Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Red Caboose “wine reefers”

Recently InterMountain has released a run of the Red Caboose PFE reefers lettered for wine companies. These are cars leased from California Dispatch Line (CDLX). Red Caboose has offered kits for its PFE Class R-30-12 cars with these same paint schemes for 15 years or so. From time to time, I am asked if these are “authentic” or are made-up lettering schemes.
     First, a couple of facts. During 1933–1935, PFE sold 41 cars to CDLX, cars from classes R-30-5 and R-30-6 which had been rebuilt in the mid-1920s with superstructures like PFE Class R-30-12, and had also been re-trucked with cast-steel sideframe trucks to replace their obsolete arch-bar trucks. The 41 cars purchased by CDLX were converted to tank cars, AAR classification TW, by putting wooden tanks inside them, six tanks per car, holding about 1000 gallons per tank. In other words, they became, in practical terms, insulated tank cars. They were numbered 277–317 by CDLX.
     Some but not all of the cars had ice hatches removed, with a simple steel plate covering the opening; others appear to have kept their hatches. But all had ice bunkers removed to provide more interior space (so obviously they would not be iced in service). They were also painted with a variety of schemes, reflecting the lessee’s names and products. Although we don’t know all the lessees, we do know a few.
     Wilbur Whittaker photographed two of these cars in Oakland in 1939, after the ban on billboard reefers had gone into effect. (For more on those cars, and the ban, see the book by Richard Hendrickson and Ed Kaminski, Billboard Refrigerator Cars, Signature Press, 2008). Those two Whittaker photos were reproduced in the PFE book, page 84 (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000). One was leased to the Bearcreek Vineyard Association of Lodi, California (CDLX 307), the other to Italian Swiss Colony Wines of Asti, California (CDLX 279).
     Here is an example, the Whittaker photo of the Bearcreek car, which has a repack date of October 1938. It appears to have orange sides.

     A third lease was to Roma Wine, which we know about because one of the cars was later sold to the Diamond Match Company, first for on-line use in their lumbering operation in the Sierra foothills, and then for insulated storage. A number of people photographed the car, which still had its Roma Wine decoration, in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, including color images.
     The CDLX 277–317 number group was still listed in the Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) as late as 1950, but is no longer listed in the ORER in 1955. It may be wondered how these cars remained in service after the billboard reefer ban (as shown by the Whittaker photos), or if their paint schemes survived very long after 1938. At least some of the cars had simple lessee emblems and names on them, which were not banned categories of lettering. But in the absence of, say, late 1940s photos, we don’t know how they looked in later years. It is certainly possible that CDLX kept the cars in service without those interesting schemes.
     In any case, Red Caboose has offered cars with all three of the photographed paint schemes I have described, and all appear faithful to the evidence. I will show them below. In addition, they offer a white-sided Ambrose Wine Company car with CDLX markings, the accuracy of which I can’t confirm or deny. They also offer a silver-sided Scatena Brothers (Healdsburg, California) car, which is an authentic paint scheme but not, to my knowledge, leased from CDLX, but instead was from Keith Tank Line.
     Here are the models. The first two have been lightly weathered and have received a reweigh for the 1950s, as well as route cards.

The third scheme is the Italian Swiss Colony one, which I believe is much less likely to have remained in service, at least in this arrangement of lettering, much after the billboard reefer ban of 1938.

This one may end up residing in my display case.
    The simpler of these schemes, the first two I showed, will probably operate occasionally on my layout, picking up loads of bulk wine at my Zaca Mesa winery in Ballard.
Tony Thompson


  1. Drat. I just did a half baked model of this car using home made decals. The Tipo car would run back and forth between the Italian Swiss Colony building on the State Belt in San Francisco and the winery at Asti. I like these, but not enough to give up on my homebrew versions.

  2. Heck, why not have more than one? Now you can (grin).
    Tony Thompson

  3. A further thought about the comment by "Captn Billy." The Italian Swiss Colony car or cars were evidently not RESTRICTED to the Asti-San Francisco routing, because the photo taken by Will Whittaker shows the car at the SP yard in Oakland, and in the photo it can be discerned that the repacking location stenciled on the car is Oakland also. So the cars did go at least some other places.
    Tony Thompson