A reefer is a reefer is
a reefer - right. Wrong. As the October, 2002, issue of The Dispatcher's Office
states, "there was no such thing as a refrigerator car suitable for general
service." Reefer users could be divided into at least
four broad groups.
reefers had special meat rails for handling sides of meat and brine-tank refrigeration
to enable lower temperatures. Most meat reefers were owned or leased by meat packers.
Dairy and poultry
producers required refrigeration and special interior racks.
Fruit and vegetable reefers were generally
used for long distance shipping. This need tended to be seasonal and included
FGEX, PFE, WFEX and SRDF reefers.
foods such as canned goods and candy as well as beer and wine that did not require
ice but did need protection of an insulated car. Remember that no beer
and wine was produced between 1920 and 1933. The AAR classified non-refrigerated
insulated boxcars as reefers.
there were both freight and passenger express versions of many of these cars.
Santa Fe offered 9 different forms of ice service
to fruit and vegetable shippers. Services varied as to who was responsible for
precooling, icing, and re-icing the cars. Also the cars had various combinations
of air circulating fans, steel floor racks, dry floor racks, cubic capacities,
bunker sizes, collapsible bunkers or sliding doors. Many shippers would not accept
substitutes. Some examples:
- 50' cars
required standard 40' cars with 9,000 pound bunker capacity. About 70% of cars
for oranges must be fan-equipped.
wood and steel floor rack were required for cardboard carton shipments.
Certain fruits, such as grapes, tree fruits and
melons required fan cars but with 10,000 pound bunkers. Grape shippers generally
requested steel floor racks and sliding doors to help with the use of a fork lift
Potatoes and onions
did not require fan cars and could use lower bunker capacity, though some shippers
did request fan cars..
1950 AAR codes list 11 types of reefers:
- Passenger express reefer.
- Special car type: heavily insulated, designed primarily for the transportation
of Solid Carbon Dioxide.
- brine tank refrigerator, primarily for meat.
- RA equipped with beef (Meat) rails.
- Beverage, Ice, Water or Vinegar refrigeration. Much like RS but without ice
RCD - solid Carbon
- mechanical reefers with independent power.
- mechanical reefer powered by mechanical drive from car axle.
RPB - mechanical reefer powered by generator
from car axle.
RS - ice
RSM - RS
with beef (meat) rails.
The 1941 edition
of SFRD Circular 2-J, Rules and Regulations Governing the Handling of Perishable
Freight, lists 15 types of reefers.
I am modeling the ATSF in 1950-53, my expertise excludes mechanical reefers and
focuses primarily on reefers for perishables and the Armour packing plant in Emporia.
to 1940, most reefers had wood bodies, wood sides, steel ends and roofs. This
was partly because wood was such a good insulator. All steel cars began in 1936
but did not take off until after WWII. Ice reefers continued in service until
the early 70s.
Mechanical reefers were
developed around 1950, but they cost twice as much to build. Railroads were slow
to make that change. At the same time they were being developed, the frozen food
industry was blossoming requiring lower temperatures for reefers and more precise
control of temperatures. The same technology that made mechanical reefers possible,
made mechanically refrigerated highway trucks possible, thus leading to a massive
decline in rail reefers.
use of reefers were for moving produce. Most railway owned reefers were in produce
service. Meat packers primarily owned their own reefers, predominately 36' reefers.
Most slaughterhouses were in the Midwestern states and shipped their meat to the
large metropolitan areas east of the Mississippi. In the 70s, many packing plants
and railroads teamed up so that meat was loaded into refrigerated highway trailers
and loaded on TOFC flats at the packing plan for initial movement to distribution
In 1930, reefers reached their
peak with 181,000 in service. That dropped to 127,200 in 1950 and 80,000 by 1980.
Another interesting statistic compares the private ownership to railroad ownership.
In 1930, 78% were privately owned, 85% in 1950, but only 16% by 1980. Armour,
one of the major players early on, had 12,000 reefers in 1900 - 20% of the national
fleet at that time. In 1950, 70% of the cars were owned by 5 companies:
Pacific Fruit Express (UP/SP controlled)
- 38,840 cars
Refrigerator Dispatch - 14,514 cars
Growers Express - 12,063 cars
Refrigerator Transit (Wabash & MP primarily) - 11,457 cars
Merchants Dispatch (NYC controlled) - 9,690 cars
Billboard reefers were outlawed by the ICC in 1934.
There is a very informative article on this in the October 2002 The Dispatcher's
Keith Jordan has supplied a
roster of ATSF Ice Reefers. For a PDF file of these: