Freight Cars Built in Railroad Shops

Richard Hendrickson

On Feb 22, 2009, at 6:13 AM, Dennis Storzek wrote:

(regarding the Soo Line's postwar box cars)

Since these cars were built in-house rather than being ordered from a
builder, it appears that production was more or less continuous over a
span of years, so things like lettering changes just happened when
they happened.

Interspersed with the production of 40' cars were several groups of
40' insulated cars (XLI), 50' XLs, and 50' double door cars with the
door openings centered for paper loading. The 40' combo door cars
built in 1959 were about the end of the in house production, but after
buying a few small lots of PS-1's from Pullman and some RBLs from
PC&F, they cranked up again in 1963 to build 50' exterior post cars,
which continued for another sixteen or so years. North Fond du Lac was
building cars almost continuously between 1948 and 1979.

The large number of steam era freight cars built by the railroads in
their own shops, rather than being purchased from commercial car
builders, deserves more attention than it has generally received.
And, as the Soo Line example shows, the railroads that followed this
practice weren't always among the country's largest. Another example
is the St. Louis Southwestern, which both built and rebuilt many cars
in its Pine Bluff shops. Of course, a majority of the new cars
acquired by the New York Central System in the 1940s and '50s were
built in the Merchants Despatch shops at East Rochester, and MDT was
a wholly owned subsidiary. Other RRs that began building or
completely rebuilding cars in their own shops as early as the 1930s
included the Pennsylvania, Milwaukee, Santa Fe, Union Pacific,
Southern Pacific, Burlington, Wabash, Lehigh Valley, Texas & Pacific,
and Northern Pacific, and I'm sure I've overlooked some. During the
depression, it was a way the railroads could get new (or totally
renewed) freight cars that they otherwise couldn't afford and, at the
same time, keep their shop forces on the payroll. After World War
II, an additional motivation for building their own cars was that,
for years, the commercial car builders had more orders than they
could well handle and were months, if not years, behind in making
deliveries. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that the railroads
assembled the cars in their own shops from kits, since underframes,
ends, sides, doors, roofs, and appliances like truck parts and
wheels, draft gear, hand brakes, and air brake equipment could all be
delivered ready to use by the various railway parts manufacturers.
Still, assembling freight cars was a major undertaking. However, it
had the advantage that the railroads were able to exercise their own
quality control and also to specify combinations of design features
which the commercial builders were reluctant to provide as,
especially after WW II, they much preferred to build cars of their
own increasingly standardized designs (the Pullman-Standard PS-1s
being an extreme example).

Richard Hendrickson

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