7/8’s Lounge…

Parametric Cad Gilpin Ore Cars (

And Finally…

I hope you enjoyed this writeup on the Gilpin Tramway Ore Cars. I have an entire series of posts on how to model the Gilpin Tramway. Also, you can hike portions of the right of way for an up-close experience of this long-forgotten railroad. Check out the menu at the top of the page to see more on this topic.

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