Looking Back: SFRD In 1909


This material is extracted from an article in the Santa Fe EMPLOYEES MAGAZINE, Volume 3, No. 12 (November 1909). In those days SFRD stood for Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch. The article is titled “Growth Of The Citrus Fruit Traffic” by Edward Chambers, Assistant Freight Traffic Manager, San Francisco.


I extracted the material that pertains to the merits of early refrigerator cars.


Bob Chaparro

Hemet, CA



Up to this time [1885] California shipped but little citrus fruit to points east of the Rocky Mountains. The cars used were ordinary box cars or ventilated fruit cars of antiquated pattern, lined inside and provided with ventilators at each end, so constructed as to admit the greatest quantity of fresh air during warm weather or to be tightly closed during cold weather. Both the fruit cars and the box cars were thirty to thirty-four feet in length and weighed, when empty, much less than a refrigerator car, which was then unknown in California. These older cars were, however, more available for general service than the modern refrigerator car, and were usually loaded returning to California, as westbound traffic then at all seasons was very much greater than eastbound. This equipment was really of no special value in preserving fruit against damage except in supplying fresh air from the outside and allowing the escape of warm air from the inside. In the winter season scarcely a car of fruit reached an eastern destination without being more or less frozen.


Early in 1888 ventilated refrigerator cars were introduced into California for carrying citrus fruits, both under ventilation and refrigeration. The first cars in service on the Santa Fe were known as the "Tiffany patent," equipped with solid end ice tanks having a capacity of about four thousand pounds of ice. Ventilation was secured through small ventilators in the ends of the cars.


Two types were put in service on the Southern Pacific Company's lines—the Hutchins car (operated by the California Fruit Transportation Company) and the Goodell Line car.


At the end of the second season thereafter the Santa Fe put into service the Wickes patent refrigerator car, which had been found by test to be a better refrigerator and ventilator than the Tiffany car. These cars were thirty-four feet in length. After using them and finding they were the best in service, shippers via the Santa Fe absolutely declined to load any other cars, and the road was forced to take out of service two hundred and fifty Tiffany cars and rebuild them for ventilated fruit cars. Such cars were less used, even then, and within a short time the ventilated cars were entirely withdrawn from the citrus fruit service, at quite a loss to the railroad company.


In the meantime all kinds of refrigerator cars were coming into service. Improvements continued in ventilating and refrigerating devices for refrigerator cars—nearly four hundred patents have been taken out in this country alone—and the construction of the cars advanced particularly as to strength, height and length.


By the beginning of the season of 1896 the Wickes car was out of date compared with others, and the Santa Fe was obliged, in order to satisfy the demand of the shippers and be on an equality with competing railroads, to discard it.


Arrangements were made with the Santa Fe Fruit and Refrigerator Line, the Continental Fruit Express and the Fruit Growers' Express to supply the line with sufficient of the latest improved refrigerator cars. These car lines were not satisfactory to the shippers, and in 1901 the Santa Fe purchased all the modern cars of the Santa Fe Fruit and Refrigerator Line and built a sufficient number of modern forty-foot refrigerator cars to take care of the traffic.


This equipment has been steadily improved upon and increased so that today the Santa Fe has six thousand of the latest improved refrigerator cars, operated by the Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch. This equipment cost over six millions of dollars and is sufficient to take care of the maximum citrus fruit loading at any part of the season.


This immense investment has been made primarily for the citrus fruit traffic, as there is not sufficient perishable freight on other parts of the system to employ any such number of cars during the dull season in California. The cars are then either idle during several months or are employed in box car service, where the general loading and usage necessitates heavy cleaning and repair bills.



Join main@RealSTMFC.groups.io to automatically receive all group messages.