Freight Car Friday – Strange and Unusual Part 2

16 05 2014

Sure there are many freight cars that look alike and many versions of cars that only the “rivet counters” can tell apart. But every now and again something completely different passes by in a train to reward the watcher who doesn’t put their lens cap back on as soon as the locomotives go past. We featured four of these odd characters on a Freight Car Friday post in 2012. This week, let’s look at a few more specialty cars that have evolved to meet the unique needs of customers.

Calcium Carbide Car

calcium carbide

CCKX 720 carries an interesting load of calcium carbide casks through Nebraska.

The small casks on this car look similar to the coke casks available for Lionel’s scale gondola car. The load isn’t coke however,  but calcium carbide (CAC2).

Calcium carbide is primarily used in the making of acetylene. This is created when the calcium carbide is mixed with water – hence the dangerous when wet placards on the containers. Calcium carbide is also used in some steel making operations. Toy collectors may also know it from its use in some toy cannons.

Thirty small 5,000 pound casks are loaded on a flatcar and tied down with four large covers. Although hard to see, there are small bulkheads at the ends of the car to keep the loads from shifting. When they arrive at their destination, the casks can be placed on top of a small tower and emptied from the bottom hopper.

Notice that each container and the flat car carry warning placards. The flatcar is also labeled “DO NOT HUMP.” The reporting marks belong to Carbide Industries. This car was spotted heading east along the edge of Union Pacific’s massive yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

Can Stock Car

Canstock car

CSX 504123 shows its offset door.

All boxcars look alike? Not really. While it was traditionally the railroads’ catch-all car, boxcars have become increasingly specialized since the 1960s. Whether it’s a giant high-cube for auto parts, or a kaolin car with roof hatches, the demands of different loads can create many interesting construction variations. One of the more rare modifications to boxcars are a select few customized for can stock service.

Can stock is, as the name implies, thin steel or aluminum used primarily in making metal cans. Unlike other steel coils carried in coil cars or gondolas, these are best transported by boxcar. In order to maximize the payload in these cars, the B&O went to Pullman Standard with a request for new cars in 1972. Moving both doors closer to one end of the car better accommodated the lift trucks and pushed the capacity to 8 coils from 6.

With the doors both offset toward the “A” end of the car (without the brake wheel) a plexiglass panel was added to the roof near the “B” end to allow some light in to the far end of the car. These panels were later replaced as along with the light, they also let in water.

Only 75 of these offset door cars were built. Over the years they have worn B&O, Chessie and CSX emblems.

Vinegar Tank Car

Vinegar Tank

SBIX 1634 is preserved at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.

Looking like something from another era, wood-sided tank cars remained the best mode of transportation for vinegar well into the mid-1900s.

Vinegar is highly corrosive to metal and would have destroyed the early steel tank cars. Today, special liners can be applied to prevent this problem. Steel was used for the frame and bulkheads however which gave the car the structural integrity necessary to be handled in trains of all-steel cars. Although not all cars were painted this way, the silver paint seen on SBIX 1634 was a common way of keeping the contents cooler by reflecting the sun’s rays.

At least three vinegar tanks survive in museums in St. Louis, Toronto and North Freedom, Wisconsin.

Hot Ingot Car

hot ingot car

Looking like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, LHFX 25000 carries a steel ingot fresh from the furnace.

The steel industry is a haven for interesting railroad equipment. These hot ingot cars are no exception! Looking like something designed to haul top-secret military loads or nuclear material, it’s just hot steel now. But when Lehigh Heavy Forge is finished, that steel could easily be headed to a Navy yard or nuclear power plant.

Lehigh Heavy Forge operates out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are the only open-die forging company in the Western Hemisphere and produce an amazing variety of heavy forged parts for power generation, the military and industrial applications. Formed in 1997, the company carries on the rich steel legacy in this historic steel town.

The special steel used in many of their applications is produced not far away in Steelton, PA. The ingots are shipped hot to Bethlehem for forging. These heavy cars, originally belonging to Bethlehem Steel, carry the ingots inside well insulated covers. The cars can also be used to ship product to other regional mills for finishing. Because of the time-sensitive nature of the loads, it was not uncommon for Conrail or Norfolk Southern to run a dedicated train or place the cars on the head-end of priority intermodal trains to get them to their destination quickly.

Lehigh Heavy Forge has a handful of cars like this, but in classic steel industry tradition, no two are exactly the same. They would certainly make an interesting, and challenging, modeling project.

Cars like those seen this week are a great example of what makes freight cars such a great learning tool. What starts off as a curious car in a passing train can open a window into the history and operations of a whole new industry. What will the next train teach you?


Freight Car Friday – Cars for Chemicals

8 06 2012

Most modelers are at least familiar with the operations and railcars of many industries. Logging, mining, steel making, manufacturing – these are all well supported in hobby texts and magazines and they pop up frequently on model railroads. The giant umbrella of “the chemical industry” is a little less obvious. Although it includes many different traffic sources, railroads often group all of these industries into the same family as their operating needs are similar.

chemical tanks

In the foreground is a tank car for Titanium Dioxide, a compound which sounds scary but can be found in toothpaste, sunscreen and solar panels. In the background, tank cars placarded as “hot” contain asphalt.

Not only are the needs of many different chemical companies similar, in today’s world of big corporations, many are different divisions of the same large company. And since different products are often byproducts of other processes, these plants are often located in close proximity to each other. A good example of this is with petrochemicals – that is chemical products that all come from oil.

While fuel and heating are the most obvious and common uses of oil, the refining process produces many other gasses which are used in everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals.

chemical covered hopper

Canadian National painted one side of this special car for the commodity it carries – Hexamethylene-1,6-diisocyanate, used to make paint.

Consequently, it is common to find many related industries clustered near refineries. The “Chemical Coasts” around Houston, Texas and in New Jersey and Delaware are good examples. Trains headed to and from these points will almost certainly carry a lot of traffic in covered hoppers and tank cars. So for the modeler, a chemistry degree is not always necessary to build an accurate picture of railroad operations around the industry.An advantage to modelers is that many cars do display information that can be helpful in identifying the commodities carried inside for the help of emergency responders. Non-hazardous materials are also commonly displayed on the sides of cars to prevent reloading with different materials. With this basic knowledge you can do some quick research to figure out what it is used for. A little research reveals just how important these industries are to modern life as we know it.

Freight Cars

chemical tank car

In our increasingly litigious world, chemical companies have moved away from bold graphics advertising their products to more subdued paint schemes on potentially hazardous loads.

Without getting into great specifics, there are two types of railcars most associated with chemical traffic. The first thing most modelers think of is tank cars. Tank cars carry liquid chemicals in many varieties and are often quite specialized. Heavier cars are carried in smaller cars. Some feature insulation and heating coils. Others have special vents, interior linings and unloading attachments. Once assigned to a particular commodity, tank cars can not be switched to a different load without an extensive cleaning.

plastics hopper

Modern plastics covered hoppers feature large capacities, and frequently have multiple small loading hatches on the top and four hopper bays for unloading.

Dry chemicals are carried in bulk aboard covered hoppers. Again, these come with a variety of sizes, shapes and features based on the specifics of the load. Plastics are one of the more common loads today and travel in very large covered hoppers. Powdered chemicals often requires with pneumatic attachments to assist in unloading. Most of these cars are painted a fairly bland gray today, but more colorful cars can be seen and were more common in the 1960s and 1970s.


chlorine tank

PPGX 1751 is loaded with chlorine.

Not every chemical car is a hazardous load. And not all haz-mats are equally dangerous, nor can they be dealt with the same way. Ethanol for example, while highly flammable, poses less of a risk to wildlife during a spill than gasoline or even milk. (Milk is considered a hazardous material in bulk as it depletes oxygen levels and promotes bacterial growth in water and can kill water life.) Today, cars carying hazardous materials are required to display information on placards and often on the tank itself as to its contents. Railroad operators also keep careful track of a train’s loads and empties on manifest sheets. Some cars are still considered dangerous even when empty.

ethanol train

Unit trains of ethanol are common on the rails today (and easily modeled with our tank cars.) The first and last cars of the train are always buffer cars – and can be just about any empty car the railroad chooses to add – providing a little variety to the consist.

Railroads generally offer the safest mode of transportation for these materials however, so placarded cars are quite common. Some loads require special handling instructions. For example, today many hazardous tank cars can not be placed next to a locomotive, caboose or a car with a load that could shift and puncture the tank. These extra handling instructions can mean extra work for the real railroads, but offer a chance for more operating fun on our layouts.

You may not always be able to pronounce some of the compounds you’ll find in tank cars and covered hoppers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become an important part of your railroad knowledge and fun. You may find that this is just one more way in which learning about trains helps promote a much broader interest in the world around us.