Freight Car Friday – Gunderson Freight Cars

22 08 2014

Nelson Gunderson arrived on the shores of what would become the state of Washington with literally nothing but the clothes on his back after his ship wrecked off the coast. It is ironic that the company which would later bear the Gunderson name would become such a powerful player in, of all things, transportation.

New Image

Gunderson’s most prevalent contribution to the freight car scene today are its numerous double-stack well cars. These cars have come a long way from their first prototypes.

The company that grew into a leader in railcar production, among other things, started with Nelson’s sons Al and Chet. The brothers’ first business ventures surrounded wheels, rims, and automotive parts. In 1936, they began building trailers for the logging industry. In 1941, they built their first ship – a tug boat for a ferry on the Columbia River.

During WWII, Gunderson built a variety of supplies and parts for the Navy. Their first payment for building landing craft at a newly constructed plant arrived just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to contracts, the war also brought challenges in obtaining materials and labor. Gunderson began welding schools to train the workforce it needed during the war – a practice that was retained and even expanded in peacetime.

multimax

With decks that convert from 2 to 3 levels, the MultiMax represents the cutting edge in auto transport.

Following the war, maritime production continued at the heart of Gunderson’s business. A substantial truck construction, sales and maintenance division remained as well. The company also ventured into water and fuel tanks, dry docks, leaves and canal gates, and structural steel. There were many experiments, failed attempts and missed opportunities along the way, but Gunderson always found success when they needed it and never failed to stop looking for the next opportunity.

Gunderson’s big break in the railroad industry came with an order for 150 steel underframes for the Southern Pacific in the 1950s. The company quickly realized that these “small” projects (compared to shipping barges, tug boats and tankers at least) were profitable and fast – meaning lots of repeat business. The SP liked the product they were getting and continued to up the order – by the end the project had grown to more than 2000 frames.

twin stackIn 1960, Gunderson went from supplying underframes to building the entire car with an order of 200 drop-bottom gondolas for the Union Pacific. The drop-bottom gon is not an easy car to build and when the newcomer to the industry pulled it off, the railroads took notice. Soon Gunderson was expanding their car shops and taking in orders.

The Gunderson’s brothers left the company in the 1960s, with the corporation itself sold to FMC. But the name was changed to the Marine and Rail Equipment Division (MRED) but its reputation for quality continued. Car production expanded through the 1960s and 1970s. The company was an early proponent of welded car construction. It also capitalized greatly on the boxcar boom of the 1970s. FMC production peaked 6.027 freight cars in 1979.

ABOX

The boxcar boom and bust of the 1970s and 80s helped boost and nearly broke the builder. Thirty years later, the cars and company are both survivors.

In 1980 however, the bottom dropped out of the boxcar market. In 1982, the company built a total of just 25 railcars. Rather than throw in the towel, FMC simply continued its tradition of looking for the next big thing. It found it in the intermodal market.

FMC introduced an innovative new intermodal car in partnership with the Santa Fe. Itel later bought the rights to the car and more than 700 more were built for them. These new cars featured 10 articulated platforms, each of which was little more than a frame and a pad for a trailer’s tires. The lightweight car reduced weight and the articulated joints reduced the amount of coupler slack in the train.

centerbeam

Gunderson’s centerbeam flatcars were for the lumber industry what well cars were for intermodal.

In 1984, FMC partnered with Greenbrier to design and build a new double stack well car. As all of this was taking shape, FMC sold off the division. Greenbrier would be the primary shareholder. The Gunderson name was formally returned the company after the transaction with permission from the family. At first there was strong resistance from the railroads to the new double stack cars. Concerns over a high center of gravity and the requirement of higher clearances created real operating challenges for the railroads. With pressure from the container shipping companies however, the railroads began buying the cars. One look at the railroad scene today is all the proof you need of their success.

In addition to intermodal equipment, Gunderson was an early builder of new center partition flat cars or “center beams” for the lumber industry. The new cars greatly reduced loading and unloading times as well as damages while increasing capacity compared to conventional boxcars.

The Gunderson AutoMax is the largest auto rack on the rails.

The Gunderson AutoMax is the largest auto rack on the rails.

And so from the lows of 1982, by 1987 the company commanded a 50% share of the total freight car market for well cars and centerbeam flats. Soon new boxcar and gondola designs were added. In the 1990s, the Husky Stack well car emerged as the new mainstay of their intermodal sales. The Auto-Max articulated autorack came along in 1997. In 1999, the company marked the milestone of its 100,000th railcar.

Today Gunderson continues as part of Greenbrier’s larger family of railcar builders. It’s marine operations also continue to build a variety of craft – completing the circle nearly broken off the shores of Washington more than 130 years ago.

 





Freight Car Friday – Pullman Standard 86′ Boxcars

15 08 2014

We’ve covered auto parts boxcars on Freight Car Friday before, but with the new Pullman Standard 86′ cars coming later this year from Lionel, let’s take a closer look at their specific prototype.

Pullman Standard began production of its 86′ 6″ high cube boxcars in 1964 at its Bessemer, AL facility. They were not the first to release a car of this size, but with the efficiencies of the large boxcars proven and auto makers and railroads demanding cars to the new standard, Pullman Standard jumped on the idea.

Pullman Standard built 14 boxcars for the SLSF in 1967. 10 other railroads received similar cars at the time.

Pullman Standard built 14 boxcars for the SLSF in 1967. 10 other railroads received similar cars at the time.

Production of the large cars came in batches. Typically, one railroad would put in a large order. Additional orders from additional roads would then get tacked on to this production run, sometimes these orders could be even larger than the initial one. Doing this allowed Pullman Standard to save costs by ordering raw materials in larger quantity and reduced downtime in having to stage assembly lines for different products. It was not uncommon for five or more railroads to receive cars at the same time.

Conrail operated the largest fleet of autoparts boxcars with cars coming from its own predecessors and many purchased from other carriers. This is a former PRR car built by Pullman in 1966.

Conrail operated the largest fleet of auto parts boxcars with cars coming from its own predecessors and many purchased from other carriers. This X60G class is a former PRR car built by Pullman in 1966.

While there would be some small changes in the details of these cars over the length of their production, within the order blocks construction was very standard. So cars built at the same time for different railroads will share the same details. Interestingly, this often included the stenciling for data on the finished car. Comparing builders photos shows that once the stencils were cut, workers kept using them – even if it meant a different font or size from what the railroad normally specified.

Many of the cars chosen by Lionel for the first run came from the same production run. Our Frisco cars for example carry the Pennsylvania’s “X-60G” class and the “CUSHIONED CAR” graphics are clearly made from the stenciling used on the PRR cars. The Frisco cars were part of order 9275H, the PRR ordered 10 identical cars on order 9275B. Our Santa Fe and Milwaukee Road cars were also part of this big 1967 order.

The Milwaukee Road ordered 5 cars at the same time as the Frisco car seen above. This too was an "X60G."

The Milwaukee Road ordered 5 cars at the same time as the Frisco car seen above. This too was an “X60G.”

The first order of the cars went to the Pennsylvania, with 152 being assembled in November – December 1964. Add on orders quickly followed for the New York Central and N&W into January. These were all 4-door cars like the Lionel models. As soon as these orders were filled, production shifted to 8-door cars in January, 1965, with the PRR again showing the lead order (50 cars). Add on orders for identical cars came from the B&O, Milwaukee Road, Rock Island, Missouri Pacific, Texas and Pacific, New York Central, Rio Grande, Union Pacific and Southern. Look for Lionel models of these 8-door versions in the future! In total, Pullman put out 476 cars by the end February of 1965.

The Grand Trunk served many auto plants. In addition to cars purchased new, the GT also acquired cars from DT&I.

The Grand Trunk served many auto plants. In addition to cars purchased new, the GT also acquired cars from DT&I. The Lionel models represent prototypes built for DT&I in 1966.

By the time production ended in 1969, the Bessemer plant had turned out 2,689 total boxcars. 2,125 of these were the four-door model with just 564 of the eight-door cars built. The 8-door cars were preferred by General Motors for their Chevrolet and Oldsmobile lines. Ford and Chrysler both specified 4-door cars for their pools and the 4-door cars could be found at some GM plants as well.

The late 1960s were colorful years on American railroads and these boxcars fit right in with that craze. As these cars operated in regular pools between specific plants, it was not uncommon to see cars from several different railroads mixed together in the same train. And as the familiar names on the sides of the cars disappeared into mergers, new bold paint schemes came forward to take their place. The sales of these cars between companies have led to some interesting pedigrees – cars built for the New York Central now work for Union Pacific, while Norfolk Southern and CSX both roster cars originally from the Santa Fe.

Higher Cube? CSX has rebuilt some former Conrail cars to make them even taller! This rebuilt car serving its fourth owner and wearing NYC reporting marks for the second time

Higher Cube? CSX has rebuilt some former Conrail cars to make them even taller! Don’t be fooled by the NYC reporting marks; Pullman Standard built this car for the Pennsylvania.

Today, these cars continue to show up on freight trains in auto parts and other service roles. Some have been repainted four or more times through mergers and sale. Others continue to display their heritage to this day, albeit in well-weathered form. No longer the biggest things on rails, these High-Cube boxcars are still as impressive as they were when they hit the scene nearly 50 years ago.

 





Freight Car Friday – The Juice Train

8 08 2014

Thirsty for a more efficient way of moving fresh product, Tropicana Products teamed with the railroads to create a novel service which remains one of the most distinctive unit trains to be found anywhere, the “Juice Train.” While the cars, the routes and even the railroads have changed since its inception, one thing has always remained constant; keeping “the Juice” moving is a dispatcher’s top priority.

Juice Train

The Juice Train highballs north on CSX on a late spring evening. The train has just crossed the historic Thomas Viaduct near Baltimore and its sweet contents will be on local delivery trucks by tomorrow morning.

The unique operation began in 1970 when Tropicana started shipping juice from its Bradenton, Florida processing plant north in large insulated boxcars. By 1971, 150 new dedicated cars from Fruit Growers Express gave the company enough equipment for several complete unit train sets. The roster was soon expanded to 250 cars, some with refrigeration units added to help maintain temperatures on the hottest days of the year when insulation alone wasn’t quite enough.

Initially the train used Seaboard Coast Line, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac and Penn Central rails on its run from Tampa to Kearny, New Jersey. The last part of the run put the train under the catenary and GG-1 and E44 electric locomotives could often be found on the point.

modern Tropicana car

Tropicana’s newest cars returned to the white color of the first train but with today’s instantly recognizable trademark graphics. The satellite-controlled refrigeration units were but a dream when the original cars were delivered however.

Railroad mergers changed the names to CSX and Conrail. As Conrail rolled back its freight operations on the Northeast Corridor, the route shifted to the nearly parallel CSX, former B&O line north of Alexandria, Virginia before riding former Reading and Lehigh Valley rails. Because of the priority schedule of the train however, it will be rerouted if a derailment or major construction project prevents timely service on the normal route. It has run as far west as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on its trip north.

What started with just two 60-car trains a week has grown to as many as 10 weekly trains, including new runs to Cincinnati, Ohio. Train lengths can vary from as few as a few dozen cars to well over 60 depending on the season. In 1999, a new Jersey City, NJ facility was opened on the north end. A new facility in Ft. Pierce, Florida now sees connecting cars coming from the Florida East Coast Railway as well. And in addition to the New Jersey and Ohio unit trains there are several carloads of juice shipped daily to California’s City of Industry via CSX and Union Pacific – often on the head end of priority double-stack trains for fast handling.

insulated boxcar

Many of the older cars still carry the orange paint scheme. Note the small refrigeration units added below the floor of these insulated boxcars.

Empty cars returning south receive less priority but must still be moved efficiently to ensure a constant supply. At times the cars have returned in solid unit trains. Other times cars were sent back as they were emptied as part of regular mixed-train consists.

Even people who don’t know a lot about trains can easily relate to the taste of fresh orange juice. That makes the Juice Train the perfect marketing tool for all companies involved. And the freight cars themselves are really a major part of this train’s appeal.

CSX reefer

CSX owned reefers show up in the trains as well, some with Tropicana markings.

The Juice Train isn’t just a rolling refrigerator, it’s also a gigantic billboard. The large cars have worn a variety of paint schemes featuring the Tropicana logos – modern “billboard reefers” for sure! At times painted white, orange or even dark blue, the long train of bright cars with the familiar trademarks makes quite a statement as it rolls along its heavily populated corridor. In 2012 the train’s unique character made it the perfect subject for a promotional article and video for General Electric’s locomotives as well as CSX’s performance and service.

There have been several different types of cars used on the Juice Train since 1970, from insulated 50′ boxcars to modern mechanical reefers. In addition to Tropicana’s cars, leased cars from CSX and FGE have also been employed when needed during peak times. The initial order of cars came from FGE. Since then PC&F and Trinity have supplied equipment. Today’s train often includes a mix of the modern white Trinity cars along with some of the older PC&F and FGE cars in a mixture of the new white and older orange schemes.

Whether you enjoy studying freight cars, railroad operations or just a refreshing glass of OJ, the Juice Train is certainly a fun part of the railroad scene!





Freight Car Friday – Pennsylvania GLa Hoppers

1 08 2014

With Lionel’s forthcoming models of the GLa and its copies, it’s worth taking a more in-depth look at the car itself. If one only looks at production numbers alone, the GLa has to rank near the top of any list of notable coal car designs. But of course the big picture is so much more interesting than that.

PRR GL

The precursor to the GLa was the GL. These were the first all-steel hoppers on the PRR. Despite similar classes, the GLa represented a major shift in the engineering behind the cars.

Rapid Innovation

The PRR began building its roster of GLa hoppers in 1904. The design emerged from previous GL, GLc and GLca cars which date back as early as 1898 and marked the beginning of steel hoppers on the PRR. The “G” in GL stood for gondola and the hopper as a car type in general was still early enough in its evolution from the gondola that the name hadn’t yet become common. Also, like the drop-bottom gondolas from which they grew, the strength of these early cars was still found in the frame,  with the sides being just extensions to contain the load.

plans

The GLa introduced an important new design change which allowed the sides of the car to carry more of the load.

Although the  class nomenclature would make it appear that this was just another subset, the GLa was really the start of the next era of PRR hopper design. It lacked the “fishbelly” side sills of the earlier car and instead relied upon the side sheets and posts to provide the structural integrity and support the load. This reduced the light weight of the car and increased capacity. In just a few short years, engineers had already made major strides toward maximizing the efficiencies of steel car design.

By the end of production in 1911, the PRR owned 30,256 GLa cars. Some of these were purchased slightly used from several coal companies. They were among the most common hopper on the railroad for the next fifty years.

Unprecedented Longevity

GLa

By its numbers on the PRR alone, the GLa was the most common hopper in the world at one time.

Despite being an “early” design, the cars held up well and had long careers. How many other car types could have locked couplers with both a H3 Consolidation and an SD45?

From 1917 to 1932, the only retirements seem to be due to wreck damage or normal wear. In fact, the PRR bought some additional GLa cars from some of the coal companies which had clones built for their own service. The fleet dropped by about 4000 during the Depression and then again leveled off for about two decades. Large retirements did not begin until the late 1950s. In 1956, the roster still included some 21,840 cars. To put this into perspective, consider that in 1956 the coal-hauling Reading owned 13,015 hoppers total.

shadow keystone

The PRR introduced the “Shadow Keystone” scheme in 1954, hundreds of GLa’s were repainted.

As late as 1973, 77 cars of this class still showed on the record books for Penn Central. All were likely by that time in company service and so far, no photo of one in PC paint has ever surfaced.

There were some production changes over the years. The more modern Berwind cars for example had power hand brakes and straight profile side posts. Other cars were modified over the years with changes in door locks and coupler draft gear. They were also upgraded from K to AB brakes relatively early. Overall however, the design of the cars remained remarkably consistent over their long careers.

Only one of the 30,256 GLa cars is known to survive. It can be found at the Western New York Railway Historical Society in Hamburg, NY.

Setting the Standard

Berwind

Berwind White owned one of the largest fleets of GLa “clones.” They were a common sight on PRR trains.

The impact of the GLa on the PRR wouldn’t end with just these 30,000+ cars. The GLa also influenced future production on the PRR. Though at first glance they are very different, the H21 four-bay hopper design is essentially a stretched GLa. These cars, huge by standards of the day, made use of the steel manufacturing lessons learned with the GLa. When all subclasses are considered, the H21 represents an additional 39,699 car extension of GLa engineering.

To build its massive roster, the PRR farmed out construction to any builder who could handle the project (which for all-steel freight car construction was a relatively small pool in 1904.) Consequently, these builders each had access to the design and also began building similar or identical cars for other customers. Many of these customers were coal companies in the PRR’s own territory. Berwind White Coal was the largest and most well-known. It had new cars built to GLa dimensions as late as the 1930s and some of their cars lasted into the 1970s. Others would be bought second-hand by the PRR itself.

As builders refined and resold the design, a new “standard” hopper was being developed. Looking back it is easy to see the evolution of what is now known as the “1905 Common Design” cars. We’ll take a closer look at these as the next chapter of the GLa’s story in a future Freight Car Friday blog.