Tuesday, June 25, 2013

PFE’s Western Pacific cars

Having posted my comments about a “what if” Rock Island car in the PFE fleet (you can see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-pfe-what-if.html ), and having mentioned that Rock Island wanted to obtain terms similar to those of Western Pacific, I received a couple of questions about how the WP arrangement worked. This topic is fairly well developed in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, A.W. Thompson, R.J. Church, and B.H. Jones, Signature Press, 2000), and I will only summarize here.
     In 1922, Southern Pacific was endeavoring to prevent the Central Pacific part of the railroad from being divested by court order. As part of an agreement before the Interstate Commerce Commission, SP negotiated several agreements with Western Pacific, though the Commission had imposed no conditions on SP regarding the WP. One of these was the famous joint-trackage agreement across Nevada. Another was a contract between WP and PFE, to incorporate WP-owned refrigerator cars into the PFE fleet. These cars were built to PFE blueprints, and were to be entirely operated and maintained by PFE. PFE paid a fixed monthly charge to WP, and in turn collected all mileage payments resulting from operation of the cars. Any repairs or upgrades to the cars beyond routine maintenance would be done by PFE and billed to WP.
     The contract between WP and PFE specified that WP would provide enough cars to carry its proportional share of the total PFE perishable traffic. In 1923–1924, this was computed to be 2775 cars. PFE already owned about 36,000 cars at this time, so the WP contribution was 7.7 percent of that total. This fits with SP estimates, which concluded that WP’s traffic volume across Nevada at the time was little more than 5 percent of SP’s traffic on that route. The WP cars were numbered PFE 50001–52775.
     There are two observations to be made about modeling WP cars. First, there has long been a “tradition” to decorate models of the WP PFE cars in yellow instead of PFE orange. In fact, the WP cars were never different in color from the rest of the PFE fleet. When new, the WP cars were a color close to Armour Yellow, as were all other PFE cars at that time. In 1929, when PFE adopted Light Orange to replace yellow, WP cars were repainted in the new color right along with all the other PFE cars. (This color was later chosen by SP as part of the color scheme of the Daylight trains, and today is best known as Daylight Orange.)
     The second idea one hears from modelers is that the WP cars were preferentially returned empty to WP for loading by Western Pacific customers. It is clear from my interviews with retired PFE employees that there was certainly no policy to do that, nor could it have been very common. The whole PFE fleet was operated as a single fleet. The WP cars could be loaded anywhere, as could the regular “SP-UP” cars. I can understand that WP modelers like to see WP reefers in their trains, but they should be no more numerous than the percentage of WP cars in the PFE fleet.
     By 1938, PFE was rebuilding its huge fleet of Class R-30-12 and -13 cars to more modern standards. In particular, the PFE rebuilds received steel-framed superstructures. The WP cars equally needed rebuilding, so PFE requested the funds from WP to do so. Western Pacific, chronically short of money, declined, and the WP cars instead were “reconditioned,” meaning that they got new wood-framed superstructures, instead of steel. Unfortunately, this meant that the remaining service life of the cars was sharply reduced. The wood framing was only expected to last eight years or so, in contrast to the 15 to 20 years PFE expected for its steel-framed cars.
     By 1950, less than 1000 of the WP cars remained in service; most of the original 2775 cars had been scrapped (or returned to WP for use in company service). The remaining cars in service were substantially deteriorated by this time, and in late 1952 PFE recommended that they be given solid steel roofs and Dreadnaught steel ends, as PFE was applying to its own rebuilds. Once again, however, WP requested a minimum-cost project. This time the cars did get steel-framed superstructures, along with car fans, and were renumbered as 55001–55899. This work was done during 1952–1953.
     With less than 1000 WP cars at the time I model, I need a maximum of one of these cars in my fleet. That reflects my modeling strategy for PFE, to model one PFE car per 1000 prototype cars, as a simple way of obtaining a realistically proportioned model fleet. (I discussed this idea in a prior post, which you can see at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/choosing-model-car-fleet.html .)
     As a 1953 modeler, I could choose to model either a 50,000-series reconditioned car or a rebuilt 55,000-series car. I chose one of the older cars. Since evidence indicates (see the PFE book) that about the first 200 cars purchased by WP had the Bettendorf single-beam underframe (characteristic of PFE Class R-30-12), the Red Caboose kit with that underframe should have a number within the first 200 WP cars. Red Caboose is well aware of this and has numbered their kit cars in accord with that. (The remainder of the WP fleet appears to have had what PFE called a “built up” underframe, the same as PFE Class R-30-13.)
     Building the Red Caboose kit is straightforward and needs no commentary. Changes I made: I installed Kadee no. 58 couplers in Kadee boxes, attached with 2-56 screws; added Reboxx wheelsets in the Accurail sideframes supplied by Red Caboose in the kit; and used my usual car weights, which are a pair of 5/8-inch steel nuts (attached with canopy glue which, if you don’t know about it, I’ve described in a prior post; you can view it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-few-words-in-praise-of-canopy-glue.html ). You can see these weights below, along with my painting of the inside of the car sides black, which minimizes any translucence of the orange plastic body molding.

The car body rests in my simple work cradle (you can read about it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-working-cradle-for-model-freight-cars.html ).
     With construction complete, I proceeded to weather this car, using my normal procedure with acrylic washes, using a mixture of Neutral Gray, Burnt Umber, and Ivory Black. With weathering complete, I added a patch of fresh paint and a reweigh location and date, in this case TUC 9-50, meaning the PFE shop at Tucson. Here is the car being spotted for icing at Shumala by Consolidation 2829. Some will recognize the engineer’s cigarette as locomotive rebuilder Al Massi’s signature detail. (You can click to enlarge the image.)

Delivering ice to the icehouse at right is the Ice Service car described in a previous post, http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/06/ice-service-refrigerator-cars.html .
     With modeling work complete, this WP car joins my PFE fleet, an interesting detail among all the cars with SP and UP medallions, but carrying perishables just like all the others.
Tony Thompson


  1. Its very informative and i am sure it will help many other people like the way it helps me. Thanks for the information.

  2. I happened to pick up an RTR Red Caboose WP wood ice reefer. Sounds like that should fit right in with the PFE reefers for my early 1950's PFE train.