Lumber Loading

thomas christensen

--- On Tue, 4/13/10, soolinehistory <destorzek@...> wrote:

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups. com, Tim O'Connor <timboconnor@ ...> wrote:

Naturally double door cars were desirable for lumber, but
lots of lumber was shipped in ordinary 40' single door cars
too. In the 1960's I enjoyed watching a crew of young guys
struggling to unload a 40' car load of "random" lumber (it
looked like an exploded pick-up-stix game). Those "lumber
doors" in 40' box cars weren't there for decoration -- when
the shipper couldn't get any more pieces through the doorway
he threw them in through the door in the end of the car! And
the unloading crew got to untangle the mess.

I'm going to theorize that the "pick-up-stix" mess was caused by the rambunctious and inexperienced unloading crew, not the mill. If they left it that way overnight and all those boards developed a crook, they were likely looking for new jobs the next day.

Dad was a carpenter who augmented his income by doing a heck of a lot of weekend and evening "side jobs" when I was a kid, and I spent a lot of time in lumber yards during the fifties and sixties. Unlike the big box home centers of today, lumber was a commodity that was treated with respect, to preserve its value, none of that just throw it in the bin business. Lumber was moved by hand, several sticks at a time, from the boxcar to a truck; from the truck to a neat stack in the shed; from the stack onto the truck for delivery. If someone went to the lumber yard to pick up their own order, the "yard man" picked the order and wheeled it up front, or had the customer spot his truck and loaded it. Having "pickin' privileges" was an honor not to be abused, since it could save maybe maybe 7 - 8% of the cost of the material on a job. Leave the man's stacks jumbled, and you didn't get pickin' privileges again. Lumber yards managed their stock; when the yard man
had nothing else to do he gathered up the "crooks", took them to the saw shed, and made them into something salable, like pre-cut concrete stakes.

Speaking of lumber -- anyone know when the first "wrapped"
lumber loads began? I mean the neat stacks of same-length
pieces, all nicely wrapped up. I'm guessing it was sometime
in the 1950's, since that's when wrapped drywall loads on
flats appeared.
I still remember lumber in boxcars in 1959 or '60, maybe a couple years later. Drywall also originally was shipped in boxcars, which must have been an absolutely miserable job to unload. Drywall lent itself to shipping on bulkhead flats, since it was large flat sheets and it didn't have to be piled very high to max out the car's capacity. Lumber was a different story; while large timbers could and were shipped on flatcars, the pile of dimensional lumber got awfully high and tippy before the car's load limit was reached. Greg Martin could likely tell us more, but I don't think dimensional lumber was ever shipped on standard flats, remember that the transitional car was the "Thrall-door" boxcar, which was introduced when, mid sixties? Those cars had a central structure, since they didn't have any sides, and it was only a short leap to the early center beam flats, but all this happened well after 1960.


 Although it's past the time frame of this group, I worked in a wholesale lumber yard on Florida's west coast during the early to mid 1970's. I'll relate some of my experiences based on the type lumber. First a few givens. The interior width and length of box cars, the IW is about 9-2 and the IL is about 40-6/50-6, plus or minus a few inches. Random length lumber was not loaded randomly. It was loaded to fill the width and length of the car, but there were still a few inches of space for things to move. At this time 1x2's and 1x3's were bundled 8 or 10 pieces with string or tape. 1x12's would layer 9 wide, 1x10's would layer 11 wide, and so forth for the other widths. Lengthwise in a 40 foot car there would be 2 16's and an 8, or 2 12's and a 16, or 2 14's and a 12, or whatever combination equaled the IL. The "pick-up-stick mess"  was generally the  top layers getting thrown around by heavy coupling or slack action.  The end "lumber doors" were for
lengths longer than 1/2 the IL plus 1/2 the door width.
1x and 2x Spruce/Pine - We unloaded 3 or 4  40 foot CP boxcars of this a week. They would  be loaded to about 14 to 18 inches below the top of the door. Us "young skinny guys" would have the pleasure crawling in on top the lumber to begin the unloading, just make sure you didn't touch the inside of the roof during the summer. A 3 or 4 man crew would take about a day and a half to complete the unloading.
1x and 2x Redwood - This was usually in a 50 foot double door SP car, about 1 car every 2 weeks. These were loaded to be unloaded by forklift, but there was some hand work to clear out for the forklift. In good car, 2 men and a forklift could be done in about 1/2 a day. If  the banding had broken or the load shifted it became a hand unloading job.
3x and larger Timbers - Most of the time these were 50 foot double door SP cars set for forklift unloading. Unloading was similar to the redwood cars. One memorable load was 1/3 a car of special order 6x12's 24 feet long that was a hand job.
A few other observations:
 We received flat car loads of just about everything (wrapped and unwrapped) - 1x and 2x spruce/pine, timbers, scaffold planking.
 Between the different lumber, moldings, and other items, 6-7 cars a week  were normal.
 Occasionally while unloading a car you would come to a layer of craft paper, at which point you would close the door and reseal it. Or you would open one up and there would be a partial load with the paper on top - LCL.
 The "Thrall-door" boxcar was basically a bulkhead flat car with a roof and doors.
 When moving cars, take some of the slack up on the hand brake beforehand or you will not stop before the derail.
 You can punch a hole in a car or knock the door off when trying to open/close it with a forklift.
Tom Christensen

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