Sunday, November 6, 2016

Appearance of PFE reefers, Part 2

In the previous post about Pacific Fruit Express cars, I showed a couple of examples of PFE cars, both clean and dirty (you can find that post at this link: ). I promised in that post to show some data on PFE painting and washing, which is the topic of the present post.
     When I interviewed Earl Hopkins, retired Chief Mechanical Officer for PFE, he described for me the extensive program of car washing which PFE maintained for many years. He explained that PFE management strongly believed that because the cars carried food, they should be as clean as practical. I asked how the cars were washed, and he answered that it was like washing the elephants at the circus: buckets, hoses, and long-handled brushes, all by hand. Usually only sides were washed, sometimes ends, but not roofs.
     As it happens, there are data on this washing. Each PFE shop reported monthly on all the work they had done that month. These records survive at the California State Railroad Museum, cataloged under MS 49, Boxes 5 and 6. These boxes contain 12 monthly reports from each shop for every year from 1920 until the end of 1957, with the most valuable reports each year being the one for December, because it contained the accumulated data for the entire preceding year. I was able to review these shop reports when writing the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), but there was only space in the book to report summary data in a few places.
     I will show here one such December report, for 1937, chosen essentially at random. It’s three pages, a common size, though some years it went to four pages. Shown below is page 1 of the report. It begins with the entire fleet status, along with info on destroyed or retired cars, cars sold and renumbered, etc., culminating in the PFE calculation of the total car fleet at that moment, lower right corner of that data table. Below that is the dismantling report. A dismantling report was only included in a few eras, particularly in the Depression when car demand was low and the oldest cars were dismantled rather than rebuilt.

Note that these dismantling reports are by shop.
     The second page contains several interesting reports. At the top is rebuilding, though it can be seen that December was not an active month. Still, in the course of 1937, 2142 cars of Class R-30-12 and 587 cars of Class R-30-13 had been rebuilt. There was a program at the time of replacing arch-bar trucks with cast-steel trucks, and typical of any such PFE shop program, progress was reported in this format. Part (b) of that table is also interesting, showing the number of cars with varying capacity of ice tanks (bunkers). Then at the bottom is a table of cars painted, showing 5006 cars painted in 1937. This is a fairly typical total, about 13 percent of the total car fleet, and that percentage implies repainting about every 8 years.

     Lastly, page 3 shows cars washed, at the top; cars re-roofed (this in the days of outside metal roofs, which required periodic replacement), then a tabulation of all the car repairs made, and the man-hours needed to do the work. The amount of car washing shown here for 1937 is not an unusual proportion of the fleet, but note that it is fully 40 percent of the entire fleet. This of course is why I often repeat my comment, that you cannot set the amount of weathering on a PFE model car by the age of its paint scheme. All that car washing meant that many cars were clean, even with old paint.

The sheer volume of information in this single report can only suggest the richness of the entire PFE shop record, covering 38 years of reports like this. I would also observe that the report is very clearly and compactly organized and presented, but in the days of typewriter preparation, this kind of result was the product of considerable skill and experience. It was also, of course, the product of a considerable amount of clerical work to collect and organize all these data across five shops.
     I will present graphical and tabular summaries to extend this kind of PFE information over the whole 38-year span, in a future post.
Tony Thompson


  1. Makes you wonder, doesn't it, Tony. How permanent are the records the RRs keep in today's "more efficient" computer age. How much info such as this will be available 50 - 60 years down the road. Not much and not available is my guess.

  2. You are absolutely right, Harry. In fact even the 1960s saw the demise of most railroad record-keeping on paper. The computer files that followed, even if they could be found, would rely on operating systems, special software, and computer and tape drive hardware long vanished. One would have to find print-outs that were saved somewhere.
    Tony Thompson