Sunday, February 1, 2009

CN Grain Boxcars

CN had 11,000 dedicated grain boxcars in its car fleet in 1965, 6,178 in 1981 and 3,660 in 1985. GMD-1's 1012 -1067 are hauling 20 of these toward Thunder Bay in 1985:

Major rehabilitation programs involving 2,000 cars in 1974, 3,000 in 1979 and 2,000 in 1980 were only expected to extend each boxcar's service life by five years. In other words, these cars were just about worn out. CN 427956 and 420566 still wear CNR's maple-leaf scheme in Winnipeg in 1986:

It was cheaper and easier for the railways to repair boxcars to use on lightweight branchlines than to upgrade the branchline infrastructure: roadbed, ties and rails to support heavier covered hopper cars. CN 428635, a 10-foot height car bears the government rehabilitation wheat sheaf logo:

CN 428806 has both the maple-leaf scheme and wheat sheaf logo:

CN not only sent loaded boxcars of grain to Vancouver and Thunder Bay as CP did, it also sent cars mostly from northern prairie elevators to the Arctic grain-shipping port of Churchill. This line was a political football continually passed around between governments, shippers, and farmers. Here are a couple of boxcars at Thunder Bay:

In 1986, while the future of the port was being debated, 339 of these "buffalo" boxcars with 8-foot doors were rehabilitated. The cost of $17,000 per car was equally split between the federal and Manitoba governments, so the cars were painted with the Manitoba and Canada logos. The cars were to be unloaded at Thunder Bay or Churchill. The same year, CN was unable to move 590,000 tonnes through the port with its own fleet, and had to borrow boxcars from CP Rail.

As late as 1994, CN was suspected of causing artificial shortages of Churchill-dedicated cars by squirreling them away on isolated sidings, as this newspaper advertisement from the Hudson Bay Route Association implies:

Average yearly shipments through the port from 1984 to 1994 were 379,000 tonnes, with a high of 621,000 tonnes in 1983. A dismal low of 50,000 tonnes was shipped through the port in 1988.

Change on the horizon: Portage Manitoba Pool elevator B has loaded three new Canadian Wheat Board covered hoppers in 1980. CNWX 395552, 396753, and 396491 and their fleetmates were built to replace boxcars rapidly leaving the grain shipping fleet by attrition.  By 1997, covered hoppers would finally be allowed to deliver shipments over the Churchill line.

The last boxcar shipments to Churchill were made in October 1996, with the fleet entering storage in December, followed by scrapping by Mandak Metals in Selkirk in 1996-1997.

Read more about CP's grain boxcar fleet.

Running extra...
A movie review for New in Town, Renee Zellweger's latest, sums up the movie this way: "You can see every minute of New in Town coming at you like a train on a prairie horizon. And like the drive from Winnipeg to Regina, it feels a lot longer than it is." Talk about long movies, how about that 3-hour drag freight The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? At least Revolutionary Road, starring the winsome Kate Winslet featured some commuter trains taking Leonardo DiCaprio home to their house in Connecticut.
A comment from photographer Chuck Bohi: "One of my 10,000 'Favorite' photos is of a CN train at Warroad, MN taking an eastbound grain train made up mostly of boxcars, including some wooden ones, in 1971. I also found a Wellsville, Addison, and Galeton wooden boxcar at the elevator at Cereal, AB in 1972. At Driver, SK, a wooden CN boxcar that dated from 1923 was on spot in 1972. The other boxcars at Driver's elevator were pretty old as well."

On CN this afternoon, 176 cars and 164 cars were on an eastbound and westbound respectively, at Kingston, each with two new units. Kind of reminds me of stories about the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road, just before they went bankrupt...although they were hauling unprofitable traffic with worn-out power, and running long trains was the only way to maybe come close to making a profit.


jddc.trains said...

Great series Eric! This was really interesting to read. Also great historical content. Like I said, I never would have known about these box cars. Thanks for sharing this.



Eric said...

For some more grain-shipping content, I'm working on a post with some of my CP Rail Colonsay Sub photos, including many more grain boxcars in evidence back in 1986. Thanks for stopping by, Jason.

Anonymous said...

I remember up until the mid 1990s these boxcars at elevators on the CN praire north line through Humboldt to Canora. I was even able to catch on video a train full of them passing the Kuroki elevator some time in the mid 1990s.

Eric said...

A., thanks for your comment. Unlike the earlier grain boxcars, these rebuilt cars had 8-foot doors instead of 6-foot doors. Unfortunately, they didn't last too long and were scrapped. But they made a nice sight while they rolled!

Chris BIGDoer Doering said...

There is a former Manitoba Buffalo boxcar on display at the mine museum in Nordegg Alberta. It's since been painted to look like a coal hauling boxcar.

Eric said...

Thanks for the additional information, Chris. I checked out your post about this boxcar and let's just never knows where these things could end up!