Freight Car Friday – Wine Cars

14 02 2014

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.


Shipments of wine in tank cars were not unheard of. “Tank car wine” did imply a reputation for quality however.

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.

wine box

Boxed wine? A carload of bottled wine is headed to a distributer near Harrisburg, PA.

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.

wine train

The Napa Wine Train is the best known of many excursions that combine fine dining and the romance of train travel.

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?”



9 responses

14 02 2014
Conductor Andrew

Reblogged this on theredcaboose1.

14 02 2014

I have a Lionel Mogan David Wine Vat Car was there ever a prototype of the car?

16 02 2014
Paul Le Brett

Hello Joe: There is a Mogan David winery but the car made (not by me) is not prototypical. Sorry, Paul

14 02 2014


We should have a wine train running around with free samples at Trains on Tracks!

Sent from my iPhone


14 02 2014
Doug Corrigan

At first I wasn’t very excited about this blog in general, but I find I’m learning a lot more than I thought I would. Thanks, Lionel, for the effort you put into this material. This wine blog is very interesting.

14 02 2014
Mike McLintock

Whenever can I get a wine tank care from Lionel. Sign me up.

16 02 2014
Paul Le Brett

Hi Mike: The cars I developed for K-Line by Lionel are as follows.First the
Foppiano tank car, Second; the Petrie tank car; third the Roma box car. I hope I can do more in the future? Cheers, Paul

16 02 2014
Paul Le Brett

Hello: I worked with K-Line by Lionel and developed the prototypical wine cars. After the contract expired Lionel has not developed any more cars. I have at least six more prototypical cars that could be made. I have photos; and spoke with Matt Ashba at Lionel recently. I would love to help them. The last thing I did was the prototypical Napa Valley Wine Train. I will try to talk to Lionel again. Cheers, Paul

19 02 2014
walter kolopajlo

Again, I really enjoy the history. thanks

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