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A Small Bit of Mystery to Solve -- Small by Nuclear Mystery Standards

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A Small Bit of Mystery to Solve -- Small by Nuclear Mystery Standards
Posted by mlehman on Monday, November 17, 2014 8:42 PM

Most people have some sort of brief bit of history stuck in their minds that there was an atomic test explosion in New Mexico that was a proof test of one of the bombs dropped on Japan about two weeks later at the conclusion of WWII. Called TRINITY, it was the first ever critical mass explosion. There was concern it might set the atmosphere on fire, hedged with bets among the scientists. There was concern by Gen. Groves, the Army commander of the Manhattan Project that built the bombs, was worried it might fissile, scattering plutonium that cost a billion dollars to make when that was still a lot of money -- and leaving him to explain what he spent all that money on to some outraged congressman after the war.

So how does this involve railroads, pray tell?Wink

Well, an admittedly not so brilliant idea was proposed. Make a big steel drum and set the bomb off inside it. That way, it was hoped the drum would capture the incredibly precious plutonium to somehow be recycled into another try. OK, not a problem for this defense project with the highest priority in the country, right?

Lots of folks looked at the idea, but only Babcock and Wilcox of Barberton, Ohio volunteered to build what Groves wanted. So there's the first RR connection, as B&W also did castings for the railroads, although I don't know the details and would be happy if someone who knows more could comment on that.

It was big. 25 feet long. 12 feet in diameter. Walls 14 inches thick. Weight? 214 tons. You obviously need a railroad to move this thing, which had the lovable name of JUMBO. What I'd like to know is the identity of the RR drop-center flat in this picture, courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Flicker account (https://www.flickr.com/photos/losalamosnatlab/7597514026/in/set-72157624881000675/).

This vessel was unloaded at the Santa Fe's Pope, New Mexico siding . I have this picture which I suspect is Pope, but would like to confirm that. (pic also courtesy of LANL -- https://www.flickr.com/photos/losalamosnatlab/7597512296/in/set-72157624881000675/)

It was loaded aboard a trailer with 64 wheels, then pulled by at least three dozers across the flats to within a few hundred yards of ground zero. But it wasn't used, just stood up to be hit as a crude measure of the explosion's force, despite all this trouble. Why?

Using it would have ruined most of the observations the scientists wanted to make. As it turns out, increased technical confidence in the design and the accelerating pace of plutonium-239 production at the Hanford complex allowed Robert Oppenheimer to talk Gen. Groves into dispensing with JUMBO and letting the scientists find out as much as possible about this troubling new weapon.

Much of this info came from the Physics Honor Society's Radiations Fall 2004 edition:

http://www.sigmapisigma.org/radiations/2004/neuenschwander.pdf

Large format versions of the pics are available for download at the provided links if you need better quality.

I also have an April 1944 ORER I can look things up in, just don't have much to go by yet on the drop-center flat. Maybe what RRs served B&W in Barberton, Ohio would be a start on identifying the car, although wartime car utlization rules and the special nature of the cargo means there were only a few cars that could carry it.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by -E-C-Mills on Monday, November 17, 2014 9:50 PM

Wow good one!  Interesting again!  What I can say is that siding looks like somewhere in New Mexico!  Its too bad the mountains seem to be obscured by clouds.  Is Pope siding near Soccoro?

I have driven that route along the Rio Grande / Camino Real too many times.  I dont see anything recognizable.

For sure, if Pope siding is near Soccoro, then it would be a rather long slog dragging that thing over to White Sands.  I guess nobody would see it on that route vs Alamagordo.

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, November 17, 2014 10:37 PM

Pope is about 20 miles south of Socorro near San Marcial in the northern part of Elephant Butte Lake State Park. I agree, looks a lot like New Mexico, but was hoping to narrow that down and confirm it.Laugh

Those may be the Chupadera Mtns on the background, according to my New Mexico DeLorme Atlas.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by erikem on Monday, November 17, 2014 11:14 PM

mlehman

There was concern by Gen. Groves, the Army commander of the Manhattan Project that built the bombs, was worried it might fissile, scattering plutonium that cost a billion dollars to make when that was still a lot of money -- and leaving him to explain what he spent all that money on to some outraged congressman after the war.

Think you meant to write "might fizzle" as fissile refers to nuclides that can sustain a chain reaction. Interesting tie-in with the railroads.

On a related note, my paternal grandfather worked on construction at Hanford during WW2. He was wondering what was going on there as he saw frequent short trains running around the site - when motive power was in very short supply outside.

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 2:52 AM

Yep, "fizzle" or fail, not fissile, which is what it should do. I think spellcheck tripped me up there.

I haven't studied production at Hanford much, but do know a bit about it. My mom's sister worked there as a secretary to somebody important, but no one has ever said who. One of my instructors helped force the DOE to make the site preserve much of its history after they thought they could just bulldoze everything and bury it without documenting what was there.

My research connects to Hanford primarily through the "Green Run" -- a science experiment to better understand how to detect plutonium production, calibrate U.S. sniffer technology and detection systems,  and generally get up to speed on detecting Soviet fissile material production.

The short trains your grandfather saw may have been handling hot loads from the production reactors to the "canyon" where the rods holding the mix of U-235 and Pu-239 were broken down to extract the plutonium. Normally, this occurred after several months of cooling, to allow hazardous short-lived isotopes a chance to decay making the rods easier to handle. The GREEN RUN instead processed the rods when they were still fresh and hot, releasing much more iodine-131 than it normally would.

Here's a pic of the 5th canyon, the most modern. The RR tracks entering at one end are easily visible. From there, the hot rods made their way through the facuility as they were processed.

More on it at:  http://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/PUREX

You have to have a lot of room to model one of those. On my layout, the nuke plant is pretty much the entry way, with the rest selctively compressed to crtical mass by your imaginationWink

Mike Lehman

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Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 2:55 AM

Mike,

Through extensive research I was able to pinpoint the exact car that was used for these secret experiments...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SSSssh... it is still a classified Top Secret operation! They labeled it "Waste" to keep those Ruski's guessing... oops! I just blew the secret!         POW!

Big Smile Ed

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 3:11 AM

Ha! Good one, Ed. As usual, Lionel is a mere caricature of the real thing.

A well car

A cask car

There are a number of RR pics if you go to this link and enter "railroad" as the search term: http://www.hanford.gov/c.cfm/photogallery

The old B reactor is being preserved as a museum. Two locos and two cars were moved there, so could be worth a visit. These are certainly seldom seen prototypes. Note the warning ropes surronding the cars to remind you they're still hot despite not having been used for several decades.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 7:46 AM

Leave it to Mike to come up with a fascinating 1000-piece puzzle.

I can add one or two more pieces: 

Babcock & Wilcox was served by the Akron & Barberton Belt Railroad in Barberton.  A&BB's engine terminal was in the shadow of the plant.  B&O, PRR, and Erie also passed through Barberton.  I'll try to find out whether any of these other railroads had direct rail access to B&W. The preferred routing for a shipment of this sort normally would have been A&BB to Akron Canton & Youngstown to Bluffton or Delphos, Ohio; then NKP to St. Louis; then any convenient routing from there to New Mexico.

HOWEVER, AC&Y had very tight clearances at Medina, Ohio, where they passed under a B&O branch at a very low and narrow underpass.  There were actually instances when a high/wide B&W load was brought to Medina by this route, unloaded, trucked around the underpass, then reloaded on the other side, and sent on its way!

If the truck-around-Medina option was not feasible, it is possible that A&BB could have delivered the car to B&O, PRR, or Erie at Barberton or Akron.

Morning Sun has announced the April, 2015 publication of the first and only book on the AC&Y and A&BB.  There will be some coverage of unconventional loads like this, but I don't think this specific shipment is covered.

I'm going to ask around and see if some friends of mine can add anything, or correct anything I might have gotten wrong.

Tom   

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 8:37 AM

Tom,

Thanks, that definitely is useful info. I agree, this is one load that might have had some minders keeping an eye on it all the way, watching for those pesky railfans of yore. Unlikely to be pics, but sounds like a definite candidate for the alternative route.

There is the visible lettering on the side of the car. I can see 5 zeroes "00000" where the car's road number might be, but it's cut off along with the reporting marks. The car appears to be a light color, which seems less common than the typicallly darker cars of the era.

Not much to go on. I know there's a listing of heavy-duty flats in later ORERs, but not in 1944 I guess. Maybe because of the war? They typically carried sensitive loads in times of war, so maybe it was dropped? Or maybe that listing didn't start until some time later? My next ORER is the 1953 edition put out by the NMRA and it has the heavy-duty flats listed. So it started or was reinstated sometime between then and 1944.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 8:41 AM

It shouldn't be too hard to narrow down the car.  From the marks on the car it looks like it has a capacity of 526,100 lbs.  Looking at an ORER from the 1943-1945 era should give a look at the possible cars which is probably less than a couple dozen.  Eliminating the roads that paint their cars black would narrow it down further.

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:50 AM

Dave,

Yeah, got a 1944 ORER. Nothing under A&BB, B&O, Erie or Pennsy. The highest capacity was the Pennsy at 375,000 lbs. Also checked to see if B&W had any cars (no) and the U.S. government fleets. No luck. Not sure I'm up to reading through the ORER to find it at random, so was hoping to leverage the internetSmile

I do think its probably in the 1944 ORER, as the cars looks like its been on the road for some time  and unlikely to be less than a year old.

Yeah, eliminate the black cars could work. I figured it was more memorable to ask about the light colored cars, as they're probably far less common.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:50 AM

Mike, I have a July, 1948 O.R.E.R., but can't find anything definitive.  B&W is not listed as operating any cars of their own.   D.O.D.X. reporting marks don't seem to exist in 1948. There are no U.S. Army cars meeting this description. The depressed flatcar would probably have been class FD.  The Navy (U.S.N.X.) had 3 FD flats, numbers 3200-3202.  Outside Length 43'9"; Extreme Width 10'8"; 150,000 lbs. capacity.   I have no idea whether this car could have been Navy.  In fact, I have no idea whether the Navy cars existed in 1944-45.

PRR is a possible candidate.  They had two classes of depressed flat car (maybe more) that might have been used:

1.  Class F29, 435494-495502 and 47000-470009 (20 cars) 52'6" ex. length; 9'1" ex. width; 210,000 lbs. capacity (depressed section 20'0" x 8'0").

2.  Class F35, 470010-470019 (10 cars) 54'4" ex. length; 9'4" ex. width; 250,000 lbs. capacity (depressed section 22'0" x 8'4").

I don't have access to photos or diagrams of these cars & don't know whether they had the 6-wheel Buckeye trucks shown in the photo.  The light color also seems wrong for PRR, but many nonstandard things happened on the self-proclaimed "Standard Railroad of the World".

Tom 

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:54 AM

Tom,

The Army is like USAX, under "War Department."

I don't expect that my 1944 ORER was up-to-date, but I'd think that by 1948 it would be current. It's gotta be in there somewhere, we just haven't found it yet.

Does your 1948 edition have a listing of heavy duty flats like my 1953 edition? Or not, like 1944?

Mike Lehman

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 10:23 AM

If it's in there, I haven't found it.  Where did you find the H. D. flats listed in your O.R.E.R.?

Tom

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 10:35 AM

Oops!  That car's trucks are on span bolsters!  I suspect I've been going down the wrong path.

Finally found the H.D. flat car list on pages 739-780.  No cars with a capacity of 526,100 are listed in July, 1948.  S.P. had 4 FM's with a capacity of 400,000 lbs; C&NW had 2 FG's with a capacity of 400,000 lbs; CMStP&P had 2 FG's with a capacity of 399,000 lbs; NYC had an FM with a capacity of 388,000 lbs and  and 2 more with a capacity of 390,000 lbs. 

FM's are described as "Ordinary flat car for general service. This car has flooring laid over sills and without sides or ends".

FG's are described as "Flat or gun truck car for special transportation of heavy ordnance or other heavy commodities".

These descriptions do not suggest depressed centers or span bolsters.

 As for FD's (i.e., depressed center cars), the heftiest ones I find are RDG, 5 cars, 275,000 lbs;  Erie, 5 cars, 270,000 lbs; WM, 4 cars, 268,000 lbs; NYC, 3 cars, 250,000lbs; NYNH&H, 3 cars, 250,000 lbs; N&W, 1 car, 250,000 lbs; PRR, 10 cars, 250,000 lbs; and MP, 2 cars, 250,000 lbs.

I can't find anything in the 1948 O.R.E.R. that references cars with span bolsters.  Is it possible that there is a special classification that I haven't found?  Note that all the cars listed above are Class 1 railroads.  No U.S. Government agencies and no private owners.  But the very light color scheme (possibly aluminum) suggests a private owner.

I have no idea whether I've shed any light here. Big Smile  

Tom

P.S. A person familiar with the B&O bridge over the AC&Y at Medina suggests that the load probably was not too wide or tall for that underpass.  If I'd been in charge, I think I'd have routed it A&BB to Erie at Barberton, Erie to NKP at Lima, Ohio, then NKP to St. Louis.  But the seemingly logical routes weren't always used, and it was wartime after all.

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 11:52 AM

Tom,

I'm not sure number of trucks is specified in any of the HD flat lists, just total capacity. I think the depressed center flats had a code like FD of something. Interesting that no car is rated at over 400,000 lbs (200 tons) in 1948.

I looked at GE and Westinghouse in 1944 and no joy there either.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 12:08 PM

AAR Class FD: "Depressed Center Flat.  A flat car of special construction having the portion of floor extending between trucks depressed to provide necessary head room for certain classes of lading."

Tom  

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Posted by "JaBear" on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 1:58 PM
My Dad, who’s in his 80s and still works on a very casual basis, likes doing cross word puzzles as he reckons it’s important to keep the mind active, and on that basis you’ve picked a doozey here Mike!
I can tell you it’s not the PRR class F29
or F35
but that’s about it.
I thought I may have been on a winner with the PRR F40, but it was built in 1954,
or the GEX 40005,
but it’s obvious that “close but no cigar” doesn’t even apply in these cases.
I’ve tried typing in, New 1941, 12 axle, articulated, buckeye trucks, US Army, US railroads, and depressed centre flat car in various combinations and am none the wiser.
Came up with this modelling site though...

Railroad “archaeology” can be fun, but it certainly can be frustrating, though I’ve learnt a lot on this search even if it’s not the correct answer.

Cheers, the Bear.Dunce

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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Posted by ACY Tom on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 3:51 PM

I can imagine the late Richard Hendrickson sitting on a cloud up there, laughing at us and saying "I know, but I'm not telling".

Tom

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Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 5:56 PM

Mike, Bear & Tom

I just paged through the 1940 Car Builders Cyclopedia. Nothing in there over 400,000 Lbs either. Quite a few photos of GSC solid cast beds for special purpose flat cars but, still, nothing over 200 ton. Seems odd since a car of that extreme capacity should be of interest to the car building community.

The 1970 Car Builders Cyc. has a bunch of cars in the 400, to 750,000 Lb capacity!

The search continues... Ed

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Posted by NittanyLion on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:03 AM

Are there any other pictures of that thing being unloaded?  I can't imagine there was only one.

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 1:50 AM

Quite possibly there are. Finding them would be the trick. Los Alamos runs this Flicker account and from what I gather, these are pics pulled from the holdings there. These are declassified, which makes all the difference in the world as far as access. Not so obviously if you haven't worked with this stuff, you can ask for what's called a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR). Sorta like a FOIA, but it's not, which simplifies things. Other pics could already be in the open collection there, but I'm uncertain of the status for visitors. It's not your standard NARA facility. Due to the nature of my research, there's not much they can help me with, although I do have some contacts through advisers, etc if I really needed to pursue something. Can't say this quest would be in the budget right now, but that's the backstop if anyone does want to take up pursuit that lives closer to beautiful New Mexico.

There's also the possibility of pics in NARA facilities around the country. Most likely, in the DC area at their main facility there. You'd have to register as a Researcher  (that would be your first hurdle with using anything at Los Alamos), which is easy enough. Then figure out what to request. Some finding aids are online, but many may still not be. Basically, these are guidebooks of where to look for records and what is roughly in them. So it's more than a visit to your local library.

I think we have all the time in the world here. Someone will have a clue eventually. I've got some leads I still need to check. So no need to go for the big time research effort yet, IMO the answer is probably already out there, just need to track it down.

The gap in info on the heaviest duty flat cars is very interesting. You know they were there, we have a pic with evidence of its capacity, yet this seems excised from the record. That's generally a good sign you have something interesting at hand, if you can just dig it out.Blindfold

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 2:05 AM

Found one just now. It's from the National Park Service. The copy online is a small image and pixelates before you get to see what's there. But it's a somewhat wider angle shot than the pic we already have. NPS may be able to help by simply looking at a good copy of what they have and give use the reoorting marks, etc.

http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/whsa/adhi/images/fig43.jpg

I found one site that claimed this was the geaviest rail shipment ever at that point. Also, that it did have to reroute due to its weight, while damaging several trestles near the plant. No source, but must be a story out there.

Next is a link to a largish pdf of the company history of the outfit that built the trailer that hauled JUMBO from the RR to the test site. It remians the highest capacity trailer they ever made. Story on it starts on page 29.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=12&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDgQFjABOAo&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rogerstrailers.com%2Fhistory%2FHistory-of-Rogers-Brothers.pdf&ei=olBsVMmJLYWlyATf9YDIAg&usg=AFQjCNHam_wfr1-fR3QW7y8Z1hWo7cAjCg

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Posted by ACY Tom on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 7:31 AM

Were they specific about locations of the damaged trestles?  If the A&BB tried to send that car to its normal AC&Y interchange at Akron, it would have had to cross over the B&O and PRR on a bridge in Barberton, plus another bridge over the B&O near the Goodyear plant in Akron.   AC&Y's rail was mostly 90# at that time, but was capable of handling detouring NYC Niagaras!  The more direct route to the Erie interchange in Barberton may have avoided lightly built bridges.  Erie's main line was reputed to be a preferred route for dimensional loads because of generous clearances, but I don't know about bridge ratings.

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 9:51 AM

Now I'm having trouble finding wheree I read that. There were several factual issues elsewhere on the website that suggested being skeptical of its claims, so that's why I didn'ty post the link. Obviously, these things originate in facts, but tracking down that can be an issue. But the way it was phrased suggested the bridges that were an issue were near the factory at the start of the trip, if true.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by -E-C-Mills on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:29 PM

I forgot that trinity was not in White Sands.  However, in that Rogers Brothers pdf it says they assembled and loaded the trailer at Alamagordo! 

But here is perhaps the map you want (or already have, I guess I was interested).  I guess I'm just following your research your probably well aware of.  No idea if the photo you have is the actual pope siding.

http://www.trinityremembered.com/maps/TrinitySite.html

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Posted by 7j43k on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:40 PM

dehusman

It shouldn't be too hard to narrow down the car.  From the marks on the car it looks like it has a capacity of 526,100 lbs.  Looking at an ORER from the 1943-1945 era should give a look at the possible cars which is probably less than a couple dozen.  Eliminating the roads that paint their cars black would narrow it down further.

 

 

Looking at the picture, I get:

 

Capacity         500,000

Load Limit      526,100

Light Weight   313,900

and a build date of February 1941

 

I spent some time with a 1941, 1945 and 1950 and couldn't find anything at all that would match this car.  The build date is interesting, as it is pre-war.

I suspect it had government reporting marks (ending in X).  And was probably kind of a, uh, secret.

 

 

Ed

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:53 PM

-E-C-Mills
I forgot that trinity was not in White Sands. However, in that Rogers Brothers pdf it says they assembled and loaded the trailer at Alamagordo!

That's why you need historians to figure out such things...nah, not really.Geeked

Sources often don't agree and you have to sort out what's good info and what's bad. I suspect they just heard the explosion was near Alamogordo and jumped to conclusions about where it ended up. I'm pretty sure no one who helped build it was anywhere near it when it got used.

Yeah, this isn't really part of my research, per se, I just can't help myself when I see what should be low-hanging fruit like I thought this one would be. Wink But it is just getting more interesting...

Mike Lehman

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:58 PM

7j43k
I spent some time with a 1941, 1945 and 1950 and couldn't find anything at all that would match this car. The build date is interesting, as it is pre-war. I suspect it had government reporting marks (ending in X). And was probably kind of a, uh, secret.

Yeah, I think we're pretty convinced of that nowSmile

Thanks for picking out the data and posting it. I'd missed the build date. In a sense, Feb. 1941 isn't really before the war. War prodcution was in full swing by then to help the British and Russians, as well as to prepare for what was seen as inevitable in the White House and the War and Navy Depts.

That did just jog my memory. The paint is similar to some Navy rolling stock, bearing in mind it is a B&W pic and we're kinda guessing about whether its white or silver.

Found this summary article of total RR cars owned by the US military and it indicates 94 "Flat car, special" owned in 1945. The number for 1942 was 0. Of course, it cites the ORER, which as we know, doesn't always reflect reality.

http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues/JanFeb11/defense_freight.html

The Pennsy didn't acquire a 500,000 lb capacity car until April 1952.

http://www.mountvernonshops.com/QM.html

Speaking of the Erie, found this neat copy of a brochure promoting its capabilities in handling high/wide loads.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=83&ved=0CCwQFjACOFA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.erierailroad.org%2Fweb_documents%2Ferie-1940-map.pdf&ei=PQZtVLjAOcv_yQT2nIHICw&usg=AFQjCNGrCW-cxQdpEPY0falqpJ1TqBgu0g&bvm=bv.80120444,d.aWw&cad=rja

 

Mike Lehman

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Posted by "JaBear" on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 2:21 PM
Another path I’ve tried to explore via Google is the Eichleay Corporation of Pittsburgh, who transported JUMBO to the site, however am still none the wiser.
I had noted the “New 2-41” on the frame at the left of the photo, and have managed to read in roughly the same position on the car on the RH side of the photo, “Built 2-41”
I’ve tried to decipher the white letters in the black boxes on the side of the car, RH photo but due to problems with pixilation and my eyesight have come up with, to be taken with a large grain of salt. “HJI-5-44” in the LH stencil and “XJI-(?)-44” in the RH stencil. More than likely they have no bearing as to the actual identity of the car.Sigh

Cheers, the Bear.  

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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