Carloadings : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

There was a time when citrus packing houses were all over Florida. They numbered in the hundreds and were always next to the railroads tracks. They were sized by the number of boxes they could produce in a day. A medium size plant could produce 3,000 to 4,000 boxes a day. How does this relate to railcar loadings? In other words, how many boxes of citrus can a rail car hold? Where would I go to get carloading reports for the 30's, 40's, and 50's?

-- Dick Kearns (, March 18, 2001


Check out the book on the Pacific Fruit Express. While the book primarily discusses the history, operation, and equipment of the PFE, there is a section that disucsses various methods of packing boxes, crates, and baskets of produce in reefers. You might find a crude number you can use. Keep in mind that that the actual number of crates per car would depend on the size of the car, how the crates were stacked, and in the case of older equipment, the capacity of the underframe/truck journals.

It is doubtful that railroad carloading reports for the 30's, 40's, or 50's still exist. In light of the several mergers that have taken place since those decades and the railroad's constant house cleaning to make space for more files, thse materials very likely now reside in the local landfill. That's not to say they don't exist, but if they do, they will likely be in someone's private collection or buried so deeply in a railroad warehouse that no one knows where to find them. I was fortunate enough to purchase a copy of a car loading report for an ACL branchline in SC (rescued by someone in the late 60's). It consists of a big table that lists each shipping point (produce shed) and breaks down the carloads by the type of produce (cabbage, potatoes, strawberries, etc.). The number of carloads for a particular shipping point in a given year is compared to the previous year's carloads with increases/decreases in carloadings shown as +/- percentages.

There are other sources you can investigate to get the number of carloads(the tried and true needle in the haystack approach). Check the old newspapers in your county library. There were usually articles desribing the anticipated harvest(good or bad)and may give the number of expected carloads. You could also try to locate old agriculture/produce grower magazines (no names readily come to mind). They often had articles highlighting certain regions of the country. Contact the state department of agriculture, they might be able to advise you of any records that may still exist and where to find them. Same for your state's agricultural school. Finally, you might be able to go straight to the source and track down one of the local produce growers. If you're lucky they might have complete records indicating carloads, destinations, etc. I'm sure others from your area can suggest alternate sources. Hope this helps and good luck.

-- Buddy Hill (, March 19, 2001.

I cannot answer your question, but will add a few observations and memories of fresh citrus shipments on the ACL,.

In the early years it was not uncommon for a train crew to be held at a branchline packing house, waiting for some cars to be loaded. This created overtime pay for the train crews. Train traffic on the Tampa District, North bound often were refered to as "Fruit Extra's." Perishable freight often had train order priortiy.

As the old FGEX cars came off the Haines City Branch, the next stop was at an icing plant such as Sanford. After icing down and salt added, the mechnaical circulating fans were activated by engaging a lever, which had a wheel that pressed against a wheel of the reefer.

The old cars had quite thick walls and doors insulated with (I think) sawdust. I used to hang out at the packing houses in Orlando in the 40's and 50's, and watch the workers hand truck the boxes into the cars. There were two packing houses that fronted the Orlando Yard, right across from the present Amtrak Depot on Sligh Blvd. Since our section house was at the South End of the yard at Kaley Avenue, it was a short walk down there to watch and get an occasional orange to eat.

As the "Fruit Extra's" moved North, the ice melted down and there were drainage chutes from the ice bunkers, that spilled salty water along the right of way, and on track equipment. The switch machines were painted with a mixture of black paint and rail preserver to fight off rust. Later while working in the signal departement, we would paint the switches and the next day train crews would really be fussing about having to throw switches with wet paint on them. The concoction to quite a while to dry.

During the summer off season, the FGEX cars would be stored in unused tracks. Several times in the off months, train crews working by the stored cars, would be instructed to couple to them, and move them out a ways, then back them up again. This lubricated the friction bearing axles to prevent rust on the journals.

Often the shippers did not know who would buy their Oranges when the train left. They just had to get them immedatiatly moving Northward since the freight was perishable. The cars would for instance be waybilled to New York City, and later diverted while enroute to Chicago. Hence, the job of "Diversion Clerk" came into being. The Operators, also garnered work by sending diversion instructions up the line by telegraph.

Alas, the mechanical refrigeration cars, and move to frozen concentrate spelled the end of Florida Fresh Fruit. The fresh fruit business was then captured by the Sunkist Co-op, of California and Arizona.

There are still some existing packing houses. One in Winter Garden on the old ACL, now "Florida Central RR" that a few years ago was still packing and shipping fresh fruit. I do not know if any of it travels by rail though.

Just some musing of times gone past, mixed with a dimming memory.

-- Curtis E. Denmark Jr. (, March 18, 2001.

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