Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The wine tank cars of AAR Class XT

 The tank cars that were classified by AAR as “XT” were described as “A house car with or without doors, with or without insulation, either metal lined or enclosing one or more tanks.” This means that on the outside, such a car looks nothing like a tank car. Since I have a few such cars in my freight car fleet, and do include them in operating sessions, they sometimes generate questions.

The first question is usually something like, “Why didn’t they just use tank cars?” I don’t know for sure, but suspect it was a matter of cost. The model cars I have all represent cars that the new owner purchased used from Pacific Fruit Express, old cars that were likely sold well below a new-car price. The car is already insulated, so all it needs for tank car use is the tanks.

There were 41 of these cars, purchased by California Dispatch Line, a major lessor of equipment for wine transport. There is much more about them in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Signature Press, 2000), located in Chapter 4.

We know from PFE records that the roofs were removed, in one piece, tanks put inside, and the roof put back on. In most cases, ice bunkers were removed inside, to make more space, but in many cases, the ice hatches were left where they were, so that the original roof structure could be retained. At least some cars had hatches removed and the opening blanked off. Either way, the car is no longer a refrigerator, it’s an insulated house car. Here’s a view of a model roof with blanked hatch openings.

Some years ago, Red Caboose used their PFE wood reefer model in HO scale, and applied a number of wine lessee schemes to them, at least three of which have prototype backing. For example, here is a car obviously leased to Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, California (photo at Oakland, February 11, 1939, by Wilbur C. Whittaker). 

This scheme is one that was copied by Red Caboose, and in this case the colors are known, from the Italian Swiss advertising of the era. Here is one of these models, being switched across Nipomo Street in my layout town of Ballard by Consolidation 2752:

Another Red Caboose model had its logo design and color based on a CDLX car found at a logging camp, lettered for Roma Wine Company. Below, you see it spotted at the winery on my layout. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Most of these CDLX cars contained six glass-lined tanks of about 1000 gallons each. (The familiar six-compartment wine tank cars also had about 1000 gallons per compartment.) Some other XT cars contained just two tanks, of 3000 gallons each. Though I don’t have an interior photo of the wine cars, the view below (a General American photo) shows a 3000-gallon tank in a milk car. This tank has its own insulation, in addition to that of the car itself.

So some of the wine that is shipped out of my two winery facilities on the layout do move in these distinctive tank cars: AAR Class XT, in former PFE reefers owned by CDLX, and leased to wine growers, processors or marketers.

Tony Thompson


  1. Thanks, Tony, for all the info on wine transport, here and in other posts. It has helped in developing my Friant Branch with its two wineries.
    -Jay Styron

  2. Thanks, Jay. I liked your wineries when I operated there! The information is much more complete in my MRH article in May of this year, as I noted in a blog post on May 18. I hope you have looked at that as well.
    Tony Thompson