Freight Car Friday – Patriotic Freight Cars

25 05 2012

Over the years, railroads have often painted equipment to honor special events and our country. While locomotives tend to draw the most attention, freight cars too have been customized for the cause.

Coal goes to War

The Pennsylvania and other railroads supported the WWII war effort in many ways – slogans on freight cars being one of their smaller contributions.

During World War II, the Pennsylvania Railroad stenciled many of its boxcars and cabooses with “BUY WAR BONDS” and hoppers with “COAL GOES TO WAR” banners. The messages were repeated in their advertising as they reminded passengers and shippers of the role the railroad – and tens of thousands of its employees who were now on the front lines – were playing in the all-out effort. The “COAL GOES TO WAR” slogan could also be found on some hoppers of the Interstate Railroad.


Far more colorful were hoppers painted for the Bicentennial in 1976. Certainly among the most flamboyant paint schemes ever worn by a coal car!

The nation’s Bicentennial in 1976 saw locomotives on at least a dozen railroads painted in red, white and blue. At least three hopper cars also saw commemorative paint – one on the Norfolk and Western and two on the Cambria and Indiana – a short line in western Pennsylvania. Cabooses too were a popular choice for special paint.

Savings Bonds

Savings Bonds cars could be found on Conrail, B&LE and L&N.

In the 1980s, Conrail decorated a boxcar with a shower of red, white and blue stars and “BUY US SAVINGS BONDS” lettering. An SD40 was painted to match. The boxcar was eventually sold to Yorkrail, who painted over the Conrail markings but left the stars intact. The Bessemer and Lake Erie and Louisville and Nashville had Savings Bonds cars as well.


Wisconsin and Southern has painted several boxcars in commemorative schemes – many in support of the country and its servicemen and women.

In more recent years, regional railroad Wisconsin Southern has been busy painting many cars for special causes, including cars for breast cancer awareness and all five branches of the armed services. It is great to see the tradition continue. After all, a few gallons of paint is a small price to pay to show appreciation for the sacrifices that we remember this weekend.

President Cars

Lionel’s most patriotic cars are still to come!

In addition to models of these prototypical cars, Lionel has produced many other patriotic cars and locomotives over the years. Look for that trend to continue in 2012 with our Made In The USA boxcars. (You’ll see more official word on that project soon.) So get out your red, white and blue locomotives and cars, show your colors and your thanks, and celebrate Memorial Day in style on your model railroad this weekend!

Freight Car Friday – Railroad Advertising

11 05 2012

Railroads have long used their freight cars as brands for their “product.” These catchy slogans have in many ways become part of a broader popular culture and connection with these companies. Different than the billboard cars of private owners, railroad branding was about the trains themselves – often passenger trains but premier service of any type has been fair game.

See how many of these famous freight cars you recognize. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list so chime in and tell us your favorites. Model your own “freelanced” railroad?  What’s your company slogan?

Santa Fe mapSanta Fe

The Santa Fe’s route map and named-train boxcars and reefers have to be among the most famous and effective of these advertising tools. One side of the cars featured a line drawing of the Santa Fe’s principle routes and major cities served. This was aimed at passengers and freight agents alike in search of single-line direct service across the Southwest.

On the opposite side of the car, Santa Fe used the blank space on the boxcar to advertise one of its elite passenger trains. With more than half-a-dozen trains listed, there was variety even amidst a string of “identical” cars. The huge graphics stood out in any train to catch the eye of anybody waiting for the train to pass.


The Santa Fe wasn’t the only railroad to use its freight cars to advertise its passenger trains. The Seaboard’s Silver Meteor was the way to travel between the Northeast and Florida. And the hint at a fast and friendly trip to vacation land was just what the worker needed as he looked across the loading dock to the boxcar on the siding.


You didn’t have to be a huge railroad like the Santa Fe to be proud of the region you served. The Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville, better known as the Monon, was always eager to show its Indiana Hoosier pride. Not only were boxcars emblazoned with its “Hoosier Line” slogan, its diesels were later painted in the colors of some of the six colleges and universities served by the regional line. (Red and White for Wabash College and Indiana University, Black and Gold for Depauw and Purdue.)

Western Pacific

Sometimes there was a specific part of the railroad that lent itself to promotion. The Western Pacific’s scenic route through the Feather River Canyon was a major draw on trains like the California Zephyr but the railroad found even more uses for it. From the “Feather River Route” came this creative slogan for careful service that would ensure your load arrived on time and in one piece as it “Rides Like a Feather.”

State of MaineState of Maine

Bridging the line between railroad advertising and product advertising were the famous red, white and blue boxcars and reefers shared by both the Bangor and Aroostook and New Haven railroads. The cars proudly showed that they carried products from the great state of Maine. This scheme was rekindled in more recent years by the Montreal Maine and Atlantic.

The Old ReliableLouisville and Nashville

Nothing to bold or flashy for the L&N, just a simple slogan that says it all. “The Old Reliable” – the railroad you’ve known and come to trust for generations and that you can continue to count on for all your traveling and shipping needs.

We could go on with this list for days. “Southern Serves the South” “We Can Handle It” “Mainline of Mid-America” “The Road of Anthracite” What slogans stick out in your memory? Which ones grace the rails on your layout?



Railroad Operations – The Interchange

18 04 2012

Look at a typical freight train anywhere in North America today and you’re bound to find cars from every corner of the continent. So, how did that Burlington Northern boxcar show up in New York? If “Southern Serves the South,” why can you find their boxcars on trains in Minnesota? The answer is the interchange.

Simple Interchange

This simple interchange would be perfect for a small model railroad. Once a connecting track between a Reading branch line and the Pennsylvania's mainline at Salunga, PA, today this marks the connection between the Landisville Railroad and Amtrak (Norfolk Southern.) The curved track with the boxcars is the old connection. The PRR mainline can be seen under catenary in the background. These two cars are spotted for a local lumber yard. Three more cars for interchange with NS are hidden just behind the stacks of lumber. A simple siding like this gives you two industries in one!

Simply put, an interchange is a point at which two different rail lines meet and can exchange cars. Sometimes entire trains change hands, sometimes there is a siding where individual cars can be picked up or set off to make the connection. The practice of interchanging cars means once a shipper loads a car, that load won’t be touched again until it arrives at its destination. It also allows railroads to cooperate and serve customers to which they could never afford to extend their tracks. For trackside observers, interchange makes every train an opportunity to see something new. For modelers, it gives license to add bits of all your favorite railroads to your layout with complete authenticity.There is more to the interchange than just handing over a car however. For an interchange to work, all of the cars exchanged must meet the same set of standards. From the gauge of the wheels to the height of the couplers, to the maximum weight and height, to the size of standard parts like journals and brakes, to the lettering on the sides of the cars – if standards aren’t established and met, cars may not fit on another railroad, attach to other equipment, be repaired offline if something goes wrong, or even be understood and routed by other employees. The first summit to create standards for interchange in the United States was reached this week in 1866 (April 20 to be exact.) But there were agreements between railroads and limited exchange of cars prior this, especially in the northeastern part of the United States.

Apache Interchange

An interchange can be a colorful spot. Here at Holbrook, Arizona, Apache RR Alco's can be seen next to modern BNSF GE's and EMD's on their busy ex-Santa Fe mainline. If you can't decide on a favorite railroad - pick a place where you can model more than one!

As the rail network grew following the Civil War, increased standardization and cooperation would be necessary. But all of this free-exchange of cars wasn’t really free. If a customer’s shipment needed to travel over multiple rail lines to reach its destination, each company wanted its share of the rate. But no customer wanted to put up with the hassle of booking their shipment on two, three or even more railroads. And rabid competition between companies often led to widely varying rates between railroads and even between different destinations and for different commodities on the same railroad.

While the railroads themselves, through organizations like the Master Car Builders Association, established many of the physical standards for interchange (maximum car weights, standard journal sizes, common data decoration, etc.), the Interstate Commerce Commission became the ultimate arbiter of shipping rates. Standard rates for varying commodities, assigned based on mileage, were established to simplify things. (Although they still weren’t all that simple.) Customers would pay one railroad company (usually the one that delivered the car) and railroad billing departments would take care of the rest. Each carrier that had a hand in moving the car would be paid their fair share.


The big railroads interchange too. Here at Barstow, California, mainlines from Los Angeles and northern California converge from the west, and BNSF and Union Pacific mainlines split to the east. Once the site of a bustling passenger operation, a large freight yard still remains at this critical crossroads. The station and museum here are a great place to safely observe railroad operations in person. (The sunsets aren't too shabby either!)

There were also rates and regulations for empty cars to prevent a railroad from hoarding cars from other roads or routing competitors cars to less-friendly connections. Multiply these many rates and rules by the number of shippers by the tens of thousands of cars rolling along the rails at any given point and you can see why railroads had to employ thousands of workers whose daily processing of train movements never took them anywhere near the tracks.

The ability with which railroads accurately tracked all of these cars and their charges in days long before a computer was imagined is astounding and bewildering. But from a modelers’ perspective, we’re fortunate enough to just enjoy the fruits of all that labor. Simply by having a mixed consist of freight, you imply an active interchange on your line. But if you like operations, modeling an interchange is an easy addition to any layout.

Since an interchange is just a track which connects your railroad to another, adding one to your layout could be as simple as adding a siding. You could go further and have the connecting line disappear into a tunnel or simply end at the edge of the platform (just add a block to keep cars from going too far!) to imply the tracks continue to go somewhere. You could also build a more functional junction between separate tracks and exchange trains between two different lines. Setting off or picking up cars at the interchange is a great way to add a little operations to your layout, and unlike other industries that typically only get boxcars or hoppers, the interchange can handle any type of traffic.

The Song of the Rails

17 04 2012

Railroads have had more than their share of influence over our popular culture. Nowhere is that easier to see than in our music. Since their arrival in the 1830s, trains have chuffed, chugged and locomotioned their way into song. Sometimes the songs are about the trains themselves, often the train is a metaphor for something larger. From Bluegrass to Folk to Rock and Roll, the rhythm of the rails remains a popular theme in our music to this day.

Songs About Trains


Trains became part of our popular culture as they became part of our daily lives.

The number of tunes which make mention of trains is too great to count. We’ve had Crazy Trains, Love Trains, Peace Trains, Party Trains, Ghost Trains, Leavin’ Trains, Mystery Trains, Downbound Trains, Runaway Trains, Fast Trains, Slow Trains, Last Trains even Soul Trains. From the 3:10 to Yuma and to the Midnight Train to Georgia, Engine #9 to the Little Red Caboose, for the engineer, conductor, gandy dancer, porter and hobo, from the station to the subway to the endless miles of lonely rails, whether you Take the A Train or the Last Train to Clarksville, if you are connected to trains there is a ballad for you.


Trains and music go hand in hand - so commemorative cars like this Lionel Elvis train are a natural fit.

From childhood classics to spirituals, to modern dance jams, whether it is just an extension of the fascination with trains or the 4/4 timing and rhythm of a steam locomotive – a train just lends itself well to music. What is even more amazing is the number of songs written not just about trains, but about specific railroads, trains, wrecks and events.

From the Wreck of the Ol’ 97 to the Orange Blossom Special, many popular songs have come from specific trains and railroads. Trains were the way we traveled and connected and events on the rails were national events. Some songs helped shape the way the world looked at railroads and railroaders. The Ballad of Casey Jones forever changed the way an engineer and a tragic-but-preventable accident are remembered.

train in the distance

"Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance." - Paul Simon

Not only the songs, but many artists have made trains a part of their public persona. Johnny Cash, Rod Stuart and of course, Niel Young come to mind almost immediately when we think of railroads and musicians.

One song became so popular that a railroad named a train after it! The Wabash Cannonball was so popular that the Wabash renamed its flagship train between Detroit and St. Louis in 1949. The origins of the song date from 1882 and 1904 and its popularity began to skyrocket in the 1930s with recordings by the Carter Family and Roy Acuff.

The Train as a Symbol

Perhaps Paul Simon sums it up best, “There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.” Of course that long, low whistle has been


The railroad has become part of our landscape, both physical and cultural.

interpreted as mournful and foreboding as well. The image of a train has been used for everything from death to freedom. It has been a journey home and a ticket to a new life. It has been both nostalgic and a new beginning.City of New Orleans is a song about an Illinois Central train, but really speaks more to the troubles of America as a whole. In Bruce Springsteen’s Land of Hope and Dreams, the train extolls the best of American values and ideals. The freedom of a train is a much more painful longing in Johnny Cash’s classic Folsom Prison Blues. In Josh Turner’s contemporary country classic Long Black Train it is temptation.

What are your favorite train songs? Which of the ones we mentioned here will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day?