How about a big toast for Valentines Day? Wine is certainly not at the top of any railroad’s books when it comes to commodities moved by rail, but over the years wine has been shipped by rail in many forms and in many different types of cars.
Wine, especially the finer varieties, is not typically associated with large-scale mass production like other beverages. Of course bulk shipping is what the railroads do best. Nevertheless, railroads are still an economic alternative for larger shipments over greater distances. A good example is carload shipment of bottled wines bound for distributers from coast-to-coast.
While wine does not require refrigeration, railroads must still take care to avoid big swings in temperature during shipping. The car of choice for bottled wine shipments is the RBL or insulated box car. Shipments originating in big production areas like California or Western New York may be gathered and shipped by rail to distribution centers and warehouses across the country. From here the boxcar-sized loads are broken down and delivered by truck to smaller centers and markets.
But wine has, and still is, also shipped in bulk in tank cars. As you might guess, these are not always of the finest variety. “Tank car wine” has long been used as a term to describe a cheap wine suitable for cooking, or simply as a derogatory remark about the quality of whatever was being served.
Wine tank cars have taken many forms. Many featured multiple domes – up to six. Today’s cars share the now-common construction features of frameless designs and (usually) a single small loading hatch. And where once the wine companies commonly placed their names in bold letters on the sides of the tank, today minimal markings are standard.
The Eastern Wine Company moved its famous “Chateau Martin” wines across the country in former milk cars. These cars look similar to a boxcar or reefer on the outside but contained a pair of glass-lined tanks in the insulated interior. The cars were easy to spot in their purple paint and bold graphics and lasted into the 1970s.
Today you can of course also enjoy your wine on board the train. Excursion railroads all across the country offer “wine trains” where you can sample fine wines and dining as you roll along in restored rail cars. So if you’re looking to surprise your sweetheart with wine and a train this year, might we suggest such an excursion instead of a bottle of “tank car wine?”