Critical Cars, Traffic Research

A C&O Insulated Boxcar Build

Completed model of C&O 5500, an insulated boxcar built in 1960 by the C&O shops. I modified the sill on a Branchline kit without having to do a full repaint.

Branchline Trains’ boxcar kits (not RTR) of the early 2000s remain one of the best values for models of rolling stock. I purchased this kit for maybe $10 at a train show. It was really intended to be a fleet filler, but I wound up doing a decent amount of work on it, resulting a nice car.

The prototype for this kit is an 8′ RBL with a Youngstown flush door based on a car built by General American in 1957. This basic design was purchased by many buyers, but by the early 1960s the 10′ door along with a cushioned underframe had become the preferred equipment, thus the 8′ plug door car may represent about a quarter of 50′ RBL equipment of the mid-1960s.

C&O 5613 at Lttle Rock, Ark. in the 1970s. George Elwood photo, used with permission.


In the back of my head I knew that C&O RBL and did show up fairly regularly in New England and that they had a decent sized roster of these cars but I wasn’t too sure it was a great addition. Research shows that the C&O did roster about 1100 RB, RBL and XMLI cars in 1966. Of these 248 were 50′ cars with 8′ doors, with 149 in the series 5500-5649. The most common car on the roster was a 50′ car with 10′ 6″ doors, there were close to 600. So the 5500s aren’t unusual cars, but certainly not the most common.

Insulated boxcars, like auto parts boxcars, were often part of pools of cars with other railroads for specific shippers. As a result a car from the C&O might be assigned to Miller Beer in Milwaukee and be shipped to Boston over a route of MILW-Chicago-NYC never touching the rails of its owner. Still, the origin road would have a disproportionate share of the cars in one of those pools and a large road like C&O would have most of its cars assigned to its own shippers, so let’s look at tonnage of commodities requiring insulation, but not refrigeration on the C&O to find a typical use.

By process of elimination, we can be sure that the second car of this Boston-Saxonville local turn at Natick, Mass. in the fall of 1966 is a C&O 5500 series RBL. The Saxonville Branch was home to many distribution related companies including the main Zayre distribution center – now the site of successor TJX’s headquarters. Donald Haskel photo, used with permission.

RBL Commodities on the C&O

Using the Freight Commodity Statistics we can get an idea of the top commodities originated, terminated, bridged or handled locally on many Class I railroads. Since the last year this data is available is 1963, I have to use that, but that should be close enough.

In a joint Dow, Pullman-Standard and C&O publicity photo showing a brand new PS-1 being loaded with palletized chemicals at the Dow plant in Midland, MI. Pullman-Standard Library/James Kinkaid collection, used under creative commons license.
CommodityTotal CarsTotal TonsTons FWDEst Fwd Cars
Food Products NOS in cans and packages33435104110734602311112
Soap and Cleaning Compounds321023986135891819
Malt Liquor (Beer)7162243811604571776
Beverages, NOS69343793102916
Estimated Forwarded Cars is the result of dividing forwarded tons by total tons per car (Total tons divided by total cars) – Source Freight Commodity Statistics of Class I Railroads – 1963.

This analysis clearly shows that canned and packaged food products are far and away the typical RBL type commodity originated on the C&O. Furthermore beer was not shipped to New England in volume from C&O’s territory. C&O would have had many cars in the Proctor & Gamble pool for soap shipments out of Ivorydale (Cincinnati), Ohio. According to the ICC Carload Waybill Statistics TC-3 report from 1965 though, the bulk of the soap shipments within the Official Territory were intermodal moves. This means that NYC’s Flexi-Van service from Cincinnati to Worcester and Boston would get the lion’s share of those moves. Still, I’ve found photos of P&G RBL loads at Framingham.


So if this car is going to represent a food shipment to the Boston area, what would be some typical shippers? We can make some educated guesses by first figuring out where a shipment most likely would come from. Looking at the 1965 reporting for STCCs 203 (Food) and 2099 (Food products NOS), the states served by C&O rank as follows in terms of carloads in the waybill sample:

  • Illinois (95/270 = 365)
  • Ohio (64/111 = 175)
  • Indiana (34/78 = 112)
  • Michigan (60/26 = 86)
  • Virginia (35/18 = 53)
  • West Virginia (-/7 = 7)

While Ill., Ohio and Ind. rank high, C&O’s market share in those states is small compared to other carriers. In Michigan though, the ex-Pere Marquette routes dominated the agricultural region of the state giving them a strong share. While Michigan did not show up in the 1965 State-To-State moves of 203 or 2099 products to Massachusetts, it did pop at 11 cars in the 1963 data of Food Products NOS. Some searching turned up a few large Michigan shippers on the C&O:

  • Gerber, Fremont, Mich.
  • Michigan Fruit Canners, St. Joseph, Mich
  • Dailey Pickle, Saginaw, Mich.
  • Heinz (pickles), Saginaw, Mich.
  • WR Roach, Croswell, Mich.

Additional smaller canneries operated in Western Michigan (especially the fruit growing region around Traverse City). Long story short, I can realistically operate this car on my layout.

Branchline C&O RBL Model

With the rationale behind the model established let’s look the build. I already had three Branchline RBL’s on my roster when I acquired this one. In order to differentiate this one and make it a more correct model, I modified the sill with a fishbelly profile using plans that appear to be from this car in the 1966 Car & Locomotive Cyclopedia. I spliced the new sill on and cut away part of the old sill. To blend the joint line away, I applied putty over the seam and sanded it flush. I added a few rivets where the underframe met the sill and airbrushed on a coat of Vallejo Model Golden Yellow.


While not one of the prototype cars I was modeling, I used this 1965 photo at Watertown, Mass. of a 40′ C&O PS-1 as a guide for the paint patches and weathering. Leroy Dozier photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Weathering was a bit more of a challenge on this car than my typical boxcar. Brightly painted cars are just harder for me to do a good job on, so I sought to alter my techniques on this one. To try and get something that resembled the prototype photo I tried fading the paint with a wash of pastel yellow oil paint first. I wasn’t convinced this was going to work, so I only did it on one side. This was followed by a wash of raw umber oil paint and an application of Dullcote.

I had to mask several areas before applying the Pan Pastels since the road grime tended to settle in some spots and avoid others. Rivets seemed to suck up the dust and keep it from settling on the car. Plug door cars typically accumulate road grime on the door surrounding the door posts, but not directly under them. To properly mask this area I left the door posts off the car until I was done with the Pan Pastels.

Here is the initial Pan Pastel application with the rivet strips masked.
Masking removed and Pan Pastels blended with a large soft brush.

When I removed the masking, I colored the rivets with a colored pencil and sealed all with another application of Dullcote. Final detailing and painting included patched repack, reweigh and brake test stencils, Tangent uncoupling levers, Hi-Tech air hoses and a Kadee running board. All the extra work with the weathering was worth it. As for the faded yellow effect, it worked great and I wished I had used it on both sides of the car, I will just be careful not to build the paint up on the rivets next time.

This is, by far, the nicest job I’ve done weathering a yellow or orange car to date, so I wound up building a nicely detailed and needed car, while learning some new techniques in the progress…all from a $10 purchase, you can’t ask for more out of a project than that.


Traffic Research

Freight Flows: Anthracite Coal

A quartet of U25Bs make a move in the Nevins Yard in Framingham during June of 1966. In the background is the shed of Framingham Coal, a one-time Hudson Coal dealer and affiliate to Claflin-Sumner. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

In the first half of the 20th Century, anthracite coal was a major commodity of Northeastern railroads. It seems like every station on every railroad had at least one coal retailer. After World War II, the nation accelerated its transition to other fuels and these facilities vanished from the landscape. As I sketched out plans for the Claflin-Sumner Ludlow Street coal yard I wanted to get a better sense of what the volumes and traffic patterns would look like in a mid-1960s setting to better model these shipments. To figure that out, I dug into the Carload Waybill and Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I railroads. Here is what I found.


While the B&A isn’t a railroad usually associated with anthracite, the numbers show it had a significant share of the area’s hard coal – about 20%.

Anthracite volumes 1930-1965. B&A data after 1948 is estimated from MA data based on B&A’s 1948 market share. B&A 1930 and 1933 carloads estimated by using B&M tons per car for those years.
When coal was king the B&A handled over a million tons a year. Major terminals like this 5,000 ton bunker on the corner of Grafton and Franklin St. in Worcester were common. As the industry retrenched, it reverted back to small, simple sheds.

The data showed that tonnage declined dramatically with the onset of the Great Depression and then stabilized with a little bump from WWII. After the war there was a major conversion to home heating oil and natural gas. Over 80% of the tonnage was lost between 1948 and 1958. By 1963, the B&A was down to less than 2 cars per day – about 4% of the tonnage from 1930 when they were handling 48 cars per day.

Still, a couple cars a day isn’t zero. Maybe half of that volume terminated east of Springfield, so a car in a through freight every other session works out about right. What about the coal yard at Jamesville though? It appears that it closed not long after 1960, it’s sister yard on Webster Street stayed open past 1966 though and a dozen other yards were open in the city during 1963. With that in mind, it isn’t a stretch to use a little modeler’s license to extend its life.

Origins and Routes

All anthracite was mined in Northeastern PA in four fields. The northern field around Scranton-Wilkes Barre declined dramatically after the mines flooded in a tragic accident in 1955. The other three fields to the south fared a little better. The Anthracite Coal Division 1965 Annual Report published by the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries of Pennsylvania (link) showed hundreds of mine sites still in operation with 140 preparation plants processing coal (breakers, washeries etc…). The top coal producing companies were the following [company, tons produced, breakers used (location – if different, serving RR)]:

  • Glen Alden Corp. (Blue Coal) 2,111,988 Huber (Ashley, CNJ), Loree (Larksville ex-Hudson Coal, D&H )
  • Lehigh Valley Anthracite 1,461,675 Hazleton Shaft (LV), Morea (PRR), Dorrance (Wilkes-Barre, EL ex-L&WV), Loomis (Hanover Township, EL ex-DL&W – closed 6/65), Mammoth (Raven Run, LV)
  • Reading Anthracite 1,287,293 St. Nicholas (RDG), New St. Nicholas (Duncott, RDG), Trevorton (RDG)
  • Greenwood Mining (ex-Lehigh Coal & Navigation) 762,861 Greenwood (Coaldale, RDG ex L&NE)
  • Glen Nan Coal Co. 649,618 Glen Lyon (PRR), Bel Air (Old Forge, LV)
  • Jeddo-Highland Coal Co. 643,678 Jeddo #7 (Harleigh, LV), Highland #5, Lion (Cunningham Coal, Hazleton, LV), Midvalley Fine Coal Plant (Wilburton, LV)

By 1963 the Class I railroads originating this traffic had contracted to the six carriers listed below:

RailroadLocalForwardedTotal Originated
Anthracite tonnage volume from the 1963 Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I Railroads publication – this is the last year that individual railroad statistics were listed

The category we are most interested here are the tons forwarded, since all the traffic to Massachusetts would fall into this category. Lehigh Valley and Reading led the pack by a wide margin. Although Reading’s totals include the Jersey Central, CNJ’s tonnage was always smaller and was hit badly by the collapse of the northern field. It is interesting to see that the Pennsy was the third overall in anthracite tonnage originated, but 2/3 of it stayed local to the PRR.

A Lehigh Valley hopper at Framinginam in January 1966. The LV was the leading anthracite carrier in 1965. The car is a variation of the offset design featuring ribs. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

Routes to the Boston & Albany from these origins include the following based on a 1947 New York Central routing guide:

  • E-L (D)-Utica-NYC (E/WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • E-L (E)-Binghamton-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • PRR-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or LV-National Jct.-NYC (WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • RDG-Haucks-CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or RDG-Allentown/Quakeake-LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
This map was a test image, right click on it to open in a new tab for a clearer version.

This shows the the D&H, which had the most direct route from the B&A to the anthracite region, enjoyed the lion’s share of the traffic to the B&A. As the B&A’s only direct connection to the anthracite region, it should not come as a surprise that several of the large dealers on the line, incluing Claflin-Sumner, sold Hudson Coal – a D&H affiliate. Hudson Coal was acquired by Glen Alden in 1963. So while LV and RDG led carriers handling hard coal, the B&A’s long term ties with the D&H may have given them a larger market share on this line. Regardless of routing, all cars from all these routes would come east in BA-6 and return west on a BV extra.

About 15-20% of the business on the B&A was overhead. New Haven and B&M didn’t participate in any through routes with the NYC to the origin carriers over the B&A. That may mean that the bridge traffic went to the CV at Palmer, G&U at North Grafton plus the NYC Harlem Division and Rutland at Chatham, NY.


Rochdale Fuel in Rochdale, MA typical of larger northeast retailers. A trestle ran through the middle of the building, locomotives were not permitted to run on it per the rules in the employee timetable. Jack Leonard Photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

In 1963 there were still over a dozen retail dealers on the B&A proper from Worcester to Boston that were listed in the Freight Delivery Circular as receiving coal. These are only customers served at common points with outer lines. Perhaps there were two dozen firms still using B&A routings. That gives an average of one car every 12 days on average. Since I model winter, and Claflin-Sumner was a bigger firm, maybe a single car every 8-10 sessions is appropriate.

Barney Coal in Milford in 1975. While this industry was on the New Haven, it was open to reciprocal switching from the B&A. The main building survives in 2021 as does their sidetrack, but the sheds are gone. Although they haven’t received a hopper in many years, Barney may be the last coal dealer with a serviceable rail siding in all of New England. DigitalCommonwealth photo, used under Creative Commons license.


The retail coal business was on its last legs in 1965. The infrastructure to support the massive volumes of years past was already disappearing, although much was still in place. What was left was closed or vastly underutilized. The Claflin-Sumner yard should reflect this decline and look run-down and only receive limited shipments.

Traffic Research

NYC Freight Delivery Circular

I received my copy of New York Central System’s Freight Delivery Circular from Rails Unlimited this week. The circular is a directory of industries located at junction points with other railroads so agents and customers could know how to properly route cars. The directory covers all of the NYC system including the P&LE. Industries listed are those with private sidetracks who were open to reciprocal switching and the carrier that served the concern. All cities served by the NYC are included except Chicago – it was covered by a separate tariff shared by all roads entering the city. Rails Unlimited sells a 1967 copy of that one as well.


I was looking for some help to document industries along the B&A and elsewhere along the NYC to aid in studying traffic flows and creation of realistic waybills. This version is dated February 1, 1963 – about 3 years earlier than the date range I model, but definitely close enough to help.With major locations like St. Louis, Detroit, Montreal, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh covered, this guide is of use to modelers of other roads as well.

As for the B&A, 24 stations were covered, these naturally included all the busiest stations. The Boston Switching District takes up 20 pages and lists maybe 1500 industries. The biggest location not covered is probably Ludlow/Indian Orchard which is just outside the Springfield terminal area. The switching district in Worcester appears to only stretch from MP 47.7 (James Street) to MP 43.0. I would guess that 90% of the customers on the railroad are covered.

As I reviewed the document I did find some errors. Misspellings, duplicate entries and industries that had closed. I was able to find every industry along the line if it was within the switching limits. For the towns that I know best, I was able to fill in all the sidetracks and was left with some firms that had no place….invisible customers using leased space in a warehouse, freight house or team track.

To illustrate what is in the document, let’s look at my hometown of North Grafton as an example. The guide lists the following:

N Grafton Listing

  • Bathage (sp) Foundry: I had never heard of Bathage Foundry before, a web search showed that it should be Bathgate. I was able to track down a location for them at 109 Creeper Hill Road. A recent real estate transaction included plans that showed a 1952 date for construction here. This explains why it wasn’t on the 1950 track chart.
  • Grafton State Hospital had a spur to a coal trestle, the remains of which are still there (as an aside, institutions like colleges, hospitals and prisons that got coal by rail were found all over the Northeast, but I can’t recall ever seeing one of these industries modeled – MBC).
  • Gordon Coal & Oil Co.: I knew of a coal shed located on the interchange track to the Grafton & Upton on Westboro Road, its foundation is still there. I’m going to assume this was Gordon Coal & Oil.
  • Pratt Bros. had a small grain business on Waterville Street that was not rail served. It would make sense that they took deliveries through the freight house, but that wouldn’t have gotten them a listing unless they leased the building. Someone was certainly in there though, it got a fresh coat of paint in the late 1960s.
  • Washington Mills Abrasive & Co. was, and still is, served the G&U at their lower mill location. The Washington Mills listing for NYC (B) may be a typo or they may have also leased space in the freight house. Shipments to the upper mill would have required transshipment as that facility was off rail.
  • Wyman-Gordon Products Corp. built a sprawling plant on the B&A just after WWII to make non-ferrous forgings for aircraft. At least 8 spurs wound their way into the plant switched by a small Plymouth. They continue in business and remain connected to the main, but it would appear that they rarely, if ever, use rail service. The engine is still there.

N Grafton Industries
1958 USGS Topo Map of North Grafton, MA showing the locations of rail-served industries.

The fact check shows some minor errors, but all the leads turned out. All sidetracks were identified and the listing provided greater insight into who the shippers were than I had been able to get based on years of my own research. While I’ve only skimmed through this book so far, I can tell it will be a valuable addition to my research collection.


Traffic Research

Carload Waybill Statistics: Massachusetts Freight Flows 1965

Lead photo – Conway, PA 1966 Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood Collection – used with permission.

At the New England/Northeast RPM Meet in June 2018 I presented a clinic covering the ICC’s 1% Waybill Sample and related Carload Waybill Statistics. At the time I promised to put my data on my blog….unfortunately it has taken me almost two years to get to that point.

For those not familiar with this resource, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) published several volumes of statistics on an annual basis. They collected 1 out of every 100 waybills terminating on a Class I railroad and tabulated the data. Their publications broke down rail shipments by commodity, weight, distance, origin and destination states, car type, revenue and other parameters. Many of the originals are now online at Hathitrust. Although I did my research in person at the Boston Public Library, the 1965 files I used can now be found here. The catalog record only lists this as the TD-1 report, but the scan actually contains a dozen separate reports.

To make a long story short, I combined the data from several publications into a master spreadsheet that covers all shipments to and from Massachusetts by commodity, car type and origin/destination state. It includes a tab for both 1963 and 1965 (each uses a different commodity system), a tab where the traffic was sorted by the lowest level STCC, as well as blank forms if someone wants to create their own file. I also included a 1965 Boston & Maine Freight Commodity Survey file. You can download this sheet here: MA 1% Data 1963, 65

This research will provide the framework for subsequent blog posts on traffic, industries, freight cars and train operations. I will describe some highlights of what I was able to extract from the data in the balance of this post.

Origin States

Although the B&A moved a small amount of traffic to the New Haven in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, the vast majority either originated or terminated in Massachusetts. As such, focusing in on MA shipments provides a good basis for a sample of B&A carloads.

A quick and dirty way to get a good feel of the mix of roadnames of general service cars in your area is to use the “Total Carload Traffic” data in the first half of publication SS-1 and tabulate inbound shipments of all commodities combined to a given state by origin state. Here is that data, graded and put into map form. As you can see the NYC was well positioned to move most of this traffic.

MA Heat Map 1965
Heat map of origin states of shipments made to MA in 1965.

Major Commodities

Getting the top commodities by state is pretty easy too. You need to just use the second half of the SS-1 report. I also added seasonality from QC-1 (“Quarterly Comparison” – last published in 1959) and recorded state-to-state detail for each commodity from reports SS-2 to SS-7 which provide major flows (5 or more cars in the sample). To highlight what the findings from this research look like, here are the top 10 received commodities – this represents about a third of terminating carloads in MA:

Top 10 Commodities (at 5 digit STCC level) to MA 1965

  1. Carcasses (Meat) – 203 cars in sample (top states: IA 72, NE 27, MN 22, IL 21, SD 19, WI 7, CO 7)
  2. Bituminous Coal – 175 (PA 103, WV 70)
  3. All Freight Rate Shipments, including TOFC – 132 (NY 71, IL 41)
  4. Pulpboard – 129 (VA 30, SC 22, GA 21, LA 9, FL 8, AL 6, NC 5, PA 5, AR 5)
  5. Hydraulic Cement – 95 (NY 55, PA 28, other 12 – Maine withheld – Thomaston was the only origin)
  6. Prepared Feeds – 87 (VT 28, NY 19, PA 14, OH 5)
  7. Wheat Flour – 79 (NY 48, MN 9, KS 6)
  8. Automobiles – 75 (MI 54, DE 10, MD 6)
  9. Lumber – 68 (ID 15, WA 12, ME 7, CA 7, ID 5 from higher level category)
  10. Sanitary Tissues – 60 (ME 31, NY 18 of higher level category)

Car Types

The next level of detail that I added to the sheet was car type. So for each commodity, I added two sets of columns, one for total cars by type for each commodity from report TC-3 and one in which I manually split the model waybills up by car type. Car types are basic based on the first letter of the AAR car code (X – Box, R – Reefer, S – Stock, H – Hopper, G – Gondola, L – Special, F – Flatcar, T – Tank).

To differentiate flatcar shipments by general service and Trailer-on-Flat Car (TOFC/Piggyback) shipments I went line by line and moved flat totals for TOFC-type commodities (like meat) into a separate column.

Once the spreadsheet was built and the data cleaned up I started piecing together the big picture. For example by totaling the car type columns you can see what the mix of freight cars looks like for the state as in the pie chart below (excluding TOFC/COFC). This is interesting in that the mix of cars to MA is very different from the US and NYC as a whole.

Car Graph

Along with the overall car mix, you can see how commodities moved in different cars. This is usually intuitive, but for commodities that were transitioning from boxcar to covered hopper this was very valuable information.

All of the data here is based on the numbers from the report. I have not begun to increase or decrease carloads based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the NYC vs. the B&M, NH and CV.  Nor have I added in Canadian traffic which is totally ignored in this series – with the exception of a supplement that was published for three years in the 1950s.

There are other ways to use the data in these reports to research prototype traffic and car patterns. This is definitely a resource where the more that you put into it, the more you get out. For me, I got a ton of good information out of my research and it was worth every minute.