Re: Tank car ratio?

Tangent Scale Models

---In STMFC@..., <tony@...> wrote :

Stan Agar wrote:

Can anyone help with a rough ratio of tank cars in plain black to those in other colors and also with large ‘Billboard’ lettering? I have been buying and building mostly plain-Jane black cars with just reporting marks and only a few brighter cars as that’s what seems to turn up in photos. I’m aware that location will be a factor and maybe the tendency of photographers to take pictures of colourful cars rather then the plainer ones (Been there, done that). My interest is the early 1950’s in the south east.
Tony Thompson said:
     "RIchard Hendrickson used to say that there were at least 9 or 10 black cars for every "billboard" one, and he suspected the ratio was even higher. (Good luck finding layouts which reflect that.) But decisive evidence is hard to find."

Tony, while I heard Richard say the same thing, I believe that the 1 billboard for every 10 black cars to be only somewhat true, and I think the answer is more complicated because we really should study what our prototypes hauled in the locales we model.  My thoughts.

1.  It depends on the LOCALE you are modeling.  A dusty branchline, such as what Jared Harper is modeling with his ATSF Alma Branch, may only see fuel oil deliveries.  These would be general service ICC-103 cars, which are typically generic black cars of 6-10K gallons (typically), although there were some colorful cars as well (Champlin Refining, Sinclair, etc).  However, a different dusty branchline may see those ICC-103s plus anhydrous ammonia deliveries, in season of course (do you model in season?).  MOST anhydrous ammonia tanks during the steam era had billboard schemes because they were leased to companies that wanted to advertise what they were selling.  At the other end of the spectrum would be southern CA mainlines in and out of the LA basin during the war, such as Cajon Pass, where dominant unit trains of fuel cars were the norm.  Many of these fuel type cars were indeed black lessee cars.  However, look closer at the other train photos - the manifest trains.  There are specialty tank cars in the mix, and many of the specialty tanks (ie not ICC-103) were painted in billboard colors.  Take the 6K chlorine tanks we've been discussing.  Like anhydrous ammonia, the owners such as hooker or diamond or Wyandotte or ? liked to advertise their "Chlorine Service" on the side.  These move the scale toward billboard cars for a mainline location away from 10 black to 1 billboard. 

2.  It depends on what ERA you are modeling.  If you are modeling the 30s/40s, I think the presence of black cars is higher simply because of the overall gross tank car fleet numbers.  I wish Tim Gilbert were still with us.  Fuel oil ICC-103 tanks were extremely common in the overall fleet percentages at this time.  GA, ACF, and a few of the smaller builders were just beginning to build specialized cars during the 30s/40s in greater numbers, such as the aforementioned 6K chlorine tanks, but once the postwar economy picked up steam, GA/ACF/NA began to produce specialized tank cars of many types in significant enough numbers for modelers to begin to pay attention.  The mid/late 40s was a tipping point toward COLORFUL schemes in my opinion.  Not 50:50 but certainly better than 10:1.  Many of the tank cars built in the later 40s and 50s seemed to have billboard schemes on them.  Additionally, all tank cars were seeing frequent repaints due to their harsh service lives.  Many of the older cars were repainted into colorful schemes as they were leased out.  I've found many examples of fresh paint on a 1940s/50s built car built 1-3 years earlier.  It has been noted on this list before that general service ICC-103 tanks became surplus after the war which probably meant the builders had to rely upon specialized tanks for revenue.  This is when you started to see more and more of these specialized tanks, such as bromine 2500 gallon tanks, heresite lined muriatic acid tanks, rubber lined acid tanks, hydrogen peroxide tanks, different flavors of insulated tanks with and without special linings, etc. 

So if you model the late 40s and early 1950s and think you only need black tanks, you may want to reconsider and do some more digging.  One great thing about tank cars is oftentimes they are in mini-"blocks" of their own of a few cars.  When I look to either side of billboard cars, usually half the time there is another billboard car next to it - not black cars on both sides.  Also, reporting marks do matter.  If it is a UTLX car, it is almost always black.  I think we all know that.  But if it is a GA-BUILT car with GATX marks, oftentimes it is billboard.    
Please speak up if you disagree with me; I have spent the better part of 5 years obsessing over tank car photos and I am amazed at the sheer number of billboard cars in service, even when I go back and look at the cars behind steam in Locomotive Quarterly for example.  And I could be wrong about the era thing.  There were many fleets of billboard cars from the teens and 20s.  Said another way, if you look at the Sinclair fleet during the 20s-30s for example, seemingly every car was painted "Sinclair" in huge, bold lettering.  If they aren't look closely at the photo.  Is the lettering there but really weathered out?  The fleet was incredibly statistically relevant, equaling 6580 cars according to the 1936 ORER.

I think billboard schemes are more common than a 10-1 ratio, especially during the 40s/50s, but I haven't been able to prove it yet.

David Lehlbach
Tangent Scale Models 
(Who loves all-black steam era tank cars, by the way) 

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