Paul Woods <paul@...>
A clue to the nature of the loads lies in the wood sheathing; whatever it is requires substantial protection from mechanical damage. Spools of wire makes good sense, especially if it is something like high-tension electrical cable which does not have insulation. High quality steel cable such as used with cranes and elevators is another possibility. A long shot would be specially finished metal liners for a very large diesel engine as found in ships, or maybe the sleeves used in large bearings. Having worked as a mechanical engineer designing ships, I have seen cylinder liners larger than what would fit in those wood drums, and overseen the manufacture of bearings nearly that big for tugboats' towing winches. However, I would have thought that steel cable or cylinder liners would require protection from water so they would be in a boxcar or at least covered with tarpaulins, so my money is on electrical cable because copper won't corrode much during the journey.
Whatever is inside, those drums make a great load for a flatcar!