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ZM-17 Intro to Canadian 8-hatch Overhead Ice Bunker Reefer

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 16, 2010 4:07 pm    Post subject: ZM-17 Intro to Canadian 8-hatch Overhead Ice Bunker Reefer Reply with quote

An Introduction to Canadian 8-hatch Overhead Ice Bunker Refrigerator Cars

by Michael Livingston

CNR 209598 refrigerator car shown newly repainted in early 1945 (Scheme B: Approximate time period (ATP) 1943-1952)

Note: Lots more about paint schemes later!

For people unfamiliar with a particular railroad's equipment, it can be difficult to understand how or why one particular railroad's “Essential Freight Car” might fit into their own railroad and operations. In my Illinois Central (IC) 2-bay hopper “Mainline of Mid-America” Decals in Focus article, we looked at why an IC hopper car would not only be regularly seen in Canada (and in many regions of the US), but would be a necessary part of any accurate southern Ontario steam-era layout and how it could be justified on your layout too.

This article will begin a multi-part series on Canadian 8-hatch refrigerator cars. Now to be clear, I am not going to repeat the excellent work by Stafford Swain, who has written what I consider to be a definitive work on these cars that were built for the Canadian National (CNR), Canadian Pacific (CPR), Pacific Great Eastern (PGE), and Grand Trunk Western (GTW) railways. See Railroad Model Craftsman’s coverage of this topic in three issues from December 1995 through February 1996. I highly recommend these articles, as I do for any of Stafford's writing, which are well presented, deeply researched, clear, and cover how these prototype cars were designed, decorated, and used in a variety of eras.

Instead, in this installment we will look at where Canadian 8-hatch reefers were seen in service, what commodities they carried, and why you should have a few of these versatile cars on your North American railroad.

But wait, refrigerator cars aren't versatile are they?

Maybe we should begin with a brief overview to understand why these controlled temperature cars were so unique and versatile.

Not just refrigeration, “Controlled Temperature” load protection!

Both the CNR and CPR experimented with overhead ice bunker technology during the 1930s by retrofitting wood end-bunker refrigerator cars. These experiments, and the successful implementation of the overhead bunker design by South African railways led to a completely new car design and CNR's first order of 100 cars in 1939.

Canadian railroads were so taken with the controlled temperature capabilities of these cars over conventional end-bunker reefer designs that almost 7000 cars were built by US and Canadian manufacturers between 1939 and 1958. These specially-designed cars were equipped to provide “true” controlled-temperature load protection; not just refrigeration, but also heating and ventilation. Some of the unique features of these cars are described in this excerpt from the 1944 manual by the CPR about Perishable traffic.

Code of Rules for Handling Perishable Traffic (CPR Transportation Dept. Circular 357)

Also notable is one drawback of these cars; that crushed ice and salt were used rather than ice blocks for refrigeration. This about doubled time and labor required to re-ice a car (about 15 minutes per car), which should have been more than offset by the fact that an iced car could travel about 3500 miles across Canada with only 3 reloads of ice (versus seven or more ice reloads with a conventional end bunker reefer).

As built, these cars were also very heavy, essentially being a steel boxcar with a second interior steel shell. Continuous refinement would reduce overall weight and increase the maximum load capacity by almost 50%. The interior steel shell was completely isolated from the exterior of the car by 5 inches of horsehair or similar insulation. Equipment included 6-inch deep overhead ice bunkers that were loaded with a 30% salt - 70% crushed-ice brine solution that would provide consistent cooling of the entire contents of the car; down to the coldest temperatures available for rail service until mechanical refrigeration became a reality. Baffles in the ceiling increased overall load capacity and protected the load from condensation and moisture drips by channeling the brine into under floor tanks or pipes with outlets near the couplers.

Underslung charcoal heaters heated anti-freeze filled pipes under the car floor, providing consistent heating without contaminating the load with carbon monoxide fumes. Note the variation in the bracing and piping for these two heater designs.

And finally a “Liquidometer Temperature Indicating Apparatus” mounted on the outside of the car precisely measured and showed the interior car temperature at both the top and bottom of the load, so that car handlers knew exactly what to do to maintain the temperature required for the load being shipped.

What did this mean for shippers in the 1940s?

These cars were used to ship . . . what?

Bananas could now be shipped at a constant 60 degrees, from New Orleans to Chicago in winter or summer. Fresh apples could be shipped from BC across Canada and live lobsters, eggs, live bees, and frozen bacon could be shipped with minimal damage to the load. Flowers, plant bulbs, and seed potatoes could be shipped hundreds of miles any time of the year.

Believe it or not, the quick-frozen food industry as we know it today became a reality because of the capabilities of these cars, allowing everything from berries and pizzas to frozen shrimp and egg rolls to be safely transported to market without ice crystal damage, spoilage, or loss. Even commercial products like ink, rubber, and oil-packed ball bearings were shipped in these controlled temperature cars to protect them from damage by rust and changes to viscosity that would render them useless. Imagine being able to park a Canadian reefer at your manufacturing industry siding and have “ball bearings” on the waybill! The following table lists some of the perishable commodities that were shipped by these controlled temperature cars in the 1940s before mechanical refrigeration.

The table shows that some commodities required icing, heating, and ventilation sometimes with variations depending on whether the same type of load was shipped frozen, canned, or fresh.

Where were 8-hatch cars seen in service?


That was my reply when I was asked to put together information about where 8-hatch overhead ice bunker reefers could be seen in freight, express, and passenger service in Canada. More than likely not in Newfoundland: although some standard-gauge freight cars were retrucked for narrow-gauge service and passage by ferry to that remote island, then retrucked again to standard gauge when they returned. Other than that, there were few places in Canada that these cars were not seen and used. From the far north where frozen whitefish were loaded for New York City, to the north shores of Lake Erie where the temperate climate allows peaches, grapes, and tobacco to be grown, or elsewhere in southern Ontario where prized seed potatoes were shipped to New York farm coops because of their high yield in next year’s crop. But how about where these cars were seen in the United States?

Well, based on a review of books, articles, photos, on-line sources, and lading records, I have built a map of where 8-hatch reefers were seen mixed in with regular steel and wood end ice bunker reefers of the day. This is by no means an exhaustive or fully comprehensive location list, but it does provide some idea of where these cars have been seen and recorded. Additionally, the Grand Trunk Western had 100 similar cars built in 1955 that saw extensive service from the Chicago area through Canada, and into Buffalo and beyond.

Steam-era Canadian 8-hatch Reefer sightings in North America

Red stars indicate actual photo or other location evidence. If a state or province is dark green, then regular traffic of these cars was seen in the steam era. Light green states indicate that 8-hatch reefers were definitely seen, but in unknown numbers. No photo evidence has yet appeared for other states marked in yellow, but obviously these cars had to pass through many unmarked states in trains traveling to locations in California, Texas, Louisiana, or Florida.

Railroads known to have interchanged or handled these Canadian reefers include:

- Canadian National
- Canadian Pacific
- Algoma Central
- Atchison Topeka and Sante Fe,
- Boston and Maine
- Central Vermont
- Chesapeake and Ohio
- Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific
- Florida East Coast
- Grand Trunk Western
- Illinois Central
- Northern Pacific
- New York Central
- Ontario Northland
- Pacific Great Eastern
- Pere Marquette
- Soo line
- Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo
- Union Pacific
- Wabash

Given normal interchange locations between the US and Canada we can infer that 8-hatch reefers were also seen on the Bangor and Aroostock, Baltimore & Ohio, Delaware & Hudson, Erie, Great Northern, Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, Maine Central, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, and Rutland during the steam and/or post-steam eras. These locations included large centers like Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, and Portland, or many other cross-border interchange points like Rouses Point (NY), Noyes (MN), Northgate (ND), and Vancouver (BC).

So why are we talking about these reefers? GHQ’s first offering of an n-scale refrigerator car will be a prototypically correct CNR 209500-209999 series overhead ice bunker 8-hatch reefer kit.

Preproduction model decorated with CDS dry transfers

And more to come. . .

See the next article in this series for a look at how to assemble, apply correct details like brake wheels, Micro-Trains trucks, and roof walks, then paint and decal these cars to accurately place these CNR cars in a variety of steam-era periods. I am also working on modeling tips to build variations of these unique cars for the CPR and other railways.

Any feedback about kit assembly, design, decals, photo evidence of other 8-hatch reefers in US locations, or related future offerings would be welcome.
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Joined: 17 Jun 2009
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Location: Annapolis, MD (but my imagination's in Portola)

PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:12 am    Post subject: Two questions about the CN reefers Reply with quote

I have two questions about the 8 hatch reefer models:

In the drawings presented, the panels are secured by rivets but the model and even the prototype photos look like some sort of channel construction. What's the deal there? I'm not knocking the model, just trying to figure out how prototypical it is.

Also, I saw Trueline has this care in HO in two CP schemes, a BCOL and PGE scheme. Did these three roads have the same or similar cars (which)? Are decals available for these options too?

Bryan B.

Hey GHQ?!. We need more N scale 1960s & early 70s cars and trucks!
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Joined: 18 May 2009
Posts: 4
Location: Bloomington, MN

PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2010 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Bryan,

The car drawings were modified by me specifically to show decal placement, and as such do not show all the car side detailing (otherwise I would hide the decal details!!).

The 8-hatch reefer car design evolved over the two decades that it was built and this car represents the earliest CNR cars in the series (although some of them lasted into the 70s and maybe even later). The CNR, CPR, PGE (BCOL), and GTW all had 8-hatch refrigerator cars.

The GTW cars are the closest match to these cars and I am just about finished with "as built" decals (circa 1955) in the GTW maple leaf scheme.

The CP cars with dreadnaught ends are also close, but have different side sills and other details that make this kit an excellent starting point for kitbashing. I am working on filling the sides on one right now that will be featured in an upcoming article. I will be making decals to match the 50s-era Gothic lettering.

The PGE/BCOL cars are later car designs that match later orders from CPR and CNR. Neither order matches this early car design.

I hope that I wil be able to convince GHQ to do a plug door version that was more commonly seen in express service if these cars sell better through the next few months.

Hope that clears up any confusion.

Good luck and happy modelling!
Michael Livingston
Modeling southern Ontario railways in N-scale
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Puddington Valley

Joined: 19 Aug 2010
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:33 pm    Post subject: Wonderful models Reply with quote

I am enjoying the GHQ 8 hatch models. I have completed three to date; two in the "as made" fashion; two different liveries.

Thanks GHQ for these wonderful models.

Mike "Puddington" McGrattan
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