Re: Lumber Loads on Flat Cars and in Box Cars

Guy Wilber

Richard Hendrickson wrote:

"Packaged lumber (i.e., even-sized stacks wrapped in plastic) wasn't
shipped on flat cars until the '60s and later."

The move towards "packaged" lumber was underway by the early 1950s when most industry was fully realizing the benefits of mechanized loading and unloading. The AAR's Special Committee on Lumber Loading (appointed in 1942) developed Figure 6-C to cover open top loads of packaged lumber during 1950 as shipments of this type proved problematic prepared and shipped under the existing provisions of Figure 6. Though not yet wrapped in plastic the units were banded (or wired) and of uniform lengths and widths.

The renamed Special Committee On Forest Products introduced the new figure and rule covering lumber packaged in lengths from ten to sixteen foot long during the following year (1951). After numerous authorized tests of cars originating from both Southern and Northwestern territories Figure 6-C was issued by supplement in early 1951. Figure 6-C would subsequently be re-titled Figure 9 (as amended) and issued within Manual MD-3 on June 1, 1951.

Figure 9 was revised again in 1953 with minor changes designed to reduce the amount of dunnage used in separating and blocking packages. The revised figure and rule was issued within MD-3 on May 1, 1953. During 1955 lumber shippers requested Figure 9 be revised to allow for the shipments of eight foot long "studs". Revised, the new Figure and rules were issued by circular letter as a complete new Manual MD-3 was to be issued in 1956. Revisions would continue thru the 195os including figures for seven foot "studs" as well as Figure 9-B covering the loading of packaged lumber on bulkhead flats which was issued on January 24, 1957 (effective February 15, 1957).

As for the plastic wrapping of packaged lumber; the first mention within the Forest Products Loading Committee report was during 1955: "The packages are protected from the elements with sheets of polyethelene (sic) plastic..."

From an article within Railway Freight Traffic, June 1957: "Shipment of lumber in packaged unit loads is rapidly gaining acceptance among both shippers and receivers. Unitized steel-strapped packages provide a convenient, economical method of shipping and handling. Receivers' unloading costs are cut up to 90%."

Mr. H. L. Hewing, Superintendent of Interchange, Chicago Car Interchange Bureau (June, 1958); "In my opinion, one of the most noteworthy accomplishments made in the recent years in the movement of cut lumber, rough or dressed, on open top railroad cars, resulted from the lumber industries adoption of packaging their product and subsequent unitizing of the packages."

Guy Wilber
Sparks, Nevada

I have many photos
from the '50s and earlier showing lumber loads on flat cars, and in
almost all cases the stacks consist of more or less random lengths
with one or both ends irregular in the way that you describe."

Usually the lumber in the stacks had uniform width and height
dimensions, but not always. But again, that was either large size
lumber that required additional milling/cutting to spec. or the kind
of rough stuff that was used for concrete forms, retaining walls,
etc. Finished lumber for the construction trade was shipped in
closed cars.

Richard Hendrickson

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