Friday, April 15, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 8

I have returned to the 1948 to 1952 conductor’s time book described in earlier posts in order to write today’s post. Previous analysis was on refrigerator cars ( and box cars ( In this post, I will discuss findings for both gondolas and other sugar beet cars.
     Prior to the arrival of the Class G-50-20 composite GS gondolas in 1948, SP moved its sugar beet traffic in Blackburn patent beet racks temporarily attached to flat cars (for a photo of a model of one of these arrangements, see Prototype photos and a diagram for this appliance are in my book, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 1: Gondolas and Stock Cars, Chapter 8. The flat cars were drawn from a wide variety of classes, and these time book data offer an insight into which ones, and how many.
     Once the G-50-20 cars were on the property, they dominated the sugar beet rush, but some steel GS gondolas were also pressed into service. Some of these show up in the conductor’s book also. The old Blackburn racks had provided about 1800 cubic feet interior volume to carry beets; the G-50-20 cars had 1874 cubic feet level full (though often loaded above the top of sides, probably to around 2000 or so cubic feet of lading).
     These time-book data, from 1948 to 1952, entirely precede the modification to GS gondolas by SP to add side extensions for greater cubic capacity. Thus all the cars contained in this sample are “unextended,” stock gondolas. Sugar beet extensions would not be added to SP’s composite gondolas until 1957.
     The number of cars identified in the book as “beet racks” or as beet gons was 364 (the term “racks” was an obvious carryover from the Blackburn era, but continued in use for sugar beet cars for decades afterward). Of these 364 total cars, 243, or 66.8%, were from Class G-50-20. In addition, there were 27 steel GS cars from Class G-50-22, or 7.5%, and 15 cars (4%) from the 1920s Enterprise GS gondola classes, G-50-9 through -12.
     The remainder, 79 cars, were all flat cars with racks, amounting to 21.7% of the total sample. These were drawn from many classes but were dominated by these: Class F-50-12, 22 cars (6%), F-50-5 and -10, 13 cars each (3.6%), F-50-4, 12 cars (3.3%), and remarkably, 6 cars drawn from SP’s World War I truss-rod designs, classes F-40-6 and -7 (1.6%).  Interestingly, there were 8 T&NO cars (2.2%) and a single Pacific Electric car. I did not find a single foreign car listed among the beet cars.
     There were a handful of foreign-road gondolas in the overall sample but far too few to have much meaning. I have not analyzed them, nor have I analyzed the modest number of empty SP gondolas and flat cars in the sample which were merely moved as empties (nearly all the beet racks were moved in large cuts, and even when not so organized, were still listed in the book as beet cars). One example of loaded gondolas not carrying beets, was a cut of 10 steel GS cars (7 of them from Class G-50-22), all SP cars, carrying manure to Camphor.
     The data presented here, however, do indicate a way to proportion one’s sugar beet traffic. The caveat is that the Blackburn racks were only numerous in 1948 and somewhat in 1949. There were very few in 1950 and later data.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,
    Let me discuss the other end of the Blackburn Beet Racks, the patent was submitted on 19 March 1907 and approved on 2 July of that year as patent 858644 Side Dumping Rack for Cars. The actual patent deals with locking lugs to ensure the security of the side sections. This suggests that the rack idea is older and that the means of securing the side panels probably cause problems and loss of loads during transit. The earliest photo in my collection is an 1899 cut of beet racks in Dunsmuir on the Espee. The time book confirms the Espee got at least 50 years of service of the concept of sugar beet racks prior to their replacement.
    I have not been able to turn up any sources to date that even hint at total number of racks in service at any given point. I suspect that the total will eventual found to be less than a thousand spread over the Espee, ATSF, UP, CB&Q,D&RG, RGW and the Colorado Midland. These are the roads that I have been able to document using beet racks during the period of major growth of the sugar beet industry in the west. In all cases it appears that the Sugar Beet Companies provided the racks and the railroads supplied the flat cars. Of course my research efforts are concentrated on the period 1886 to 1918. If any blog reader is interested in obtaining a copy of the patent, please feel free to contact me for .pdf copies.

  2. Thanks for the info, Tom. I knew the Blackburn patent was near the turn of the 20th century. There are photos of the early-type racks, with different door bracing patterns, from almost the beginning of the Coast Line before 1910. I have no idea who owned the early racks. In later years I would doubt the sugar companies owned them, but I'm not sure. Large stacks of them could be seen alongside several SP yards in California in the off-seasons of beet harvesting, as early as the 1920s.

    Tom, do you know how late the other railroads you mention used the racks for beet traffic? I have always felt that the SP using them until 1948 or so was quite late, but I don't have information on those other users.

    I also didn't mention in the original post (above) that in later years, many SP beet racks had a kind of side extension, allowing them to be loaded well above the 1640 cubic feet of the basic rack. Maybe I will dig out a photo of the later racks and include it in a future post.
    Tony Thompson