Saturday, December 18, 2010

Covered Hopper Train of Thought

Aluminum covered hoppers are now being scrapped. Excess car supply means that these cars are stored on out-or-the-way spurs, and this costs the owners money. The age, capacity, or features of the cars make them candidates for disposition. Procor sodium chlorate cars and CNWX grain cars have outlived their usefulness. My covered hopper "train of thought" started to roll. I remembered a "This is a car I saw" 1998 spotting report from my then-eight year-old son that matched a Railroad Model Craftsman September 2003 article I was reading on Johnstown America Grainporter aluminum covered hoppers. I'd had rare sightings of these cars, including leaser JAIX 96140 (above) likely hauling corn for Frito-Lay or Cargill to Quebec City on CN train 308 on October 2/99.
Built in 1996, the JAIX fleet was the last of four fleets of Grainporters: BN 485020-485029 (above in RMC photo of first production car of ten), JAIX 95001-95100 and 96100-96349, Cargill CGAX 9519-9999 and A.E. Staley STLX 7000-7279. I was fortunate to come across CGAX 9750 with several sisters in Selma NC on April 26, 2015:
The cars were built from 1994-1996, with aluminum construction on steel underframe and bolsters, a capacity of 5,400 cubic feet, and intended to carry low-density agricultural commodities like oats, barley and canola seed. The next car in my train of thought: Southern Railway 'Big John' aluminum cars built by Magor, beginning in 1960:
These four-compartment, large-capacity cars caused quite a stir in the shipping community, cheekily stencilled with the Big John logo as shown in the above RMC photo. Third deep in my train of thought: I'd seen these cars in Kingston! In 1998, several ex-SR, now Norfolk Southern Big Johns such as NS 269379 (below). The Southern lettering, four-digit number and Big John lettering barely covered by the NS logo gave the game away. Labelled with the characteristic (UN) 3077 orange label indicating specially-lined covered hoppers to handle nylon feedstock adipic acid:
Almost all the Big John cars were scrapped within the last year, but one has been preserved at NCTM in Spencer, NC. But wait, I'd seen other weird cars arriving at the DuPont plant. Couple up the fourth car: CSXT 201582. Formerly Family Lines, the uncomfortable and unsuccessful grouping of SCL, L&N, Georgia, Clinchfield and A&WP, rusting and coupled to a plain-grey CSX mate, this car was at DuPont in Kingston on March 28/08, with orange 3077 label amidships:
Fifth in my train of thought, similarly rusted BN 455430 and five brethren passed through Kingston on CN train 305 on May 21/07. Often seen heading east to Atlantic Canada, they're almost all painted and lettered BNSF now, as the original BN-lettered ACF covered hoppers are fast disappearing.
Sixth car is BN-painted PS-2CD 4785 RFMX 464629 operated by Caldwell-Baker Co., exx-Conrail, exxx-Penn Central H54 class, built in 1971, seen on CN train 308 May 9/02. The RFMX cars' green BN paint often looked washed-out and revealed the small CR 'can-opener' logos or Penn Central lettering, BN 464629's BN logo has been painted out but the green paint is uncharacteristically intact. The Pullman-Standard steel cars held less and weighed more than the Grainporter. Ten thousand pounds lighter tare, one foot taller, and twenty-five years newer, aluminum allowed a heavier lading due to lighter weight.
Now, having connected all the dots, and hooking an ETU on my covered hopper train of thought, what are the chances a third-grader would have the presence of mind to sketch an example of the revolutionary Grainporter car design he saw passing by, and for it to be only one of ten built for BN? The following sketch is indeed the stuff of which Trackside Treasure blog posts are made.
Running extra...

VIA trains 651 and 48 took me to and from Toronto on Thursday. Those Cobourg commuters know how to drive into the parking lot just at train time. On the trip home, darkness enveloped the countryside, except for occasional houses decorated with Christmas lights. A warm towel, followed by a Sleeman lager and tilapia dinner made the trip home more than bearable.

Friday was one of the busiest travel days of the year, as school breaks begin. Click here for some VIA trains of Christmases past . Only three seats were available on Thursday's train 48 leaving Toronto.


Darrell Sawyer said...

Re: Sixth Car-
Actually, these are PS 4785 cu ft cars, not 4427s. Note the "shear plate" on the end (non-existent on the 4427s, 4740s or 4750s built by PS). These cars don't have a center sill. Built for NYC, TLCX, TLDX, SSW, GACX, PCB, PC, PTLX, MILW and MKT. Lots have gone to subsequent owners.

Darrell Sawyer
Freight Cars Illustrated

Eric said...

Thanks for you informative comment, Darrell. I was a few cu ft short and have revised the post. Seeing several of the RFMX cars together was a study in condition and paint jobs.

Patrick Harris said...

In re:

"Formerly Family Lines, the uncomfortable and unsuccessful grouping of SCL, L&N, Georgia, Clinchfield and A&WP,"

The 'Family Lines' was marketing/branding for SCL and its subsidiaries. It was never a railroad. All component lines kept their reporting marks and (semi) independence until folded into the Seaboard System, itself merely a consolidation of those lines on the way to creation of CSX. SCL and its subsidiaries were hardly 'unsucessful' in terms of solvency and operations.

And regarding:

"rusting and coupled to a plain-grey CSX mate"

The car to the right is clearly CSX standard tan for covered hoppers. The photo is merely color-shifted slightly to magenta. The car to the left of the yellow car is grey, and comparing it to the car to the right shows the difference.

Eric said...

Thanks for the additional information, Patrick.