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!
Don Gerdts shared
(Update: see also Carrying Grain in Boxcars.)

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

Bob Summers posted
From time to time we "old timers" in the grain handling industry refer to the time when grain was transported by rail in general purpose boxcars. Hopper cars for bulk commodities like grain were introduced in the early '60's and by the early '70's all operating grain elevators had modified their facilities so they could load and unload the hopper cars, and by about 1980, even in times of railcar shortages, no general purpose box cars were being used in the industry in the USA and Canada. Most terminal elevators handled relatively small numbers of cars daily and emptied the boxcars by scooping with two power shovels, called "Mormon boards" - but I never knew why. High volume terminals used car dumpers like the two pictured. I found this photo in a 1942 book titled "Grain Elevators of North America - 5th Edition."
Bill Shaver i recall these thing t bay ont, at all elevartors.
Bob Summers Of the 12 terminal elevators here in Hutchinson Kansas only 2, as I recall, had these car dumpers. We did have them at the big Garvey Grain terminal in Wichita.
Marvin Knelsen Bill Shaver yes Thunder Bay and Prince Rupert were the 2 destinations that our grain was shipped to from sw sask in box cars.
Bill Shaver Marvin Knelsen worked ships at both ends, taking your grain to europe, durham wheat to italy and spain... bread wheat to france, uk.
James Torgeson The "modern" Cargill Duluth elevator was built in with two boxcar dumpers...

Bob Summers The "power shovels" were basically a large flat board with handles. They had to be manually taken thru the bulk grain in the boxcar to the end of the car, then a cable pulled the board, and all the grain it could push, to the door on the side of the boxcar. The processed continued until the last bit could be swept out, it took over half an hour for two men, one in each end, to empty the carload. Very labor intensive, and boxcars typically held 2,000 bushels compared to about 3,333 bushels in a covered hopper.
Sam Anthony you hooked a pully to door frame and used a tracter to pull the plow while you kept it uprigt
Bob Summers Sam Anthony No tractor at terminal elevators. We had a permanent pully and cable system mounted on what would be like a dock the level of the boxcar floor, except the dock had a grate to allow the grain to flow thru. Cannot recall if the drive was electric or hydraulic, but definitely elevator equipment. Possibly a country elevator that received on rare occassions a carload of a speciality feed grain, or maybe alfalfa pellets, might have a temporary rig like you described.

Marvin Knelsen CPR used box cars till the mid 90’s at least I know for a fact.
Danny Farnsworth I believe that BN used boxcars quite late too on the Branch lines in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming. To help with the grain rush. Even used F units too.

Lionel LLC
The aluminum carbodies weathered extensively over the years.
Car 7966 still carries its original paint with few modifications in 2008.
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.

Southern pioneered larger boxcars for the paper industry. NS posted two photos with the comment:
Today [1-11-2020] is National Milk Day.
In 1963, this Southern Railway boxcar rolled up to the DairyPak plant in Dawsonville, Georgia, loaded with 197,401 pounds of polycoated milk carton stock—at the time, the largest shipment of this kind of paper ever carried by any railroad.
The new 100-ton capacity box car measured 60 feet, 9 inches long inside. The shipment traveled from Champion Paper Company in Canton, North Carolina. The Champion subsidiary company manufactured dairy product containers for 135 dairy companies in nine states, eight of which were served by the Southern.
The car’s Southern-developed super-cushion underframe turned “big bumps into little ones” and protected fragile freight—good news for shippers and consumers alike.


Bob Summers commented on his share concerning an old grain elevator in Peck, KS:
Hoppers started being available along with boxcars in the early '60's and by the mid '60's virtually all of the terminals had made the modifications so they could unload hoppers. In our case at Security, and most of the other terminals in Hutchinson, we were not able to unload trucks until we modified the elevator to receive grain via hopper cars. By the late '70's at Garvey we no longer were receiving boxcars from our country elevator customers, so we de-comissioned our box car dumpers (in order to speed up the rate of receiving grain in hoppers) but we still on ocassion shipped grain in boxcars to Mexico.

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.]

The covered hopper is not the only new freight car that Southern developed.
Norfolk Southern Corp posted three images with the comment:
It’s Throwback Thursday! In January 1960, Southern Railway debuted a new car described as “a lumber shipper’s dreamboat.” At the request of D. W. Brosnan, then the railway’s vice president for operations, Southern’s operating department designed and built the unique, special-duty car. The sides of Car No. 121273 opened to allow easy loading and unloading of bulk lumber shipments up to 40 feet in length by forklifts.
Either or both sides of the car could be entirely opened, eliminating the need for extra switching at loading or delivery points. When the car was underway, center posts and metal stakes along the sides prevented its load from shifting. Adjustable bulkheads prevented longitudinal shifting. These innovations provided flexibility for loading standard and non-standard lengths of lumber—tailoring equipment to fit the needs of industry and customers.
“Resourceful engineering on the Southern created the car,” a magazine writer explained, while “good service will keep it filled.”
Then and now, #innovation is an important part of the Norfolk Southern story.
Behind every Norfolk Southern train is an extensive network of track and terminals, a fleet of sophisticated locomotives and freight cars, and a team of dedicated employees who work around the clock to provide safe and reliable rail #transportation.
Mark S Smith I went to the “Skunkworks” run by Stanley Crane. Amazing innovations in a staid regulated industry of that time.
Ken Bell "Southern Gives a Green Light to Innovations"




  1. Very interesting post. Thanks for the link Dennis.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I removed your comment because you included a link to an advertisement. But it is cool if you use a link to this posting.