Refrigerator car

Refrigerator car

A refrigerator car (or "reefer") is a refrigerated boxcar, a piece of railroad rolling stock designed to carry perishable freight at specific temperatures. Refrigerator cars differ from simple insulated boxcars and ventilated boxcars (commonly used for transporting fruit), neither of which are fitted with cooling apparatus. Reefers can be ice-cooled, come equipped with any one of a variety of mechanical refrigeration systems, or utilize carbon dioxide (either as dry ice, or in liquid form) as a cooling agent. Milk cars (and other types of "express" reefers) may or may not include a cooling system, but are equipped with high-speed trucks and other modifications that allow them to travel with passenger trains.

Reefer applications can be divided into five broad groups: 1) dairy and poultry producers require refrigeration and special interior racks; 2) fruit and vegetable reefers tend to see seasonal use, and are generally used for long-distance shipping (for some shipments, only ventilation is necessary to remove the heat created by the ripening process); 3) manufactured foods (such as canned goods and candy) as well as beer and wine do not require refrigeration, but do need the protection of an insulated car; 4) meat reefers come equipped with specialized [ rails] for handling sides of meat, and brine-tank refrigeration to provide lower temperatures (most of these units are either owned or leased by meat packing firms); and 5) fish and seafoods are transported, packed in wooden or foam polystyrene box with crushed ice, and ice bunkers are not used generally.



After the end of the American Civil War, Chicago, Illinois emerged as a major railway center for the distribution of livestock raised on the Great Plains to Eastern markets. [Boyle and Estrada] Getting the animals to market required herds to be driven up to 1,200 miles (2,000 km) to railheads in Kansas City, Missouri, where they were loaded into specialized stock cars and transported live ("on-the-hoof") to regional processing centers. Driving cattle across the plains also caused tremendous weight loss, with some animals dying in transit.

Upon arrival at the local processing facility, livestock were either slaughtered by wholesalers and delivered fresh to nearby butcher shops for retail sale, smoked, or packed for shipment in barrels of salt. Costly inefficiencies were inherent in transporting live animals by rail, particularly the fact that about sixty percent of the animal's mass is inedible. The death of animals weakened by the long drive further increased the per-unit shipping cost. Meat packer Gustavus Swift sought a way to ship dressed meats from his Chicago packing plant to eastern markets.

Early attempts at refrigerated transport

Attempts were made during the mid-1800s to ship agricultural products by rail. As early as 1842, the Western Railroad of Massachusetts was reported in the June 15 edition of the "Boston Traveler" to be experimenting with innovative freight car designs capable of carrying all types of perishable goods without spoilage. [White, p. 31] The first refrigerated boxcar entered service in June 1851, on the Northern Railroad of New York (or NRNY, which later became part of the Rutland Railroad). This "icebox on wheels" was a limited success since it was only functional in cold weather. That same year, the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad (O&LC) began shipping butter to Boston in purpose-built freight cars, utilizing ice for cooling. The first consignment of dressed beef left the Chicago stock yards in 1857 in ordinary boxcars retrofitted with bins filled with ice. Placing meat directly against ice resulted in discoloration and affected the taste, and proved impractical. During the same period Swift experimented by moving cut meat using a string of ten boxcars with their doors removed, and made a few test shipments to New York during the winter months over the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR). The method proved too limited to be practical.

Detroit's William Davis patented a refrigerator car that employed metal racks to suspend the carcasses above a frozen mixture of ice and salt. He sold the design in 1868 to George H. Hammond, a Detroit meat packer, who built a set of cars to transport his products to Boston using ice from the Great Lakes for cooling. [White, p. 33] The load had the tendency of swinging to one side when the car entered a curve at high speed, and use of the units was discontinued after several derailments. In 1878 Swift hired engineer Andrew Chase to design a ventilated car that was well insulated, and positioned the ice in a compartment at the top of the car, allowing the chilled air to flow naturally downward. [White, p. 45] The meat was packed tightly at the bottom of the car to keep the center of gravity low and to prevent the cargo from shifting. Chase's design proved to be a practical solution to providing temperature-controlled carriage of dressed meats, and allowed Swift and Company to ship their products across the United States and internationally.

Swift's attempts to sell Chase's design to major railroads were rebuffed, as the companies feared that they would jeopardize their considerable investments in stock cars, animal pens, and feedlots if refrigerated meat transport gained wide acceptance. In response, Swift financed the initial production run on his own, then — when the American roads refused his business — he contracted with the GTR (a railroad that derived little income from transporting live cattle) to haul the cars into Michigan and then eastward through Canada. In 1880 the Peninsular Car Company (subsequently purchased by ACF) delivered the first of these units to Swift, and the Swift Refrigerator Line (SRL) was created. Within a year the Line’s roster had risen to nearly 200 units, and Swift was transporting an average of 3,000 carcasses a week to Boston, Massachusetts. Competing firms such as Armour and Company quickly followed suit. By 1920 the SRL owned and operated 7,000 of the ice-cooled rail cars. The General American Transportation Corporation would assume ownership of the line in 1930.

Live cattle and dressed beef deliveries to New York (short tons):

Note: Class B refrigerator cars are those designed for passenger service; insulated boxcars are designated Class L.



* Boyle, Elizabeth and Rodolfo Estrada. (1994) [ "Development of the U.S. Meat Industry"] — Kansas State University Department of Animal Sciences and Industry.
* Hendrickson, Richard and Richard E. Scholz. (1986). "Reefer car 13000: a postmortem." "The Santa Fé Route" IV (2) 8.
* Pearce, Bill. (2005). "Express Reefer from troop sleeper in N." "Model Railroader" 72 (12) 62–65.
* [ Reefer Operations on Model Railroads with an emphasis on the ATSF] April 15, 2005 article at [ The Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society] official website — accessed on November 7, 2005.
* Thompson, Anthony W. et al. (1992). "Pacific Fruit Express". Signature Press, Wilton, CA. ISBN 1-930013-03-5.
* White, John H. (1986). "The Great Yellow Fleet". Golden West Books, San Marino, CA. ISBN 0-87095-091-6.
* White, Jr., John H. (1993). "The American Railroad Freight Car". The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland. ISBN 0-8018-5236-6.

ee also

* Refrigeration
* Reefer (ship)
* Reefer (container)
* Refrigerated transport Dewar
* Refrigerator truck
* Cold chain

External links

* [ Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway #21335] — photo and short history of a steel-sheathed "billboard" car.
* [ "Coast to Coast"] article by Richard Hendrickson at the [ Pacific Southwest Railway Museum] official website.
* [ Fruit Growers Express Company #35832] — photos and short history of an example of the wooden ice-type "reefers" commonly placed in service between 1920 and 1940.
* [ Fruit Growers Express Company #56415] — photos and short history of an example of the wooden ice-type "reefers" used in the first half of the 20th century for shipping produce.
* [ Pacific Fruit Express Company #11207] — photo and short history of one of the last ice-type refrigerator cars built.
* [ Pacific Fruit Express Company #300010] — photo and short history of one of the first mechanical-type refrigerator cars built.
* [ Pacific Fruit Express photo gallery] at the Union Pacific Railroad official website.
* [ Container Service Co.] official website; contains pictures of cryogenic railcars and ocean freight containers.

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