Saturday, February 13, 2021

The GAEX box cars

 What the heck is GAEX? some readers may be saying. It was the reporting mark of General American-Evans Corporation, an entity set up to build and lease DF (“Damage-Free”) box cars with internal loader equipment, starting in 1950. There was a fine article about these cars by Pat Wider in Railway Prototype Cyclopedia No. 15. Though not the first “DF” cars, the GAEX fleet made the concept highly visible to railroads and shippers alike, and would result in many such cars being built in later decades.

The idea behind these cars was to provide a “modern” box car that would attract (or keep) shippers. They were 50-foot cars with 8-foot doors and reinforced, nailable-steel floors, and had Duryea underframes and easy-riding trucks (Chrysler FR-5E) to minimize damage. Most importantly, they were equipped with the Evans Products Company “Damage Free” loader equipment (more on that in a moment). They were not available for purchase, but were leased to railroads. Here is the first car in April 1950.

This car has a horizontal side seam, as many though not all of the cars had. It was dark green with  yellow lettering and diagonal stripe (in subsequent cars, the stripe stopped short of the ladder). The Chrysler trucks are evident. Most later cars had six-digit numbers beginning with “1.” (Photo from General American, via the Wider article).

The key to the Evans DF loader idea was steel angles attached to the car side walls, parallel to the floor. These had punched holes in them that would accept the locking mechanism on bars that could be installed crosswise in the car, thus the alternate name, “cross-bar loaders.” With the addition of various boards for vertical and horizontal separators in loads, a workman could construct whatever partitions and divisions were needed to restrain loaded cargo from movement.

Each car came equipped with 10 deck boards, 10 bulkheads, a set of doorway members, and from 25 to 70 crossbars. The deck boards were larger than bulkheads, and could also be used as bulkheads. The image below (General American photo) shows the way all this equipment was supposed to be stowed in an empty car, and the way a consignee was supposed to leave the car after unloading (the latter naturally was problematic). The steel sidewall angles are also evident.

The flexibility of this system was one of its strengths. It was easily adaptable to cargo items all of one shape, but could readily accommodate mixtures of sizes and shapes. An example of a workman assembling a load is shown below (Southern Pacific photo), with a deckboard being used as a bulkhead. Note also the doorway members already in place, and the use of deckboards to provide horizontal separators in the load. Some crossbars are on the floor.

There happens to be a fascinating account available on-line, of the early days of using DF cars from GAEX to ship canned goods. It is a 1954 MBA thesis by Burnis J. Sharp at Boston University. Here is a link to the PDF: . Of additional interest, Sharp was able to compare performance of the GAEX DF loader cars, with the Pullman-Standard “Compartmentizer” equipment, as installed in the famous Western Pacific silver ”Feather” box cars.

Sharp’s thesis describes the experience of a shipper, the Frank M. Wilson Company of Stockton, California, which was a canning company, with shipping canned goods in the two kinds of loader cars, versus regular box cars. He worked with the Wilson Traffic Department, and the thesis includes letters from satisfied consignees as to the success of the loader cars. 

Because the DF cars were leased to a wide range of railroads, they went all over the country under their GAEX reporting marks. Sharp mentions that these cars were readily obtained empty by the Wilson company when they had been unloaded elsewhere on the West Coast. Lessees paid GAEX a monthly fee for the use of the car, and the lessees then collected mileage from each shipment (6 mills, or 0.6 cents, per mile). It was very much in the interest of each lessee that the cars were kept moving.

Including one of these box cars in a model operating fleet of the transition era in any part of the country is very suitable. Starting in 1954, GAEX also began to produce an insulated DF box car, usually painted yellow or light orange, but as I model 1953, that is beyond my era. A model of the green box car was once produced in HO scale by Branchline Trains. In a following post, I will address a Branchline model GAEX box car.

Tony Thompson


  1. I’m wondering just how long the load restraint bars STAYED with each car before they began to disappear. If you need more restraints in one car than you did for another I’m sure they got “borrowed”, not to mention lost, stolen, and broken.

  2. I had the same question. But since the cars were leased, I would assume GA-E had to supply replacements. The MBA thesis I cited mentions that empty cars sometimes had all the loading components piled up in a mess.
    Tony Thompson