Saturday, November 18, 2023

Route cards, Part 29: more on grading

This  post may be the last (at least for awhile) about the cards that prototype railroads attached to route card boards on freight cars. This post, like several previous ones, is about the cards used to record the result of an inspection of the car’s interior, and its suitability for various grades of cargo. 

Almost all of the cards I have been showing in the last ten or so posts in this series are from a striking collection belonging to Michael Litant. He personally removed many of them from freight cars in the 1965–1968 period (cars that had arrived at destination, so presumably removing the cards did not compromise car operation). I appreciate his generosity in sharing this collection.

The first example I want to show is from the Soo Line, both sides of a square card (4 inches on a side). It has no letter or number grades, just descriptions of appropriate cargoes. On the left is the filled-out portion, identifying ATSF 27860 as the car, apparently for grain. If I am reading the car identity right, it was a 40-foot stock car. Such a car, coopered inside with plywood, could accept bulk grain as a cargo. I believe the diagonal stamp is for Superior, Wisconsin.

Second is another example of a square, two-side grading card, this one from the Chicago Great Western. It is 5 inches square and appears not to be filled out. It’s especially interesting in that on the side with grades 1–4, door widths are also called out.

My third example is from my own collection of cards like this, included here because although it is a one-sided card, it does have four sections with different grades. It’s a Southern Pacific card, 5 inches square, stamped at Calexico, California, near the Mexican border, on January 6, 1956. The car was EJ&E 60890, which was a 40-foot steel box car, perhaps seeming like an odd choice for the cargo, plasterboard; but this car had 8-foot doors, making loading much easier. Note that plasterboard was a “special” commodity that had to be written in. Considerable plasterboard was produced in the Imperial Valley, which contains Calexico.

Next is an example of a single-sided card that looks like it’s a grading card for only one grade (B), from the Norfolk & Western. But as was pointed out to me by John Barry, it is more likely a route card. It was issued at Buffalo (perhaps for local switching), thus obviously after the 1964 acquisition by N&W of the Wabash and the Nickel Plate. It is 3 x 5 inches, and was made for UP 166458. This was a 50-foot double-door box car with cushion underframe.

I also want to show a small tag, just 2 x 2.5 inches, used by the DT&I to indicate that a car had been inspected, and that is was “OK,” meaning either that it was “OK to load” or simply that it had been inspected. Something was written at the top, but I can’t read it through the dirt acquired in its journey.

Last, many roads required car inspectors to record their evaluations, car by car, so that a record remained at the terminal where inspection was carried out. These were of course ephemeral records, but here is a blank one, from the New York Central, showing what this might look like. It’s 4 x 8.5 inches in size. When new, doubtless this was a lighter color, perhaps manila or white. (You can click on the image to enlarge the lettering.)

Again, as I keep saying, I find these cards interesting, both as a snapshot of how cars were managed, and a fascinating insight into individual roads’ choices in designing these non-standard cards and papers for identifying each loading grade or route for a car to follow. And I am still preparing some comments on how all this visual information could be used in modeling.

Tony Thompson

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