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· Registered
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Good day,

I hope this is the best place for this thread. With not having a model railroad operations area, I figured this would be the next best place to post my query.

I finally took the time to inventory my large scale equipment collection; rolling stock and engines. The next thing is to better understand how I'll use them on the layout...(other than the obvious "place wheels on rails, hook up to engine, push go...)

I don't mean to sound elementary, and I apologize if this is boring for most, but I am positive that some will help me out with this. What I'm wanting to get a better handle on is with the different types of cars that I have for the railroad, in a turn of the century small towns shortline railroad, what would these cars be utilized for?

Passenger coaches and combines I get. Passengers and mail, maybe some very small freight if need be. The rest I'd like to type out what I think, and hopefully some of you will educate me on what other uses these cars would have had.

Wooden box cars: I'm sure for just about any type of freight during the era...goods from stores, non perishable foods, grains, furniture...maybe even double as lumber cars if necessary?

Wood Reefers: Cold storage, perishable veggies, fruits maybe? Would the early 1900's have milk and cheeses delivered via rail? Salted meats? processed meats? Did they start processing meats this early?
Also, would an ice rack be necessary to load the reefers with ice prior to the train departing?

Wood gondolas: This one is a puzzle for me. What did gondola's carry other than minerals? Coal? Bauxite? Did they start shipping sand in the early 1900's? What other shipments would gondola's hold? Any boxed freights? Any lumber?

Stock cars: Other than the obvious, would stock cars double as carriers for anything other than livestock? Would the normal progression be from a small town loading dock or stock pen, to a processing/meat packing plant, then to other towns restaurants and butchers? Would stock cars carry anything else when they weren't being used to haul livestock?

Flat cars: Mainly for hauling lumber I would assume, but would they carry any heavy equipment for businesses? Any bulk freight that could be loaded onto them?

Tank cars: Were they in use much during this time period? Were they steel already? Did they start refining and shipping oil for burning or cooking this early, or was most of the small town heating done via coal and wood?

Reasoning for this is I'd like to settle on my industry selections so I can start researching buildings to put on the layout. My current ideas are as follows:

1. Meat processing
2. Lumber Mill / Sawmill
3. Coal storage in three towns
4. Manufacturing; furniture? wood stoves? bricks?
5. Graineries/Feed Mills; would these be in effect in smaller towns by this time period, or were farms and families still quite independant where grains were concerned?
6. Cotton Gin: Cotton was HUGE in Arkansas...
7. Brewery: Arkansas was NOT huge in brewing, but this is railroad owners license at work...LOL

Also, what other cars have I not mentioned that I might want to consider adding to the railroad??
So those who would not mind assisting a little and helping me learn more about the best ways and means to utilize my stock, I appreciate your insight, suggestions, advice, and comments.

btw; my current roster has the following:
4 B'mann stock cars
3 B'mann 20' wood box cars
5 LGB 20' wood box cars (these are European in look, if I can't figure out something to use them for, might consider them milk/cheese cars for the first morning train each session?
4 B'mann 40' wood box cars
3 B'mann Wood Gondolas
4 B'mann wood billboard reefers
2 B'mann passenger coaches
2 B'mann Combine cars
3 Aristo 40' Steel box cars
2 Aristo steel drop end gondolas
1 B'mann Tank car
3 LGB short passenger cars
1 Aristo short flat car
2 USA 40' Steel boxcars
5 or 6 cabooses, both bobbers and four axle center copula units

Main operation on the railroad will be the wood cars to go along with the steam engine/ turn of the century theme. The steel cars will run when I pull with the Aristocraft FA/B units...


· Premium Member
755 Posts

I will start the ball rolling ...

At the turn of the 20th century, boxcars and flatcars were by far the most common cars - they were used to haul most everything. Most products of the era were placed in wooden crates or barrels (cooper was a common trade that barely exists today) and then loaded into boxcars by hand. No forklifts were around so pallets really were not in use. Flatcars were used for anything which could be placed in a crate or which could withstand weather. Almost every loading dock sported a small hand crane for loading and unloading flats.

Gons were used for bulk commodities - remember that labour for shovelling was cheap. They were also used for the same purposes as flats when there was the ubiquitous small crane to load/unload.

Reefers were a specialty car and most railroads owned them in limited numbers. Private owner reefers thus came into being to supplement the railroads' meagre supply. Reefers were generally iced before loading and then reiced as necessary during transit though it must be remembered that many cargoes required only ventilation and not cooling. Reefers were generally maintained to a higher standard and the railroads (or private owners) charged a premium for their use as compared to a boxcar. Many shippers who had valuable commodities would often request a reefer because generally they would not leak.

Tank cars were just beginning to be used - the shipping of petroleum products was very much in its infancy. The local fuel dealer in most every town supplied many grades of coal and usually cordwood (delivered mainly in gons if by rail) as well. The most common petroleum product was kerosene for lighting.

Meat packing in 1900 was not the business it is today. Generally stock moved more or less continuously from farms to a big slaughter housing centre such as Chicago - there were enormous stockyards in big Plains cities such as Omaha and Kansas City. The meat packing business produced a small amount of boxed meats (mainly sausage and weiners) but mainly shipped meat that was cut and dressed. Butchers in every small town received the meat (via the towns team track or LCL) and custom cut for their customers.

Stock cars had year round usage to bring livestock to market. Keep in mind also that horses were widely shipped in the preaoutomobile era and stock cars were neeeded for that purpose. There are many examples of stock cars used to load commodities able to stand the weather if there were car shortages but the railroads tried hard not to have too many unused stockcars on hand.

Small towns also frequently had local dairies (especially producing cheese and butter) but most raw milk was shipped to big city dairies. Farmers would bring their milk cans to the nearest town in the traditional milk containers - it would be picked up early each morning and rushed to the dairies for processing - sometimes reefers were used but generally insulated ventilated cars were good enough for thsi job.

I would highly recommend the Kalmbach series of books called Industries Along the Tracks. These books give a detailed history of various industries and describe the role railroads played in that industry.

Regards ... Doug

· Premium Member
120 Posts
The following observations are regarding rural areas in central Illinois:
It is amazing to me how many businesses existed in VERY small towns in the early 1900's. Because of distances and time required for shipping and travel, towns that barely exist today at one time had hotels, livery stables, grain elevators, furniture stores, undertakers (often with the furniture store), general stores, hardware/building supply/lumber yards, dairy processors (normally in larger small towns). All these goods had to arrive by railroad or very primitive road travel (often impractable during wet spells.) I was recently looking at a map from 1930 and was surprised to see some of the main highways around here that I assumed were very old either did not exist or were listed as "packed earth."
An interesting way to look at the past is to find directories from the time period you are modelling and look at the ads for businesses. They give a window into the past. I used to have a "farmer's directory" from 1918. (I wonder where that went?) It listed the farmers, how many acres they farmed, the type of livestock they raised (including breeds of cattle, hogs, poultry, etc.), type of tractor they had, make of car (if they had a car), names and ages of children, and other info that I cannot recall. We also had a hotel registry book from 1890 to 1901. It is now on loan to the local historical society. On the pages were ads from local businesses, and ads from other hotels around the mid-west. The travelling salesmen would look at the ads as they were registering to plan their strategies. These are excellent resources for us today. Local (to the area you are modelling) libraries and historical societies often have older directories for their area.
Grain was often shipped in box cars; boards were nailed inside the doors, and the flexible spout was draped over the boards to direct the grain into the interior of the cars.
Tank cars were used to transport many liquid commodities, athough some commodities such as vinegar were shipped in wooden staved cars until the middle of the 20th century because of the corrosive effect on the early metal tanks. Many liquids were shipped in barrels inside box cars.
In the early 20th century many items (including some automobiles) were shipped partially assembled by rail to local assembly points, and then delivered to area distributors or dealers. One of the buildings we had at one time was the livery stable/ garage/ ambulance service/ assembly point for Ford model "T's", and gas station (originally a small square tank with a hand-cranked pump.)
Typical flat car loads might include steam tractors, wagons(again partially assembled), grain machinery, building supplies, steel beams (there were many bridges and other structures being built in the early 1900's), and many other bulky items. Many items however were crated, and so the contents are not easily ascertained.
Local history can be very interesting and helpful in planning and operating a model railroad. Hope this helps.
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