Monday, July 27, 2015

Silk and Horse Trains

I learned the following from a posting in the "Abandoned Rails" Facebook group.

Christopher Escott started my education by posting this picture with the comment "48 ft 16 stall horse car. One of 2 in 1964." He added the information:
These cars were utilized for exclusive transport of race horses. As trucking was not an option back then. The horse cars were lashed into high speed silk trains as they were a very time sensitive cargo. Never on passenger consists.
And Ron Pearson commented:
CN also used modified baggage cars for the movement of show stock to the different fairs like the one in Toronto. Can remember them coming through Symington complete with stock men to look after them. Prize cattle, horses and other stock. Now they move by road or air.
In response to a question of why would silk have a speed priority, Ron explained:
Because the raw silk could deteriorate quickly. This article gives an insight .. deals with CP but the same held for CN Silk Train, the term used to describe CPR cargo trains carrying expensive shipments of Oriental raw silk. The trains sped from Vancouver to merchants in eastern Canada and the US, from 1900 to the 1930s. The valuable cargo deteriorates rapidly and the market fluctuated daily, so speed, security and safety were essential. Silk arriving by CP ship in Vancouver was loaded into airtight train cars specially lined with varnished wood, sheathed in paper and sealed so that no damaging moisture or thieves could intrude. Armed guards were the only passengers. Trains of up to 15 cars rushed from Vancouver to Ft William [Thunder Bay] in 15 hours less than the fastest passenger train. The silk trains had preference over any others on the tracks: once a train carrying Prince Albert, later King George VI, was held on a siding while a silk train went through. The trains were discontinued in the 1930s with the advent of air transportation and man-made fibres.

In July 1925, the first silk train special left the Port of Vancouver containing eight sealed baggage cars lined with a special paper to protect the shipment from dampness and dust. It was guarded by two armed C.N. Police. The cargo was worth approximately two million dollars.

In October 1927, the biggest C.N. silk train left the Port of Vancouver enroute to the National Silk Exchange in New York. The train consisted of some 21 express cars in two sections and contained 7,200 bales of silk worth seven million dollars.The "Silker", as it was known, was not operated by any special crew, but by the crew that happened to be "next up" on the board. The locomotives used were fast locomotives that had been designed for high speeds in passenger service. Despite speeds of up to 90 miles an hour, there were few recorded accidents.

Silk trains in the west left Vancouver, and locomotives were changed at Boston Bar, British Columbia (BC); Kamloops, BC; Jasper, Alberta; and then Edmonton. This procedure was repeated at each terminal on the Canadian National system until the train reached its destination. It took approximately four to seven minutes to service these trains and put on another locomotive at each divisional point.
(info from the Alberta Railway Museum page)

Update:  The Oscar Heineman Silk Factory in Chicago is soon going to be demolished for apartments.

3D Satellite
Easton, PA, had Simon Silk Mill.
1920sThe silk industry is the largest in Pennsylvania. There are 300 mills statewide and 75 in the Lehigh Valley.... One in three silk workers in the United States is from Pennsylvania. [LehighValleyLive]

Considering how big steel and coal was in Pennsylvania, I'm surprised that silk was even bigger.
William Shapotkin posted
No horseplay here -- an IC "Special Horse Car" was seen at Chicago's Burnside Shops on April 24,1966. (As I recall, other roads (the Pennsy especially comes to mind) had such special-duty cars as well). Photo taken during a Central Electric Railfans' Association charter on the IC Electric that day. Wm Shapotkin Collection.

1 comment:

  1. Unbelievable! Harry Truman said it: "The only thing new under the sun is the history you don't know." Fascinating. thanks for doing what you do.