Box and auto cars in Ferguson's 1938 UP Train Book

Wendye Ware

Hi Folks

While I was transcribing Ferguson's Union Pacific Freight Conductors' Train Book, May 13 to June 21, 1938, into an Excel file, I noticed that there appeared to be relatively more auto cars than box cars compared to the national fleet of box and auto cars. Ferguson listed the car ownership and road numbers for 1,938 cars. For 1,171 of these he also indicated the type of car (A=Auto, B=Box, F=Flat, etc.). There were 366 box or auto cars, broken down as follows:

Box 272 (74.3%)
Auto 94 (25.7%)
Total 366

This compares to a national average from the January 1938 ORER of about 80% box cars and 20% auto cars – not really very different from Ferguson's data.

Closer examination showed an interesting thing, however: In Ferguson's book, auto cars were under-represented for the Union Pacific, but substantially over-represented for non-UP box and auto cars.

In Ferguson's book, there was only about a third of the expected number of UP auto cars compared to the listings in the January 1938 ORER:

Ferguson data, UP box and auto cars
UP Box: 157 (92.9%)
UP Auto: 12 (7.1%)
Total: 169

January 1938 ORER, UP box and auto cars
UP Box: 21,731 (78.7%)
UP Auto: 5,864 (21.3%)
Total: 27,595

However, for non-UP box and auto cars, the situation is reversed, and there are more than twice as many auto cars as expected:

Ferguson data, non-UP box and auto cars
Non-UP Box 115 (58.4%)
Non-UP Auto 82 (41.6%)
Total 197

January 1938 ORER, non-UP box and auto cars
Non-UP Box 559,887 (79.4%)
Non-UP Auto 145,100 (20.6%)
Total 704,987

Direction of travel may be a factor: In Ferguson's data, nearly half (48%) of the 83 westbound non-UP cars were auto cars, while this was true of only 37% of the 114 eastbound cars. UP cars were 5% westbound autos (of 75), and 9% were eastbound autos (of 94).

There was no apparent need for the heavy use of non-UP auto cars. There were only 8 loads that listed "autos" for the contents, 6 westbound and 2 eastbound. The only other listed content that might be auto related was "machinery" (8 cars: 2 auto + 1 box + 1 flat + 2 gons + 2 unknown type).

It will be interesting to see whether the trends presented here will hold true for any of the other 127 Freight Conductors' Train Books I have yet to transcribe. If so, I'll have to buy a lot more auto cars for my layout! :>) Or sell a lot of box cars… :>(

(Note: Data from the 1938 ORER were compiled from my Excel file of box, auto and ventilated cars. I restricted the cars to those in interchange service on Class 1 US railroads. GTW and CASO were included. A "boxcar" was considered to be any car with mechanical designation XM; "auto car" consisted of classes XA, XAB, XAF, XAP, and XAR. I excluded classes XI and XF as well as the ventilated cars.)

Best wishes,
Larry Ostresh
Laramie, Wyoming

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