Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Automobile Boxcar Restoration

The Friends of the Valley Railroad (FVRR) have nearly finished their restoration of a car with a most unusual purpose: the transportation of automobiles.

From the earliest days of the auto industry until the 1950's, “automobile cars” were used to transport finished autos from the factory to dealerships in cities and towns around the country. For some background, visit Core77: Unlikely Ways They Used to Transport Cars by Train

At first glance, it looks like a typical boxcar, however, upon closer inspection it will be noted that it has two doors on each side, a very large set of doors at one end and a curious set of foldable racks inside. The double doors needed to be long enough for a full size auto to fit through and turn during the loading or unloading process. The end doors could be used for unloading where a platform was not available, or a very large vehicle such as a truck was the cargo. The rack system allowed for autos to be lifted up and stowed on an angle so another auto could be loaded under it. Typically, each car could transport up to 4 fully assembled autos. When empty, it could be loaded with any product carried in a standard boxcar, so it’s return trip for the load of autos could produce revenue (unlike modern auto carriers which must return empty for reloading).

Left: A brand new Ford sedan is unloaded at Old Saybrook in 1946 using the double side doors. A bit of the rack system that allowed up to 6 autos to be shipped in one automobile car can be seen above the rear of the auto.

Right: An American La France fire engine (pumper No.2?) for the Chester Fire Department is unloaded using the large end doors at Deep River in the 1940's. The corner of the Deep River depot can be seen on the left. 
Photos from the Max Miller Collection.

Being restored is former New York Central System No. 54173, built by the railroad’s Despatch Shops in 1930. It was probably used to transport autos from factories in Michigan to other parts of the country. During World War Two when automobile production was suspended, it is likely that it hauled general freight. Beginning in the 1950's, specialized flat cars with multiple levels have been used and most automobile boxcars scrapped, but ours was placed in “company service” and re-numbered X-41276. It had several boilers installed in it and was used as a portable source of steam for heating, perhaps when the boiler in a station or warehouse was being repaired. At some time in the late 1980's, it was retired and sat in an unused storage yard in Bridgeport until it was purchased in January 1992. A hardy crew worked on it for a week under most unpleasant conditions before it could be moved to Essex.

Chip removing old valves
A couple of years ago, David Mackay, a director of the New York Central System Historical Society visited and told us that the society occasionally funds projects on NYCS equipment. Paul Costello made application for a grant and earlier this year it was received. The grant will pay for repainting, new roof walks, re-lettering and servicing the air-brake system so the car can be used for special events.

The Friends of the Valley Railroad (FVRR) have recently set up an Instagram account @friendsvrr and have been posting photos of the work in process! Way to go, team!

J. David

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