Sunday, February 20, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 5

I’ve recently transcribed a fascinating conductor’s time book for part of the Coast Line, for 1948 to 1952. This conductor must have usually worked in some other job, as he seems only to have been called for haulers in peak season (with a few exceptions). He worked out of Watsonville Junction and mostly ran haulers to and from Salinas. These were naturally reefers in most cases, but he also handled trains of loaded and empty cars of sugar beets destined to and from Spreckels.
     I decided to analyze the reefer reporting marks contained in the book. There are altogether 1102 refrigerator cars listed. Not surprisingly, 839, or 76%, were PFE cars. Much more surprising, at least to me, was that 122 cars, or 11%, were ART cars. I knew PFE used ART cars in peak seasons, but would not have thought the proportion was this large. Next largest contingent was 41 MDT cars, or 3.7% (plus 8 cars from MDT subsidiary NRC), followed by 30 FGEX cars (2.7%), 13 NWX cars (1.2%), and 12 WFEX cars (1%).
     Also represented were a few cars each from BAR, BREX, NADX, NP, REX, SFRD, URTX, and WRX. The total of all these cars with minority reporting marks was 42, or about 4%. The two express cars from REX were an interesting point, as were a couple of heavily-insulated or frozen food cars from PFE and FHIX.
     There is no way, using these data from largely peak-season trains, to infer what year-round traffic was like, but the occasional train this conductor worked which was out of peak season did show nearly all PFE cars, and the two BAR cars seen were also in those “low-season” trains.
     Thus it seems likely that the proportion of foreign or non-PFE cars shown in the above results is a maximum for traffic year-round. Nevertheless, it’s evident that my main need for empty reefers to be loaded, beyond the obvious predominance of PFE, will be for ART and MDT cars, with a few FGEX and WFEX cars and maybe a NWX car. Incidentally, the data just discussed cannot indicate the proportion of reporting marks among loaded inbound reefers to this area, as almost none of the refrigerator cars in the time book are shown in that category.
     I also want to study these time-book data to see if the presence of individual PFE car classes is representative of the overall PFE fleet. (See my post on a model car fleet, at I also want to look at box cars in the data, to see whether they bear some relation to the Gilbert-Nelson hypothesis.
Tony Thompson


  1. That is surprising, 24% non-PFE reefers. Were the foreign cars mostly in blocks, or more randomly distributed amongst the PFE cars?

    How many trains made up the sample? Were the foreign reefers concentrated in a few trains?

    It also seems odd that there were almost no loaded inbound reefers. I wonder if they would be re-loaded or sent home empty?

    Rob Simpson

  2. Yes, Rob, I was surprised by the amount of ART, as I said. They are not really in blocks, just in pairs or threes among the PFE cars. I have not counted the trains, but there are not a large number of them. The foreign reefers are almost all in the peak rush period, as I said.

    I think the lack of inbound cars reflects the kind of trains this conductor worked, mostly haulers. And of course it would depend on the reefer how it was handled: private owners mostly all homeward, foreign railroad or railroad-owned cars certainly confiscated if needed and if in good enough repair to use. The reefer owners tended to have agreements in place to share or not share cars in particular seasons, so it wasn't as random as one might guess.
    Tony Thompson

  3. I agree that the haulers would not typically be handling many inbound loads to the area they covered near Salinas. These would typically be the responsibility of the locals run out of Watsonville Jct.. It appears these haulers typically shuttled empty reefers and loaded beet gons from Watsonville Jct. to Salinas/Spreckles and then brought loaded reefers and empty beet gons back to Watsonville Jct.. This would be a seasonal activity as you have mentioned, but the seasonal rushes could be extended due to favorable growing conditions.

    The 1948 to 1952 time period saw the phase out of the few TW-8 (4-8-0) switchers still running that called the Salinas area home due to their excellent light rail handling capabilities. These were all replaced by new Alco S-3 switchers that were delivered in 1951. This "haulers" data probably reflect this transition.

  4. Absolutely right, Greg, about the role of haulers vs. locals and the traffic patterns. The time books do include a few trains which look more like locals, but the great bulk are haulers.

    Your comments about the power transition are certainly correct, but nearly all the trains in the time book were powered by Consolidations, not Tw engines, except at the end of 1951. During 1952, as you say, engine 1028, an S-3, was used frequently, but at the end of 1952 Consolidation 2781 showed up again, as does SD7 5329.

    Like you, I would sure rather see info for locals, with all the varied inbound and outbound loads and empties. But even these data on haulers give us a terrific insight into the MAJOR traffic in that area, sugar beets and vegetables. And a few times the conductor whose book this was did put down the eastern cities to which the reefer loads were destined. Wish there were more of these data, but at least we now have a heck of a lot more data than before.
    Tony Thompson

  5. Tony,
    As you well know, when trying to model a specific period, you end up developing your "working theories" based on the data you can find that is as close to your chosen period as possible. The greatest thing in that type of modeling is for someone to come up with valid data that proves your "working theories" to be incorrect, because that means someone has found better data than you had and with the "new" data you can tweak your "working theory" and have more accurate information. I keep hoping someone can find more information on Sahwatch Street Yard in Colorado Springs in 1895 so I can get my layout that much more accurate.

    Tom VanWormer
    Monument CO

  6. Well said, Tom. One only hopes that the "new data" do not throw your previous conclusions (and modeling) into a cocked hat (he said with a lopsided grin).
    Tony Thompson