INTERMODAL FLAT CARS
A few railroads began shipping truck trailers by rail as early as the thirties; however, securing the trailers with blocks and chains was labor-intensive. The “piggyback” cars were adapted from flat cars of various lengths, and the weight of the small trailers of the time was nowhere near the capacity of the cars. As more railroads adopted piggyback service in the mid-fifties it was realized that a more efficient system was needed.
The late fifties brought several developments that revolutionized the TOFC (trailer on flat car) business. Longer cars specifically designed to handle trailers were developed, which were equipped with collapsible trailer hitches that speeded loading and unloading. The Trailer Train Company was established which provided a pool of intermodal cars for member railroads. Finally, the development of standardized sea containers in the early sixties spurred growth of COFC (Container on flat car) traffic, which eventually outpaced TOFC and led to the adoption of double-stack cars.
The AAR classified TOFC and COFC cars as type “FC” which was defined as: ”A flat car or other type of car specifically equipped to carry, trucks, trailers or removable trailer bodies for the transportation of freight”. Note that a type “FC” car need not be a flat car, and some roads built their cars from gondolas or boxcars. Initially, type FC cars could carry either trailers or containers, but universal cars were developed in the sixties that could carry either.
50’ PIGGYBACK CARS WITH TWO TRAILERS
In the early days of N scale, both Atlas and Minitrix offered a 50’ flat car with two short trailers made by Roco of Austria. The Atlas model was simply a flat car with two smooth-side trailers, while the Minitrix model featured a flatcar with side rails and ribbed-side trailers. Atlas continues to offer their model, with the second run produced in the USA and subsequent runs produced in China.
Because of the home-made nature of TOFC flatcars, as well as the wide variety of trailers used, this body style would have to be considered as a generic representation rather than models of a specific prototype. Most of theseearly reailers had corrugated sides, single axles and a rounded front. By 1950, thirty-five foot trailers had become the norm, so the short trailers on these models would be an anachronism by about 1960. However, the trailers might look at home parked around the freight house to perform deliveries of express or LCL (less-than-carload) freight. You could even make the case that it is a shipment of new trailers coming from the factory aboard a standard flat car.
The chart below is divided into two sections; the top section lists those roads that did or could have operated type “FC” flatcars with two 24-foot trailers, while the bottom section lists those cars that are too modern. The “ROAD” column indicates the length of the prototype cars in parentheses, while a hashtag indicates photographic evidence of similar short trailers. The date in the “1ST” column indicates the year piggyback service began for that railroad. An asterisk in the date columns indicates cars that were listed as having two trailer hitches. The top part also includes the number of twenty-foot trailers listed in Equipment Registers, however many of the roads are not listed (NL). Additional notes for individual railroads are listed below:
ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND SANTA FE- Atlas 2352 comes with trailers lettered for Republic Carloading, a freight distribution company that began in the thirties. I don’t know if they sent trailers by rail, but the short trailers would certainly be appropriate for the early piggyback era. A photo of a Santa Fe 24-foot trailer lettered “Santa Fe Transportation Co” is similar to the trailers on Atlas 37617, while Minitrix 3149 is painted in a later “Piggyback Service” scheme.
CANADIAN NATIONAL- Atlas 37607 and Minitrix 3146 carry trailers with the large CN noodle logo adopted in the early sixties. Although I couldn’t find a confirming photo, CN did list flat cars with two hitches into the seventies.
CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY- Burlington’s piggyback cars were forty feet long and presumably carried a single thirty-five foot trailer.
DENVER & RIO GRANDE- Photos of Rio Grande’s early TOFC service show trailers lettered for “Rio Grande Motorways”.
MISSOURI-KANSAS-TEXAS- Atlas 37589A carries two Katy trailers on a Trailer Train flat car, which was equipped for a single trailer. Katy’s own piggyback cars were forty-footers, so they too, could carry only a single trailer.
NEW YORK CENTRAL- Atlas 3750 carries trailers in the Pacemaker scheme. Photos exist of short trailers in this scheme parked at freight houses, but they were never used in TOFC service.
PENN CENTRAL- One of Pennsy’s flatcars actually did manage to last long enough to be re-lettered for Penn Central late in 1975. Although Minitrix 3148 is certainly a coincidence, it could be updated by adding a forty-foot trailer.
PENNSYLVANIA- Pennsy’s fleet of 50’ TOFC cars were built to haul single trailers, but Atlas 3751 could stand in for 75-foot flat cars with two 35-foot trailers, a model not yet available in N-scale. Atlas 2351 comes with trailers lettered for Acme Fast Freight, a freight distribution company that began shipping small containers by rail in the thirties. I don’t know if they sent trailers by rail, but the short trailers would certainly be appropriate for the early piggyback era. Pennsy’s “Tructrain” service was inaugurated in 1954, but all of the 75-foot cars and most of the 40-footers were transferred to Trailer Train in 1957. Atlas 3752 carries “REA Leasing” trailers which date from 1960 or later.
ROCK ISLAND- Most of Rock Island’s TOFC cars were built from war-emergency gondolas by removing the wood sides and drop ends. However, they did list a single 55-foot flat car numbered 93999 in the early sixties.
50’ PIGGYBACK CARS WITH SINGLE TRAILER
ATHEARN, ATLAS, BACHMANN, CON-COR
In the late eighties, Atlas introduced a fifty-foot flatcar with a forty-foot trailer. The forty-foot trailer was a lengthened version of their short trailer, and like its predecessor, the detail is rather basic being simply a trailer placed on a flat car. Con-Cor released a fifty-foot TOFC flatcar at about the same time by modifying their fifty-foot flat car with a side mounted handbrake and a trailer hitch. The forty-foot smooth-side trailers featured rivet detail and were decorated in colorful schemes from the sixties. More recently, Athearn offered their 53’6” flat car modified for TOFC service with side rails and a hitch that come with either a smooth-side or ribbed-side trailer. Finally, Bachmann offers a 52’6” flat car loaded with a 35-foot trailer that features side rails, bridge plates and a hitch.
The forty-foot trailer wasn’t legalized until 1958, so for those modeling the fifties, the Bachmann car might be your best choice. You could also backdate your TOFC cars with Classic Metal Works 32-foot Aerovan trailers, which are available in several railroad schemes. Generally speaking, the colorfully painted trailers are from the fifties, as the forty-foot trailer ushered in an era of unpainted aluminum bodies. In the mid fifties railroad-owned TOFC cars were likely only found on home rails, however those that survived into the sixties might have wandered off-line as more run-through routes were established.
The chart below lists all type “FC” cars with a length less than fifty-five feet. The lengths in parentheses in the “ROAD” column indicate the lengths of the prototypes in numerical order. The date in the “1ST” column indicates the year each railroad began TOFC service. Individual notes for individual railroads are listed below.
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE- Athearn 17328 carries a sixties “Piggy back Service” trailer Concor 1205F carries a trailer with a blue/yellow scheme, which I haven’t been able to confirm as authentic. Atlas 37845 carries a red/silver scheme similar to Santa Fe’s 1954 red/white piggyback scheme which is available on Classic Metal Works 51117. Bachmann 16751 carries a Navajo trailer.
BALTIMORE & OHIO- Atlas 3779 carries a sixties era B&O trailer, while Con-Cor 1205P carries a Railway Express Agency trailer. Bachmann 16752 carries a post-1960 “REA Express” trailer.
CANADIAN PACIFIC- Atlas 37833 carries a trailer with the script logo adopted in the late fifties; Athearn 17320 carries a Smith trailer. First appearing in the sixties, the 54’4” flat cars had straight sides more resembling the Micro-Trains 57’6” converted flat cars. By end of the seventies they represented the majority of CP’s TOFC cars.
CHICAGO & NORTHWESTERN- Both Atlas 3772 and Con-Cor 1205Q carry the early green/yellow scheme from the fifties, which is also available on Classic Metal Works 51152.
DENVER & RIO GRANDE WESTERN- Con-Cor 1205J carries a Pacific Fruit Express trailer while Con-Cor 1205R carries a Navajo trailer; However, the Rio Grande disposed of their TOFC cars before the advent of forty-foot trailers. For early fifties modelers, Classic Metal Works 51153 is decorated for Rio Grande Motorways.
FLORIDA EAST COAST- The FEC listed short TOFC cars only in 1981, while Con-Cor 1205N carries a sixties era Seaboard Air Line trailer.
LEHIGH VALLEY- The Valley’s largest series of piggyback cars (11000-11174) consisted of low-side forty-foot gondolas. Atlas 50001453 is numbered for a series of 52’2” flat cars.
NEW YORK CENTRAL- The Central never owned any TOFC cars, opting for Flexi-Vans instead. However they did start loading TOFC at their terminals by the mid-sixties. Concor 1205C carries a “Pacemaker” trailer, a scheme which pre-dates the forty-foot trailer. Bachmann 16753 carries a trailer with a yellow logo from the late fifties.
PENNSYLVANIA- Atlas 50001458 carries a trailer with a round TrucTrain logo, while the trailers in Con-Cor 1205B and Classic Metal Works 51116 have the earlier diagonal “Pennsylvania” scheme.
READING- The flat car in Atlas 37831A is painted green, a color that was not used on freight cars until the mid-sixties.
ROCK ISLAND- Most of Rock Island’s TOFC cars were built from war-emergency gondolas by removing the wood sides and drop ends. However, they did list a single 55-foot flat car numbered 93999 in the early sixties.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Concor 1205K carries a the fifties red/orange trailer scheme, which is also available on Classic Metal Works 51151. Atlas 37829A and Athearn 17338 carry silver trailers from the sixties.
UNION PACIFIC- Concor 1205H carries the fifties red/yellow trailer scheme, which is also available on Classic Metal Works 51150. Atlas 50001461 and Athearn 17341 carry silver trailers from the sixties.
WESTERN PACIFIC- Concor 1205A carries a sixties era trailer while Athearn 17330 carries a mid-seventies bicentennial trailer.
N SCALE KITS and TRAINWORX
The Flexi-Van was an intermodal system which consisted of flat cars equipped with turntables and trailers with demountable bogies. It was pioneered by the New York Central, whose lines into New York and Boston had low clearances which would not clear standard piggyback cars. A 42’ test car was built in 1957, and satisfied with the results, the Central ordered 250 Flexi-Van cars in 1958. These first “Mark I” cars were 81’1” long and could carry one 40-foot trailer and one 36-foot trailer.
By 1960, however, the 40-foot trailer was becoming the norm, so subsequent orders consisted of 84’6 long “Mark II” cars, which could carry two 40-foot trailers. In addition, most of the original “Mark I” cars had been rebuilt to carry two 40-foot trailers by 1965. In 1962, the system was refined further with “Mark III” cars, which relocated the turntables to the ends of the car. The length increased to 86’9”, which allowed room for refrigeration units on both trailers. In 1964,”Mark IV” cars were introduced which moved the trucks closer to the center of the car, reducing truck centers from 74’8” to 62’9”, reducing resistance on curves. The last Flexi-Vans built were “Mark V” cars for Santa Fe and Burlington in 1968. I don’t know how they differed from Mark IV cars, but their dimensions were the same.
Some Flexi-Van cars were equipped for use in passenger service, and carried the AAR designation of BLF. The trailers with side doors were used for the U.S. Mail, and Flexi-Vans were a common sight at the head end of New York Central passenger trains in the late sixties. The New York Central video “Three Giant Steps” is available on Youtube, and shows a Flexi-Van being loaded.
Flexi-Vans were a vast improvement over the tie-downs and chains used in early piggyback service. However, the development of the collapsible trailer hitch in the early sixties leveled the playing field for TOFC (Trailer on flat car). Though a few roads tried the Flexi-Van system, most chose TOFC. Penn Central management was not enthusiastic about Flexi-Vans, and had discontinued them around 1973.
Three versions of Flexi-Vans are available in N-scale. N Scale Kits offers the former Alan Curtis pewter Mark I Flexi-Van kit, as well as a kit for a Flexi-Van automobile trailer. Though the website refers to them as Mark II cars, the dimensions match those of a Mark I car. Forty-foot and 36-foot trailers are available from Stone N Scale Creations with decals for New York Central or Milwaukee Road. Finally, Micro Scale 60-1248 decal set provides decals for New York Central Flexi-Van cars and trailers.
Trainworx offers ready-to-run models of both Mark III and Mark IV Flexi-Vans in a number of road names. The long wheelbase of the Mark III models increases drag on curves, but they do operate around the 13 5/8” radius curves on my layout. I wouldn’t use them on anything smaller. Trainworx also offers a wide range of Flexi-Van trailers, which might also be found on TOFC cars, particularly after Flexi-Van service was discontinued. A photo exists of a late New York Central Flexi-Van trailer riding on an early Conrail Trailvan train.
The chart below lists all the Flexi-Van cars I could find sorted by type, just in case Trainworx decides do another run. (I could use a few Penn Centrals!) Cars used in passenger service are indicated by (BLF) in the road column. Quantities with an asterisk are from the April 1964 and March 1971 issues of the Official Register of Passenger Equipment.
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE- The Santa Fe converted their Mark V Flexi-Van cars to carry containers about 1973; Trainworx 28425 is offered in both versions. New York Central Flexi-Vans ran through to Los Angeles on Santa Fe passenger trains in the late sixties as well as on freight trains during the Penn Central era.
CHICAGO, BURLINGTON & QUINCY- A single Burlington Mark V Flexi-Van remained in the January, 1978 Equipment Register, however, Burlington Northern had converted five to type LF flat cars that “Cannot handle commodities less than 70’ long”.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL- Trainworx 28406 is a model of a Mark IV car with a number series that is not in any of my Equipment Registers, although Walthers offers the same model in HO. However, Illinois Central did roster a small fleet of Mark I cars. As you can tell from the snappy paint scheme, they were used in passenger trains.
MILWAUKEE ROAD- Trainworx 28434 is a model of a Mark III car with a number series that is not in any of my Equipment Registers, however, Milwaukee did own a series of Mark I cars. Originally type FC cars for freight service, some later were converted to type BLF cars for passenger service.
MERCHANTS DESPATCH (MFVX)- All of the 500 MFVX Mark IV cars were leased to the New York Central and all were equipped to operate in passenger trains.
NORTH AMERICAN (NIFX)- North American listed several series of long flat cars, but did not specify their type, so only the one series is listed in the chart. Walthers offers this car in HO loaded with Milwaukee trailers, so presumably these cars were leased to them.
TRAILER TRAIN- Trainworx 28445 represents a group of former G-85 piggyback cars that had been converted to carrying containers. The deck had been removed from the center of the car, making them look very similar to Flexi-Van cars.
The proliferation of forty-five and forty-eight foot trailers in the eighties created a problem for the railroads as two trailers would no longer fit on a standard eighty-nine foot flatcar. Trailer Train’s answer to this problem was the “Front Runner”; a two-axle car which could handle a single trailer of up to forty-eight feet. The new cars carried “TTUX” reporting marks, and soon developed a reputation for derailing. If I recall correctly, this was due to a problem with hunting when running at high speeds.
The cars were modified to improve running characteristics; with modified cars indicated by changing the reporting marks to TTOX. Despite the improvement, the light weight of the cars still tended to cause problems, particularly during slack run-ins. (I experienced a derailment with these cars myself!) Conrail timetable special instructions limited them to intermodal trains with no more than 5,000 tons trailing them, and prohibited them from being the last car of a train in electrified territory (Amtrak and commuter authorities). In addition Front Runners couldn’t accommodate the fifty-three foot trailers which appeared in the nineties, and they were scrapped in the early 2000’s.
Atlas produced an N-scale model in 1996, which did not include models with TTOX reporting marks. Atlas produced only a single run, making the model as short-lived as the prototype.
57’ CONVERTED FLAT CAR
The mid-eighties saw a resurgence of railroad-owned single-trailer piggyback cars. Like the Front Runners, this was likely due to the introduction of forty-five and forty-eight foot trailers. Rather than converting flatcars, they were rebuilt from other types of obsolete freight cars, and lacked the stake pockets and fishbelly underframes of earlier intermodal cars.
The Micro-Trains 64000 series 57-foot converted TOFC flat car is apparently a model of Santa Fe’s cars, as they are the only ones that match the model’s length. Though the other road names represent shorter cars, they are still of a similar design, and the chart below provides the length of each car series in parentheses. I recall seeing the Norfolk Southern and Chicago & North Western cars in Conrail van trains so these cars did roam the country with the Trailer Train fleet.
FLORIDA EAST COAST- Micro Trains 64040 carries a built date of 9/87, and a 1995 photo shows a similar car, but the series is not listed in any of my Equipment Registers.
GENERAL AMERICAN G-85 FLAT CARS
ARNOLD, CON-COR and MINITRIX
Clejan was one of several systems developed for hauling trailers at the dawn of the intermodal era. Named after its French inventor, and pioneered by the New Haven Railroad, the system used trailers with flanged rollers that engaged two beams in the center of seventy-nine foot flatcars. General America Transportation purchased the Clejan system in 1957, and though it never caught on, it did influence the design of their eighty-five foot G-85 piggyback cars.
Trailer Train acquired their first G-85’s in 1961, and accumulated the largest fleet with 2,350 cars. The first 700 or so G-85’s were delivered with TTX reporting marks, but this was changed to GTTX in 1964. Santa Fe and Southern Pacific also had large fleets, and like Trailer Train, installed auto racks on many of them. An eighty-nine foot version, designated G-89 was introduced a few years later. Since an eighty-nine foot auto rack could haul three more autos than eighty-five footer, most of the G-85 auto racks were either lengthened or converted back to TOFC (Trailer on flat car) service by the mid-sixties.
Three models of what are presumably General American TOFC cars have been produced in N-scale. While they have the distinctive center beams, they all have channel sides which don’t match photos of either the prototype or HO models. In addition, all are basic models devoid of details such as handbrakes, foot stirrups or grab irons, and most importantly, accurate paint schemes.
The Arnold Rapido model features a black cast metal body which had been shortened to about eighty feet. It was offered in four varieties of trailers or containers, but all had the same road number; GTTX 104. This was the number for a “universal” G-89 demonstrator car, which could carry either trailers or containers. This car is listed in the July,1969 and October,1975 Equipment Registers, but with “TTX” reporting marks.
The Minitrix G-85 is an also a model from the early days of N-scale, and features an unpainted black plastic body with the correct eighty-five foot length. It was available with four different container loads: Santa Fe, Matson, Southern, and Rio Grande. The majority of G-85’s could only haul trailers, however Santa Fe and Southern Pacific modified a few to haul containers. As you can see from the above photo of a Minitrix model, paint, decals and trailers can really improve the basic model.
Con-Cor offered a Chinese-made version which featured a metal body with a scale length of ninety-two feet. Though apparently a model of a G-89, it represents other types of eighty-nine foot cars that were modified by Trailer Train in the eighties. The 1206 series is loaded with two forty-five foot trailers and represents cars modified to haul two forty-five foot trailers back-to-back by moving the hitches to the ends of the car. Such cars were given “KTTX” reporting marks, and could only be loaded or unloaded with lift-off equipment. The 1207 series is loaded with containers, and best represents “TTCX” cars that had flush decks and folding container pedestals. The Con-Cor model represents cars from the eighties and nineties, and strictly speaking, is outside the scope of this site. However, the second chart lists the Con-Cor models as generic stand-ins for eighty-nine foot intermodal cars of the eighties and nineties.
The first chart below contains a complete list of Clejan, G-85 and G-89 cars in TOFC service for those who might like to paint and letter a Minitrix model. (Walthers HO models can be used as a reference) The catalog number of Con-Cor models that could make a decent G-85 or G-89 are included, however, they would require trailers with earlier schemes that both face the same way. Catalog numbers with an asterisk indicate models with incorrect road numbers. Letters in parentheses in the ROAD column indicate the following: (T)-carried trailers, (C)-carried containers, (F)-type FM for general freight, (P)-equipped for passenger service), (L)-type LF for carrying small demountable containers. Some cars were adapted to haul interesting loads, as noted below:
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE- Santa Fe began renumbering their G-85’s into the 209000 series about 1970. The removal of auto racks from G-85’s began in the late sixties, increasing the number in TOFC service.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Espee’s original Clejan cars were rebuilt into longer TOFC cars, however the October, 1966 and July, 1969 registers listed a series of three cars numbered 510475-510479 for “boat loading” that match the dimensions of the Clejan cars. The fifty G-85’s and one hundred G-89’s in the 513000 series were equipped with rub rails suitable for chain tie downs for handling four-wheel and tracked military vehicles, and some were equipped with bolsters for handling containers. A large number of G-89’s were converted to type FMS cars for handling military vehicles, pipes or trusses.
UNION PACIFIC- Concor 1207D is painted in the yellow “cushioned load” scheme. The Equipment Registers list only a small series of cushioned eighty-nine foot flatcars which were assigned to hauling missile trailers or saddleback truck tractors. Either one would make an interesting load!