Freight Car Friday – Pickle Cars

4 11 2011

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.

pickle vat car

The 6-39478 pickle tank car is based on a true prototype and would be appropriate behind steam or diesel locomotives.

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.

Play Doh

In addition to the prototypical models of pickle cars, Lionel has also had a lot of fun with these distinctive cars over the years including this Play Doh car (6-39473).

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.

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2 responses

4 11 2011
Alfonso Llana

I find myself eagerly awaiting these e-mails full of train info. I just love them. I enjoyed this one in particular because what you said: these freight cars are not your father’s box car.

7 12 2011
Andrew Falconer

What would be great is to have somebody find old historical society photos from the early 1900’s of the pickle producing plants, in order to make a model of these structures. Then there would be a destination for these cars on everyone’s layouts.

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