Monday, January 15, 2018

Auto industry traffic, Part 5

This topic of auto industry traffic is a significant one for most of the United States in the transition era, because auto parts moved in all directions (primarily from the upper Midwest) to assembly plants all over the U.S., and assembled automobiles moved, to a significant degree by rail, from those assembly plants, not only to their immediate region, but for specialized or less numerous models such as convertibles, perhaps from quite distant plants to a particular area.
     I began my thread on this topic with a general traffic description, along with sources of  information, in a Part 1, and followed that up with sample waybills for such traffic, in Part 2. Both these posts can be readily reached from Part 3, which described the prototype equipment inside auto-industry cars, and it can be found at this link: . Then in Part 4, I showed a selection of the model cars that are part of my fleet handling auto-industry traffic (see it here: ).
    One immediate question that modelers ask is, which railroad’s cars would be carrying this traffic? By my modeling year, 1953, auto traffic pools were formalized and well established, with the railroads along each route agreeing (in most cases) to supply cars to each pool, in proportion to the percentage of the route’s miles on each railroad. Sometimes a railroad would decline to participate; I have a copy of a Southern Pacific memo mentioning that the CB&Q had declined to participate in a pool which moved over their lines. No reason was given.
     This description of how most pools were formed makes it obvious that in the Far West, you would certainly expect to see SP, UP, and Santa Fe cars among the auto traffic, because they served the Western end of the routes. But what about other roads? Here is a most informative sample of traffic moving to northern California plants (I’ll describe the source in a moment):

These data are from several 1951 and 1956 trains, perfect for my use. This graph comes from a superb article by Mark Amfahr, entitled “Bay Area Auto Shipments in the Postwar Years,” which appeared in The Streamliner (magazine of the Union Pacific Historical Society), issue for Spring 2016.
     First, many railroads had pieces of multiple pools, so you could not necessarily guess which automobile company’s parts were in a car. But there were exceptions. The DT&I served Ford’s immense River Rouge plant outside Detroit, and typically interchanged cars to the Wabash for westward movement, making those two roads prominent in Ford traffic pools. On the other hand, both NYC and PRR predominantly served GM plants, and many GM parts moved over Illinois Central and Rock Island, while Ford parts moved heavily on Santa Fe. These details are found elsewhere in that issue of The Streamliner. and elsewhere (see Part 1).
     One sub-topic in this subject is the locations from which assembled vehicles might be moved to the Far West. Of course the primary such location is the “home” plants in Michigan for all the auto makers. But there were a number of major assembly plants closer to California. For example, Kansas City was home both to a major Ford plant (primarily assembling pickup trucks), called “Kansas City Assembly,” and a General Motors plant called “Fairfax Assembly,” under the Buick-Oldsmobile Pontiac Assembly Division.
     In the period I model, General Motors had introduced two separate management structures for its assembly plants, called either Chevrolet, or else Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac, abbreviated B-O-P. But this description only identified the plant management, and a particular plant did not exclusively assemble the vehicles implied by its management name. A B-O-P plant could assemble Chevrolets, and vice versa. The terminology, then, does not tell you what a particular plant would assemble.
     Information like this is readily accessible via Google or other search engines. Any city or region in which you are interested can be easily investigated for dates and locations of auto assembly plants.
     Now I will turn to some of the model cars in my auto-traffic fleet. Having shown a Wabash 40-foot double-door with wood sheathing, typically used in auto parts service, here is a similar car, except for being all steel. It is SP Class A-50-13, and was built from a Sunshine resin kit. The prototype car was built in 1936, but the model paint scheme depicts a postwar repaint.

     Cars of the 40-foot length were also used for set-up automobiles, and when equipped with auto loading racks, naturally had the white door stripe. The model shown below was converted from a Trix styrene model by Richard Hendrickson.

     There were also 40-foot cars used for auto parts, which also had end doors. These simplified loading, as the large end door allowed full access to the entire interior, and it could be loaded from the B  end through to the A end without having to allow space at the side door location to facilitate unloading. This 1930-built car is interesting because of its radial roof and relatively low height, no problem for the heavier range of auto parts. The model was built from a Yankee Clipper resin kit.

Incidentally, the Pere Marquette, which had been controlled by C&O since 1928, also received essentially identical cars to this C&O car in 1930. It should be remembered that the PM and its extensive network of trackage in Michigan was C&O’s connection to auto industry traffic at its most prolific sources in Michigan. In 1947, PM would be merged entirely into C&O. I will have more to say about PM in a future post.
     Though not mentioned yet, there were significant numbers of 50-foot double-door cars equipped with end doors, for truly bulky cargo, such as highway trucks and buses. Such cars usually had the same kinds of chain tie-down equipment as auto rack cars, but usually without the racks. An example from my fleet is this Santa Fe Class FE-23 car, rebuilt in 1941 from an FE-S car with new steel roof and sides, and a pair of end doors. The model was given to me by Richard Hendrickson, and has a “return when empty” notice for the Rock Island at St. Joseph, Missouri, signaling pool service.

     One car type not yet mentioned is the car for frame loading, either a flat car or a gondola. Here is an example, one of Santa Fe’s War Emergency gondolas, with a frame rack in place.

     The variety of freight cars used in automobile industry traffic was considerable, as I hope I have illustrated in this series of posts. I intend to offer one more post, addressing additional sources of information about this traffic.
Tony Thompson


  1. Kansas City also had a Chevrolet assembly plant, the Leeds Plant, located on the east side of town, not too far from the Royals and and Chiefs stadiums, but in the valley west of what is now I-435. I was a Cub Scout Den Chief and my den of cubs toured the plant in 1955.

  2. You are right, Chuck. The Fairfax Assembly plant I mentioned as a B-O-P plant was indeed complemented by a Chevrolet plant called Leeds Assembly, and in the same building was a Fisher body plant, making bodies for the Chevrolets.
    Tony Thompson