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History of the bulkhead flatcar?

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History of the bulkhead flatcar?
Posted by Mjorstad on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 9:05 AM

Bulkhead flatcars have been around since at least the 40s, as the MoPac had some homemade ones built in the late 30s I know about. However, my knowledge ends there. I'm curious about who pioneered the bulkhead flatcar, who had the biggest fleet, who was known for using them, where they most frequently originated/terminated, and when they started growing in size to be as big as they are today. I'm particularly interested in their use and distribution during the steam and transition eras. Does anybody have any pertinent info, or know where I can find some?

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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 10:20 AM

An interesting question.  I do not have really old Car Builder's Cyclopedias to check - and even then, if a bulkhead was an after-market addition by a railroad or shipper than it would not show up in the Cyclopedia.  

A bulkhead flatcar can be thought of as a gondola without sides I suppose (and there are of course gondolas with their own bulkhead ends higher than the sides).  I have seen photos of early 1830s B&O freight cars (two axle) called flour cars where it is sort of a coin toss whether you're seeing a flatcar or a gondola - a slight ridge around ends and sides prevented barrels from rolling off.  A photo in George Abdill's book Civil War Railroads shows flatcars with stakes in stake pockets, which itself is sort of the origin of a gondola.  I cannot tell from the photos if the stakes were also present on the ends as they were on the sides, but the idea would make sense.  And even into the early 1900s many gondolas were basically flatcars with a fence around the perimeter, which I suspect is the origin of the idea of a bulkhead flatcar.  Loads can shift to the ends as readily as to the sides, perhaps even more so when air brakes made sudden stops more possible. 

My hunch and it is purely that, is that the development of air brakes created the more urgent need for a load restraint on the ends of flat cars particularly for loads such as pipe, metal rods, logs and timber, sheet steel.  I was told by an FRA inspector that there are rules for flatcar loading that restrict certain open loads being coupled to tank cars unless the car is a bulkhead flat, AND the load is lower than the top of the bulkhead.  

Dave Nelson

 

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 10:59 AM

Early bulkhead flatcars were just flatcars with the bulkheads added after construction. Not sure of exact dates offhand, but I'm pretty sure the Duluth & Iron Range Ry. had bulkhead flats for pulpwood and wooden tie loads going back to the 1890's - 1900's.

Stix
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Posted by dehusman on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 12:49 PM

Pulpwood was one of the earliest "bulkhead' flatcar loads, regular lumber would sorta stay in place, but pulpwood loaded crosswise needed something to keep it on the car.

By the 1950's the advantages of bulkhead flatcars becaue apparent and purpose built car started to show up.  A quick check of the PRR flatcars shows they didn't have bulkhead flats until 1955, when some were modified with bluckheads for pulpwood, and then in the 1960's they added some for pulpwood and some for steel forgings.  They didn't become the "standard" lumber car until the 1980's or early 1990's.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by snjroy on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 2:26 PM

According to this source:

https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2018/5dv10295.pdf

Bulkheads were developed for safety reasons:

"While the lack of sides on the flatcar make it easy to load and unload, shifting loads can posse a danger to adjacent cars and freight. In loads consisting of bundled items, such as pipe, lumber, poles and steel slabs, individual pieces are subject to forward and backward shifting during transit. To prevent damage to adjoining cars, railroads developed flatcars with bulkheads (end walls). The Rio Grande modified older standard gauge flatcars by adding homemade end walls to make its first bulkhead flatcars (Tudek 2006; Eager 1999, p. 58)."

Thanks for raising the topic, it got me reading about interesting things!

Simon

 

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Posted by dehusman on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 9:00 PM

True, the purpose of the bulkhead is to prevent shifting loads, but the original shifting load they were designed for was pulpwood.  The car in your document was built in the 1960's and bulkhead flats had been around for decades in pulpwood service.  The PRR's bulkhead flats were built 5 years before the DRGW car, for pulpwood.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, April 22, 2021 9:20 AM

I did a little research re my earlier post, couldn't find an exact date but apparently both the Duluth & Iron Range and Duluth Missabe & Northern (the two railroads that merged later to form the Duluth Missabe & Iron Range of 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone fame) had converted flat cars to bulkhead cars (originally with removable bulkheads) for pulpwood service by 1910-1915. 1915 is generally considered the peak year for harvesting the great pines of northeast Minnesota, after that each year saw fewer big trees to log, and a greater emphasis on pulpwood.

Stix
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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, April 22, 2021 12:50 PM

dehusman

True, the purpose of the bulkhead is to prevent shifting loads, but the original shifting load they were designed for was pulpwood.  The car in your document was built in the 1960's and bulkhead flats had been around for decades in pulpwood service.  The PRR's bulkhead flats were built 5 years before the DRGW car, for pulpwood.

 

Oh yes, I see that you read the entire source. I was not disagreeing with your statement about year of implementation. That's why I did not quote the year (implementation in the 50's, in the case of DRGW, which appears to be late compared to other Roads). But I think the rationale (safety) was the same.

I always thought that bulkheads were also used for lumber, not just pulpwood. But maybe I have a misunderstanding of what pulpwood means.

Simon

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, April 22, 2021 3:47 PM

Large logs from the 'big trees' were heavy enough that they could be transported on regular flats chained down without needing anything on the ends of the cars. In the white pine forests, logs were normally several feet across.

https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsa.8c01038/

When the big trees had most all been harvested, attention turned to smaller, faster growing trees that could be used to make pulp like for making paper products. Pulpwood was usually in pieces much smaller - say 4' long, 1' wide - so needed to be contained in some way when on a train car. In a gondola, they would place longer pieces upright at each end, and then load the pulpwood in between. With a flat car, they had bulkheads to hold the pulpwood in place. 

http://vanderheide.ca/blog/wp-content/uploads/2099/08/M_Turney16_1995.jpg

 

Stix
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Posted by NHTX on Thursday, April 22, 2021 4:10 PM

     Pulpwood cars on most railroads, at least those of the southern U.S. had "V" shaped floors and were classed by the AAR as LP.  Bulkhead flatcars for general service have regular, flat floors and are classed FB or FMS.  

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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, April 22, 2021 4:56 PM

Yes, I can imagine the challenges when logs are stacked in the other direction (laterally I guess). And I was not aware of the V shaped floor. Makes total sense when you see how the wood is stacked up. I guess the old Tyco bulkhead cars are not 100% accurate when it comes to that part of the car!

Interesting info, I hope I didn't hijack this thread too much.

Simon

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Posted by dehusman on Thursday, April 22, 2021 6:25 PM

The Athearn car follows a MP prototype, except for the floor.  Instead of a ridge down the middle they had a V shaped flat steel floor.  

 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, April 22, 2021 11:28 PM

dehusman
The Athearn car follows a MP prototype, except for the floor...

I had a couple of those Athearn bulkhead flats, but they weren't like the pulpwood cars seen in this area, which were, I think, 60'-ers with bulkhead ends, with the logs loaded transversely (all logs the same length as the width of the car).
Later ones, possibly the same cars modified, had permanent sidestakes, with the logs loaded lengthwise.

Since I don't model pulpwood harvesting nor the paper industry, I scraped-off the ridge down the centre of the Athearn cars, then cut them in two and added another 10' of deck.  Some scratchbuilt sides gave me three 50' bulkhead gondolas, sorta patterned after some Algoma Central cars that I saw fairly often around some of the industries near where I worked.

I have some bulkhead flats, too, but they're built from Athearn Blue Box 50' flatcars, with the bulkhead ends donated from a number of Walthers 54' GSC flatcars.  I use them mainly for lumber loads...

...so re-decked them to use-up some basswood that I had on-hand...

Wayne

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Posted by snjroy on Friday, April 23, 2021 8:56 AM

Beautiful work Wayne!   I like to see a thread with at least one picture...

Simon

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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, April 23, 2021 11:34 AM

Thanks for your kind words, Simon.  I wish that I had some photos of the real ones which used to run through here in the '70s/

Wayne

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