Re: Early 1900's Wood Freight Cars

Richard Hendrickson

Randy Hees writes:

At least in the west, Wooden freight cars were still being factory built as
late as 1913, when Holman (San Francisco) went out of business. It appears
that the late freight cars were all for interurban lines. One example is
Sacramento Northern 32, preserved at the California State Railroad Museum,
restored in 1999 was built about 1911. It is an "all wood" flatcar,
including wooden draft timbers, but does have an iron bolster.

Wooden cars were built and rebuilt for both logging and narrow gauge
service much, much later. The West Side Lumber Co was building all wood
flatcars in their shops through world war II, as was The Pacific Lumber Co
for their operations at Scotca, which included trackage rights on the NWP.
The last car out of their shops left in 1974, but that was rebuilt
specifically to donate to the Bay Area Railroad Museum.

Various Southern Pacific shops would build new, or rebuild wooden cars for
their narrow gauge lines until very close to the abandonment of the Keeler
branch in 1960. While SP had included iron bolsters in the narrow gauge
cars built for SPC in 1893, the later gondolas, built circa 1917 had wood

As noted by others, Voss, Railway Car Construction is the primary source,
and has been reprinted by Orange Empire Railroad Museum (it was previously
available as two volumes of the Train Shed series) The early Carbuilder's
Dictionaries are also very useful.

Wood was not abandoned by carbuilders all at once. As iron got cheaper,
and train size and loadings grew, iron (or steel) was substituted (or
supplemented) first the bolsters, then the draft gear, then the center
sills. Bodies remained wood sheathed for a long time. (by the way we
could have a long debate on the use of "sill" for the frame members which
run the length of the car in the center. They were not called sills in
1878 Carbuilders Dictionary, but were by 1885 or so)
All true, Randy, but you're talking about what I would characterize as
exceptions in this context - interurban RRs, logging RRs, narrow gauge RRs
(dare I say rinky-dink RRs?). I understood the original query to be about
standard gauge freight cars in interchange, and I'll stand by my original
statement that hardly any such cars were built entirely of wood after ca.
1910. And I'll add that the last such cars with all wood body framing were
built in the early 1920s, after which steel framing was universally
adopted. In fact, the last box cars built in sizeable numbers with wood
body framing were the USRA 40 ton double sheathed cars of WWI, and it's
worth noting how early (starting in the early 1930s) many of those cars
were rebuilt with steel bodies, while large numbers of the 50 ton
steel-framed USRA single sheathed box cars survived without rebuilding
until after WW II. Wood construction simply couldn't withstand the
structural abuse freight cars received once air brakes and knuckle couplers
made it possible after the turn of the 20th century to operate much longer
and heavier trains and much larger and heavier motive power.

Richard H. Hendrickson
Ashland, Oregon 97520

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