Sunday, April 17, 2011

Racks for sugar beets

In my previous post on modeling Coast Line freight traffic (, I discussed a little bit about the old Blackburn patent beet racks, which were a removable device attached to flat cars only in beet harvest season, and I also said a little about SP’s new (in 1948) Class G-50-20 composite GS gondolas, purchased largely to replace the Blackburn racks for sugar beets. Here I want to expand a bit on the racks, using photos from my book, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 1: Gondolas and Stock Cars (Signature Press, 2002).
     Here is a three-quarter view of a rack on a flat car. The date of this SP photo isn’t known, but likely is from the 1920s. This rack is of the kind I described as having about 1800 cubic feet capacity. Side doors are hinged at the top, and there is an A-frame inside which allows the car to be self-clearing when doors are opened. This is the rack design followed by Pat Bray in his scratchbuilt version, shown in my post on my gondola fleet (at:

In later years, side boards were added at the top of the sides and ends to permit heavier loading of these racks. The larger extensions, having five boards above the door hinges, added fully 1200 cubic feet or so to the base capacity of the racks of around 1800 cubic feet, making the total around 3000 cubic feet. That this was well in excess of the cubic capacity of the unextended G-50-20 gondolas, which had about 1874 cubic feet level full, is evident in this SP photo, taken on the Coast Line in 1948.

Probably the actual loading of the G-50-20 cars amounted to something like 2000 to 2200 cubic feet or so; this SP image at a beet loader at Cooper (near Salinas) shows that it was routine to load well above the car sides. Note also the ART reefer in the background. It may be recalled from my post analyzing Coast Line reefer traffic ( that fully 11 percent of reefers listed in the 1948-1952 time book were ART-owned.

     This cubic capacity comparison may make it sound like the beet racks were actually a more capable arrangement, but the racks suffered a great deal of wear and tear in putting them off and on the flat cars every year, as well as requiring labor in the process. SP was able to use the gondolas outside of the beet harvest season for all the manifold cargoes that GS gondolas could carry.
     One more comment. In the conductor’s time book I analyzed, the numbers of beet racks and GS gondolas in the beet trains were roughly similar in 1948. Here is an SP photo taken at Spreckels, west of Salinas, in that year.

It contains 43 cars which can be clearly identified as either gondolas or racks, and 19 cars, or 44 percent, are gondolas, in rough agreement with the evidence from the time book.
Tony Thompson


  1. Image at a beet loader at Cooper (near Salinas) shows that it was routine to load well above the car sides.
    Loading Rack

  2. A former roommate of mine used to work for SP in his younger days and he remembers the Beet trains and said they were indeed loaded 2 or 3 feet above the sides and there were beets along the tracks on the routes they ran on.

  3. My SP hiring date was 6/16/77. These were without a doubt the oldest and most decrepit rolling stock SP owned (other than some early 1905 era tank cars tied up near the occasional round house.) At peak of the season unit trains of up to 100 cars were common up and down the Coast and LA divisions. The "brakes" were very slow to set and release and inconsistent throughout the train. From the caboose these cars insured the roughest ride imaginable due to run in and run out. We had our feet braced against the bulkhead in front of the seats at all times. Empties were bad, but loads would also kick the head end in the ass good on the run in. They were some of my favorite runs.

  4. Employee comments in later years are pretty consistent, both about the condition of the cars and the overloading. Those trains were something!
    Tony Thompson