Saturday, February 4, 2012

Forty-Foot Boxcars on the M & M Sub.

One of the unique trains on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. is made up entirely of 40-foot boxcars.

Hold on, you might say—isn’t the M & M Sub. set in the early to mid-1990s? Aren’t 40-foot boxcars mostly gone from the railways by that time?

Yes—and no. Yes, by that time 40-footers were mostly a thing of the past. But you could still find them on Canada’s prairies, being used in grain service.

Although covered hoppers had supplanted boxcars for grain service by that time, there were still a number of light-rail branchlines on the prairies where those cars couldn’t go.

Since it was cheaper and easier for the railways to repair boxcars for use on lightweight branchlines than to upgrade the roadbed, ties and rails to support the heavier covered hopper cars, CN and CP Rail decided to go with the less expensive option. Money from the Federal government helped them with their decision.

Cars used in this service were marked with a wheat sheaf chevron, to indicate their purpose and lading. CP Rail’s cars came in various versions—boxcar red with script and block lettering, and red with the MultiMark.

Both railways sent boxcars loaded with grain from the prairies to Vancouver and Thunder Bay. Additionally, CN used them on its former lightweight line to the Arctic port of Churchill, Manitoba.

Over time, the need for grain boxcars fell as branchlines were upgraded or abandoned.

Eric Gagnon, on his Trackside Treasure blog, notes that CN and CP Rail had about 13,000 40-foot grain boxcars between them in 1981. Of that total, CP Rail had 4,545; by 1985 that number had fallen to 2,972. In 1986 the railway had 1,260; there were 672 in 1990, 363 in 1992 and 209 in 1993.

My train is made up of cars from various manufacturers, in boxcar red and red with the MultiMark. The wheat sheaf chevrons are dry transfers from CDS.

All except one or two of the cars were bought used; a few were repainted and re-lettered. It was enjoyable to scour used bins and trains shows to find cars suitable for the train.

Before putting the cars into service, all I needed to do was remove the roof walks, plug the holes and add the chevrons; that, plus weather them up a bit.

(To be accurate, the cars should have six-foot doors. Since my goal is plausibility, not realism, I didn’t worry about this discrepancy while creating my consist.)

Even though I model the modern era, I find I have an affinity for these shorter cars. Plus, it’s quite something to see a 27-car train of boxcars snake its way around the layout.

I’ve made a couple of videos featuring this train; the most recent features real train sounds—my first effort at adding the sounds of real trains to my layout videos. You can see it here.

(Thanks to Eric Gagnon for the proto photos.)


  1. Thanks John, interesting writeup as always. I had a few cars saved up for a similar idea but have been downsizing my collection a lot lately (Display Case Central doesn't need 20-30 examples of various cars) and have kept just one of these Intermountain wheat sheaf cars, even though the gov't hoppers outnumber the boxcars by a wide margin. Thanks also for the earlier post about SD40-2s. I tried to send you some feedback privately but couldn't find your email address anywhere on here.

  2. I have a similar CP train with 40 footers hauling scrap paper to the mill for recycling. Those GP38s look like very old Atlas models with Roco drives! Are they custom paint jobs? Very well done.
    Thanks for your blog; much appreciated.
    Andrew Kerr
    Sydney Australia

  3. Those are Con Cor GP38-2. Roco mechanisms. Originally made for Atlas, then bought by Con Cor. They came in CP Rail. I lowered the headlights and added the high bell.

  4. Just a matter of clarification on the grain boxes with the wheat sheaf logo...They were repaired with Federal Governemnt funds to "stretch" their service lives a bit longer while the 19,000 Government hopper fleet was being built from 1972 through 1981. The sheaf was a toned down version of the massive Government of Canada advertising that appeared on the covered hoppers. Many of the lines these boxcars were used on were indeed in no shape to handle fully loaded 100 ton hoppers. They could have always run the hoppers half empty, but loading hoppers also required investment in each elevtor to add a hopper loading spout higher up on th trackside. The traditional boxcar loading spout was too low to reach the top hatches on the hoppers.