I picked up a few neat photos at the St Louis RPM last summer. I used these in my RPM Chicagoland presentation and thought I’d share them with some notes. Photographs were often taken to document projects in many cities. In these cases, the Reading Company hired a photographer to snap progress photos of a new project at their Port Richmond yards along the Delaware River in Philadelphia. You can see some concrete footers extending through the above image that will connect a new grain pier with a grain elevator. Click on any image here to view a larger size.
We are lucky to find this kind of documentation with decent views of freight cars. The image is dated November 15, 1926. I scanned the original 8×10 black and white print at 200% size and saved it as a TIF file. We can focus on a tighter area and crop the image. Adjusting the levels, contrast, and brightness sharpens up some detail. Using the burn function brings some background out of the murk. Finally, an unsharp mask was applied to see if it becomes clearer. Sometimes this step helps, but not always. The image is then Saved for Web with a 3000 pixel width and for a medium quality JPG file. Let’s see if we can get a better look at the yard below.
The photo angle and camera distance from the yard doesn’t make for a really clear picture but we can pull out a few details. The MDT reefers catch the eye right away. I’ve been told the Reading was part owned by the NYC and B&O after the 1924 reorganization so the MDT reefers were a common sight. Even this grey scale image will inspire weathering techniques.
The string of tank cars are lettered for Crew Levick, a Cities Service subsidiary. The short gondolas are possibly P&R GMf or GMg class. Of all the boxcars in this cropped portion, there may be only five steel-sheathed cars. All others are single- or double-sheathed wood cars of 36- and 40-foot lengths. There might be three USRA boxcars here.
Compare the clean tank cars and crisp lettering with nearly all of the other cars in tis image. While we can’t see the details better in this image, we can compare the boldness of the car lettering as an indication of wear and weathering. I would estimate six or seven other cars with lettering that stands out similar or close to the tank car appearance.
The elevated view gives a look at several hopper and gondola loads. Some of these may have loads of material to be used in this large construction project. Adding a construction project to a layout can generate traffic with a variety of car types.
This image was snapped about 26 months after the first image. I believe the photographer is now positioned on the far side of the yard and looking back across. Remember those footers from earlier? They support the towers for a conveyor crossing the yard. The lower angle of the image and closer distance of the camera offers crisper details, so let’s zoom in for a look.
Photoshop adjustments bring a bit of sharpness even though some very light color objects become washed out. Here are a few notes on the freight cars in this scene.
On the front track to the left is a Pennsylvania Railroad GRa composite gondola with a lumber load that has shifted in transit. With the drop ends, these were often used for mill service. The Pennsy built more than 14,000 of these gondolas.
On the next track are a few house cars. Starting at left is a New Haven 36-foot, double-sheathed boxcar with a fishbelly sidesill. A Philadelphia & Reading refrigerator car is next and coupled to a Reading refrigerator car. The P&R reorganized in 1924 to become the Reading. Lots of equipment here features before and after lettering.
Beyond the reefers on the right is a ubiquitous PRR XL boxcar. The distinctive roof and Wagner door were spotting features of the huge XL class. Just to the left of the Pennsy car is a B&O M-15d boxcar. The clear car number identifies the subclass. Looking further left, there seems to be a PRR X25 steel-sheathed boxcar with a left-hand opening door. Nearly 10,000 were built. The underframes on these cars were the same as the X23 car class.
Scanning further left is a P&R composite mill gondola. About 2000 of these gondolas were among the GHb, GHc, and GHd, car class. Behind it are a pair of Western Maryland coal hoppers. The hopper on the left is a Vanderbilt design originally built for WM predecessor West Virginia Central & Pittsburgh. Weathering has taken a toll on the lettering. To the left of the WM hoppers is a fresh Reading mill gondola. A Taylor truck reveals this is one of the many copies installed in the GMl class that followed the 70-ton USRA car design.
The Reading and P&R boxcars are all 36-foot, double-sheathed cars. A couple of these show rivet strips along the corners of the car sides, which held the stamped metal ends in place. These cars would be in the XMr class while the other boxcars could be from XMk, XMl, XMn, or XMp classes. About the time of this 1928 image, the Reading would be rebuilding many of the older boxcars with stamped metal ends, Youngstown metal doors, and Murphy roofs. These cars are the core of the Reading boxcar fleet.
The freight cars become harder to identify in the background, although there are a couple of high-walkway tank cars with P&R reporting marks on each end of a background track. A couple Crew Levick tank cars are between them, and a few white MDT reefers are also in the mix. A USRA single-sheathed boxcar with P&R lettering is seen at the distant point in the image, one of 1000 boxcars assigned to the line by the USRA.
Need to learn more about the Reading freight car fleet? Check out the Reading Modeler freight car fleet resources to review lots of car class data compiled by John Hall.
These notes have scratched the surface of all the details in these images. Each of us will find different points of interest. Another data set may arise when you review them again in a month or two. Photos keep us on our toes as they inspire our railroad modeling efforts.
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