Freight Train Cars, By Mike Schafer

One of Mike Schafer's numerous book titles is Freight Train Cars, which is part of MBI Publishing's "Enthusiast Color Series." The book was originally released in 1999 although little has changed with it over the years and it remains one of Mike's more popular titles. As the name suggest in this book Mr. Schafer brings to light the often seen but sometimes little understood freight cars that are a fixture of today's railroads in the United States. While you may have a very good idea of what each type of car carries (such as general merchandise in boxcars, various liquids in tank cars, containers in well cars, and so forth), you may not know the background and history of them. You will learn about all of this in the book. Through seven different chapters and nearly 100 pages Mike looks at virtually all car types, and specialized cars, that now roam the rails and opens by giving a history of freight movements by train. Heck, I would recommend picking up the book (which is very inexpensive) just for the excellent photography!

Northern Pacific NW2 #9227 totes a single boxcar and caboose as part of a way freight (local) at Clarendon Hills, Illinois on December 31, 1969.

If you have ever purchased more than one of Mike Schafer's books you will notice a recurring theme, the vivid images featured as mentioned above. This photos come from a wide range of noted photographers, many of which contribute to his titles in some manner such as John Dziobko, Mike Del Vecchio, Dave Oroszi, Mike McBride, Jim Boyd, and others. In any event, Freight Train Carsbegins by looking at the evolution of the freight car in chapter one. Here, you can learn about the earliest types of freight hauled as well as the first railroad to do so, the Granite Railway in Quincy, Massachusetts during the mid-1820s which carried granite from a nearby quarry. Of course, early freight cars were little more than converted horse wagons or very small, and simple two axle flat cars. Later in the chapter you read about the coming of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, our nation's first common-carrier, and its efforts to improve car construction and design.

Naturally, early railroads operated mostly by trial and error, trying to find out what worked and what did not. One important point Mike notes in the opening chapter is how American railroads moved away from English practices of car design as their network became more advanced, such as quickly changing to two-axle trucks rather than single axles. Later areas of the chapter discuss developing technologies through the 19th century, particularly in the area of specific designs to meet various needs (such as tank cars to transport liquids), as well as the need for a standard gauge for interchange and overall industry-wide standardization for car construction. Two of the most interesting sections of this first chapter are inset articles discussing what the numbers and letters mean on the lower left or right corner of cars (such as "XM" for boxcars and new date/date built.

A bright, shiny, and new 50-foot Burlington boxcar, #47897, sits in the yard with other equipment at St. Paul on June 19, 1964.

In chapter two Freight Train Cars covers the first and most basic type of freight rail transport, the flatcar. Here, Mike highlights the earliest kind used (little more than flat boards with a few axles attached) to more advanced designs beginning in the 1850s when two-axle trucks became standard. As technologies further improved other types of more specialized flats are covered such as the bulkhead design used to carry high-centered materials (like pulpwood), center beams, and depressed center cars for extremely heavy loads. Today, flats are not quite as common as they once were especially as railroads have continued to diversify the use of types of specific purposes (such as well cars for container transport).

In chapter three the gondola is highlighted, a car that is not much more advanced than a flatcar, basically one that includes side walls so material does not spill. Gons, are they are also known, were perhaps the first specialized car after the flat and could be found in use just after the Baltimore & Ohio began operations. Since that time the gondola has changed little expect for an increased length and stronger materials use, such as replacing wood and iron with sturdy steel. Mike offers a wide range of photos of the gon from the early 20th century to its usage today, mostly as a catchall car that railroads love to beat to death. There are a few specialized types of gondolas, which Mr. Schafer briefly discusses in the chapter. Moving into chapter four the book looks at the most well known and perhaps utilitarian of all types, the boxcar.

Boxcars found widespread use just after the gondola was introduced and during the first half of the 20th century were used so extensively that entire trains were made up of boxcars, sometimes carry a wide range of different freight from livestock to automobiles. Of course, customer pressure forced railroads to build more specialized types which is how cars like the reefer (short for refrigerator car), autoracks, well cars, bottle car, and spin car all came about. Freight Train Cars also covers the other two well known car types including the hopper and tankers. Here, Mike once again provides a history of these cars (through both information and photographs) as well as what kinds you can find in regular service today (of note, the book also highlights the specialized ore jennie, whose developed was required because of the material's extremely heavy weight).



The photography receives a friendly wave from a crewman riding the rear steps of Soo Line caboose #99111 as the train moves through the yard in Schiller Park, Illinois on September 14, 1965.

Elsewhere on the site I have featured a section looking at the various types of freight cars, providing a brief history of the car along with what it is used for in service. During the writing of those individual articles I leaned quite a bit on Mike's Freight Train Cars, especially for the historical background of each. Even if you are quite familiar with car types you should still find the book interesting, again, just for the photography. Besides, it's one of the cheapest railroad books you can buy! 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.


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