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Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2019 4:06
Subject: [RealSTMFC] L. C. L.
L. C. L.
photo of an early containers on a flat car led me to look into the L. C. L.
The notes next to the individual
container photo indicate the company provided containers to the railroads
dating to the early 1920s with nearly 1,600 eventually in service on the New
York Central, Lehigh Valley and B&O
Here are two
additional (but poor quality) photos from the Smithsonian Institution
showing the containers in use:
A 1936 report
of Mechanical Advisory Committee to the Office of Federal Coordinator of
Transportation indicated the L.C.L. Corporation had both merchandise and
bulk containers in service.
A post on the
on-line Train Magazine website quoted this text from the 1940 book,
freight container is a metal weather-proof, theft-proof box in which two to
seven tons of freight (depending on the kind of freight) can be placed. The
container is of such size as to form a definite sub-division of the surface
area and the capacity of a railroad flat car. It can be transported upon a
motor truck chassis. The container being a sub-division of a car's loaded
capacity, the contents of the container can be given freight rates that are
less than the standard l.c.l. rates per hundred pounds, but higher than
carload rates. The container provides an improved service by simplifying the
transfer and handling of package freight and by reducing the packing
requirements. For those shippers who can make regular shipment of l.c.l.
freight of considerable volume, and for freight forwarders who can combine
several shippers' packages consigned to a common destination, the container
has real advantage.
The use of
freight car containers is not rapidly increasing, because satisfactory
arrangements have not been made for the interchange of containers among
connecting railroads, and a standard type of container has not been adopted
by the railroads. The general inauguration of container car facilities and
services and the interchange of containers by connecting carriers would
require a larger investment in equipment than present traffic conditions
seem to warrant.
Some railroads, the New York
Central, the Lehigh Valley, the Reading, the Baltimore and Ohio, lease containers from the L.C.L.
Corporation which designs, builds and leases equipment. The largest user of
containers is the Pennsylvania Railroad, which has between four and five
thousand of the approximately eleven thousand containers used by all
railroads. While all of the Pennsylvania Railroad's freight containers can
be employed in coordinated rail and motor service only one-eighth are so
used, the other seven-eighths being loaded and unloaded at station platform.
This station-to-station use of containers eliminates the sending of l.c.l.
freight from the receiving stations to a transfer freight house for
classification and consolidation by stations of destination. Freight not
carried in containers may sometimes also be rehandled at transfer freight
houses en route, with the consequent delays....
rates upon freight shipped in containers were made upon a straight line rate
per container per mile transported. These rates were found to disrupt the
class rates upon goods shipped in regular services and were held to be
unjustly discriminatory by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1931. The
freight rates established by the railroads upon merchandise shipments
transported in containers are based upon the third class rates applicable
upon the net weight of the freight in the containers subject to a minimum
charge equal to the third class rate upon 4000 pounds.
In no case,
however, may the rates applicable to shipments in containers be less than:
(1) the highest carload class rates applicable to any article in the
container; (2) the class rate next lower than that specified for any article
in the container as an any quantity rate; or (3) the rate applicable to the
highest rated commodity in the container applied to the entire contents of
the container, when articles referred to in the first two alternatives are
loaded in the same container."
This information is from a 2013
Michigan doctorial dissertation, "The
Shipping Container and the Globalization of American Infrastructure" by
Matthew W. Heins:
"The New York
Central’s containers were smaller than those Fitch had put into use, being
7’-2½” wide, 9’-3½” long and 8’-2½” high. (Some other sizes were also built,
for more specialized purposes.) Hence two or three containers could be
carried on a flatbed truck, or on a truck’s flatbed trailer, though probably
in some cases only one was actually hauled. Evidently the container’s
dimensions were not oriented to the truck (as was the case with Fitch’s
container and later with the postwar container), but to the ideal volume for
LCL cargo. The container was of steel construction, weighed 2,600 pounds,
and could hold 7,000 pounds of freight. When traveling by rail the
containers were carried in low side gondola cars whose walls, along with
various attachments, kept them in place. The New York Central initiated the
operation in 1921, and soon founded the L.C.L. Corporation to take charge of
the containers. Over the 1920s the business expanded as several other
railroads—especially those that interchanged with the New York Central—began
using the containers, as did many freight forwarders and consolidators.
While the container was most commonly used for general merchandise, it also
found a niche in carrying mail shipments. Special containers were designed
for certain types of bulk goods like bricks, cement, lime and coal, as well
as milk, produce and meat. Originally transfers between modes were done by
crane, but later versions of the container had short legs attached so they
could be handled by lift trucks. By the mid-1930s nearly 4,000 containers
were in use.
The New York Central’s great
rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, was taking note of these events, and
started using containers of its own in 1928. In the following year the
Pennsylvania Railroad created the Keystone Container Car Company to manage
its containers, and by the mid-1930s over 3,000 containers were circulating
through its system. These containers had almost the same capacity as those
of the New York Central, but the dimensions and fittings differed slightly
and so the two systems were incompatible. The Pennsylvania Railroad’s
containers were held on flatcars rather than gondola cars, and in fact
generally only moved by train, rarely being transferred to trucks. At depots
they were loaded and unloaded more or less as a boxcar would be. So the
system actually was not intermodal—its goal was essentially to convert a
railcar into a series of modules amenable to LCL cargo and protected from
damage or theft. However, the containers were shifted between flatcars in
the course of being routed to their destinations. This was perhaps the most
interesting aspect of the operation: containers were routed through a
central hub, a terminal in Enola, Pennsylvania, where each was switched from its
incoming train to the appropriate outgoing train to its
The New York
Central and Pennsylvania Railroad were the most important users of
containers in this period, but others also adopted and used containers of
roughly comparable size. The future of containerization however did not lie
with these small containers, but rather with larger units of the type
pioneered by Benjamin Fitch, containers of a design and size tied
principally to the truck. Essentially such a container was like a truck body
with the wheels, cab and engine stripped away. The spatial character of
trucking during this period determined that this type of container would be
about fifteen to twenty feet long."
More can be
found in this article by William T. Hoops: “The L. C. L. Merchandise
Container,” Railway Age, Vol. 84, No. 8 (February 25, 1928):
https://tinyurl.com/yy68dlos (Go To Page