Richard Hendrickson

On Oct 18, 2013, at 1:41 PM, William Keene <wakeene@...> wrote:


Hello Group,

I have a question regarding the shipment of new automobiles in box cars in the post WW II era and into the early 1950s.

The recent issue of Trains Magazine has a number of articles on the shipment of automobiles via rail but is a bit vague about the timeline for the use of box cars. It has been my understanding -- perhaps misguided -- that automobile shipments after WWII moved from rail to highway over the road trailer and very few cars were shipped in box cars at this time period.

My questions are:
1) is my understanding of the shipment of automobiles via rail correct?


2) were automobiles being shipped in box cars into the 1950s?

Yes, in large numbers.

3) if YES, then what makes were shipped by rail?

All, or almost all, of them.

4) after WWII was box car shipment of automobiles, if shipped in a box car, done using 40-foot or 50-foot box cars?

Both.  As postwar autos grew in size, 50' cars with auto racks we're used in larger numbers, but there were many 40' rack-equipped auto cars in this service, including some that were built new for that purpose in the late 1940s and early '50s.

Owing partly to the development of the interstate highway system in the '50s, the shipment of new autos by truck rather than by rail made serious inroads into rail traffic of new autos, which is why the railroads began developing auto rack flat cars.  However, at least from 1945 through the late '50s, rail shipments of new autos, as well as of auto parts, was a substantial source of revenue, and the railroads developed a system of assigned-service pools in which each RR on a certain route contributed a number of cars to the pool roughly proportional to their route mileage.  Cars assigned to the pools had pool numbers and return routes stenciled on them so they would rapidly be returned empty to the point of origin.

After WW II the auto industry diversified geographically (often using war production plants that were purchased from the government for a small fraction of what they were worth), so new autos were being produced in large numbers at locations far from the former center of the industry in the Great Lakes states, e.g. Georgia, Texas, Southern California.  Increasingly, some models were made in only one factory and thus had to be shipped long distances to markets in other parts of the country, and the greater the distance, the more likely they were to be shipped by rail.

Richard Hendrickson

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