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  • The History of PFE Class R-70-5 Cars

    Photo of the PFE R-70-5 Class reefer 'as built' in May-June, 1952. Photo is from PFE of the initial car built.
    Prototype Modeler - February 1978 - Page 53 width=

    by Michael E. Reynolds

    Photo of the PFE R-70-5 Class reefer 'as built' in May-June, 1952. Photo is from PFE of the initial car built.
    Prototype Modeler - February 1978 - Page 54 width=

       This distinctive and interesting class of cars was built by Pacific Fruit Express at their Roseville, Ca. shops. The first 75 cars, numbers 200126-200200 were constructed in May through July 1952. A further 100 cars, numbers 200601-200700, were built in December 1953 and January-February 1954.

       These cars were built as 'RS' type bunker refrigerator cars. They were known as 'SUPERS' on account of their extra length, 50 feet instead of 40 feet which was standard for RS type cars. Also, cars had extra thick insulation. This was to make them suitable for the frozen food industry which, at the time, was just starting to move frozen foods in large volume.

       Several problems quickly became apparent concerning the use of these cars in this service. Frozen foods should move at 0 degrees or below but these cars could only bring temperatures down to around 15 degrees, which was marginal for the movement of frozen food. To achieve a temperature of even 15 degrees it was necessary to ice cars with a 30% salt solution, in other words for every 100 lbs. of ice put in a car 30 lbs. of salt was added. This helped lower the temperatures but it also speeded up the melting of the ice and it was hard to keep cars properly cooled from one icing station to the next.

       This period also saw the introduction of the mechanical refrigeration car which proved to be far superior for the movement of frozen food. These cars were then quickly rebuilt into 'RP' type mechanical refrigerators in 1955 and renumbered as follows; 200126-200200 to 300338-300412 and 200601-200700 to 300413-300512. This renumbering was done as cars were rebuilt and not in any number order.

       In the period 1958-1964 all cars in this class, with exception of 39 cars listed separately, had meat rails added in order to handle hanging beef and reclassified as 'RPM' cars accordingly. This was done because by then the larger mechanical cars were available for frozen food and these small cars were no longer suitable for this service. In 1968 those cars classified 'RMP' were renumbered 200338-200512 by changing the first digit only. This was done to separate these cars from the regular RP type cars and simplify the distribution of them to meat shippers. The 39 cars which remained RP's retained their numbers.

       These cars then spent a tranquil period in which they rolled back and forth across the country hauling fruits and vegetables from the west to the eastern markets. Time finally caught up with them, however. In 1972 a program was started to remove many of the refrigeration units from the older mechanical cars because they were unreliable and the advanced age of the equipment made it impractical to repair them. Also, these cars were no longer favored by shippers because most of them wanted the larger cars in the 450000 series class. Due to the age and condition of the refrigeration units in the R-70-5 class it was decided to remove all units and convert cars into "top ice vegetable" cars. All these cars had the refrigeration units removed and were classified as 'RB' type cars in the period 1972-1975 as they required major repairs. As cars were reclassified they were also renumbered yet again, this time to 390338-390512 by changing the first two digits of the number only. This took in both the RP and RPM type cars. These cars were then used exclusively for loading of commodities which required only ice over the load and no additional refrigeration. This was known as top ice vegetable service and cars had a stencil applied on each side in black letters on a white rectangle 'FOR TIV/DLO SERVICE ONLY' (top ice vegetable/dry loading only), cars were used for canned goods loading occasionally.

       In January 1977 all cars in class R-70-5 were stricken from the roster and retired from service in a general program to remove obsolete cars from service. As you can see these cars led a varied career, starting life as RS cars and changing to several types of mechanicals before becoming RB's and finally being retired. Some of these cars carried four numbers in their twenty plus year career. During this time these cars have been painted in almost all of the various lettering styles, starting with the style lettering used on the cars to the large block lettering used on the early mechanical cars to the newest style block lettering with the white PFE.


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    Article Details

    • Original Author Michael Reynolds
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date February 1987

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