Author Topic: Ellis Walker's article on freight transfer  (Read 3054 times)

Ed Lecuyer

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Ellis Walker's article on freight transfer
« on: January 08, 2009, 10:30:37 PM »
MODERATORS NOTE:
Ellis Walker's article on freight transfer has been converted from the pre-July 2008 WW&F Discussion Forum.
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Bruce Wilson wrote:
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I for one continue to enjoy Ellis Walker's articles within the W.W. & F. Ry. Museum newsletter. His latest dealing with the hypothetical shipment of 8 kegs of nails from a supply house in Portland to a hardware distributor in Bridgton has really got me thinking.
Ellis points out the number of times such an order of nails (or other less carload lot) must be handled in and out of freight cars and transfer/freight houses. He comes up with eight such handlings. The whole process looks woefully inefficient in comparison to a short haul trucker of the period.
There are so many ways to view such a comparison, and this is why I enjoy Ellis' articles so. He really gets one to thinking.
Back to the eight kegs of nails though, and I still have questions. One such question would be the costs of trucking from Portland to Bridgton (remember, we're talking 1930's), and driving in the winter. How much does each keg of nails weigh? A hundred pounds? What type of truck would be needed to carry that load of eight hundred pounds? Probably one with dual rear wheels and at least a one ton capacity. How many hours would the driver need to go between the Portland warehouse and the Bridgton retailer. How many miles-per-gallon would his vehicle rate? What was the cost per gallon back then, maybe 25 to 30 cents per gallon?
Ellis has asked questions about freight transfer in previous Musings. He wondered about such transfer between the MEC and the W.W. & F. in the Wiscasset lower yard. In the abscence of any structure or ramps, he wondered how it was done. There was a freight house at least on the Sandy River and Maine Central terminal in Farmington.
I remember walking through old standard gage freight houses at such places as Fall River, Mass. and Bangor, Maine. I've seen old film footage of produce being shipped by rail, reefers being iced, potato car heaters being placed in boxcars to protect the contents from freezing. One thing that struck me was the speed at which these tasks were performed.
The handling of that LCL shipment of nails that Ellis speculates about, leaves me wanting to believe that the freight house workers would handle the loading/unloading quickly, and the the railroads (might be slower than the truck), but more efficient.
What do you think?

Dana Deering replied:
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Very interesting question, Bruce.  Now, the B&H had their own truck for delivering express into town and up to Harrison after 1930.  There is a t least one photo of it in TFTTL.  We should be able to determine the model and get an idea of capacity and figure out what it might have cost to run form Portland to Bridgton.  I think you could get 10 gallons of gas for a dollar back then (?)  It would be a fun exercise.
Dana

Stewart Rhine replied:
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Bruce and Dana, The B&HR had a Ford Model AA stake body truck for local delevery.  It looks to be a '29 or 30 as it has the shorter wheel base and single rear wheels.
As to highway competition in the late 1920's and early 1930's, trucking firms had ton and a half flat bed trucks like International and REO.  There were few tractor trailor trucks then.  Among the heavier trucks were the Macks which were still chain drive and very slow.  The 1928-31 Ford AA trucks had four cylinder engines with a three or four speed trans.  The original trucks I have seen are good for about 40 mph tops.
Bruce brings up a good point about Ellis' article.  Prof. Hilton stated as much in his extensive study of narrow gauge lines in the US.  The transfer of freight was an expense that became a problem for many lines.  Ellis' piece goes with my article on the paychecks.  Of all the ones I have (with the original stubs showing the employees job) most are working on freight transfer.  The cost certainly added up.

Wayne Laepple replied:
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We've all seen the photos of men shovelling coal from a standard gauge gondola down into a two-footer flatcar with sideboards. Imagine having to move 30 or 35 tons of coal one shovelful at a time on a hot day! Or on a cold day, for that matter. Or how about 30 tons of 100-pound sacks of chicken feed or corn?  Now that would get to be pretty tiresome.
I was wondering how they transfered gasoline from standard gauge to narrow gauge tank cars at Bridgton Jct. I know down here in Pennsylvania, at one of the three-foot gauge lines, there was an elevated track where the standard gauge car was parked so gravity could assist with the transfer. on that same railroad, a three-foot gauge track was elevated enough that the floors of standard gauge and three-foot boxcars were level.
So clearly, Stewart is correct in saying that the expense of transfering freight was a large part of the budget of any narrow gauge railroad.

Mike Fox replied:
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Wayne,
I think gravity played a role in the transfer of liquid there too. On our tour of the yard, I pointed out an old pipe in the ground. It was next to the lowered two foot track. About 2 feet lower than the standard gauge. Every other track in the yard was level accept this one.
Another big item trans-loaded was lumber. Stick for stick. B&SR did not do as much as the SR&RL but there was still some.
Mike

Wayne Laepple replied:
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Stick-loading lumber. Ah, yes. When I was working for a shortline in North Carolina in the early 1980, a sawmill we served occasionally received an order for a boxcar of lumber to be stick-loaded. It would take a couple of days to do so.
One time, a loaded car returned about six weeks after it was shipped. The car had apparently been humped very hard and the load resembled a Pick-up Stix game. The consignee refused the car, and the shipper ended up using a chain saw to unload it.

Bruce Wilson replied:
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Stewart, Dana, Mike & Wayne,
Your postings bring up some good points of interest, expanding on the subject and making for some real interesting reading. It is always enjoyable to learn how things were done and sometimes when no clear answer is known, to speculate on what might have been.
From my years as a member of the American Truck Historical Society, I have some thoughts on how a trucking company of the 1930's would have handled the haulage of the eight kegs of nails. When I first read Ellis' article, I pictured a direct haul (from Portland to Bridgton) of the hardware retailer's order. Unless an independent trucker was given the order, I suspect that the kegs would have been "routed" along with other freight destined for the area.
I am wondering if the nails might have gone from the Portland wholesaler, to a trucking company terminal until a shipment to the Bridgton area could be arranged. Perhaps in the 30's, the Bridgton area received daily service from a carrier in Portland. Maybe the trucking company simply left it's yard, stopping at the MEC freight house and going on a highway route from there...?
Still curious about what type of truck would have been used for the haul. A chain drive Mack would've made for a slow and long trip, the roads and weather conditions would've been a factor too.
Perhaps when my own '51 Ford F-5 is road worthy, I will take a drive up that way and see what it's like with a more modern vehicle (than what was available in the 30's) and on today's far superior roads. My old truck has a 96 horse power, flathead eight and two speed rear-end, but with some killer gear ratios. I suppose the tourists will be lined up behind me for miles, cursing me and my old rust bucket...
Well, it's fun to figure how the railroads did things. Over the last few days here in Maine, I've enjoyed watching a scrap metal firm in Auburn being serviced by Pan-Am railways. A local has departed Danville Junction with empty high-sided gons and returned (at a leisurely pace) with loaded cars, all set off in a block. This past Friday morning, a south-bound train stopped on the main at DJ and lifted the scrap cars from the siding, adding the cut into the consist of empties from the paper mills. I watched the loads teeter-totter over the diamond crossing with the St. Lawrence & Atlantic as the train headed south to Rigby. By the way, the graffitti on the sides of these cars should be rated "X". Yikes!

Mike Fox replied:
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Bruce,
I too have noticed those cars and one time saw a small forklift on top of the load on it's side. I guess it was easier to load it whole than to try and cut it up.
Mike

Bruce Wilson replied:
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Hey Mike...yes, it does seem that some of the loads have whole vehicles, tractors, forklifts or other identifiable items. I don't know why that is, when you figure the whole load must then be graded at a lower value. Maybe the consignee is looking for low grade scrap, rather than a car or more of clean, scrap steel with no mixed metal or rubber.
It's interesting too, to see single carloads brought into the Safe Handling terminal in Auburn. I've observed bulk head flats with treated lumber and utility poles. While some railroads are geared towards bulk shippers, it is refreshing to see that others still seek the single car load.
Bruce

Dana Deering replied:
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Since the initial question from Bruce I have gone on a search of what types of trucks might have been available at the time and there were some rugged ones.  Diamond T, Oshkosh, Mack, all produced trucks which I would guess were 1.5 to 2 tons in capacity. Dose the Boothbay Railway Village have any trucks from that era?
I have access to a book about the Merrill Transport Co. that I will pick up at my folks house tonight (called Fifty Years a Truckman) and another one about Allie Cole founder of Cole Transport, and see if they shed any light on the early years of trucking in Maine.  I also wonder what condition the Portland Road (now 302) was in in the 30's.  Wish my grandparents were still around, they lived in the area back then and could tell me, oh well.  I do have my grandfather's diary from the 30's and he worked for the WPA for a while, repairing roads, maybe there is something in there.  Hey Bruce, you offering any space for riders on your truck trip??  Thanks everyone for these interesting conversations!!
Dana

Bruce Wilson replied:
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Dana,
I wonder if any Federal's, Autocar's and Sterling's may have roamed the roads back then as well? Checking with your Grandfather's diary is likely to turn something up, especially where he was involved in road building. Maybe he was on a crew that used a steam powered road roller, or an early gas-engined job.
Yeah, I think something could be arranged to get you a "cab ride" in my '51. It may be a while yet though. The old beast is down to bare metal in the body shop, waiting for her fresh coat of dark green with black trim. The two-speed rear end is still in need of final assembly to the drive train as well.
Ed Lecuyer
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