Thursday, June 18, 2020

Operations - Produce Reefer Traffic

With the Swift and Armour distribution plants in the center of town I know I need meat reefers. But do I need produce reefers? Especially since most sessions won't have Maybrook-Hartford freights where they would be on through trains. And if so, which ones?

I suspect that a lot of the region received produce by truck, serviced by the large Produce Terminal in Hartford. Since refrigerated trucks aren't common in this era, the range of service is probably somewhat limited though. Today that's about 10 miles and a 20-minute drive to East Main St, New Britain where Miner, Read & Tullock and Cohen William, two grocery wholesalers, are located. Both are served by the railroad, though. Would they receive reefers?

I have plenty of evidence that a box car could be loaded for multiple destinations, but I think that's also unlikely in regards to reefers because they would need to be sent to Hartford for re-icing. Since reefers were frequently pre-cooled before icing, opening a car for even an hour for a partial unload is probably not practical. Which means I need to determine whether full reefers would be received in New Britain.

With a population of ~75,000 in my era, combined with the fact that these two industries could also serve neighboring towns, I think the answer is yes. They would receive full carloads of produce reefers. 

Which Reefers?
The reason is that the railroads were very selective in loading reefers. While the car service rules prevented roads from loading home road cars in preference to foreign cars, reefers were generally owned by subsidiaries. The New Haven was part owner of FGEX and companies, and their loading rules specified:

"FGE controlled cars (FGEX, BREX, FWDX, WFEX, CX, FHIX, WHIX, BHIX, FOBX) must be used for all refrigerator car loading. Loading of all other private line cars of any type is prohibited except as authorized by car owner, lessee, or this office."

From NYNH&H Transportation Department Form TD-12-G: General Car Order And Home Route Instructions ... Issued December 15, 1956.

The SP and UP had a similar rule for PFE cars, as did ATSF for SFRD cars. 

Since there are no industries in New Britain loading reefers, the cars I'll need will be dependent upon what is being received. My modeling month is November, I can further narrow down the options by looking at commodities are shipping in November.

Will I need that many FGEX cars, or will it lean toward the massive PFE and SFRD fleets?

Looking at the Pacific Fruit Express book, combined with the 1% waybill study, I can identify commodities that would be shipping in November, and whether those were part of the 1% waybill study from AZ, CA, OR, or TX, the states that PFE served.

Another great resource is which has harvest calendars for every State in addition to Canadian Provinces, such as this one for California.

These specific commodities match both those criteria:
  • Cabbage (AZ)
  • Celery (CA) - more celery comes to CT from Florida, but the season doesn't start until December
  • Citrus Fruits NOS (CA lemons)
  • Grapefruit (AZ)
  • Grapes (CA)
  • Lettuce (CA)
  • Oranges (AZ, CA)
  • Pears (CA, OR)
  • Potatoes, not Sweet (CA) - the majority come from ME, but not in November
  • Tomatoes (TX)

In addition, there is a category of Fresh Vegetables for many commodities not called out individually. These could include:
  • Anise (CA)
  • Artichokes (CA)
  • Asparagus (CA)
  • Beets (AZ, CA, TX)
  • Broccoli (AZ, CA, TX)
  • Brussels Sprouts (CA)
  • Carrots (AZ, CA)
  • Cauliflower (CA)
  • Cucumbers (CA)
  • Eggplant (AZ)
  • Garlic (CA)
  • Leeks (CA)
  • Onions (OR)
  • Peas, Green (CA)
  • Peppers (CA)
  • Pumpkins (AZ, TX)
  • Radishes (CA)
  • Shallots (AZ)
  • Spinach (AZ, CA, TX)
  • Squash, Winter (AZ)
  • Turnips (CA)

These could all be in PFE reefers, and some may be appropriate for SFRD as well. I'll need to do some more research regarding producers and the towns served by SFRD.

That covers PFE and to some degree SFRD, but what about other produce reefers?

ART, FGEX, MDT, etc.
We can look at the other states that shipped enough produce to CT to be captured in the 1% Waybill Study:
  • Apples, Fresh (WA)
  • Bananas, Fresh (FL, NY, Canada)
  • Oranges, Grapefruit (FL)
  • Peaches, Fresh (GA, SC, VA)
  • Cabbage (FL, NY)
  • Vegetables, Fresh (FL, MS, NM, TN, Canada)
    • Beets (NM)
    • Broccoli (FL, MS, NM)
    • Brussels Sprouts (TN, Canada)
    • Carrots (MS, TN, Canada)
    • Cauliflower (MS)
    • Pumpkins (NM)
    • Spinach (MS, NM)
    • Turnips (MS) 
New Mexico would be SFRD territory.

The FGEX consortium serves Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington among other States. So these cars are probably less common than PFE, but about the same, or perhaps a bit more common than SFRD.

New York is served by MDT,  as well as Alabama, Mississipi, and Tennessee via the GM&O. 

Canada is served by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. 

The Missouri Pacific and Wabash owned ART, and according to an article by Ed Hawkins they served Southern Texas like the Rio Grande Valley and Uvalde among other areas. So some of the Texas traffic could be in ART reefers.

Obviously, loading isn't 100% to the rules, and even though the 1% waybill study shows what were the most common originating points for such loads, there were undoubtedly there were others. 

It appears that PFE, FGEX and SFRD should be the most common produce reefers in New Britain in November, in that order.

I currently have 10 PFE cars (in several paint schemes since they were changing during the years I'm modeling), all Intermountain.

I have an Intermountain and Athearn SFRD reefer, but the Athearn is a 50-footer. Resin Car Works released a resin kit of other SFRD classes, which replaces the need for earlier versions released by Sunshine, although the RCW cars are currently out of production too.

I also have an NWX (Branchline, now Atlas), and two ART (Intermountain), which should be sufficient, plus the CP 8-hatch reefer that we released at True Line Trains.

But it appears I will need a decent number of FGEX consortium cars, so I'll continue with my plans as detailed in my earlier posts here and here.

Accurate MDT reefers are also hard to find, although I have a Sunshine kit or two to build.

This doesn't cover use of such reefers in ventilation service, or service other than produce, but it forms the foundation of a roster of produce reefers.


  1. The statement, "Since reefers were frequently pre-cooled before icing" certainly does not apply to PFE and Santa Fe/SFRD official practice. Some shippers with their own facilities did do this. A few years ago Tony Thompson told me that use of the cold-air cooling method was strictly for loaded cars, not empties, and it was the load that was being precooled before departing to destination.
    On October 8, 2012, I interviewed former Santa Fe employee Ken Carter about a number of subjects. Ken served as a fireman and later an engineer, from 1957 to 1965. He spent the most of his service in San Bernardino and stated he was very familiar with the operations in the “B” Yard around the precooling plant.
    What he told me was that when it was an exceptionally hot day the Santa Fe would run unloaded, “dry” (not iced) reefers into the precooler to circulate cold air into the empty bunkers. The point of this was to chill the metal in the bunker sections so that ice placed in the bunkers would not quickly melt on contact with the otherwise hot metal surfaces. This procedure also generally chilled the interior of the car. These cars were then iced per shippers’ instructions and subsequently distributed by evening locals at packing houses or spurs near the packing houses.
    From his description it appears this was an informal Santa Fe practice and not a service requested by the shippers. As such there would not have been a tariff for this service.
    All a shipper would have been interested in is getting a car with the bunkers filled with iced as specified. This is what the shipper was charged for. The Santa Fe would have been interested in making sure the ice in the bunker did not substantially melt before the shipper received the car so this service objective may account for the occasional practice of precooling empty refrigerator cars.
    Charlie Schultz interviewed Gil Murdock, the last General Foreman of the San Bernardino Ice & Precooling Plant. Charlie asked if empty cars were ever precooled and Murdock believed that they were not. However, he was not certain about this as the ice plant personnel mainly followed the shippers’ or Refrigerator Department Inspectors’ instructions as to how each car was to be iced or if it was to be precooled. It is possible the precooling of empty refrigerator cars was done at the direction and discretion of the Refrigerator Department Inspectors.
    Over time more and more shippers provided their own ice when needed and thus ordered more “dry” cars so there was less need for Santa Fe to pre-ice cars or chill the bunkers. As precooling completely empty cars only was done on exceptionally hot days, this practice would not have been very common in any period and especially in the later years of the ice bunker refrigerator cars.
    Bob Chaparro
    Railroad Citrus Industry Modeling Group

    1. Thanks! This is excellent information, and for the link to the group.

      I based my info on pre-cooling on Tony Thompson's excellent book on PFE. But looking at it now, I see the distinction you are making.

      Overall, though, my point is that since the railroads (sometimes) spent the effort to pre-cool cars (even with specialized equipment), it leads me to believe that opening a car enroute would be detrimental to maintaining the proper temperature.

      Since I've written this, I've seen a number of photos of reefers being unloaded at bulk tracks. The real question I was getting at remains, though - how likely is it that these are partial unloadings, vs. unloading the entire car at that one stop? Would an iced car maintain a low enough temperature when stopped to partially unload at a bulk (team track)? Especially if that also meant that it would not be picked up to continue its journey until the following day?