Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Carrying Grain in Boxcars

David Lindquist -> Burlington Northern
(Update: see also Southern's covered hopper revolution.)

I shared this photo to the Fallen Flags group and learned some interesting things from the comments.

David estimates that the date was probably 1976 or 1977.

The car number was crossed out because it was setting in the dead line. That means that it won't see service again on the CB&Q tracks. It will be either scrapped, sold to another RR or leasing company, or to private parties such as a museum.

Part of the writing next to the number says "Do Not Load".

Steve Johnson That cb&q boxcar use too see come in to mason city ia to get loaded with feed at Waynes feed

Dennis DeBruler If it was bulk feed/grain, they did it by placing boards across the door as they filled it. I remember Southern invented the covered hopper for grain shipment, but I can't remember the date. Covered hoppers are almost as important as container trains for the disappearance of boxcars. I understand paper is about the only thing still shipped in boxcars. I can't imagine working in a boxcar when it was near full trying to shove the grain into the corners.
Steve Johnson Wayne's feed got a mix of boxcars & hoppers by 1980 that changed to all hoppers

Update: see the first two pictures in Multiple Grain Elevators per Town for examples of boxcars serving elevators.

Wayne Hudak posted

David Daruszka The C&NW used box cars in addition to hopper cars during peak grain season. They often leaked like sieves and would leave piles of grain in the yard, especially where they stopped after being humped. Rain and sun would cook the grain into a mushy conglomerate with a hard crust on the top. Woe be to any brakeman walking the tracks who stepped into one of these smelly cakes. The stink would cling to you and guarantee that you would be banned from coming in the engine cab, regardless of the weather.
Screenshot at 13:15
Skip to 4:54 in this video to see the grain elevator operator closing the door opening with cardboard. The video continues to be of interest: starting an old gas motor, moving the guber(sp?) (spout), the leg carrying grain, moving the boxcar by hand, and putting the flexible chute into the boxcar opening.
In particular, check out 11:57. After that scene it is rather redundant except for the screenshot. The elevator is considered small, it handles about 150 boxcars a year.
Carl Venzke posted
Grain loading into a boxcar
Carl Venzke posted
Dumping grain into a Milwaukee RR boxcar at Joan, Montana, with the old Model TT dump truck. c early 1920's.
Ken Train Matson Matson And I used to unload lumber out of box cars in the early 70's up the track a bit the loaded and unloaded grain and coal by hand and augers also up to about 1975.

In a posting about Cowden, IL, Bill Edrington explained that boxcars were used into the 1970s on branch lines like the B&O line that ran between Beardstown and Shawneetown because they "could not accommodate large covered hoppers due to rail, tie, ballast and/or bridge conditions. The margins on single-car grain shipments generally did not justify the capital improvements needed to bring the lines up to decent condition. It was a method of moving grain that had been laid out 100 years earlier, in the horse-and-wagon era. I worked for the Chicago & North Western in the late 1970s, and we still had a number of branches in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota that served only small country elevators, had very poor track conditions, and could only handle boxcar grain loadings. Similar conditions existed on the Milwaukee Road, Rock Island and others. By then the push was on to consolidate grain loading at large elevators, allowing the railroad to offer attractive unit train rates while justifying track improvements on the lines that served those big elevators, and the abandonment of the most rickety branches....Even a shortline operator couldn't make a go of it in the end"

Carl Venzke posted
Outside there's a box car waiting Union Pacific Boxcar in grain service.
Carl Venzke posted
Loading grain in boxcars on the Chicago and North Western Railway in Springfield, Minnesota, on July 22, 1976. Photograph by John F. Bjorklund, © 2015, Center for Railroad Photography and Art.
Dennis DeBruler I read about paper grain doors. It looks like this car has one.

Carl Venzke posted
Grain sampler entering car of wheat for samples. He usually got grain from six different parts of the car. Minneapolis, Minnesota - September 1939 - John Vachon photo
Jim Lee: My uncle did this in Milano and had a pole about five feet long with a twist sleeve that you close the opening insert the pole down in the grain then close the opening and extract the pole with grain from the depth you inserted the pole. Much like the same operation my Grandson checks crude oil in tankers to measure the water in the shipment in the ship or barge.
He would work for the GRAIN DEALER after he helped harvested his nieghbors grain before WWII. So it was seasonal work of course.

Bob Chaparro posted two photos with the comment:
Cleaning Boxcar InteriorsCirca 1960 photos from the Hagley Digital Archives.It appears neither car is on the expected clean-out track, that is, a track with an elevated rail to allow debris to slide out or be swept out of the car.


Kevin Piper posted two photos with the comment:
Grain Doors
Conductor Ed Feeley had a lucrative used lumber business going on the side from stolen grain doors. Before jumbo covered hoppers, grain was loaded at all the elevators in forty-foot boxcars. To load, the door opposite the loading spout was closed and sealed for leaks. The other door had heavy wood panels, braced plywood, or pre-made wood grain doors fastened from the inside. Grain doors typically covered about 3/4 of the opening, and the bulk product filled the car below that line. Exterior doors where then closed to protect the load, and unloading was a labor intensive task usually involving a hand shovel and brooms. Doors were inched open, and the grain simply spilled out. In later years, grain doors were made of disposable heavy cardboard and paper, but many wood doors were reusable and stored in stacks at elevators, or in railroad freight buildings, making them a target for thieves like Ed.
Ed would use his own pickup truck to load the stolen doors from empty cars, or sometimes he would take doors from stacks piled at local elevators under darkness. Ed never got caught, and nowadays would be looking at prison time for his "hobby." Things were different back then, and witnesses looked the other way, or actually helped Ed with his little business.
One night Ed was working out west with engineer Tom Hart. Ed was pretty toasted as usual, and broke his collarbone in the process of moving a grain door. He actually fell out of an open car. In a great deal of pain, Ed managed to finish the trip back to Eagle Grove, heavily "sedated" on the caboose. Tom Hart loaded him directly into his automobile and drove straight to an emergency room without going anywhere near the yard office. Upon examinating Ed, the doctor said, "This man is intoxicated!" Tom Hart replied, "Yes, he was in so much pain, I gave him a lot of whiskey at my house before we came over here."
The crew finally tied-up a few hours later.

Rick Dreistadt Great story, Kevin. Do you remember when the railroads quit the wooden grain doors and began using the heavy cardboard? I think when I started hanging around the railroad in they late 1950's, the Monon RR was using the cardboard with reinforced metal bands.
Kevin Piper Rick Dreistadt I've seen photos of the cardboard.
Rick Dreistadt Kevin Piper I always wondered about the poor elevator employee who had to nail the boards or cardboard grain doors from the inside, then climb out of the boxcar.
Thomas Waldon When I started on the Rock in 1958, they were still being used for the corn cars that went to the Corn Products in Pekin, Ill.. As I recall we started getting paper grain doors in 62 or 63. Western Weighing & Inspection crew handled all the grain doors. The would start work about 5am and stack the wood doors in the door opening. We pulled the grain mtys about 7am and pulled them through the runaround at walking speed, & using a pinchbar he would get a bite under them, lift & they would fall out almost as a unit. All this was done while moving. They could unload 2 or 3 at the same spot and then move up & do again. They then loaded them in a box car by hand. They had a 5 man crew & we made this twice a day. After work they could be found across the street at Ol Dad's Saloon with quarts of Stag beer.


I don't have any notes on the history of boxcars, so I'm going to park this little gem here. After all, grain was hauled in boxcars since the 1800s. The truss bars underneath indicate the frame, as well as the sheathing, was probably made of wood. Also note the brake's handwheel above the roof, the trucks fabricated from bar stock, and the friction bearings.
Raymond Breyer posted
LE&W 42274 (ca.1924-1925).
[You can tell that NKP recently bought the LE&W because they simply added their name to the car.]

Mike Matalis posted
[If you click the photo in Mike's post, you can some interesting comments about cleaning out boxcars vs. hoppers.]

safe_image for Unloading Grain From A Boxcar

Screenshot @ -1:55
Central Soya Open House- 1952
Dennis DeBruler The boxcar dumper at -1:55 is really neat. Even though the film had exposure issues, you can see how it tilted the car back and forth to dump the grain. This video is a reminder that the covered hopper was not developed until the 1960s.

David Daruszka posted this link and commented:
When I first started working at the railroad it was at Proviso Yard. The C&NW was shipping grain in 40' boxcars that leaked like sieves. Cars would come rolling down the hump smashing into cars in various and sundry tracks. Their resting spot would result in a trickle or stream of grain everywhere. Rain and sun would bake the surface of this "grain pie" crusty, while the inside was rendered gooey. Not only was it gooey but it was rank. Stepping into one while making up trains would cause you to be banished to the platform outside of the comfort of the locomotive cab, regardless of weather conditions. We have here an image of what may rank as the world's largest grain pie.
Robert Turek posted
[According to some comments, no one was injured. It happened in La Grange, MO]
Lisa N Mike Johnson That’s the third large grain bin around here that’s collapsed!! Two owned by chem grow I’m thinking maybe they are needing a little more engineering and inspections before people are killed.
Krissi Dierking Hollrah Lisa N Mike Johnson I know one was in Albany, where was the other?
Lisa N Mike Johnson Adrian Illinois in 2018 and Hillsboro Iowa in 2007 trapping a family.

[On the right side of the photo, along the perpendicular spur, it looks like they are unloading grain doors. [Bob Lalich comment]]

Bob Summers posted
The co-op in Lyons Kansas appears to be a typical Chalmers & Borton 1950's country elevator build for the main working house, plus a typical annex probably built in the late '50's or early '60's.
Bob Summers Note no rail road siding now, but the lower spout would have had a "snake" or flexible end for loading boxcars. The higher spout was added in the early '60's when hopper cars came into use enabling loading through the roof centered on the rail car. The drier is also probably a later addition when irrigation came into use and significant production of corn came to central Kansas.
Luke Lohrmeyer Still definitely a siding there!
Bob commented on his post
Bob Summers Yes, I would classify these rails as abandoned but not salvaged - yet. Not a shiny rail on this former AT&SF branch line in Lyons, so has been quite some time since a train has been here. Maybe one of the railroadmembers can give us a idea of what maintenance would be required to again run a locomotive and loaded cars on these tracks? My point was the loadout spouts, and from this angle you can get a better view of what I mean.

(new window)  This video includes scenes of installing a grain door and "shooting" grain in.



  1. Great info and photos...thanks

  2. I started my first career with the CPR as a tinsmith at their Ogden Locomotive Shop, between November 1965 when I was 16, and November 1967. I went on working other trades, plumber, gasfitter and sprinklerfitter. I then went to work for Pillsbury Canada a consortium of Calgary, Alberta businessman started this flour mill during World War I, the foundations were poured and it sat idle until the 1930s when Spillers of England finished the mill in the 1930s, they installed "A" mill with the capacity of milling 7000 hundred weights. They let it sit idle, during World War II it was used by the Canadian Military used it to store hospital beds. In 1946 another consortium of Canadian businessman built "B" mill with the capacity of milling 3000 hundredweights this was used for milling domestic flour, and "A" mill was to use for export flour, usually Food Aid of Canada. I worked as a warehouseman, and nothing had been changed since the 1930s domestic flour was packed in 100 pound paper bags and loaded onto two wheeled carts with 700 pounds of flour, this was stored on the warehouse floor 10 high, there was another warehouse man to help you unload your as the piles were 2 feet over your head. The export flour was packed on the second floor, and travelled on conveyor belts with wooden chutes that fed the 50 kg (112 pounds) burlap bags down into the boxcar, there were 2 loaders in the boxcar, the wooden chutes came into the boxcar about 16 inches above your shoulder, you had to learn to carry the bag straight up, and you walked toward the end of the boxcar and throw the bag onto the boxcar floor seven bags would fit across the end of the boxcar, it would rise up in the middle, so you loaded 7 across times 8 equals 56 and 2 on each side of the row for a total of 60, once you had 3 rows loaded you could keep up with the Packers, this gave you a break, you had to get the next car ready for loading. Then you could have a rest especially in the winter when the flour bags were warm. So there were 6 rows in each end of the boxcar, and 3 Rows across the middle of the boxcar this totaled 15x60=900 on a usual shift we would load 2 and 3/4 cars a shift. We had 2 15 minute coffee breaks, and 30 minutes lunch break. If anybody could explain to me how to post pictures I would appreciate it.

    1. email photos as attachments to bruler@xnet.com