Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Freight Car Roster 2

As part of my ongoing research into all things North Shore, I have been looking at freight cars seen on the line. I therefore sat down and went through all the books I own, counted the number of pictures that featured a freight locomotive, and counted the number, type and where possible identified the owning railroad reporting marks of said freight cars.


I looked at through the following nine books:

Days of the North Shore, published by National Bus Trader.
Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee in Color Volume 1, published by Morning Sun.
Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee in Color Volume 2, published by Morning Sun.
Interurban Trains to Chicago, published by Iconografix.
North Shore America's Fastest Interurban,  published by Golden West Books.
North Shore Line Interurban Freight, published by Pixels Publishing.
North Shore South Shore, published by Heimburger House Publishing Company.
Route of the Electroliners, published by Chicago Electric Railfans' Association #107.
The Insull Chicago Interurbans in Color, published by Morning Sun.

Photographic Data

So let's start with raw numbers of photographs.

In total I counted a 171 pictures that had a freight locomotive in it, or freight cars seen from the cab window of a freight locomotive.  Of this total 67 came from the North Shore Line Interurban Freight book, which is not all that surprising in itself. However, given that these books are largely pictorial tomes with about three photographs on each double page spread, with approximately 200 pages per book, then the number of pictures of freight operations is quite small in comparison to approximately 2500 pictures I looked through. 

Railroad Reporting Marks

Next let me present the railroad reporting marks I was able to identify.

14 cars: CNS&M  (see Note 1)
13 cars: MILW (see Note 2).
10 cars: NYC.
8 cars: PRR.
7 cars: SP.
5 cars; AT&SF and SOU.
4 cars: CB&Q, GM&O, IC, N&W.
3 cars: CE&I and NWX.
2 cars: B&O, EJ&E, CNR, C&NW, L&N, and the GN.
1 car; CG, CRI&P, D&H, E&L, L&M, NADX, NJI&I, and the WM.

So out of one hundred and seventy-one photographs I was able to identify 27 railroad reporting marks, and 89 individual cars from them.

Note 1: excluded from totals as these were all from pictures showing the TOFC service that was abandoned in 1947. Also excluded and not counted were pictures of work cars.

Note 2: not including one picture showing a train with thirty 50 ton iron ore hoppers being pulled by the three GE steeple cabs as the identity was not readily ascertainable from the photograph and I'm therefore unable confirm the veracity of the caption.

Freight Cars

The other thing I did was identify the type of freight car seen in the photographs.

213 Box cars (48%).
123 Hoppers (28%).
45 Gondolas (10%).
21 Tank cars (5%).
14 TOFC (see note).
12 Flat cars (3%).
10 Covered hoppers (2%).
7 Reefers (2%).
6 Bulk head flat cars (2%).

All percentages were rounded out.

Note: excluded from totals as the TOFC service that was abandoned in 1947.


When compared to the figures from the national average, we see some interesting variations from the normal distribution occurring. Starting with the standouts.

First is the Chicago & Eastern Illinois comes in with three cars, which is 21 times larger than the national average would predict. In second place comes Elgin Joliet & Eastern with two cars, which is eight and a half times the number one might expect to see.

After this three railroads are in joint third place. The Gulf Mobile & Ohio and Norfolk & Western both of each with four cars photographed, which represents four times the expected number. Surprisingly, the Western Maryland is also out of the standard distribution whose single car identified from a photograph  represents four times the number one would expect to see.

In fourth place is the Milwaukee with 13 cars, whose numbers represent three and a quarter times more cars than the average, but given it was a connecting railroad perhaps this is not so surprising after all? Running close to this was the Delaware & Hudson, with one car representing three times the number the national fleet average predicts.

In fifth place there are five railroads represented. The Illinois Central with four cars, the Southern Pacific with seven cars, the Southern Railway with five cars, with both the Louisville & Nashville, and Central of Georgia with one car each, were nearly double the number of cars  expected to be seen from the average.

In sixth place the Burlington with four cars was up by one, which was a third larger than expected.

Falling within one deviation of the average are the New York Central with ten cars. up by two, which is a quarter more than expected. Then the Santa Fe's five cars up by one from the national average number was a fifth higher than expected.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Railroad with eight, and the Great Northern with two cars, pretty much match what the national average suggests we should be seeing from these two railroads. And if you count the Litchfield and Madison car as a Chicago & North Western car, then this railroad have had a total of three cars, which also matches the national average.

The first of the three railroads down on their numbers by a third is the Baltimore & Ohio with two cars, as is the Erie & Lackawanna with only one car photographed. However, the latter was a new reporting mark as the railroad only came into existence in 1960 with the merger of the Erie and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. Also seen was a New Jersey Indiana & Illinois railroad car, a Wabash subsidiary, whose one car means that the Wabash representation is down by a third too.

Coming in lower still is the Rock Island with the one car ,which is half the number expected, go figure? Finally, the Canadian National with 2 cars is a quarter of the number expected by the national fleet average for North American cars, but may well be in line with the number of cars interchanged with the United States?

Freight cars I can't readily account for with the data I have to hand are the three NWX and one NADX reefers. No doubt more information will come to light at some point.

Disclaimer: Of course now that I've posted this piece and had chance to reflect and think upon it, I realise that I've forgotten to add that terms and conditions apply, errors and omissions excepted, and numbers can go down as well as up, or something like that. Also I've made some egregious assumptions too. Playing rough and ready with the statistics, but hey that is what they are there for, right?


  1. Statistics for just one car are meaningless, as you can't have fractions.
    There are also the "gaps" where you'd expect several cars, but have seen nothing.


    1. Statistics can be meaningless, but generally this only occurs if you don't understand the context and misquote them. While on one hand you can't have fractions, and there can be gaps, the point is that these are guidelines.

  2. I've posted this for Barry Bennett who emailed me directly, but I thought it apposite, and he has agrred I can post it here for all to read.

    "Canadian cars would most likely have reached Chicago by Canadian affiliated roads, ie SOO and GTW or across the lake at Detroit so would explain why none in your survey.

    The proportions of cars you show fit (a) into the fleet size of each of the RR's as a relationship to the entire US fleet of 'free-runners' as well as (b) the local influence that would be typical of the north shore, of the lake, not the RR.

    Gondolas and boxcars were the most common and most fluid of the freight car fleets, so could be anything from anywhere (I have photos of Georgia 'Zeppelins' in Vancouver, Canada and a PE boxcar reweighed in Florida). SP gons seem to have been common in Baltimore, according to the number of photos.

    Hoppers were mostly shuttled back and forth over fixed routes eg iron ore from the lakes to the rust belt and back, reefer fleets tended (note tended) to run in strings of like cars eg, PFE or SFRD or WFE but individual cars could go to any urban area. The same goes for stock cars.

    Reefer loads were often despatched on spec and sold and re-sold enroute so could end up anywhere BUT were sent back home, not jumbled into other fleets, apart from the odd car.

    There is a mantra based on several years of freight car lists at Omaha that says all free runners ran in proportion, at any one point, based on the size of the owning fleet, meaning that the smaller roads would not be represented on most days. I mildly dispute that on the grounds that the UP was a drainpipe that created little traffic in proportion of what it passed between Chicago etc and California whereas the SP on the Shasta route would have SP cars way beyond that proportion due to the preponderance of online traffic, mainly timber and perishables.

    At the end of the day it is your railway so you can run what you please but I reckon you would be well served to follow the fleet thrown up in your photos. The cars that you use should also reflect the traffic base of your layout - no steel mills = no ore cars, no produce house = no reefers etc.

    My layout ends at the tank farm of an oil refinery, so lots of plain jane black tank cars from SHPX and GATX (UTLX were usually individual leasers so would generally not appear in a block of oil cars) so I will roster about 40, plus others for the general traffic. There will also be cars of limestone, coke and coal, cement and chemical products going in, carbon black, oil coke, oil products and chemicals coming out. That allows for a fleet of about 60 mixed tanks, hoppers, gondolas, box cars, covered hoppers legitimately switched in and out.

    If I spent every day of the next 6 months building freight cars I might, just might, get them all built and painted as long as I didn't buy any more.


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