Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PFE’s 40-foot express reefers

Modelers are familiar with the conventional express refrigerator of the steam and transition eras, a 50-foot, wood-sheathed car having long-wheelbase trucks, often with outside equalizers. But there were exceptions, and I want to include examples of exceptions as part of my express reefer operations, described in a previous post (you can see it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/02/operations-seasonal-traffic.html ). In that post, I included a model photo of a conventional 50-foot car, the Walthers version of General American’s widely used wood express reefer.
     By the early 1950s, many 1920s-built express reefers were on their last legs, and the fleet began to be insufficient for demand. Railway Express Agency operated the main express pool in the U.S., and they asked member car owners to help if they could. The response from Pacific Fruit Express was to convert 50 of their conventional 40-foot steel ice reefers into express service, during late 1952 and early 1953. Those cars are the subject of this post. (For more details, you may read Chapter 8 in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000. I will repeat some of the book material here.)
     First, some background. The first all-steel ice cars on PFE were of Class R-40-10, built in 1936 and 1937 with typical car specialties of the day. Running boards were wood, ice hatch covers were separately hinged from hatch plugs, and the cars had no fans. By 1950, these features were obsolescent, so PFE began to upgrade the R-40-10 cars a few at a time, whenever there was shop time, and the visible signs of the upgrade were, most visibly, a steel grid running board. Electric fans were also added, which could be seen as a fan control box below the car side (on the left side of the car only). This upgrading program went steadily but slowly along and was not completed until 1954 or 1955.
     When the decision was made to convert some steel cars for express service, 50 of the upgraded R-40-10 cars were chosen. These cars were most visibly changed by being painted the standard SP passenger car color, Dark Olive Green, and lettered in Dulux Gold. They also received the usual passenger air brake equipment, including steam and signal lines, and marker light brackets at the four car corners. Here is the first of the 50 cars converted, PFE 901. The dummy fan plate can be seen above the left truck, and the fan control box is below the fan plate. Placard boards are arranged as on the contemporary Class R-40-25. (PFE photo at Los Angeles Shop, author’s collection) You can click on the image to enlarge it.

     The next most visible change, after the Dark Olive Green, was the addition of high-speed trucks. Union Pacific had carried out a test application of two kinds of high-speed freight trucks on their stock cars in Daylight Stock train service, but had chosen roller-bearing trucks instead, and were now prepared to sell the second-hand solid-bearing trucks to PFE.
     The 50 pairs of trucks comprised 25 Symington-Gould Type XL pedestal trucks, and 25 Chrysler FR5-D trucks. The latter had Symington-Gould sideframes much like conventional AAR trucks, but were visibly distinctive with the addition of a shock absorber on the outside of the sideframe. The Chrysler truck was also a swing-motion design. Both trucks are shown in drawings and photographs in the 1949–51 Car Builders Cyclopedia. The first 25 of the converted cars, numbered PFE 901–925, received the Chrysler trucks; the second 25, PFE 926–950, received the Type XL trucks. Here are both prototype trucks, with the Chrysler truck at left.

The Chrysler photo is from PFE (California State Railroad Museum collection), the Type XL photo is from the 1949–51 Cyclopedia. In the photo above of PFE 901, the Chrysler trucks are hard to see because they are painted black, but the photo immediately above should clarify the appearance.
     I want to just mention my modeling approach here, and will go into more detail in a subsequent post. One starting point for these cars, of course, is the InterMountain undecorated kit for PFE Class R-40-10. This same model has been offered from time to time in Dark Olive Green, and at the moment, InterMountain continues to catalog an R-40-10 model decorated for express service (their catalog number 47612) in ready-to-run form. But be aware they also offer the same decoration on an R-40-23 body, which is incorrect.
     Even built stock, but in Dark Green, the R-40-10 model surely captures the general look of these cars. The same might be concluded even for an Athearn 40-foot steel reefer model, painted Dark Green, though the body is that of a later class, R-40-23, and could only be a stand-in. As mentioned, roofs of model freight cars are very visible to viewers, so adding an Apex steel grid running board is an excellent step in making any such models more accurate.
     More than a decade ago, the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society arranged with InterMountain to offer a convention car with this model. Here is a box end to show how it was described.

This kit was a special run, but as mentioned above, see InterMountain’s website (visit this link: http://www.intermountain-railway.com/ho/horeefers.htm ) for availability of ready-to-run versions.
     The other issue is trucks, as described above. The Symington-Gould Type XL truck is much like, though not identical to, the Cape Line T-13 truck, and I have used that for PFE cars 926–950. For the Chrysler truck, there is no commercial equivalent, but I will show in a following post how I attempted to reproduce this truck while building the kit shown above, PFE 909.
Tony Thompson

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