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 – The Many Faces of Trailer Train

4 05 2012

If you stand trackside anywhere in North America, it is hard to miss the bright yellow cars of Trailer Train – now TTX Corporation. What originated as an equipment pool for new “piggyback” business has grown into a multi-faceted company serving the railroads’ needs for freight cars of all shapes and sizes.


brown flatcars

A few cars from the brown Trailer Train era survived into the next millennium - this one lasting long enough to be given a quick makeover with the newest logo in 2009.

Trailer Train Corporation began in 1955 as an independent railroad leasing company owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Norfolk and Western and Rail-Trailer Corporation. These companies were all exploring the concept of Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC) or “Piggyback” trains to haul less-than-carload and express traffic in truck trailers aboard flatcars. One of the biggest drawbacks to starting the new service was the cost and risk associated with a major capital investment in new equipment. Although it was a separate company, the Pennsylvania contributed heavily to the corporation both in finances and staff. As time marched on, additional railroads bought into the company.

centerbeam flatcar

Along with a bold new color, Trailer Train continued to grow and diversify its business in the 1970s and 1980s

By creating a separate company, the individual railroads reduced their debt loads and risk while at the same time creating an even and efficient pool to simplify the car movements and improve service overall. The first Trailer Train cars were 75 foot flatcars designed to haul a pair of trailers. The cars, like the majority of freight equipment of the era, was painted a shade of “boxcar red.” There were of course many varieties on this reddish-brown color among railroads, and operating conditions and age also played a tremendous role in determining the color of the paint.



Trailer Train expanded into the car carrying business in 1961. By then, only 10% of finished automobiles were moving by rail.

The piggyback business proved succesful, and Trailer Train continued to grow. Intermodal traffic is still at the heart of the company’s business today. Like the flatcars which started it all, today’s TTX roster is always on the forefront of innovative rollingstock. Now well and spine cars have largely replaced the standard flatcar in intermodal service, but there is no shortage of flatcars in the fleet.

Double Stack

From flatcars to doublestacks, TTX has always stayed on the edge of the always-changing intermodal industry.

In addition to growing to support the burgeoning intermodal business, Trailer Train expanded its services greatly in the 1960s and 1970s. Flat cars for new autocarriers were a natural expansion. Railroads could purchase their own racks and mount them on a Trailer Train flatcar. The cars then operated in pools just like the intermodal equipment to simplify billing and car utilization.

Additional flatcars were soon added to the roster including shorter general service cars, bulkhead flatcars, cars used for construction, farming and military equipment, and specialized heavy-duty and depressed-center cars for oversized loads.


Trailer Train started Railbox service in 1974 - the bright yellow boxcars have been a fixture ever since.

In 1974, in response to a national shortage in boxcars, Trailer Train created Railbox to ease demand. The national pool operated like their flatcars on whatever railroad needed the car next. Five years later, Railgon was created for a similar problem with general service gondolas.

Changing Images

The most noticeable change in Trailer Train’s image from trackside started in 1970 when

New Image

TTX continues to stand for modern quality service everywhere.

the company began painting its cars in the now-familiar yellow and black paint scheme. The bold colors greatly improved the visibility of the cars and the company.

In 1991, Trailer Train became TTX Corporation. This created a change in markings but the color and operating plans of the equipment and company remained the same. Another logo change happened in 2009, and the new red TTX logo has begun showing up on well cars, autoracks and boxcars.

TTX remains a major player in the freight car market, and will be for decades to come. For more on the company’s history and equipment, check out the history page of their website.

Freight Car Friday – Auto Carriers

25 11 2011

Railroads have been carrying finished automobiles since the days of the Model T. For nearly forty years, vehicles were carried in boxcars. Because of their large size and relatively light weight, conventional cars were very inefficient. Railroads attempted new boxcar designs, like the Pennsylvania’s X31, to increase capacity and added larger side and even end-doors to make loading and unloading easier.


Although small by today's standards, automobile cars like the X31 boxcar pushed the clearance limits when new.

In the 1960s however, after Trailer-on-Flatcar trains had paved the way for longer cars, railroads began looking at the same flat cars for transporting smaller vehicles. Platforms, or racks, attached to the deck of the flat car allowed vehicles to be stacked two or three high. Bi-level racks are used for trucks and vans, tri-levels for automobiles. The efficiency in loading and handling these cars made them an immediate success on railroads with the clearances to handle them.

SLSF bilevel rack

Two-level racks like this Frisco car (6-26082) are used for trucks, vans and SUV's.

In most cases, railroads purchased the racks and welded them onto flat cars leased from Trailer Train Corporation. Some railroads own the entire car. Autoracks, like intermodal equipment, are operated in pools. Railroads supply cars to the nationwide pool which simplifies billing and optimizes car utilization. The amount of cars supplied to the pool is proportional to the amount used. This means that any autorack can show up in any train, making auto trains a colorful mix of railroads from across the continent.

CN Rack

Autoracks operate in shared pools, so you can see almost any railroad's racks in a train near you.

Beginning in the 1980s, railroads began adding protective side panels to the sides of the cars to prevent damage from vandals throwing rocks. End doors and roofs soon followed. These were all necessary to reduce damage claims caused by man and nature. The addition of car roofs however made them too tall again for many railroads and prompted some to raise clearances. The latest security features have been focused on reducing damage to the loads from spray paint which blows throw the ventilation holes in the panels when the racks are hit with graffiti.

PRR Tri level rack

Three-level racks are used for automobiles. Damage from icicles and vandals prompted railroads to add protective layers to racks in the 1980s.

Other changes to the cars include better coupler cushioning devices to reduce damage from coupling and slack. Articulated racks take the concept a step further and eliminate one coupling by joining two cars on an articulated joint. Even larger cars have also emerged, again filling the templates proven by larger intermodal cars. Cars capable of carrying three tiers of trucks and vans are now on the rails, running on the same routes that can handle double-stack containers.

articulated rack

Articulated autoracks like these can carry more and reduce coupler slack and friction in long trains.

The automotive industry continues to be one of the railroads’ best customers, both in receiving parts and shipping finished loads. Although short-haul delivery is often done by trucks, finished vehicle moves greater than 300 miles still generally move by rail. With production centered just a few assembly plants nationwide, the autorack should have a strong presence on the rails for years to come.