The invention of the iced refrigerator car revolutionized more than just railroading. This new method of transportation changed the American diet and transformed the verdant groves of California and the Southeast into fruit-production capitals.
Although similar in shape to the boxcars from which they evolved, railroads and fruit companies often lavished these priority cars with bright and distinctive paint schemes. From the bright yellow Fruit Growers Express cars in the east to the orange Pacific Fruit Express in the west, reefers were guaranteed to stand out in a train. Of all the memorable schemes worn by these cars, those painted by the Santa Fe from 1940 – 1947 are perhaps the most elaborate.
The Santa Fe used its fleet of reefers to advertise its passenger trains, among the most famous in the west. Of course these rolling billboards traversed not only the Santa Fe, but connecting lines all across the country. The Santa Fe Refrigerator Dispatch owned more than 14,500 reefers in 1950. Boxcars were also painted in this two-sided scheme.
On the left side of the car, Santa Fe printed the names of its passenger trains; the Chief, Super Chief, Grand Canyon, El Capitan and Scout. The slogans would remain for many years, with some names being changed over time. For example, Texas Chief replaced Grand Canyon Line in 1948.
On the right side of the car, a map of the Santa Fe system showed principle routes. The maps were changed from a curved to an easier-to-paint straight line version after about 2 years. In late 1947, they were replaced all together by “Ship and Travel Santa Fe All the Way.”
Lionel’s forthcoming set, 6-17741, not only captures the distinctive script and map, we payed careful attention to the small details to make these as accurate as possible. Two of the cars in our 5 car set are class Rr-27. These were the first class of reefers equipped with slogans and maps and feature the curved map design. The other three are class Rr-36, rebuilt and repainted beginning in 1945 and featuring the later straight-line map. These were the first cars to introduce convertable bulkheads on the interiors, and you’ll see that advertised just below the roofline as well.
Santa Fe’s reefers were equipped for handling produce. So while you wouldn’t find one at a meat-packing plant (there were other reefers for that), you could find them around the country hauling other loads in off-season times. Santa Fe reefers have been documented hauling Florida produce to Chicago and on the New Haven in mail and express specials in December. Reefers were often used for general-service loads on their return trips west. During the peak shipping season however, entire trains of empties would rush west for waiting loads. Iced reefers remained in service until the early 1970s.
We’ll have more reefer modeling ideas for you this week as we highlight them on Freight Car Friday! Look for this set in 2012, you’re sure to find a place for these cars on your layout!