Tank Car Traffic

APRIL 2000

    A couple of times, this column has touched upon boxcar modelling, in an effort to assist modellers in amassing a credible freight car roster, representative of cars seen in Southern Ontario in the 1946-59 era. It has been heartwarming to receive many e-mails praising topics of this nature, and requesting more background information on other car types. Therefore, this month we will take a look at modelling tank car traffic on our miniature railways of postwar Southern Ontario operations. Traffic patterns, company names, types of cars, landmark events affecting tank car movements, and suitable HO scale tank cars will be explored.

    In our 1946-59 era of interest, tank cars were primarily used for transporting gasoline, road oils, fuel oils, asphalt, crude oil, chemicals, acids and manufactured liquids (such as inks, dyes, glues, vinegar, etc.). The first four of these categories are applicable to most railway lines, so we will confine our attention to them (accounting for the vast majority of tank car loadings). Crude oil shipments were confined to certain mainlines in a limited number of areas. The other commodities were dependent on the nature of local industries, and these are best left to the individual modeller to explore for himself.

    Let us begin with the initial commodity: crude oil. Before it is available as a more useful gasoline, road oil, fuel oil or asphalt, it must be refined. At the beginning of our era, crude oil arrived at refineries by ship, mostly from overseas ports. Refineries were thus confined to points on the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. However, after the oil strike at Leduc, Alberta in 1947, construction of western refineries and the Inter-Provincial Pipeline (via the United States) began in earnest. With the completion of the pipeline in December 1950 between Edmonton and Superior, Wisconsin, the nature of the shipment of petroleum products was altered.

    As far as petroleum companies of the era are concerned, we may safely concern ourselves with the ten major companies in Southern Ontario in the postwar years: British American, Canadian Oil (White Rose brand name), Cities Service, Imperial Oil, McColl Frontenac (Texaco brand name), Reliance, Shell, Sun Oil, Supertest and Trinidad Leaseholds (Regent brand name; this company took over Good Rich Refining after the Second World War). Supertest and Reliance were owned by the same company (Supertest absorbed Reliance in 1959).

    Principal refineries for the purposes of generating Southern Ontario tank car traffic were located as follows: Clarkson (British American); Sarnia (Canadian Oil, 1952 onward); Petrolia (Canadian Oil, until opening of Sarnia refinery in 1952); Montreal and Sarnia (Imperial Oil); Montreal (McColl Frontenac); Montreal (Shell); Sarnia (Sun Oil, beginning in 1953) and Port Credit (Good Rich/Trinidad Leaseholds). Reliance and sister company Supertest did not operate a refinery, but sourced all their products from Imperial Oil. Until opening of its refinery at Bronte in October 1958, Cities Service did not have a refinery, but served the Ontario and Quebec market through distribution centres. The Shell refinery adjacent to the Cities Service plant at Bronte did not open until late 1963.

    Now, the tank car traffic on our model railways will chiefly be representing the movement of refined petroleum products from originating points to the retail fuel company facilities on our layouts. In addition to the refineries, our petroleum shipments may originate from a ship-to-rail dock. Among others, examples of such existed at Goderich (Imperial Oil, Cities Service & Shell), Collingwood (Imperial Oil), Owen Sound (Imperial Oil), Hamilton, Port Stanley and Parry Sound. So, our originating points are few in number. The receiving point will be the retail fuel dealer. All ten of the above mentioned companies had such facilities. Sometimes they were add-ons to retail coal dealers (handling a specific brand name); other times they were established on their own siding. In either case, they typically had a number of vertical or horizontal tanks, pumping facilities and an office. Both Steam at Allandale and To Stratford Under Steam show numerous examples of retail oil companies on local track maps.

    It remains then for you as a modeller to decide on the oil companies you wish to represent, then construct the facilities. In contrast to the movement of boxcars, replicating tank car traffic is relatively simple. Having constructed the facility, determine where the tank cars are originating (refinery or dock). Tank cars lived a simple existence; they were loaded at the source, shipped to a dealer for unloading, then returned to the source for another load. A two- or four-cycle waybill will take care of them easily.

    What about tank car owners and reporting marks? Well, the postwar years from 1946-59 represented a steady swallowing-up of the individually-lettered cars. In the United States, the big four fleet owners were General American (GATX), Union Tank Car (UTLX), Shippers' Car Line (SHPX) and North American Car (NATX). These cars existed in approximately an 8:8:2:1 ratio respectively. Within the giant American UTLX existed the Products Tank Line of Canada, with a portion of the large fleet thus assigned. In Canada, cars belonging to the Transit Company and its leasees (TCLX, BMMX = Imperial Oil asphalt service, COBX = Canadian Oil, CSGX = Cities Service, IOX = Imperial Oil, PRPX, & SUPX = Supertest) and Canadian General Transit (CGTX) existed in approximately the same numbers until the mid-1950s, when cars of the former company were absorbed by giant UTLX. British American (BAOX and FOKX in a 6:1 ratio), Canadian Oil (CNOX), McColl Frontenac (MFLX) and Shell Oil (SCAX) maintained their own fleets. With the exception of B-A which lasted until the end of our era, these names were folded into the UTLX fleet with the other Transit Company cars in the mid-1950s. A tank car bearing reporting marks SUNX (Sun Oil Company) was delivered to Sundridge, Ontario in March 1953.

    In addition to the obvious cars, a specific oil company may have received fuel in UTLX, CGTX, GATX, SHPX or NATX cars. A sample of 50 shipments to Southwestern Ontario depots circa 1943-50 shows the following breakdown: CGTX (17), UTLX (9), GATX (9), BAOX (4), PRPX (4), SCLX (2), COBX (2), NATX (1), FOKX (1) and TCLX (1). A sample from fuel and petroleum products tank cars for Sundridge, Ontario from March 1953 to March 1954 is broken down as follows: UTLX (43), TCLX (21), SUNX (1), CGTX (1), IOX (1). By the early 1960s, after the amalgamations noted above, a sample of 34 cars from the Owen Sound area is reduced to two companies: UTLX (29) and CGTX (5).

    In HO scale, decent tank car models are made by Tichy (USRA design, never built), Proto 2000 (AC&F Type 21, available in SHPX, GATX, UTLX & Shell for 8,000 gallon and SHPX, UTLX, CSOX Cities Service and SUNX Sun Oil for 10,000 gallon versions), Red Caboose (10,000 gallon welded car; built only from late 1940s onward, available in UTLX, SHPX and Shell) and InterMountain (AC&F Type 27, available in SHPX for 8,000 gallon and SHPX, GATX, UTLX & CGTX for 10,000 gallon version). Proto 2000 also has (or will have) a series of their 10,000-gallon Type 21 cars lettered accurately for Imperial Oil, appropriately IOX, BMMX or UTLX, depending on the era. Get some of these! Otherwise, most of the Canadian tank cars have no accurate models available (and probably never will). Frankly, I'm not going to grow old waiting for them to arrive, so I'll resign myself to be happy just lettering the aforementioned models accurately for various Canadian reporting marks. Keep in mind, though, that for a fleet of ten cars up until the mid-1950s, we would typically want 4 CGTX, a couple each of UTLX and GATX, a BAOX and one of the others. Four of these are American cars, for which accurate models are available, and one or two of these could be the Imperial Oil cars. So most of our cars need not be unprototypical.

    Get plenty of tank cars. A glance at any number of photos in Steam at Allandale (for example, unpublished photos of the Orillia Switcher run on pages 18 & 19 shows seven tank cars in the consist, amounting to half the train), To Stratford Under Steam and other books will show that almost every way freight in Southern Ontario could be counted on to have at least one tank car on a given day. Happy tank car modelling, and keep your e-mails coming!

Ian Wilson
April 1, 2000


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