Home  

Loading a Box Car

If a box car could talk, what a fascinating story it could tell! It is a professional nomad, forever wandering, forever visiting strange places, never knowing what sort of adventure the immediate future has in store.

Like the weather-beaten stonecutter in the quarry who, upon being asked what he was doing, beamingly replied that he was "helping to build a cathedral," the battered box car, if it could speak, might say with equal pride that it is helping to feed and clothe and house a nation, that it is helping to make people healthy and comfortable and happy.

Many years ago, each railroad kept its own freight cars on its own rails, and each shipment of freight destined to off-line points was unloaded at the junction point and loaded into a car owned by the connecting railroad, and so on to destination Sometimes several transfers were necessary, and freight shipments were exceedingly slow.

Then, soon after the railroads had adopted a uniform standard gauge, they worked out a plan whereby they interchanged cars, each railroad charging other railroads a certain amount for each day one of its cars was on their lines. This charge, or rental, is called "per diem" and it is now $1 per freight car per day.

The adoption of the interchange plan was a great forward step, and probably no person could be found today who would favor going back to the old system. Since the adoption of interchange and per diem, freight cars are loaded and shipped to all parts of the United States, and even to Canada and Mexico, each from consignor to consignee, regardless of where the two may be located, without transferring the contents en route.

That is why the freight car is such a wanderer today, and that is why it is a common sight to see a freight train made up of cars of many railroads—some located hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Freight cars, under the per-diem plan, are routed wherever they are needed most and regardless of ownership, they may be loaded and sent to any destination that local railroad men may direct.

After a car has been loaded off the line of the owning road, railroad employees and shippers under a code of rules known as the "Car Service Rules," endeavor to find loading for the car which will take it back to or in the direction of the owning railroad, in order that the car may be returned economically to the territory it was built to serve.

There are approximately 2,000,000 freight cars of all kinds in operation on the railroads of the United States—16,500 miles of cars if placed in train formation. Each week day 100,000 to 150,000 freight cars are loaded in the United States and started on their multitudinous errands, carrying the products of farms, mines, forests and factories and the cargoes that enter our seaports to distributing and consuming centers throughout America.

A journey for an active box car might be about as follows: Cotton goods, Augusta, Ga., to Philadelphia; carpets, Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio; empty, Columbus to Akron, Ohio; rubber tires, Akron to Atlanta, Ga.; package freight, Atlanta to New York, N. Y.; Printing machinery, New York to Bangor, Maine; empty, Bangor to Millinocket, Maine; news print paper, Millinocket to Boston, Mass.; empty, Boston to Haverhill, Mass.; shoes, Haverhill to Dayton, Ohio; electric refrigerators, Dayton to St. Louis, Mo.; package freight, St. Louis to Houston, Tex.; empty, Houston to Galveston; chemicals, Galveston to Kansas City, Mo.; oats, Kansas City to Chicago; telephones and party, Chicago to Los Angeles; empty, Los Angeles to Burbank, Cal.; window screens, Burbank to Portland, Ore.; canned salmon, Portland to Minneapolis, Minn.; flour, Minneapolis to Baltimore; empty, Baltimore to Lancaster, Pa.; linoleum, Lancaster to Green Bay, Wis.; empty, Green Bay to Appleton, Wis.; paper, Appleton to Hamilton, Ohio; empty, Hamilton to Cincinnati; soap, Cincinnati to Jackson, Mich.; empty, Jackson to Battle Creek; furniture, Battle Creek to New Orleans; coffee, New Orleans to Nashville, Tenn.

Many persons wonder how it is possible for each railroad to keep constant track of its wandering freight cars. This is done by an elaborate nation-wide system of checks and reports. As soon as a freight car leaves its own railroad and moves onto the rails of another railroad, the agent at the junction point telegraphs the interchange movement to the Car Record Office of his railroad. Thus by daily telegraphic and written reports the Car Record Office is kept informed of the progress of the car, and, in this way, any car or shipment can be quickly located at any time.

If the car requires repairs, the work is done by car repairmen at whatever place or on whatever railroad it happens to be or, in case of heavy repairs which can be performed more economically on the owning road, it is sent to that road empty or loaded. Responsibility for payment of repair costs is allocated between the railroads under an agreed code of rules which makes the handling roads responsible for certain types of repair work and permits billing the owning road for other types of repair work.

In the picture, package freight is being brought out of the freight house (See No. 38) to the loading platform on a string of warehouse trucks towed by an electric tractor. The packages mill be loaded into box cars. A freight handler is storing packages of freight carefully away inside of the box car. When the car is filled, the steel tread which bridges the gap between the platform and the floor of the car is removed and the car door is closed and sealed. Then the car is switched to a freight yard and placed in a train to begin its journey.

There are many kinds of freight cars—each designed for the handling of certain classes of commodities. In addition to box cars, which are suitable for the transportation of a great variety of articles and commodities, there are gondola cars, and open-top and closed-top hopper cars, used principally for carrying coal, coke, ores phosphate, sand, gravel, sulphur and other heavy bulk commodities; refrigerator cars, lumber cars, platform or flat cars, depressed floor flat cars, livestock cars, poultry cars, glass-lined milk tank cars, oil tank cars, vinegar tank cars, pickle tank cars, helium cars, rubber-lined tank cars for chemicals, and many "custom built" freight cars designed for special uses.

Box cars and other freight cars work for us in many ways. They bring to our city or community the materials which are used in building and repairing our factories, office buildings, churches, schools, hotels, stores and homes. They bring fuel and raw materials for our factories, merchandise for our stores, and fuel and food for our homes. And they carry to markets, far and near, the products of our mills and factories, or our mines and quarries. If we live in a rural community, they carry to market the products of our farms-things upon which we depend for our income. In short, they bring to our city or community many of the things which we need, and they carry away many of the things which we produce and have to sell. Truly, the freight cars are our friends!


I've Been Working on the Railroad | Contents Page

Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery