Railroad Boxcars, Good to Haul About Anything!
Railroad boxcars are perhaps not only the best-recognized freight car to operate of all time but also one of the most identifiable symbols of the railroad industry itself. Overall, the car dated back to the earliest years of the industry
when railroads realized that some freight and ladding needed at least a
little protection from outside elements and Mother Nature. However,
after the turn of the 20th century the car truly became an industry icon as it was through the 1960s the boxcar was used to haul about any and every type of non-bulk traffic (like coal, aggregates,
chemicals, etc.). However, as time went on railroads began to realize
that, predominantly through shippers' complaints, more specialized cars were needed to haul particular types of freight which led to the development of the well car, autorack, refrigerator car, and others. Boxcars, however, still have their uses today especially in carrying bulky items like autoparts.
|A worn (original) Norfolk Southern 40-foot boxcar, #28226, is set off on a weedy spur in Leland, Illinois, probably to serve a local customer, on July 17, 1963.|
For the first years of the railroad industry freight was hauled on
simple flatcars or early gondolas, which were essentially flatcars with
short sides to keep the lading from rolling or falling off in transit
(or in the case of bulk materials, to keep them confined). The early
1930s is when the true boxcar came to life (originally known as “house” cars),
with one of its founders the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad (a very early
subsidiary of the New York Central). By the latter part of that decade
this new style of car was beginning to catch on across the rest of the industry as its versatility and value began to be realized.
From this point on the boxcar only grew in size whereby at the end of
the 19th century it was capable of 40-50 tons and the standard 40-foot car
of the 20th became as common in a train's consist as the caboose. What
made boxcars great, at least in the eyes of the railroads, was, their
ability to haul about anything! Railroads thrive on redundancy to
maximize efficiency which was the reason they loved the boxcar so much
(if it was not for shippers who requested many different specialized cars for their needs, railroads would have been happy to haul everything in boxcars). For instance, for many years the car carried everything from automobiles and paper to car parts and fresh produce, literally almost anything that would practically fit into the car’s empty, open spaces.
|Illinois Central TR2A #1029A and its TR2B mate #1029B pull a string of boxcars through the yard in Markham, Illinois during early March of 1964.|
The car's development continued to improve over the years such as switching from basic wood construction
with steel outside-bracing to all-steel designs (which were much
stronger and capable of hauling heavier loads), even within the same
size specifications (40 feet, a standard size employed by the American
Association of Railroads, although the initial standardizations came
about from the United States Railroad Association during WWI). By the
1980s the 40-foot boxcar gave way to the 50-footer, which further
improved redundancies by allowing for even more space within a given
car, which today remains the common boxcar size.
Although the boxcars of today no longer carry such varying amounts of cargo as they once did they remain an important freight car
to the railroads. And, while there are standard designs, these were
not the only styles to ride the rails. During the 1960s the 89-foot
“Hi-Cube” car was produced to carry large amounts of auto parts (which
continues to see use today), although because of its length and the fact
that it rode on the traditional four axles (two trucks) it was meant to
carry parts that were very large or awkward sizes and did not carry
Lastly, other boxcar designs include custom cars built by
railroads such as the Baltimore & Ohio, known as the “Wagon Top”
(because of the fact that its outside bracing resembled a covered wagon)
and the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Round Roof” design. The PRR’s car was
meant to increase inside height dimensions for increased efficiencies
whereas the B&O’s design came mostly out of the road’s ever evolving
means of ways to save money wherever and whenever possible. The
B&O’s design proved highly successful in both terms of providing it a
reliable car to transport goods as well as saving money by having its shop forces build the cars.
|An early wooden Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range boxcar, #W3172, is parked at the small roundhouse in Ely, Minnesota during August of 1966. By this date the car was used in maintenance-of-way service.|
For more reading about boxcars consider the book, Freight Train Cars, from Mike Schafer, one of the leading authors covering all corners of the railroad industry
(from its history to present day operations). The book gives an
excellent general history and overview on all of the common railroad
freight car types and if you are interested in learning more about them,
or you are simply looking to better understanding their history and
development you should very much enjoy Mr. Schafer’s book. If you're
interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below
which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.