Sunday, May 29, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet, Part 11: reefers

I’ve postponed touching on car plans for refrigerator cars and box cars for my layout, in part because I have (and need to have) so many of both types. This post addresses reefers.
     The core of my reefer fleet is necessarily the cars of Pacific Fruit Express (PFE). I have already discussed my approach to the PFE part of my reefer needs, in an earlier blog post (see: This approach takes proportions of the model fleet directly from the prototype car fleet. I expanded on the era characteristics and layout needs I personally have in a follow-up post ( Accordingly, my PFE car fleet is simply proportioned by (approximately) one model for each 1000 cars in the prototype PFE roster, thus a total of around 40 model cars. Within these 40 model cars, I am trying to achieve a close approximation of the number of cars per prototype class, again at one model per 1000. This looks like it will come close to working out.
     I should also mention my post on reefer weathering, which although directed to PFE cars (, certainly has application to other ice-cooled reefers, and realistic weathering of this kind of freight car forms an important part of my model car fleet planning.
     That leaves the other railroad-owned cars, and privately owned cars. I will discuss the railroad-owned cars first. We know that SP had friendly connections with both NP and IC, both of which owned their own reefers, and these can be expected to show up to some extent in California; but the organizer of reefers to deliver to shippers was PFE, not SP. The PFE had arrangements with some other reefer owners to share cars back and forth, in each company’s off season, and these included ART, BAR, FGE, and to some extent MDT. That is why it was very interesting for me to analyze the conductor’s time book for the Salinas Subdivision of the Coast Division (reported in a previous post, at:, since shown there is actual reefer traffic.
     In that post, I described the large presence of ART cars in the particular seasons reported in the time book analyzed (it’s known that use of foreign reefers on the lines of SP and UP was very seasonal). Photos of California yards and trains do show both ART and MDT cars; and in early fall, pretty much the peak harvest season in the Far West, BAR cars were commonly seen. Conversely, there was a concerted effort on the parts of both SFRD and PFE not to load each other’s cars, but to return empties promptly to their owner. That doesn’t mean that no SFRD cars will be seen on my layout, only that any such cars will be loads headed to their destination, not empties for loading.
     Now I turn to privately owned reefers, which includes leased cars as well as meat reefers. My plans for meat reefers were described earlier ( and I wouldn’t yet add anything to that. Here’s an illustrative photo of an URTX car, at my wholesale grocer, Peerless Foods, in Ballard:

Operating detail: it’s behind the car, but the car is spotted at Door 2. A large warehouse like this often has specific door spots for particular cargo such as the meat in this case. My Peerless waybills direct switch crews which door spots to make for each particular cargo.
     Other leased cars include URTX, NRC, GARX, NADX and so on, owned by produce shippers and others. Altogether, I have several cars in these leased categories, and probably won’t need more.
     With my layout’s California location, a Chateau Martin wine car is almost obligatory, and I’ve restored a Laconia kit for one of these cars. The distinctive virtue of the Laconia version is an accurate “claret red” color, not the horrid deep purple of a more recent commercial model. These cars are actually AAR Class BMT (tank) cars, not reefers, but externally look like other reefers. Ordinarily they are used as insulated box cars in service, in other words not iced.
     Finally, there should also be a certain number of passenger reefers, AAR Class BR. The BR cars of course include PFE cars but also express cars from others in the REA pool, including REX, GN and NRC cars, along with MILW cars which were seen in SP trains in California.
     The relatively large proportion of reefers in my model car fleet of course reflects the territory I’m modeling. I will report more as details of my fleet develop further.
Tony Thompson


  1. Thanks for the update, Tony.

    Can you shed some light on how California wine, bulk and bottled, was moved by rail cars other than those of Chateau Martin?

  2. I'm not an expert on the wine trade, but here's my understanding. The great majority of wine shipments (by rail) were handled in insulated cars, whether house cars or tank cars. Wine is not a terribly delicate substance but temperature variations crossing the U.S. in the summer can be recognized as less than salutary to wine quality.

    Bulk wine, used largely for blending by eastern wineries in the steam era, moved mostly by tank car. Eastern-produced wines in some cases were as little as 10 percent local wine, with the balance from California. The product was, whatever the California percentage, let us say, not exactly the premium stuff on either coast. Tank cars could manage larger shipments, but cars like the Chateau Martin BMT cars had four or six glass-lined tanks of 1000 gallons each inside, so were not that much smaller than tank cars.

    Bulk wine also moved in barrels, ordinarily in reefers. There are photos of such cars being unloaded, with barrels being rolled down a ramp from the door. The reefers might or might not be iced. I think it's important to realize that no one would have shipped truly good wine in these kinds of bulk containers, tank cars or barrels.

    Bottled wine, when it moved by rail, also moved in insulated cars, and since in the early 1950s (when I model) the insulated box car was still an emerging car type, this usually meant reefers, iced or otherwise.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Hi Tony,

    You haven't said much about passenger traffic yet. How do your BR cars move up and down the branch line?



  4. Good question. Since this short branch, like short branches all over the SP, would have lost passenger service by the end of the 1920s, or if not then, certainly in the Depression, I don't operate any passenger trains on the branch. Of course numbers 71 and 72, often nicknamed the "Coast Mail," do operate on the main line.

    The BR cars are handled by the normal daily local freight which serves the branch. The only difference from other freight cars is that they will be picked up by the "Coast Mail" rather than by the Guadalupe local when they depart from Shumala.
    Tony Thompson