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Model Railroading > Boxcar Traffic Lost

Date: 11/27/21 02:01
Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: funnelfan

At one time, the boxcar dominated the mixed manifest train. But now much of that that traffic has been converted to intermodal or simply left the railroad altogether. Most of the boxcars you see in the PNW these days is wood or paper traffic (plywood, studs, OSB, Paper Rolls, even Paper Bags). Only a couple decades ago there was a lot more boxcar traffic moving in quantity. I wanted to start a discussion about some of the lesser known boxcar traffic, so feel free to pitch in.Some time ago tires moved in boxcars from manufacturing plants to regional distribution warehouses. This was actually a substantial amount of business as the warehouses received shipments from several manufactures.. Then trucks would move those tires from the warehouse to the stores. There still may be some rail served tire warehouses around, but I'm not aware of them these days. The photo below from Chicago is representative of such a warehouse. While the railcar dock is still there, the spur has been paved over.

Ted Curphey
Cheney, WA

Date: 11/27/21 03:51
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: New773

What an interesting topic. Thanks for posting these. Some trivia for your subject, in pic 3, to the right is the former CNW Navy Pier branch. It once lead to the original (1881-1910) CNW passenger terminal in Chicago (Wells St Station). Also, the American Freedom Train cars were pushed to Navy Pier for display on this track. I also read that once a Santa Fe full dome car was put on display under the Merchandise Mart, and it would’ve passed here as well.

Date: 11/27/21 07:20
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: monaddave

Whenever I travel to an annual NP convention (NPRHA), I try to make a point in following some of the older trackage around whatever city or town the meet is taking place. Sometimes the streets still have signs of rail or may be paved over. There might be the older buildings with docks, wood or brick, still standing on the spurs and street trackage. Sometimes those docks are bricked in, but you can make the outline of the new brick used. Later research could involve finding a NP track chart or Sanborn Fire map or the local city directory to see what business may have been there in the past. 
Dave in Polson, MT (yes, we have old NP/ BN/ MRL rights of way here)

Date: 11/27/21 08:36
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: Notch7

This is a very interesting topic with good implications for those who model vintage boxcar traffic.  For about 24 years I ran a NS customer service team.  In my area I concentrated on warehousing using boxcars and finding reloading opportunities for those boxcars.  NS called it reboxing.  That can have some modeling applications. For an actual example., when that western reefer or insulated boxcar is unloaded at the food warehouse on your layout; move it to a  freight consolidator warehouse to be reboxed for the west coast with furniture, textiles, and package freight.  For my area, the most significant loss of boxcar traffic was beverages, canned goods, and other temperaure/humidity sensitve commodities.  The railroads failed to invest in new insulated boxcars (RBL's and XLI's) to protect this traffic.  The fine older insulated cars wore out or got too old for interchange.  The customers could not get insulated cars to load, and this sizeable  boxcar traffic was lost by failure to reinvest.  The more memorable boxcar loads of the recent past include Little Tykes toys, Brillo Pads (they weigh nothing, but stack good in high cubes) and baled adult magazines/books and bailed unsold tampons going to waste reprocessors.  The one bright spot today is NS trying LCL mixed freight  on the point of priority intermodals (usually in TBOX's).

Date: 11/27/21 08:47
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: 3rdswitch

Growing up in the Los Angeles area, wow, there were spurs and industrial areas everywhere. Most of which were boxcar only facilities. Kimberly Clark, in Fullerton, CA, was one of the bigger shippers. In the seventies, we pulled and spotted twenty four cars a day inside a building, making two fire breaks along the dock. Before my time on the railroad, there was a Western Carloading distribution facility adjacent Santa Fe's Hobart Yard that got an entire train A DAY, spotting up to ninety cars door to door to door along it's dock. As for commodity, there was a place in the Goodyear District on the south side of LA that received sixty foot boxcars of Christmas decorations which they distributed to the crew on occasion. I still have some that I put on the Christmas tree regularly that are not plastic. In the North Vail District east of Hobart Yard, we switched a Del Monte food distributor that had an unofficial agreement with the conductor to give them two switches a day but only noting one switch a day on his paperwork to save them swiching charges since they only had a dock that held four cars. Each Friday, we would spot the caboose at the dock and a fire bucket brigade would form to unload a whole pallet of goods into the caboose for further distribution later that evening on tie up.

Date: 11/27/21 11:51
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: CPR_4000

Back in the mid-70's I happened upon a train of cripples from a derailment on the EL. One car was loaded with wine, another with cat food. WRT tires, I remember watching an NYC crew kick a boxcar a little too hard in the Weehawken, NJ carfloat yard. The door slid open and a few tires popped out and bounced across the tracks. Also saw a Santa Fe 86-foot high cube loaded with hay or straw for the new Meadowlands racetrack in NJ on the ex-EL team track in Rutherford.

Date: 11/27/21 13:31
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: Westbound

In San Jose, CA bagged dog food (I'm thinking it was Purina, based on the 20 - 30 pound bag decor). Also, coffee, resulting in my plans to build a multi-story industry in which bagged coffee beans arrive, are roasted, ground and shipped out in large boxes of branded cans - boxcars, both way. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/27/21 21:00 by Westbound.

Date: 11/27/21 14:41
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: up833

i have read in the recent past that tires in boxcars get to the Les Schaub tire distribution center in Prinville, OR and wine and mexican beer go by boxcars on some routes at least,

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/27/21 14:56 by up833.

Date: 11/27/21 18:42
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: toledopatch

A backhaul I used to see in insulated boxcars that brought beer or wine to New England was cold cream manufactured at the Chesebrough-Pond factory in Clinton, Connecticut. And up in Traverse City, Mich., Cherry Growers, Inc., used to ship processed/canned cherries in ATSF "beer cars" - but not any more.

Besides plywood and flakeboard, either types of building materials often moved in boxcars, such as bricks and cinder blocks. I also once saw drums of driveway sealer delivered by boxcar to a distributor in Connecticut.

Date: 11/27/21 19:56
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: swaool

Speaking of tires moving by boxcar, the AC&Y and C&O historically moved tires from factories in the Akron OH area to automobile assembly plants in Detroit.  Here's a C&O train at Fostoria OH with a cut of AC&Y boxcars first out.  They'll be set out at Carey OH for interchange to AC&Y and return to Akron for reloading.


Date: 11/27/21 20:36
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: dan7366

Autoparts used to be a pretty good piece of the pie I do believe.  In high school while I was working at Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems in Lockport NY (now back as part of GM I understand), assembled components were shipped out to assembly plants in boxcars and trucks.  The plant also had a spur that aluminum scrap was loaded into gondolas.  Components assembled at the plant included condensers, radiators, and HVAC assemblies for multiple different vehicle lines.  I can't say for sure, but I don't believe that very much came into the plant by rail.

As for more recent uses, if I recall correctly, a large amount of tomato paste is shipped to Campbells facilities from tomato processors out west.  Typically loaded in large totes.


Date: 11/28/21 06:16
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: SPDRGWfan

One of a number of reasons I picked the late 70's to model was the variety of boxcars typical in freight trains. Still a good number of fallen flags, 40 footers, still some roof walks, 86' auto parts and a variety of colorful per diem cars.


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Date: 11/28/21 08:30
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: funnelfan

One segment of lost boxcar business is the whole dry good grocery business. Grocery warehouses around the country used to recieve boxcars of cereal, canned foods, soap, household cleaners, health care, and just about any non-perishable items carried in a grocery store. They also got reefers with non-local perishable items as well. That is one business that has all but vanished in the past two decades.

Ted Curphey
Cheney, WA

Date: 11/28/21 11:48
Re: Boxcar Traffic Lost
Author: NCA1022

Thanks for an interesting post.   I rode past the Cassidy Tire warehouse twice a day when I was commuting to Chicago on the CNW in the early 1980s. 

In the late 1970s I worked in the Kelly-Springfield tire factory in Freeport IL during college summers.  As I understand it, this plant was one of the largest single industrial shippers on IC's Iowa division, receiving about a half-dozen inbound loads of carbon black, rubber and tank cars of oil.  They'd ship about 20 50ft boxcars of tires 5 days/week, both Kelly-Springfield and Goodyear (their corporate owners) branded tires.  This plant made passenger car tires as well as large rear farm tires, which my fuzzy memory says were shipped to John Deere in Waterloo IA among other destinations

Tires are the absolute perfect load for rail shipment.  Decent density and product value made for reasonable rates plus they were vitrually impervious to shipping damage, short of a catastrophic derailment.  Basic sliding door boxcars were all that was needed. Theft could be a problem tho.  When I was working there a theft ring got busted that involved both plant workers and rail crew members who conspired to toss car tires onto the roofs of the boxcars while they wre spotted at the two-track indoor loading dock,  On the way back to the Freeport yard, the train would stop near a country road crossing and the rail crew would climb the boxcars and toss the tires in the ditch, for later retrieval.  Meaningful jail time was handed out to all involved as I recall.

I agree, the amount a variety of boxcar traffic, especially pre-1980, is almost hard to comprehend these days.  Jerry Pyfer's recent book 'Milwaukee Road - Tales From the Racine and Southwesterm" gives an excellent account of the carload freight traffic the Milwaukee Road handled in the 1970's in southern Wisconsin / northern Illinois.

One factor in the loss of boxcar traffic was the railroads collective decision to try to serve customers via piggyback trailers instead of boxcars.   De-marketing the boxcar traffic resutled in not only less local switching crews but also the reitrement of industrial spurs.   One of the iron-clad rules of a network utility/valuation is that the more nodes there are on the network, the more valuable it is and the more work it can do.  With retired sidings the loss of boxcar traffic started to become a self-reinforcing negative loop.  Once a siding ws retired/removed, carload traffic virtually never returned.  A shipper may have wanted to ship via boxcar, but that required the receiver to also be able to receive a boxcar.  So freight shifted to semi trailers that all receivers could accept, little by little at first until a tipping point was reached, then the trend picked up speed.

- Norm


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/28/21 11:51 by NCA1022.

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