The transport of aggregates and coal via a type of hopper, the "jimmy," was another invention born out of the early mining tramways. The first use of this car was employed on the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company (also known as the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway) in 1827. Interestingly, despite its creasion, some railroads, like the B&O, were still using a flatcar-type contraption with large bins to haul coal into the latter 19th century. Without question the boxcar was the greatest developed during that period, evolving from the covered gondola. It was beloved for an ability to handle virtually everything from lumber to automobiles and could be found comprising entire trains through the mid-20th century. In his book, "Field Guide To Trains: Locomotives And Rolling Stock," author and historian Brian Solomon points out that there 251,000 standard and 179,000 insulated/specially equipped boxcars in service through 1980. However, following deregulation their combined total in 2010 had fallen to just 95,514. The reasons were many but largely due to mergers, loss of general manufacturing, and the rise in intermodal traffic.
Below is a list of tables describing codes used by freight clerks to identify specific car types and/or what they handled in service. These could be found on all types of paperwork such as waybills and lading forms to help keep an otherwise chaotic army of cars organized and efficiently on the move to the right destination.
|XM||General Service: Equipped with side or side and end doors.|
|XI||General Service: Equipped with side or side and end doors. Insulated.|
|XAR||General Service: Equipped with side or side and end doors. Automobile loading racks.|
|XAP||General Service: Equipped with side or side and end doors. Auto-part loading racks.|
|XME||General Service: Equipped to handle/secure merchandise. Wood-lined.|
|XML||General Service: Equipped with stanchions and crossbars to secure freight.|
|XMP||General Service: Equipped for specific freight.|
|GB||Mill Gondola: Fixed/drop ends.|
|GS||Fixed sides/ends with drop bottom.|
|HT||Triple Or Quadruple Bays.|
|HD||Twin-Bay Ballast Car.|
|RB||Bunkerless (no ice). Only insulated.|
|RBL||Bunkerless (no ice). Only insulated. Changeable interior loading fixtures.|
|RSB||Bunkers (ice). Circulation fans. Mechanical loading devices.|
|RSM||Bunkers (ice). Beef rails.|
|TA||Standard Tank Car.|
|TG||Standard Tank Car. Glass Lined.|
If it were up to railroads, boxcars would probably still be in widespread use today. The redundancy they offered was unmatched. Shippers, though, continued pushing for unique types to meet ever-greater needs. One of the first truly specialized designs was the tank car, born following Edwin Laurentine Drake (Colonel Drake) discovering of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania during August of 1858. This vital fossil fuel was viscous and could not be transported in a standard gondola or boxcar. The first of its kind was essentially a basic flatcar featuring horizontal vats. But this system proved too cumbersome and inefficient so within a few years the more modern horizontal tank with a centralized top dome and safety valve came into use. In the 1890's the first steel tank cars appeared. Interestingly, through the early 20th century they could still be found manufactured of wood, with a tank that looked like a barrel on its side, suspended above a support system which was then attached to a steel underframe. Over time the car became larger and heavier, carrying many other products ranging from basic water to dangerous chlorine.
The transition from wood to iron/steel in car construction first appeared during the 1880s. At this time it was used predominantly in the areas of structural integrity such as sills and trusses. Eventually, steel became the preferred means for all components due to its superior strength. However, just as with the tank car, equipment carrying some elements of wood remained in use as late as the 1960's. These were predominantly outside-braced boxcars and gondolas, which would pop up from time to time at local sidings. After the Federal Railroad Administration set a 50-year shelf life on all rail equipment (mandating a ten-year period between overhauls) the wooden cars were finally forced into retirement. The basic freight car designs fell into one of seven categories; autoracks, gondolas, hoppers, tank cars, well/spine cars, boxcars, and the common flatcar. Of these, the well/spine car and autorack are relatively new, developed after World War II to handle automobiles and intermodal freight.
Today, specialization remains a vital part of the railroad industry. Take, for instance, the flatcar which has morphed far beyond a basic horizontal bed with trucks. In contemporary times there is the aforementioned spine car (a special flatcar to haul truck trailers), bulkhead flat (carrying very high ends to haul products like pulpwood), depressed-center flat (to haul incredibly heavy loads), and spine-bulkhead flat (this special unit carries a center sill for added strength to haul special loads like insulation). The gondola is another example; they can now be found hauling coiled steel in what are called coil cars or feature higher sides with a drop bottom to transport coal. Finally, there is specialization of the utilitarian boxcar; two of its more important refinements included open-slats to haul livestock, such as cattle and pigs, and refrigeration. The so-called reefer got its start in the 1850's. For many years ice did the trick via heavy insulation to keep the product cool. Later, mechanization did away with the standard icing stations needed at various points to repack ice. Today, reefers are still found in widespread use but the stock car is all but instinct.
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