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Why do (North American) Refrigerator cars have steps under the doors?

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Posted by Thecitrusbelt on Sunday, February 18, 2018 2:22 PM

And typically the boxcars with plug doors were insulated cars. A great example are the red-white-blue Bangor & Aroostook insulated boxcars. These often are mistaken for refrigerator cars. The B&A had no such refrigerator cars in the red-white-blue paint scheme, although hobby manufacturers continue to produce such "foobie" models.

Bob Chaparro

Hemet, CA

 

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Posted by NHTX on Sunday, February 18, 2018 8:22 PM

    After consulting a number of publications concerning refrigerator cars, including Car Builders Cyclopedias, no specific mention of the purpose of these steps is made.  Therefore, the only purpose that seems valid is access for inspection and servicing.  A couple of situations not mentioned so far are inspection to control agricultural pests and, servicing of heaters when the car's contents would be damaged by freezing.  Some states  had "ports of entry" where the main question asked was "do you have any fresh produce"?  The main idea was to prevent the eggs and larvae of one state's produce from spreading to the crops of a state that did not have the infestation. Therefore the steps and, quite often a vertical grab iron next to the door opening aided the inspectors in accessing the loads.  Reefers often operated with alcohol or, charcoal fired heaters in their bunkers instead of ice when cargoes such as potatoes etc, which could be destroyed by freezing were being transported.  These heaters had to be serviced at intervals just like re-icing, thus access to the load to insure freezing had not occurred.  A lot of produce was not sold  until after it was in transit, and before the buyer accepted the shipment, somebody had to verify the quality of the goods. Some roads such as Bangor and Aroostook employed insulated boxcars (AAR class XI) with underslung heaters while the Canadian roads (CN and CP) employed them on their RS classed cars.  Mention has also been made of mail, baggage, express and LCL cars.  A look at Pennsylvania Railroad X-29 boxcars in head end service on passenger trains shows they were equipped with steps under the doors as well as vertical grab irons to the left of their sliding doors.  The X-29s in regualar freight service lacked these items.  A cursory survey of a number of other roads head end equipment showed a universal employment of these steps and vertical grab irons on mail storage, express reefer, express, baggage, and RPO cars where access was necessary at intermediate points where floor height platforms were not available.  Simple answer, the steps on even mechanical, remotely monitored reefers are to allow the consignee to visually ensure they are getting what they paid for.

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Posted by chutton01 on Sunday, February 18, 2018 10:18 PM

Heh, although I didn't really forget about this thread, I just kind of went with the consensus that the door step was for inspection.
Last year at the Amherst show I purchased a copy of Pacific Fruit Express, which is a very comprehensive study of PFE rolling stock, operations, and facilities. I read it over a period of months (a little at a time...), but did not find anything about why there were door steps (another thing they missed - while they covered in detail the various PFE paint schemes changes, for some reason they did not remark on the change in lettering from "Ventilated Refrigerator" to just "Refigerator". They did cover the T-shaped exhaust stacks on early PFE mech reefers).
That book covered all PFE classes, including the PFE class R40-27 Steel reefer (among the last of the PFE ice reefer class designs). Before the R40-26 class, PFE reefers pretty much had doors of 2 hinged equal sized panels, which spanned a relatively narrow opening of 4 feet - by the 1950s this caused issues for customers who wanted to use forklifts, so PFE began experimenting with sliding plug doors that would span a wider opening. The R40-26 class was the first class to fully  have these sliding plug doors of 6 foot span (some images here  on Tony Thompson's blog post on modeling R40-26, but there are others on-line). Note the door opens right if you are facing as it.  Note also the door steps are to the left - so a worker or inspector could partially open the door and climb in using the steps. Well at least you'd figure you'd should have been able to - proceeding to the R40-27, this had a small (2 foot wide) hinged door panel on the right of the door opening, and a 4 foot wide plug door which opened (slid) to the left. The idea was an inspector could open only the narrow hinged door panel for inspection access, and the customer could open both doors to the maximum 6 foot width for loading/unloading. The door steps were more or less (not directly) under the small door, nearer the right side of the door opening.  The R40-28 class was similar, but with a 6 foot wide plug door. Why they had to open the plug door all the way for inspection was not stated in the PFE book, but I guess by the late '50s mechs they had worked this out as the small hinged door + 4/6 foot plug door concept was discarded in favor of a single 8 foot plug door - the plug doors slide to the right, and the steps are located to the left of the door opening...and the rest is history.

I'm convinced, the steps are to allow access for inspection.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, February 18, 2018 11:05 PM

locoi1sa

I do remember some box cars having steps also and here is one of them.

PRRdiagrams.html?diag=x42.gif&sel=box&sz=sm&fr=

There were others too. Mostly used for storage and ground unloading areas. Does any one know if there were steps under the doors on express box cars or LCL freight cars?

        Pete

 
The car in your link is an express car:  the high-speed trucks are one indicator, as is the vertical grabiron beside the door and another on the end, near the corner of the car.  It also has steam and signal lines, and a different brake system than a standard freight car.
 
This Red Caboose model of a PRR express car was modified to match a real one which I was able to check-out in person.  Note the vertical grabiron on the end, near the corner, and the horizontal one at approximately the middle of the car's end, along with the steam and signal lines...
 
 
This car also had high speed trucks, with locking centre pins, but they looked very much like ordinary freight trucks of the period.  Note the vertical grabiron to the left of the door, and the step beneath the sidesill.  This car also has a passenger schedule quick-acting brake system...
 
 

wjstix
....In my mind the fact that, of all the 'house cars', only reefers had two doors that opened on hinges, and they're the only cars with a step under the doors, can't be a coincidence.

Of course it's not a coincidence, it's simply smart design.

It would be very difficult to insulate, at least to any worthwhile effect, a standard sliding door of the type used on boxcars of the day.  A pair of hinged doors, however, can be as thick as the car's sidewalls, and therefore could be as well insulated, too.
 
As for checking a reefer's interior temperature, CNR's overhead bunker reefers, built in late 1939, were equipped with liquidometers to monitor the temperatures inside the car, at both floor-level and the ceiling.
On the modified Athearn reefer shown below, the read-out for the liquidometer is the black and white thingy near the door...
 
I had photos of a real one, too, but my old computer apparently ate it. Bang Head
 
Wayne
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Posted by cv_acr on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 10:08 PM

Thecitrusbelt

And typically the boxcars with plug doors were insulated cars.

An insulated car would definitely have a insulated plug door as a sliding door is kinda hard to insulate, but many non-insulated cars have plug doors as well. Especially newsprint service cars where a clean smooth interior is desired.

NDG
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Posted by NDG on Thursday, March 15, 2018 12:23 AM

Thank You.

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Posted by mlehman on Sunday, March 18, 2018 4:49 AM

Two thoughts on that reefer and its lack of the steps at the side door...

It's a pretty early car. I don't see a build date, but it might have been before the step requirement was enacted.

It's a Canadian car. It's possible the requirement originated in the US. Many Canadian cars didn't cross the border, but as time went on more and more did. How this intersected with the step requirement I don't know, but is likely part of the explanation for no steps.

In any case, the example points out how you can find an outlier bit of data - one car, no steps - and it doesn't really change the big picture. Most/all reefers and similar cars were equipped with the steps. The reasons why this one didn't have them at the time of the pic could provide some insights about the majority that did, but it's pretty clearly an exception to the general rule.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by chutton01 on Sunday, March 18, 2018 4:21 PM

Well, adding to the general body of anecdata, going back to my copy of Pacific Fruit Express, the images of reefers prior to WWI (either builder photos or relatively new cars) do not show center steps. After WWI the new reefers have center steps. In 1910 there was a change to the 1893 Railroad Safety Appliance Act that took affect in 1911, but I couldn't find a definite answer on-line whether that affected the presence of center steps or not.

NDG
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Posted by NDG on Sunday, March 18, 2018 8:52 PM

 

From MR ' Packing Plant ' thread.
 
 

Thank You.

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