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

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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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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.

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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

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

Thank You.

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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.

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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 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 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 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 wjstix on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 7:58 AM

This is an interesting thread, but it sounds like we haven't found a definite answer yet. I tried looking at White's "Great Yellow Fleet" book last night, and he didn't mention it. I'd think if it was just for unloading or cleaning the car, boxcars would have them too. 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.

Stix
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Posted by challenger3980 on Thursday, October 3, 2013 11:49 PM

I have been a truck driver for more than 25 years, though I got out of the foodservice side of it in 2002, but up until then, and I imagine still today, there were/are produce loads such as Brocolli that were/are top iced. The ice was for more than just temp control. Some produce will be dried out by simpe mechanical refrigeration, the top icing prevents that. BTW, top icing on produce is typically a very fine grind of ice, similar to a sno-cone.

Doug

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, October 3, 2013 6:54 PM

Just saw some modern BNSF plug door (non-reefer) boxcars, and they had a step on them.  I'm thinking it is to assist in someone putting on/taking off the car seal (as it is located a little high off the ground compared to other cars).

  

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Posted by wp8thsub on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 8:36 PM

wjstix
BTW plug door boxcars aren't "reefers".

Here's a fact-oid.  The AAR car classification for most of the cars we modelers tend to call "insulated boxcars" is actually "bunkerless refrigerator."  These cars have essentially the same insulation as any other refrigerator, and can maintain the load at a reasonably constant temperature.  

If you have a model of such a car, or prototype photo, look for an AAR classification stencil (usually) to the right of the CAPY data (you won't see this in all eras, but say from the 50s-80s, and maybe before).  An ice bunker reefer is "RS," a mechanical reefer is "RP," and a bunkerless reefer is "RB."  Each of these could have an additional suffix denoting a sub-classification, typically "L" for load restraining devices.  Sometimes these cars also have the extra step under the door.  Many of these cars never were used for cargo modelers associate with reefers, but retain the designation nonetheless.

Pacific Fruit Express converted some of its earlier mechanical cars to RB types by removing the refrigeration units.  They still wore the same paint, but got re-numbered and the AAR code was re-stenciled to cover the P with a B.  Once converted they were still considered reefers, and often used in the same service, just with top ice blown in.

By way of contrast, anything considered a "boxcar" would have a code starting with X.  An ordinary boxcar would be an "XM,"  one with load restraining devices an "XL" and so on.  A true "insulated boxcar" would have an "I" suffix, such as "XLI," which would differentiate it from a bunkerless refrigerator, as the insulation would not maintain temperature the same as a reefer.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by locoi1sa on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 8:16 PM

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

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Posted by cx500 on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 6:59 PM

wjstix

BTW plug door boxcars aren't "reefers". Refrigerator car doors were different than boxcar doors. Boxcars have latches at the bottom of the door, you can unlatch it and slide the door open from the ground. Reefers had two doors that opened from the middle, with a latching mechanism part way up the car. The bottom of the doors were not level with the bottom of the car or interior door, but up maybe 6" or more. I still think that is the most likely reason for the step - to make it easier to open and close the doors.

 

Actually some of the more modern ice reefers in Canada did have plug doors.  The chief reason for swing doors was that insulating standard sliding doors was more or less impossible, and at first that was the only alternative.  Plug doors were developed later, and had two benefits.  They would provide a smooth interior surface the full length of the car, and for reefers and insulated boxcars could have matching insulation.  I think you will find virtually all modern mechanical reefers had plug doors as well. 

John

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 4:42 PM

BTW plug door boxcars aren't "reefers". Refrigerator car doors were different than boxcar doors. Boxcars have latches at the bottom of the door, you can unlatch it and slide the door open from the ground. Reefers had two doors that opened from the middle, with a latching mechanism part way up the car. The bottom of the doors were not level with the bottom of the car or interior door, but up maybe 6" or more. I still think that is the most likely reason for the step - to make it easier to open and close the doors.

 http://spec.lib.vt.edu/imagebase/norfolksouthern/full/NS2753.jpeg

Stix
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Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, September 30, 2013 5:43 PM

Consider this..Those steps came in mighty handy when a reefer was unloaded on a team track or a non raised unloading area at a produce terminal.

Don't forget laborers was cheap at these terminals so,unloading by hand on to  a freight dolly or produce wagon was very common and faster  since the cars would not need to be moved. The unloading teams simply moved from car to car and could empty a car of produce in about 2 hours.

 

 

Larry

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, September 30, 2013 4:48 PM

Course boxcars and stockcars needed to be cleaned out too, but neither of them normally had a step under their doors.

Stix
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Posted by zstripe on Sunday, September 29, 2013 5:03 AM

Pete,

You can disagree with me if you like,,Cleaning a Railroad Reefer,,is not all that different,than cleaning, a track trailer reefer,,especially one that was used for swinging meat,,of course there is a difference in size,but it still involves,the same labor and technique and also more than one at a time..

Cheers, Drinks

Frank

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Posted by locoi1sa on Saturday, September 28, 2013 8:25 PM

zstripe

Cleaning crew,had,ladders..

Cheers,

Frank

    Frank.

 During seasonal operations reefers traveled in large blocks of cars. A few ladders would not due and crews needed access to many cars during a shift. Easier to have the ladders attached to the cars. Many clean out tracks were not conducive to holding a ladder vertical. Been there and done that. After a couple of weeks the knees were hurting and the shoulders were junk from climbing on them cars like a monkey. You would really be surprised at all the stuff you have to shovel out of them cars. This job had to be done quickly so the cars can be put off the road as fast as possible.

         Pete

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Posted by Lake on Saturday, September 28, 2013 7:11 PM

zstripe

Brent,

I'll do some digging,,I think I saw what you are talking about......As far as saving things go,and a new happening on my part,,a year ago I put in my files,of how to completely rebuild a Athearn motor,,I clicked on it the other day and received a message,,the information saved,is no longer available,,,,What??

Cheers,Drinks

Frank

Sounds like you saved a link to the original web page and it has been removed. So it is no longer available.

I have had it happen to me on more then one occasion. Now I try and remember to copy the page then save it that way.

Ken G Price   My N-Scale Layout

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Posted by zstripe on Saturday, September 28, 2013 6:42 PM

Cleaning crew,had,ladders..

Cheers,

Frank

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Posted by locoi1sa on Saturday, September 28, 2013 5:51 PM

I can't believe no one even mentioned the car cleaners!  Reefers need cleaning after every load and not all clean out tracks have a platform. Any car that is to haul food for human consumption must be cleaned before it is loaded. 

     Pete

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Posted by zstripe on Saturday, September 28, 2013 6:29 AM

My 2 Cents The high dollar loads,,would not have any cheap,tin seals on them either,the ones you can cut with a pair of scissors, They would be the hardened steel cable seals,,no way you can cut those with even,heavy duty side cutters,,torch em,or a loop cable cutter..Not very many crooks carry those with them..

Cheers, Drinks

Frank

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Posted by mlehman on Saturday, September 28, 2013 1:27 AM

chutton01

Temperature checks are an even more common task.


For whatever reason, I always thought Mech Reefers had external thermometers (I certainly recall them on the Athern R70-20 models), and you know the the Mech Reefers built (or rebuilt) since the 1990s must have temperature sensors and the like.  In other words, no reason for anyone to open the door.

Brokers and potential buyers both may need to inspect the load.


OK, this one hadn't occured to me, and makes the most sense of all reasons.

the steps became a AAR or some other requirement at a certain point in the past, which is why the steps are ubiquitous on reefers.


This one I can readily believe too.

Hmm, inspection for buyers and government agents,  yes.
Existing regulation from back in the day, yes.
Top icing? Hmm
Temperature checks, I'm skeptical...why waste time having a guy open the door when they could just look at the thermometer on the exterior, or better yet check sensor logs.

My timeline stops in 1974, so I was primarily referring to iced reefers.

Knew about the top icing deal. last I remember (truck)loads with it is early 1980s. I'm pretty sure it was in use past the point when mech reefers dominated the fleet, so up to a certain point you would have mech reefer loads that were top iced. This wouldn't be renewed enroute AFAIK after iced reefers went passe, but it would be something that might be checked if applied to a load.

Obviously, yeah, mech reefers have built in temp readouts. Sensor logs are a very recent development. At least until 1990 when I was no longer directly involved, large scale wholesale distributors generally placed small temp recorders in the load itself to monitor how well it was handled. These would be pulled on delivery and recycled. Not sure of the name of the outfit we used.

Keep in mind that even temp readouts tell you only so much about the condition of the load. Humidity is an issue with some loads. And then there are the problem loads. Reefer down? Air temp will tell you something, but the cool is in the load. If the unit just failed, then air temp could already be high, but the load itself is still OK. Only way to tell is open the door -- at least until the sat link arrived.

Yes, the general idea is that these loads have lots of potential opportunities for inspection for a variety of reasons. They're high value and relatively perishable (duhSmile) vs typical RR loads, so there's going to be attention to what's happening with them. Nowadays, much of that attention is via the sat link, which has largely replaced armies of clerks and agents all made redundant by such technological advances. But those steps are still with us and likely will be even with 100% sat link.

Keep in mind that each time the door was opened, it would have to be resealed. I don't think anyone's modeling door seals, at least not in HO.Big Smile

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by zstripe on Friday, September 27, 2013 10:04 PM

Brent,

I'll do some digging,,I think I saw what you are talking about......As far as saving things go,and a new happening on my part,,a year ago I put in my files,of how to completely rebuild a Athearn motor,,I clicked on it the other day and received a message,,the information saved,is no longer available,,,,What??

Cheers,Drinks

Frank

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Posted by BATMAN on Friday, September 27, 2013 9:03 PM

Frank

I remember the link took us to a web site that was kind of like a Shorpy site except it was for movies. I watched a bunch of other stuff on it as well. So interesting. I can't believe I didn't book mark it.Dunce

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

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Posted by zstripe on Friday, September 27, 2013 5:04 PM

Brent,

When I get a chance,,I will do a little digging..I have a lot of,History Channel,DVD's,with about 20 hrs,of,20,30,40's in Chgo and other big cities,,,The problem,is they are too long to post on the Forums..Unless,I can take some 5 or ten minute copies..If I can I will surely post them...I'll have to ask my PC Wizard son,when comes home tomorrow. Thumbs Up

Cheers, Drinks

Frank

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Posted by chutton01 on Friday, September 27, 2013 5:03 PM

zstripe
Chutton01,

You may find this interesting,to say the least:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator_car

Cheers,
Frank


I have read on that wiki article (actually I've been on many rail-related wiki, and edited a few of them), but now that you mentioned it, I took another look and found two things mentioned that correspond to what I said in my previous meandering post above..
It was ultimately determined that top-icing is useful only in preventing an increase in temperature, and was eventually discontinued.

Several hundred "cryogenic" refrigerator cars were placed in service transporting frozen foodstuffs, though they failed to gain wide acceptance (due, in part, to the rising cost of liquid carbon dioxide).

Still didn't mention anything about the door steps, though

I've always found railroad refrigerator cars (especially Mechanical ones) interesting and have read much about them over the years. I came of age in the 1980s when rail refrigerator service was on the decline. Luckily, by the 1990s they were seriously building and rebuilding new refrigerator cars for new and revitalized traffic flows (still, reefers are a small percentage of the total N.A. railcar fleet, which is rather dominated by covered hoppers - and I see the wiki article did mention the experimental refrigerated covered hoppers...)

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