Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Covered hoppers for grain haulage revolutionized freight car design and rates in the 1960s

Scott Thomas posted
These things are huge and would tip a boxcar
 30 degrees off center and 45 degrees end to end!
For over a 100 years, the railroad was willing to haul anything as long as you could stuff it into a boxcar. With the development of steel freight cars at the beginning of the 20th century, the boxcar was 40' and carried (just) 50-55 tons as late as the 1960s. We have already seen examples of the auto industry laboriously loading cars in boxcars. Liquids were stored in barrels and rolled and then stacked in boxcars. Grain quickly changed from the bags used by water transport (canals and steamboats) to bulk transport by placing a wood barrier over most of the opening of the boxcar. Since grain was hauled from small country elevators to big port (e.g. ocean going ships) or plant (e.g. flour, corn syrup, soybean oil) elevators, the destination elevators could afford these big unloaders to empty the grain.

On the posting in the caption, I raised the question of how did they fill up the ends of a car? Part of the answer is that they did not fill it. Since a boxcar could hold only 50 tons, it was just over half full. That would explain why the wooden door barrier could remain open at the top. The smaller elevators used men with shovels filling up the ends first, then the middle. Frank Snyder provided another answer:
It's been 40+ years ago since saw it, but our local elevator had a conveyor belt that threw the grain to the ends. They were on the Rock Island tracks, but after that was abandoned, they had to truck the grain a few blocks to the Burlington tracks.

One conveyor (or auger, can't remember exactly) took it to the top of the door opening. Then a short conveyor running at high speed, 90 degrees to the first one, shot the grain to the ends.
Jacob Hortenstine a pipe shot the grain towards the end of the box car and they leveled it with scoop shovels. Kalmbach put out a book about grain handling worth the price very informative
Jacob Hortenstine box cars only held 50ton picture in the Kalmbach book showed cars only loaded a little over half way up sides the book has a lot of nice photos covers steam era to modern days
Brandon M. Worf describes my understanding of how it works:
Looks to me like it would first tilt the car "sidewise" (laterally) after the door is opened. Once the level of grain is low enough to where flow is slowed (or stops), it tilts the car lengthwise in one direction first, then the opposite second to get the stuff in the corners.
Some more comments of interest.

Doug Gartner Both Cargil elevators here in Topeka Kansas had that monster machine up until just a few years ago. I never seen it in action. I believe the last time they used it was probably in the early to mid-70s.

Carolyn Guthrie Wouldn't it dump the oil out of the journal boxes?


Michael Kunasek provided as a comment on the above posting
Patent 1146267
Lionel LLC
The aluminum carbodies weathered extensively over the years.
Car 7966 still carries its original paint with few modifications in 2008.
But by 1960, the federally funded Inland Waterway System and the Interstate highways were allowing barge and truck companies to charge rates lower than what the ICC required railroads to charge. So the grain traffic was shifting from boxcars to trucks and barges.

Rather than argue with the ICC that the truck and barge rates were unfair pricing, D. William Brosnan (1903-1985), the Southern Railway CEO (1962-1967) invested in "the first lightweight, mostly aluminum 100-ton coal hoppers, 100-ton Big John covered grain hoppers, centralized computing, radio-controlled helper locomotives, and microwave communications. Brosnan was Railway Age's Railroader of the Year in 1964." [TO20030416, msg jch9596]

Southern worked with the Magor Car Company to produce in 1960 a covered hopper made with aluminum that could carry 97 tons of grain. "The cars featured four compartments so that multiple types of grain could be shipped in the same car. An additional order, with a 100 ton capacity, arrived in 1961-1962. Twelve round roof hatches were used for loading and there were eight discharge outlets on the bottom of the car (four on each side of the center sill.) In addition to the Southern, the Soo and Seaboard Coast Line purchased similar cars."  The cars were nearly twice as large as existing covered hoppers. This allowed the Southern to slash their rates from $10.50/ton to $3.97. " Now it was the competition filing injunctions with the ICC against the railroad’s lower 'unfair' rates." [Lionel LLC]

The ICC denied the lower rates so Southern took the case to Federal Court. It ultimately went to the Supreme Court. Southern evidently not only used bigger capacity cars to lower rates, they must have introduced the notion that if multiple cars are travelling as a block of cars, then the rate per car should be lower. A unit train is the ultimate "block of cars." "The Supreme Court ruled in the Southern's favor in 1/1965, but the ICC dilly-dallied until 9/1965 before finally approving the multi-car rate." Because of the use of aluminum, the gross weight of the 100-ton cars was 263,000 lb. [TO20100807, msg frankg290]

"In 1965, Southern went back to Magor for 500 “Super Big Johns” with an even greater capacity of 130 tons. These cars were 61 feet long, 15 feet tall and came at a cost of nearly $12 million. These cars also featured a long center loading trough in the roof of the car." [Lionel LLC]

In the meantime, ACF was developing covered hoppers without the center sill so that it could have bigger unloading hoppers in the middle of the car. These were evidently called "center-flow" cars. This is similar to the "uni-body" change in the 1960s and 70s that happened with tank freight cars and automobiles. That is, the metal sides of the car functioned as the car's frame. My 1971 Torino had a frame, but my wife's 1973 Nova was a uni-body.

Other industries also joined the revolution for bigger, easier-to-load, purpose-built freight cars. Notably, the auto rack was introduced in the 1960s.

After saw mills developed the technology to wrap bundles of wood in plastic, special cars were developed so that forklifts could easily load wide bundles. The forklifts must have some sort of gripper attachment instead of the usual forks because there are no pallets under the bundles.
20141120-21 0160, Note this is a Wisconsin Central car.

And special articulated cars (multiple platforms) were developed for piggyback and container traffic. The development of the deep-well car allowed containers to be stacked. The initial articulated cars were 6-pack and 10-pack. But I noticed the industry now uses 1-, 3-, and 5-pack cars.
20141120-21 0520

Paper products continued to use boxcars, but they became longer and higher. Note the white strip along the top of the end of the later generation car (on the right) to indicate the "excess height." Also note that they have double doors so that it is easier to drive a forklift into them. The newer design has plug doors so that the inside walls are flush when the door is closed.

Back in the 1960s, rail was jointed (39' lengths) rather than CWR (Continuous Welded Rail). I have done some research on the weights that different routes can handle, but that quickly became a topic for another day. But I am going to note the following for future reference:
Since I'm one of the people who did the research that moved the industry to 286,000 lb. cars, I can explain. We started a study of the costs and benefits of overloading 100 ton coal hoppers on BN in 1987. As it happened, given the size (4000 cubic feet) of the cars, and the size of the heap determined by coal's angle of repose, the cars could physically hold enough coal to bring total gross weight to 286,000 lbs. So that's what it became.
Another part of the study looked at new car designs for both 286K and 315K cars. The 315K cars were an economic "no go", since they cost more per cubic foot of capacity than the 286K cars (larger wheels and axles, mostly) and had a poorer net-to-tare ratio.
A standard coal hopper weights about 60,000 lbs. With a 286K weight limit, it can carry 226,000 lbs. of coal, or 113 tons. Aluminum coal gondolas in service today weigh as little as 42,000 lbs., meaning they can carry 244,000 lbs., or 122 tons of coal. A comparable 315K aluminum hopper weighs about 55,000 lbs., so can carry 260.000 lbs. of coal or 130 tons. But the 122-ton car weighs less relative to its capacity, and costs less too. That's why you don't see the industry moving to 315K cars. [TO20050114, msg rresor]
Also, the length of the car impacts the weight of a car because longer cars have less total weight on bridges and other substructures.

Update: Wayne Hudak posted two photos with the comment:
I am no good at identifying these little yard rats. Taken at a Cargill grain elevator in Denver. Note the "Q" and Northern Pacific boxcars still being used for grain hauling in 1979

For reference, I include a 55-ton, 40-foot boxcar that was the industry standard for so many decades.
Jim A. Fuhrmann posted
40' single-door boxcar 57277, at Perth, Kansas July 1983.
[The reason these did not grow in length for a long time was because so many freight houses and industrial buildings were built with freight doors on 40-foot centers. But after less-than-carload freight moved from the railroads to trucks or containers, most of these buildings became obsolete and boxcars grew longer.]

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