Re: Reefers for frozen fish.

Peter Ness

Hi Scott,


Keep in mind my response is based on East Coast practices and also about 1959, not 1950.


Having said that, I think that frozen fish in 1950 would not be very common, similar to frozen beef. It was probably available but I believe most product was either shipped fresh or processed very quickly as described below.


To my knowledge, most if not all fish was processed by facilities at the docks. Shellfish was either iced and packed in crates or shucked for further processing (canning, etc.)


Fresh fish was cleaned and iced in crates and loaded into iced reefers (not sure how many mechanical reefers were I service in 1950, but unless there were many they would probably not be used for this dedicated service (see below).


I recall seeing these operations at Commercial Street wharves in Boston on the New Haven in South Boston Yard.  Reefers were usually dedicated in service due to the stench (go catch a half dozen fish – fresh or salt water – and throw them in the cooler as you gut them, then open the cooler when you get home…), and the New Haven ran one train known as the Fish Train that departed Boston very early a.m. as an express freight to New York City. I believe there was also a similar train that ran at night.  Even in the period after this group I recall seeing wood reefers, mostly FGEX, but I recall SFRD and BREX if they were also fish service and needed to be returned. I don’t recall seeing PFE, MDT or ART reefers at the Boston fish piers, but that does not mean they weren’t used, only that I do not recall seeing them. I know from Boston some fish was shipped as far West as Chicago, beyond that I don’t know. It’s most likely shipments further West were transferred by car float to the PRR. There was an icing facility at the New Haven Maybrook yard, but I am not certain when use stopped. I suppose dit’s possible fish was also shipped via LNE, L&HR, Erie or DL&W connections further West, but this would have been a longer route on the NH. In the 1950’s most commercial fish from Boston was whitefish – cod, haddock, pollack. I am not sure if bluefish or striped bass were shipped commercially by rail or only shipped locally by truck in New England and New York.


Fish parts, fish oils, were at least semi-processed in the same area as the fish processing prior to shipment.  Fish parts were used in products ranging from animal foods to fertilizers and cosmetics. Fish oils were used in both food and pharmaceutical (medicinal back then) products. I have not researched how these products were shipped.


To my knowledge, even in 1959, most fish was shipped to markets and sold to grocery (including fish markets) and restaurant (including hotel) businesses. Very little was commercially frozen to my knowledge.


The processing plants in Boston were brick buildings.  One time when researching on line I came across photos of fish processing in Boston, but since I will not model the interior operations I did not save the photos to file.  You may have some luck researching operations in your region.  I know Cryovac films and commercial freezing were around by at least the mid-1950’s, but I don’t recall seeing frozen fish on my dinner plate until Swanson TV dinners, and I don’t recall the year offhand. Fish sticks in our house came after TV dinners. My Dad had a small boat and the fish on our house was mostly what we caught down the Cape and brought home.  Stews and chowders were either canned or homemade (but using canned clams).


At least through the mid-‘60’s supermarkets in my area of MA had racks of refrigerated beef behind the meat counter and a lobster tank (sometimes with a few live fish) and iced fish in the open cases of the fish section. The frozen food freezer contained vegetables and TV dinners and entrees as I recall.


That’s my experience and research. I am interested to learn how fish was managed in other regions and if others can confirm cross-continent shipments and if fish was shipped frozen to any great extent.


None of this is to say there was not frozen fish shipped by rail in 1950 and I too, like the looks of the R.J. Frost building and would like to find a use for it on my layout!


Peter Ness





From: [] On Behalf Of Scott
Sent: Saturday, November 24, 2018 8:43 PM
Subject: [RealSTMFC] Reefers for frozen fish.


I have a small switching layout and want to add a frozen fish wholesaler.  Probably use the Walthers Cornerstone R.J. Frost building.  I model 1950.  What would be some good frozen fish reefers?  I am thinking the SFRD RR50 (Athearn) for some west coast fish.  A CP or CN 8 hatch reefer (Funaro) for Canadian fish.  Did PFE Super Giants move any fish?  I have a Sunshine kit of it I bought from Richard.  What would come out of the Seattle area as I assume they shipped out a lot of fish.  Not very familiar with NP reefers or MDT or ART if they hauled much fish.  Lastly are there any available BREX cars for frozen fish in resin or plastic?

Scott McDonald

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