Boxcars have used many different styles and configurations of doors over the years, but perhaps the most unusual are those with doors on the ends. These cars have been used in a variety of services, but perhaps the most common was for hauling finished automobiles.
Building an end door boxcar involves more than simply putting a door on the end. The ends of boxcars are typically one of the strongest elements, providing the primary support for the car roof. The end with doors had to be redesigned to provide the necessary support for the roof and side walls.
Having doors on one end of the boxcar made the loading of certain goods much easier – though of course you needed a special track to do it. These cars were sometimes used for longer loads that would not fit through the side doors. More often however, these loads could be more easily loaded in a gondola or flatcar and protected with tarps or crates if necessary.
Vehicles on the other hand don’t lower into gondolas so easily and are valuable enough to get some additional protection from the car itself. While double door boxcars could accommodate most cars, an end door allowed much faster loading. Unlike today’s autoracks however, these boxcars usually only had doors on one end. So cars had to be loaded and unloaded one at a time – that’s a lot of switching at the factory! And of course you needed a ramp at the end of the siding to drive the vehicles in and out.
The development of multi-level autoracks in the 1960s pretty well ended the regular use of these cars. The new cars could carry more than double the payload with a much better load / car weight ratio and could be loaded “circus style” as multiple cars at a time. These efficiencies were more than enough to offset the boxcars’ added versatility in being able to handle more loads than just finished vehicles.
Adding to the demise of the end-door car were new “all-door” boxcars whose sides could be nearly completely opened for access. Some of the end-door cars like the Lionel model would continue in general service into the late 1970s, with the side doors being the primary means of loading. Some cars were also rebuilt with fixed ends.
In addition to boxcars, baggage cars were also often built with end-doors. These cars were used for larger express shipments and specialty moves like the Pennsylvania’s famous racehorse fleet.
In a train or spotted at an unloading ramp, one of these boxcars makes a nice break from the norm on any layout.