There are freight cars we see every day, and then there are those rarities – designed for very specific loads – that break the molds. Pickle cars certainly fall into that category. Undoubtedly, there have been many more models made of pickle cars than prototypes. But they did exist – and in more forms and for a longer time than you may think.
The most common design for these cars consisted of wooden vats loaded on flat cars. The cars had open sides, but also had ends and a roof with hatches over the vats. Loading and unloading was done through these hatches. Unloading was all manual labor using nets. There was a lot of variety in even this car design. Early cars were 36 feet long, but later grew to 40 – 42 feet. Different sizes of vats were also used. Cars with enclosed sides were also seen.
Wood was the prefered building material due to the acidity of the brine. The cars originated early in the Twentieth Century, but their design changed little and the wood cars could be seen in service as late as the 1960s. Trucks were by then able to handle shipping much more efficiently. HJ Heintz had one of the larger fleets (relatively speaking), but cars were used by other companies as well.
Similar in function, but very different in form were vinegar tank cars. These too were constructed of wood due to the acidity of the loads. Vinegar tanks were traditionally mounted horizontally like other tank cars. Most cars were painted silver to reflect sunlight. the last and largest wooden vinegar tank was built in 1968. Today, glass or plastic liners are applied to steel tank cars for vinegar service.