Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sceneramics, Tiny Lettering

Now that we've covered some history, operations, in-service photos and disposition of these superb Sceneramics, there's one issue that remains unsettled. I hinted at it in Sceneramics, Part 2. It's the question of that tiny lettering high up on each side of the cars while in CN and VIA service. I've consulted VIAphiles, uberVIAphiles and they've consulted me, but no-one had the 'Sceneramic smoking gun' or  'Sceneramic steel spike' to definitely drive through the heart of this enigmatic beast. Until now.

Rolling stock can be 'repossessed' and resold if necessary, so money is readily available to help pay for cars and locomotives. An equipment trust is a mortgage on specific rolling stock. In the most common arrangement, called the 'Philadelphia Plan', equipment trust notes covering about 80 percent of the cost of specific equipment are issued by a financial institution, with the railway making a down payment of 20 percent. The notes are paid off in instalments by the railway, with the bank retaining title to the rolling stock until the last notes are retired, usually in 15 years. Insurance is carried by railways to cover any losses to equipment while held under a trust note. Serial maturities mature over a period of years, and control of the rolling stock reverts to the railway as those maturities occur. The lender holds an interest in specific equipment and can seize it to repay the loan. When cars under an equipment trust certificate are paid for, the certificate is cancelled, and the trust plates or stencilling removed. At that point the railway fully owns the cars. Wall Street believed that financing tied to a specific asset was more credit-worthy than financing tied to a railway's financial health. The ultimate purpose of an equipment trust certificate is to lower interest costs. Manufacturers Hanover and the Equitable Insurance Company were well-known companies in the field.

Interestingly, the Milwaukee Road was known for its use of equipment trust certificates to finance the rebuilding and reselling of its freight car fleet. Eventually, spending on rebuilt cars outstripped spending on new cars and the Milwaukee was forced to rebuild and sell cars to pay the charges on its existing fleet. This practice was likely the Road's biggest single downfall, as there was neither available money nor an adequate, modern car fleet. CMSTP&P annual reports often recorded equipment trusts and a series of expiration dates. The 1955 Annual Report includes a list of equipment trust certificates in series Y, Z, AA-HH, JJ-TT, and in the 1962 Annual Report series HH and JJ-ZZ.

Passenger cars often bore equipment trust plates in the form of cast metal plates, showing the name of the owner and the railroad leasing the equipment, as in this NYNH&H plate. Plates were favoured over stencilling as they were not as easy to remove if the car was repainted, nor lost if a car was wreck-damaged. Stencilling could be missed or forgotten over time due to repairs or repainting. The location of such plates on passenger cars varied: sometimes high up on the car side, on a vestibule wall, or near the builder's plate. Plates could also be riveted to the centre sill under the car, usually near a brake system information plate. Remember that equipment trust certificate periods could be as long as 25-30 years.

A 1973 US Surface Transportation Board recordation 6649-B lists in its appendix Four (4) Dome Passenger Cars, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company's identifying road numbers, respectively: "55, 57, 58 and 59, together with said present stock of spare parts for said cars".  The notarized recordation, dated May 4, 1973 is between officials of the Milwaukee Road and the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, Trustee. Is it possible that the six other Super Domes, acquired by CN were governed by a similar trust? (I stumbled across this STB Recordation site while searching for lease information for the 1980 Manitoba Covered Hoppers post. It's a treasure trove of rolling stock information, buried deep in legalese) 

Any city that has a station trainshed must be concerned about clearances, just as trucks must be concerned about low highway overpasses. Nobody wants a Sceneramic, Skyline or Park car dome scraped off, with associated passenger and crew fatalities and injuries. So the operation of any high or wide equipment would have to be checked by company officials before the equipment operated in the vicinity of a station trainshed. Well-known examples include the Canadian's F-unit icicle-breakers, Superliner equipment tested by VIA, double-stack container well cars, wedge plows, and in this case, Sceneramic cars. At Winnipeg, where VIA/CN 6510 (above - CSTM Collection CN000551) poked its nose westward in 1977, half-ties were used on specific tracks to increase rail-to-trainshed clearances. Here's a Chris Doering photo showing the lettering applied to many Prairie Region plows:
There are photos of Park cars, including Algonquin Park, drumhead-less in 1980 and Sceneramics being operated through the trainshed. Remember that Sceneramics, 15'6" in height, were four inches below the 15'10" height of Park cars, not the other way around! Here are Gary Hadfield's fine photos of CN No 1 at Winnipeg in October, 1975:
Follow the characteristic Winnipeg Union lightposts into the trainshed and out the other side, and it appears that when that when the Super Continental heads west, the train's Sceneramic, bearing that tiny black-on-white lettering, is going right through the shed! Club lounge Gaiete was removed and Sceneramic Athabasca added during Gary's layover at Winnipeg.
Gary later photographed Athabasca steaming during a chilly Jasper station stop:
It's possible that when CN acquired the Milwaukee Super Domes, there was an active equipment trust that accompanied the cars. In fact, a VIA roster published in 1979 specifically but cryptically states that the Sceneramics are "Ex-Milwaukee Road 'Super Domes', rebuilt for CN service. Cars leased from Wall St. Trust Co. [sic]". Ex-Milwaukee sleeping cars are listed differently, as "Purchased from the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific RR..." This Wall St. Trust Co. notation got me wondering. Googling 'Wall St. Trust Co.' reveals nothing relevant. Perhaps that was just someone's unofficial notation on the VIA roster...

The positioning, size and visibility of the lettering is certainly consistent with other equipment trust stencilling (see photo second from top). The fact that the same lettering is visible in photos from the CN era up to the VIA era in 1981 shows that it was important enough to be re-applied after repainting from black-on-white to white-on-blue. Curiously and conversely, CN's double-deck auto transporters used in Car-Go-Rail and Auto-With-You services had large, probably 6" or larger, bilingual warning lettering (below) and a yellow line at both ends and both car sides - that's six different locations per car!
Yellow line is clearance limit for standard cars. Max. height for this car 16' 6"
This lettering was visible from all sides and ends. Compare that with the Sceneramics' tiny lettering, only at the top left of each car side - only two, rather inconspicuous locations per car! (Notice how it was easy for the painters to properly locate the tiny lettering on the narrow white CN passenger scheme band, but a little more location leeway for the stencil was employed on the solid VIA blue)
Columbia, online auction site photo:

Here are links to pertinent STB recordations regarding Sceneramics:
6648-B MILW 55/57/58/59 (there's also 6649-B) signed in 1973 due in 1984)
7430  CN 2700-2705 6 Cafe-Bar-Dome-Lounge cars (there's also 7430-A and -B), 1974
14616 MILW 53/VIA 2701 sold in 1985 to Chicago & North Western (there's also 14616-A and -B)

I steeled myself to plow through all 83 pages of the CN recordation which was signed by CN Vice-President J.M. Duncan in 1974, confident I would find a connection here somewhere. Each recordation contains pages of various legal conditions that must be satisfied, assigned to the parties. There are conditions for trust markings on the equipment, and a Schedule or Appendix that includes the reporting marks and type of equipment. At page 18, I struck gold! I found the following clause proving this is equipment trust stencilling, required as a condition of the bank's ownership of the equipment in trust, and setting out the exact language to be applied to each piece of equipment:

Article 4.06 --- Marking of Trust Equipment
The Company agrees that it will cause each unit of the Trust Equipment to be kept numbered with the identifying number set forth in Schedule I hereto, and will keep and maintain plainly, distinctly, permanently and conspicuously marked on each side of such unit in letters not less than one inch in height, the following words:
I've typed the equipment trust lettering on four lines as it appears on the sides of the Sceneramics. If you compare it with the photos above, you'll see it matches exactly! We've come full circle from the 1979 VIA roster notation - it wasn't THE Wall Street Trust Co, but it was a Trust Co. on Wall Street!

I believe the text of this troublesome, VIAphile-confounding, VIAnigma can now be reliably ascertained. Like Indiana Jones, the mystery has been uncovered by applying just the right combination of searching, teamwork and luck. Thanks to Bruce Chapman, Gary Hadfield, Mark Kaluza, Ian Lisakowski, Brian Schuff and Tim Vitelli for their inspiration, generous assistance and photos, in the production of this series of posts. Wouldn't it be wild if the following conversation took place aboard Athabasca back in 1980?
JUNE 2021 UPDATE: Boy, if I'd seen this photo from the UConn JW Swanberg Papers eight years ago, this mystery would have been A LOT easier to solve. 
Enlarged from this nice, hi-resolution photo of Columbia at the Winnipeg Depot in June, 1977:
And it was still fun to discover that Tiny Lettering, regardless!

Running extra...

I shouldn't have mentioned challenge. Here are some suggestions that have poured in since:
-why didn't CN just buy Super-Domes instead of continuing the MILW equipment trust?
-where can I find tiny lease lettering decals?
-did the borrowed Amtrak Superliners fit under Winnipeg's trainshed in 1984-85?
-what about those four elusive stainless steel cars scrapped by VIA?
-any photos of Jasper in VIA paint?

This interesting quote from a letter to the editor in today's National Post, regarding what we know (and how we all have to rely on others to help us know it):
"When at Library School in England many years ago, we students were taken to the British Museum Library in Bloomsbury and allowed to walk along one mile of the library's 80 miles of bookshelves. We were told that if we lived a long life, we might just have time to read the titles of the books on the shelves, not their contents, and we must be aware that a further 200,000 titles would be added each year while we were doing so. We were taught to accept the vastness of our ignorance so that we would properly deal with those who came into our libraries seeking knowledge. It was stressed that we remember that the possession or not of a particular fact or idea is not an indication of a person's worth. Nothing is known until it is known."


Jason Shron said...

You have made Mark Kaluza a very, very happy guy.

Ian Lisakowski said...

Now, if only we can get some decals with that lettering. The Black Cat set, while it has interesting teeny lettering for air tanks and trucks, does not have any trust plate info.

Hmm, who else makes VIA decals...

Eric said...

That's our goal here at Trackside Treasure, Jason. Delighting Canadian railfans, one post and one VIAnigma at a time!

Since the research into this one began, I've had at least three more brought to my attention. I think I need to recharge the batteries a little bit first, but who doesn't like a challenge?

Thanks for your comment,

Eric said...

Good point, Ian. Would a wander through the decal/transfer scrap-box yield something? It would have to be really tiny, four more or less same length lines long, and completely unreadable.

While I don't have a measurement on that lettering, the equipment trust agreement stipulates lettering at least one inch high. I doubt the trust lettering is more than two inches tall.

Let me know if you find some suitable ones.


Anonymous said...

I thought it might say "If you can read this you are too close" and very, very tall...

Eric said...

Good one, A. Or "The joke is on you. We just put this stencilling way up here to see if anyone will be obsessed and interested by it thirty years from now"

And they were.

Thanks for your comment,

BArailsystem said...

Great job Eric! Thank you for your perseverance and hard work combing through all those documents written in legalese. I must say that I am impressed.
Sometimes when I find myself in a TSB pgf file in .doc format that includes 455 pages all starting with 10.1.23, 10.2.23 etc .etc. my eyes go crossed and every page starts looking the same. I encountered a much simpler but similar dilemma while sifting through government of Alberta documents trying to find the standards for parking lot stalls in Alberta, width's, line spacing etc. etc.
It's seriously like Pan's labyrinth in there! So I can appreciate what you went through.

Thanks for posting this Eric, I love me a great VIAnigma.


Eric said...

Thanks, Ben. I'm on the trail of a few other VIAnigmas right now, but this Sceneramic one was a great one to have in the bag (I think).

That's why they have professional research assistants, I guess!


Richard Longpré said...

You mentioned that Sceneramics were shorter than the Park series by several inches. I would certainly be interested to know by how many inches exactly and what documents testify this.

Richard Longpre

Eric said...

Hi Richard,

I had a neighbour once who spoke two me twice. Both times, he leaned on my back fence and told me that my cedar hedge was leaning on HIS fence and that thy should be removed before the (actually, MY) fence collapsed. No hello, no how are you, no small talk!

I'm happy to hear from you, though I find your comment like those of my neighbour's - rather one-sided; not full of positivity.

Trackside Treasure is not perfect, and I always welcome correction and even questions from readers. But if you have a correction, please supply some clarification!

There may be some confusion in your mind based on the way the post was written originally i.e. long vs. short, tall vs. short. My intent, based on the accompanying text, was to discuss the height of the cars, not their length, as regards the overhanging train shed.

I've clarified the text. Sceneramics and Park cars were 85 feet long.

Sceneramics were 15'6" high; Park cars were 15'10" high. The former comes from an original Pullman-Standard Milwaukee Super-Dome publication in my collection; the latter from information in Wikipedia and Yahoogroups discussion.

If you have additional information that's relevant, please share and I may revise the text further.

By way of small talk, how is your book on VIA Rail rolling stock rolling along?