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Boxcar Blog


Railroad boxcars are perhaps not only the best-recognized pieces of equipment ever put into service but also one of the most identifiable symbols of the industry itself. They have a history tracing back to the earliest years when railroads realized that some freight and lading needed at least a little protection from the outside elements and Mother Nature. However, after the turn of the 20th century the car truly became an industry icon and remained so through the 1960s, used to haul about any and every type of non-bulk traffic moved by train. Over time railroads realized, largely through complaints by shippers, that more specialized cars were needed to haul unique types of freight. This issue led to the development of the well car, autorack, refrigerator car, and several other specific designs. Boxcars, however, still have their place in today's industry especially in carrying bulky items such as autoparts.


After locomotives and cabooses, its all boxcars for me -- my favorite type of rolling stock between front and rear. Nothing says American railroading like a cut of variously colored boxcars, filled with various goods and headed to various destinations. My father started shooting boxcar roster shots in Pensacola in the late 1950s, and soon a habit developed that would persist into the early 1980s ... when his 120 Twin Reflex camera finally gave out. When I started shooting digital, I immediately began capturing as many interesting or unusual boxes as I could find. That's getting harder in the age of Class One absorptions, tall containers, and more homogeneous unit trains. Still, you can find some boxcar variety -- both paint schemes and the roads that choose them -- if you look around in most yards these today. I still prefer the shortline cars, so many of whom pooled large leasing fleets in the 1980s and sent their colors and names all over the continent. Even in this era, with fewer of them on the move, every boxcar still begs the questions: Where is going? What is inside? When will it get there? How will it return?

Boxcars arranged chronologically by photo year. All blog photos by John or Ralph unless noted.



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This page was updated on 2016-02-06