Port Richmond yard images

Port Richmond, November 15, 1926. Collection of Eric Hansmann.

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.

Port Richmond, January 12, 1928. Collection of Eric Hansmann.

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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12 thoughts on “Port Richmond yard images”

  1. Eric,

    I get excited when I see “photos of Port Richmond” then realize it’s on the wrong coast for me. Kinda like that other Pittsburg in PA. Aside from the location disappointment, I appreciate the notes on scanning technique as I too have recently acquired some vintage photos with great stuff in the background. The NH fishbelly side sill car is of interest as it is very similar to the ATSF Bx-O which soldiered on through WWII. How long did the NH cars last?


  2. You’d enjoy the Bernhart “Reading Railroad” book series. Lots of golden oldie photos from that era. The Reading Company terminal elevator was a new addition in that time frame.

  3. Eric, more great info. These are great photos and loads of great info. Really interesting is how much industry was available in this country. I model a later time than the twenties but many of the cars you provide info on would still be around. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I’m not convinced the photos are so far apart timewise despite the purported dates, considering how many of the same freight cars are in both pics in approximately the same places.

    1. The numbers on the bottom right indicate these are Official P&R photographs taken by the company photographer, so the dates are accurate.

  5. Hi Eric, thanks for your extremely informative analysis of these photos; I never visit your blog without learning something valuable to my own modeling.

  6. Eric,

    What a great pair of photos. I especially like that they show similar car types and road names, though taken months apart. A car man working that yard day after day would probably get used to seeing certain cars and would note any exceptions.

    I think this is instructive for our modeling efforts – what may be more important than ‘modeling the ordinary’, is keeping our consists logical and consistent from session to session. In that first image there appears to be a 50′ furniture car, maybe with a little sag in the middle, and over on the right I spot a yellow ACL ventilated box car. The unusual and colorful is represented in the midst of the more common types.

    But that’s one reason I model the 1920s – even the ordinary cars had a variety of features like Fox trucks, different reefer hatch types, and truss rod cars, all of which can be seen in the first photo.


  7. I noticed one locomotive, a camelback, shoving a short string of gondolas on the pier on the left, upper corner. Great photo!

    1. Jim, they’re not visible in either picture, but there are 4 carfloat slips at the northern end of Pt. Richmond, just out of view to the left in the first photo. They were used to ship freight cars to the Bulson and Linden St. terminals in Camden, NJ. I think the camelback is shifting those piers.
      The Reading (say Red-ding) also had carfloat service from Pigeon Point, DE to Deepwater NJ, to serve a large DuPont chemical facility and some service from Port Reading in N. Jersey.
      Eric, I have an overview aerial shot showing the completed Grain Elevator, conveyor and most of the northern part of the yard. How can I get you a copy to add to this blog?

  8. Some great waterfront modeling ideas. Look at all the small loading/unloading/transfer areas, as well as the big massive transfer facilities. And the watercraft, too. I see what looks like three powered barges at left, and a variety of unpowered barges and ocean freighters including a rare turret-style ship (the one with the very narrow superstructure just to right of center.)

  9. The MDT cars were waiting for the next banana boat. They would be loaded into a unit train for mid-western destinations. I don’t know the exact routing, but they may have been interchanged with the B&O in central Philadelphia at Park Junction (about 9 miles from Pt. Richmond) and then out towards Chicago.
    Pt. Richmond was billed as the largest privately-owned port in the world during the 1920’s. It stretched almost a mile along the Delaware River waterfront.

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