Saturday, July 20, 2013

More on ice service reefers

In a previous post, I described the operation of PFE Ice Service cars, and showed my Red Caboose car in ready-to-run form. You can see it at this link: . As I said in that previous post, the source for all this information is the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), though it is not all in one place in the book.
     I know from giving talks about PFE over the years that many modelers are a little unclear about the entire ice service process. And it is natural to think first about mammoth Ice Manufacturing Plants (or IMP, as PFE termed them) as the source of ice for a big ice deck. PFE did indeed build and operate such plants (Roseville was the largest artificial ice plant in the world in its day), but the great majority of PFE facilities were not like that. Even as busy a place as Watsonville Junction in California did not manufacture its own ice, but only had an ice storage house, from which the car icing operations were fed. PFE called such facilities “Ice Transfer Plants” or ITP, a good name because the ice came from somewhere else.
     An ITP might be built and owned by PFE, or it might be a commercial ice company, and if the latter, the ice deck itself might be built and operated by PFE or by the ice company. Evidently some ice companies did not want to be in the car icing business except to supply the ice itself. In the case of Guadalupe, California, the nearest facility to my layout location, Puritan Ice Company supplied the ice to a PFE-built deck, but Puritan employees iced the cars. It was a ten-carlength deck, pretty small in PFE terms but pretty darn big to model.
     My model for this post is a conventional Red Caboose kit for PFE Class R-30-9, the immense class of rebuilt cars numbered in the 91,000 to 98,000 series. I simply chose one of these cars, as an older car, to put into ice service, exactly as PFE did. I painted out the kit’s spelled-out road name, PACIFIC FRUIT EXPRESS, and substituted the 9-inch words ICE SERVICE from the Microscale PFE set 87-501.
     I also added the white decal placard indicating assignment to ice service which is in that new set 87-501. I used the “Los Angeles” assignment placard, as that is the closest large Ice Manufacturing Plant. Surplus ice might be available from a facility closer than Los Angeles, but obviously the supply would be largest from an IMP like the one at Los Angeles. I should mention that not all ice service cars were assigned to a particular ice source, though many were. You can easily model both types.
     The other change I made was to blank off the ice hatch openings. In my interviews with Pete Holst, retired from many years in Car Service at PFE, he told me that to make an ice service car, the vital thing was to remove the floor racks, so that ice could be readily moved into and out of the car, and usually to remove the ice bunker bulkhead for additional space (it could be replaced if the car had to be returned to revenue service). If the car was in the shop for this work, they would usually also remove the ice hatches and blank the openings.
     Here is the model, being spotted at the Western Ice Company storage house at Shumala on my layout. Consolidation 2829 has the honors. It may not be possible in this photo to read the white placard, but it says this: “P.F.E. Ice Service Return to Los Angeles When Empty.”

     A word on paint schemes. My model described in this post is from Class R-30-9, and had the 1942–1946 paint scheme. This helps identify it as a car which may have been assigned to ice service in the late 1940s, when it was nearly due for rebuilding again, and instead got the ice assignment.
Tony Thompson


  1. What would be an SP prototype for a small icehouse such as pictured? I have the parts for a length of the Tichy icing deck but am not sure I want to commit to the space for the major icing facility it seems to represent.

  2. I am covering this ice house, with some comments on its construction, in my "Getting Real" column for a forthcoming issue of the on-line magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist (I think the column will appear in the October issue). But I can make a few points here.

    First, there were no SP ice houses. PFE was responsible for protective services throughout SP, WP, and UP territory. Moreover, most small icing facilities were commercial ice companies, under contract to PFE, not PFE facilities as such. But at least some of them had ice decks built by PFE, and you could use the Tichy ice deck for a small deck (say, a few carlengths, which is pretty small in the PFE universe).

    I would strongly second your instinct that a major icing facility is not a good modeling choice for anyone but a VERY large club. PFE would not have considered an ice deck "long" if less than fifty cars. That size, which if built in HO scale would be around 25 feet long, is already immense for model construction. The longest HO scale ice deck I know of is at the La Mesa Club layout (Tehachapi) Bakersfield yard, and is a bit less than 30 cars long. It is a heckuva model, but as I say, PFE people would have seen it as a small facility.
    Tony Thompson

    1. Tony, I appreciate your reply. Look forward to learning more from your column.
      Barry Roth

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