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.



   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.

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  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.

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