Once a month throughout 2014 we’ll spotlight the history of one of America’s freight car builders here on Freight Car Friday. These companies have a rich history that is as interesting as the railroads they serve. American Car and Foundry (ACF Industries today) can trace its heritage back to 1899 and beyond with the inclusion of builders it has acquired over the years.
Like many of today’s large companies, American Car and Foundry’s family tree has roots in many different rail car makers. American Car and Foundry was created in 1899 as the consolidation of 13 railcar manufacturers. The history of these companies dates back as far as 1861. In 1898, their combined production was the equivalent of more than half of all of the freight cars not built by the railroads themselves.
AC&F’s predecessors had a wide range of specialties. Murray, Dougal and Company of Milton, Pennsylvania had produced the first tank car and continued to specialize in that field. The Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company of Jeffersonville, Indiana produced most of AC&F’s streetcars. Passenger cars came from the St. Charles Car Co. of St. Charles, Missouri. ACF continued to acquire other companies through the 1920s including well-known names like Brill and Jackson and Sharp.
In addition to manufacturing, like many builders AC&F also leased freight cars to the railroads and private car companies. For many decades, this was done through a subsidiary, the Shippers Car Line (SHPX reporting marks). In 1968 the SHPX reporting marks were replaced by ACFX, but in 1997 once again they returned to many of ACF’s modern leased tank car and covered hopper fleet.
During World War II, in addition to rail car production, AC&F became a major supplier for the war effort. The plant at Berwick, PA is reported to have been the largest producer of armor plating in the world at the time. AC&F built more than 15,000 tanks as well as parts for aircraft, other vehicles and artillery shells.
Most modelers will recognize AC&F from their innovative designs of the latter half of the 20th Century. Cars like the Center Flow covered hoppers and tank cars are as common on model railroads as they are the prototype. But AC&F’s production included far more than just these models.
AC&F has had a hand in many freight car designs and production including boxcars, flatcars, intermodal equipment, even a few cabooses. AC&F worked with Southern Pacific, Wabash, L&N and Ford to produce the first 86 foot high-cube auto-parts boxcar in 1963.
Still, the company is no doubt best known for its covered hoppers and tank cars. The Center Flow design was patented in 1961 and while refined over the years the cars’ retain the same basic shape and features today. The 100,000 car rolled off the line in 1992 and production continues at a steady pace. ACF also produced several variations on the Center Flow including pressurized, refrigerated and insulated cars and the “Cannonaide” car which used compressed air jets inside the car to help unload stubborn contents.
Starting in the 1960s, AC&F (officially renamed ACF Industries in 1954) began to consolidate operations in fewer assembly plants. At their peak, there were 16 ACF plants in 9 states. In some cases, closings meant consolidated operations at the larger facilities. In others, car production of that type ended completely. There were also facilities purchased by new companies such as the Berwick Forge and Fabrication Co. which kept production going under a new name and with new designs in Berwick, PA.
ACF has also shed most of its non-rail car production and leasing operations.
ACF created a new railcar manufacturing division, American Railcar Industries (ARI) from its car repair and component manufacturing operations in 1994. ARI opened new plants in Arkansas and continues to build the familiar ACF-designed cars today.
ACF Industries LLC is still building freight cars today in their plant in Milton, PA. The 48 acre facility includes a 500,000 square foot manufacturing building and seven miles of track. Tank cars, very much in demand on today’s railroads, remain the number one product for the plant. Pressure vessels for non-rail use are built here as well. Check out this video to see how the ends of a tank car are pressed from flat steel inside the facility.
Corporate headquarters as well as the extensive research and testing facility for both ACF and ARI are still in St. Charles, MO.
Between the new cars rolling out of ACF and ARI today and the thousands of older ACF cars still roaming the rails, it is clear that this builder’s mark will be seen on the rails for a long time to come.