Automobile box cars

While building an HO scale resin automobile box car kit recently, I began a conversation with Pre-Depression Era model railroaders. We discussed details, fleets, and kits. Fellow 1920s modeler Ray Breyer shared data and a PDF of a PowerPoint presentation he had created.

At about the same time, I reviewed the quantities of fleet data I had complied from an October 1926 Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER). I tallied data from all US and Canadian railroads that had a minimum of 1000 freight cars listed in the ORER.

Of the 1,226,843 total box cars in my total, 153,540 of those were noted as automobile box cars with an MCB/ARA classification of XA. This automobile box car total is 12.5% of the 1926 fleet. I was surprised with the proportion of automobile box cars in my late 1926 modeling focus. So, what are the top railroads owning these cars?

The top seven lines had many connections with factories in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The Michigan Central XA total was 70% of their box car fleet. I entered data based upon individual company entries on the ORER, so the New York Central subsidiaries have separate data listings. The total XA quantity for all NYC Lines was 37,966 cars.

After crunching the numbers, I started a Westerfield Models kit for a NYC 1916 design, steel-sheathed automobile box car. My planned layout will be set in Pittsburgh on a branch serving three team yards. At least one has an auto dock. I’ll need to build several more for my fleet.

Automobile box cars also carried other loads. The wider door openings made it easier to load long lumber, bulky machinery and castings, furniture, paper rolls, and more.

Additionally, not all automobile box cars were 40-foot cars. There were a bunch of 36-foot cars with wider door openings for auto loading and unloading. There were also 50-foot cars, but they were a minority among the fleet. More of these breakdowns and modeling recommendations can be found in Ray Breyer’s guide to early auto box cars. You can download a PDF copy on the Freight Car Fleets resource page.

The overall freight car fleet kept changing to serve customers and adapt to the economy. As years progress, automobile box cars would become larger and railroads would enter into pool agreements to keep enough cars available to serve these large customers.


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2 thoughts on “Automobile box cars”

  1. This post makes me aware of how little I know about automobile distribution and delivery in pre-war times. Thanks for this post.

  2. You mentioned that Nationally the XA fleet was ~ 12.5% of the total National fleet and that MC had a 70% ratio!
    Other roads that also had a high % are: ( based on my 1925 ORER) Wabash at 37.3 and PM at47.5% respectively. CN (R) percentage was 6.7% with GT/ GTW coming in at 25.1%!

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