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Choosing reefers vs. ventilated box cars for shipping produce

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  • Member since
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  • From: Buffalo, NY
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Choosing reefers vs. ventilated box cars for shipping produce
Posted by Lonehawk on Friday, June 29, 2018 12:15 PM

Hi all,

As the title suggests, I'm a bit stuck on the nuances of which car to use when for my mid-1930's short line.  I plan on having a farmer's co-op on the line, serving as a collection point for goods from local farms, which will then be shipped to distributors in nearby cities.

Operationally, I plan to rotate the car types and quantities through the co-op based on season and what crop was being harvested in the area.  Primarily, that will be beans, squash, corn, potatoes, and apples.

Having done some reading on the subject, I know that both reefers and ventilated box cars were used in produce service, but what I can't find is how one type or the other was selected for a given load, whether it was based on the item being shipped, a matter of what was available, how far it had to travel or what.  Obviously since ventilated box cars were eventually phased out, reefers were better at the job, but in my era, both were still present and in use.  

So, can anyone help shed some light on this?  

Thanks.

 

- Adam


When all else fails, wing it!

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Posted by j. c. on Friday, June 29, 2018 12:57 PM

melons , potatoes , apples  and depending on distance some times straw berries. i belive melons were shippin ventialated box cars till the 50's

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 29, 2018 1:06 PM

As an aside, I was reading that many of the ice reefers that were still available in the 1970's after all the icing facliities were shut down, were repurposed as ventilated box cars without ice for foods that could be transported that way.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by dehusman on Friday, June 29, 2018 2:00 PM

Go to your local grocery store.

What fruits and vegetables are stored out on the floor and which are displayed in a refrigerated or watered case?  Whatever's in a refrigerated or cooled case would go in a reefer.

Of the stuff out on the floor, what would you buy, let sit on the counter for a week and then still eat it?  That's the stuff that goes in the ventilated boxcar.

If it will go bad in a week without cooling, then it goes in a reefer.  If its ok for a week at room temperature then it can go in a ventilated boxcar.

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by mlehman on Sunday, July 01, 2018 2:13 AM

Dave H. pretty well sums it up in terms of what might be shipped in what.

There is another factor and that's the average weather at the packing location and onwards to its destination. Ship things south and a reefer may be required because of high enroute temps even if a ventilated boxcar would generally suffice. Ship things to cooler climes and it won't really be a factor,

Another thing comes into play here and that's car supply. While it's true that reefers, especially ones towards the end of their useful lives, often served on in carrying non-perishables, express, etc, the situation for ventilated boxcars was somewhat different. They started out as dual service cars, so could be loaded with perishables or dry goods as needed. When harvest came close, they would tend to be gathered and forwarded to the packing house district where they might be needed, but their availability was likely less certain than simply rustling up some reefers tended to be.

The fact that reefers were usually obtained from a leasing or express company should be seen as juxtaposed against the fact that ventilated boxcars were typically ownded by the RR like most other revenue cars. Since the RRs owned the ventilated cars, it was likely more profitable and certainly less costly than use of reefers would be if there was a choice about which to use. Shippers also dictated this to some degree, Concerns about maintaining quality would likely have led some shippers to pay for the extra security provided by icing even if it wasn't absolutely required.

The use of ventilated boxcars also varied by the % of the overall car fleet and this could affect their availability. Some roads like the Southern had lots of 'em, making them easy to grab for a few outbound loadswhile others had just a few, which tended to be reserved to meet the needs they were specifically purchased for.

Now for potatoes...there the issue was usually almost the opposite, keeping them warm enough to not freeze. Potatoes tend to be grown in cooler climes, although this is not an absolute. They are usually stored near the sites of production, then moved to market over nearly the entire period to the next harvest. So there would be only limited shipping in ventilated boxcars. Most went in some sort of insulated rolling stock, often but not always reefers. When temps enroute would likely be below freezing long enough to be issue, then heaters went along for a ride.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by wjstix on Sunday, July 01, 2018 10:47 PM

A ventilated boxcar was a boxcar that had both one regular wood door, and a second door with large openings (kinda like a stock car door) that could be used in it's place. It was sometimes called a "watermelon car" because that's what it often hauled. Most of the ones I've seen were 36' cars dating back to the 1900's, although there may have been some 40' ones built in the 1910's. I guess some lasted into the post-steam era, but my impression is that as Mike says, they were used more for certain specific situations than reefers, so were not really all that common. 

http://thecourier.typepad.com/alongtherightofway/2018/04/another-recent-train-show-find.html

Iced refrigerator cars were usually really "ventilator and refrigerator" cars. If a product didn't need to be refrigerated, but would spoil if loaded into a sealed car that would get hot inside in time, the ice hatches at the ends of the car's roofs could be propped open to allow fresh air to blow through the car while it was in motion in a train. There were screened in areas along the top of the divider between the ice bunker and the main part of the reefer where the produce was loaded. 

http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net/exhibits/equipment/rail-equipment/ventilated-refrigerator-car

 

Stix
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Posted by Lonehawk on Monday, July 02, 2018 1:47 PM

Wow, some great and very useful info here.

 

Dave H. - Makes complete sense.  I'm actually a little embarrassed I didn't think of that.  :)

Mike - Since my layout will be a freelanced short line, I don't think they'd really have much in the way of their own car fleet, so it looks like I'll be going mostly or entirely reefers.  Especially considering what Stix was saying as far as propping the hatches open on reefers to make them into ventilated cars.  Seems like they're more versatile than I first understood.

 

- Adam


When all else fails, wing it!

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 4:12 AM

Adam,

That's a pretty good assessment of things. You're talking mid-30s, by which time I don't think many if any ventilators were being built, it wuld have been mostly reefers available.

But you could consider "acquiring" some used ventilaors to serve your needs and still be plausible. Traffic shifted around in the Great Depression, some RR's found themselves with excess rolling stock they could afford to sell, while others needed increased capacity, but couldn't afford new.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, July 03, 2018 4:58 PM

To follow up on Mike's last point, when a railroad found itself with too many freight cars or engines, it always put the oldest stuff into storage first and used the newest equipment as much as possible. Why? Because the new stuff was still being paid for! Railroads didn't usually pay cash for new equipment, they bought them in a 'trust' arrangement, paying over a period of many years. Why let that new 40' steel boxcar sit and rust when you still have to make regular payments on it? Let it get out and earn it's keep! So...in the 1930's older, wooden cars - like ventilated boxcars - might well be put up for sale cheap by a railroad.

Keep in mind though that the 1930's was a time of many new safety regulations. By the end of the decade, arch-bar trucks and wood cars without steel underframes were not allowed in interchange service - but could still be used online by the owing railroad.

Stix

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