Refrigerator cars can be divided into three broad categories: those cooled by ice, those cooled mechanically and insulated cars.  The AAR has the following classifications:

Type RS- A car equipped with ice bunkers, which are normally located at both ends.  When equipped with meat rails they are classified as type RSM.  Construction of new ice reefers ended in the late fifties, and by the early seventies, railroads had dismantled their icing facilities.

Type RA- A car equipped with brine tanks designed for the combined use of ice and salt.  The addition of salt to the ice lowered the temperature, but increased melting, requiring more frequent icing.  Used primarily by the meat packing industry, cars equipped with meat rails are classified as type RAM.

TYPE RP- A car equipped with mechanical apparatus for cooling or heating the car.  They can be equipped with meat rails (RPM) or loading devices (RPL).  After years of early experimentation, construction of mechanical refrigerators began in earnest in the late fifties.  They were essential for handling the growing frozen food trade, which could not be shipped reliably in ice reefers.

TYPE RB- An insulated car with no means of cooling.  They protect the lading from temperature extremes, and are primarily used for processed foods such as canned goods or beer.  When equipped with loading devices, they are classified as type RBL.  For modelers, these are usually considered plug-door boxcars.

  Refrigerator cars were also used to keep lading from freezing in the winter, and some were equipped with various types of heaters.   Cars with heaters added an “H” to their class designation; for example a type RS with heaters became type RSH.

36' wood RS.jpg


   Though 36’ reefers were no longer used for shipping produce in the post-war years, they were still in use by meat packers.  Presumably this was because the smaller volume would stay cold longer, reducing the chance of spoilage.  I’ve also read that the doors at many meat packing plants were spaced for 36’ cars.  The colorful “billboard reefer era” ended in 1937, and reefer became as plain as other freight cars.  By the late forties however, meat packers began painting increasingly colorful logos on their reefers.  The large fleets of 36’ reefers dwindled rapidly through the fifties, but a few made it to the end of ice refrigerator operation.

   Roundhouse was the first to offer a 36’ reefer in N-scale, which is now produced by Athearn.  Micro-Trains also offers this body style, and like the Roundhouse/Athearn mode,l it is offered in an “old time” version with truss rods as well as a later version with a steel underframe.  While the aforementioned manufacturers produced a wide variety of colorful billboard era schemes, post-war offerings were relatively few.  Rapido Trains changed that with their recent release of a 37’ reefer.  It is a model of a reefer built by General American in the late thirties, and features a modern hand brake.  Rapido offers a variety of pre- and post-war schemes, and though most of the prewar schemes were probably gone by the post-war period, I’ve included them in the chart.

   The chart below includes reefers with an outside length between 36 to 39 feet. This is a more of a generic chart, and some 40’ reefers are stand-ins for 36’ cars. But.   The models should resemble most of the prototypes, though a few were modified with steel ends or roofs.  Swift even owned a series of all-steel 36’ reefers, which are not included in the chart below.  Dry transfers for schemes marked with an asterisk in the ROAD column are available from Clover House. Cars that likely differ significantly from the model are listed below:

DUBUQUE- The reporting marks on Roundhouse 86803 are mixed up; they read UTRX instead of URTX.

MATHEISON DRY ICE- Athearn 11554 represents one of several series of type LRC 40’ refrigerators leased from National Car Company for transporting dry ice.

OSCAR MAYER- The reporting marks on Roundhouse 86802 are mixed up; they read UTRX instead of URTX.  The Rapido 521903 includes an Oscar Mayer reefer with a white band across the car; I couldn’t find a photo with a legible built date.

ST. LOUIS CAR COMPANY- The St. Louis Refrigerator Car Company owned only type RB bunkerless refrigerator cars, so Roundhouse 86805 wouldn’t be used for the meat trade (Budweiser beer, perhaps?).

SWIFT- The reefers with SRLX reporting marks were owned by General American Car Company.  Despite its popularity as a model, little information is available for the “Buy War Bonds” scheme.  I’m guessing that only a few cars were painted in this scheme, and it’s doubtful that they survived for long after the war.