Freight Car Friday – Carbon Black Cars

29 11 2013

It is “Black Friday” after all! These distinctive covered hoppers have roamed the rails since the 1930s. The typically black covered hoppers are anything but boring. And while they can be found all across North America, with their low numbers and specific commodities if you’re not along a route they normally frequent they would be easy to miss altogether.

What Is Carbon Black?

CCX 441

CCX 441 is part of a large block of cars headed to Columbian Carbon’s Hickock, KS plant. This is an ACF-built car – the Center Flow design is apparent.

Generally speaking, carbon black is a variety of amorphous carbon. It can be made in several different ways. Most is made by the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons in a furnace (furnace black). It can also be produced through thermal cracking of natural gas (thermal black) or incomplete combustion of acetylene (acetylene black).

Carbon blacks are used in a variety of products. The majority are used in making tires. When added to rubber, carbon black increases strength and resistance to abrasion. It is also used for inks and paints, wire insulation and other rubber products. Acetylene black is electrically conductive and used in dry cells and explosives.

Produced at about 20 different plants across the United States and Canada by a handful of companies, the product tends to move in small shipments (one or two carloads) to specific customers over routine routes. If you happen to be near, or along the route to one of these producers or consumers then you’ll see these cars regularly. Otherwise, you’ll have to look hard to find one.

Carbon Black Cars

TCMX 96125

A low angle view of TCMX 96125 gives a clear view of the distinctive discharge outlets. The sampling spigots can also be seen.

What differenciates a carbon black car from a “standard” covered hopper? Like most commodities, covered hoppers are customized to meet the needs of the carbon black industry. Aside from the obvious black color chosen for most paint schemes (a concession to the weathering effects) carbon black cars usually have several other things in common:

  • Cars typically have three relatively small 16″ butterfly outlets on the bottom of the car for unloading.
  • Roof hatches are also typically small, 8″ or 16″ and found in greater numbers than typical larger hatches
  • Sampling spigots on the car sides
CCX 647

Showing just how different these cars can look, here’s another Columbian car from the same cut. the full side sheets on these Thrall cars make them look more like a boxcar than covered hopper.

Cars have been built to a variety of capacities and designs but 77 ton capy. cars are most common. ACF, Darby Car, GATX, Magor, National Steel Car, Pressed Steel, Procor, Pullman-Standard and Thrall have each built cars. The cars were generally built in small quantities and there were many subtle differences between runs and not-so-subtle differences between builders.

While these cars may not be frequent sights on the rails, once you’re aware of them it is fun to start taking pictures and comparing notes. You can watch trains for years and not see two exactly the same! Keep your eyes open as you go train watching, you never know when one of these black snowflakes will show up.



5 responses

29 11 2013

In my youth and early adult years I lived near two carbon black plants. Those carbon black covered hoppers were more common there than most places I would think. In fact one summer I worked in construction at one of those carbon black plants. The stuff is almost impossible to remove from the skin, especially the eye lids.

29 11 2013
Don Myer

Interesting to see carbon black bulk cars. I worked in the rubber industry and the plastic industry and have seen close-up dedicated cars for carrying plastic ‘resin ‘ pellets. However, I have never seen a bulk carbon black hopper car, most car black I saw came in 50 lb. bag… maybe shipped t.o.f.c. Do ‘you’ know if Lionel will be ‘painting up’ and black bulk cars?
Don Myer

29 11 2013
Andrew Falconer

There are often Carbon Black Covered Hoppers on the CN/GTW freight trains between Chicago and Eastern Michigan. There is a large variety. Lionel could make a new set of Discharge Outlets for the existing ACF Center Flow 3-Bay Covered Hoppers to create a carbon black hopper as soon as possible.

30 11 2013

Lionel, let’s manufacture some scale model carbon black covered hoppers. May I suggest Sid Richardson, Cabot and Columbia for liveries?

3 12 2013

Does anybody know of an example of a route these are commonly seen on? Had never even heard of this stuff before now, must not have them in my part of the country…

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