Cotton Cars?

Discussion in 'Birmingham Subdivision' started by trainchaser007, Nov 14, 2009.

  1. trainchaser007

    trainchaser007 Passed away September 22, 2017

    Does anyone have pictures of early 20th century freight cars used for hauling bails of cotton? I've never heard of a "cotton car." Did they just use flat cars or what? If there is such a thing as a "cotton car" does anyone know where I could get my hands on one/some in HO scale?
  2. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    This is a good question! I hope some accurate info surfaces.
  3. Frisco2008

    Frisco2008 Member Supporter

    If I remember what I've seen on postcards posted here and other locations...boxcars.

    Glenn Young
  4. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Supporter Supporter

    In the town of Waldo, AR, (where I spent my teen years) there was a siding with a cotton gin. Never saw anything used except box cars for transportation of ginned bales. There was also another siding that served a casket factory which used box cars as well.

    Funny note - I always said that the last industry to leave town was the casket factory. (the cotton gin burned down and was not rebuilt)
  5. bootheel

    bootheel Member

    The only cars I have ever seen used in the Bootheel were boxcars.
  6. john

    john Supporter

    In the late 1800's and for many years after that the Cotton Compress in Fort Smith was tied to both the Frisco and the Missouri Pacific. The cars in the photo are Missouri Pacific on the Arkansas Central, presumably bound for the Compress. This seems to be a reasonable way to handle cotton in the years before machinery (forklifts etc.) and it stands to reason that the Frisco side was likely handled in the same way in the early years.

    It seems like I read something in the early Frisco rules about keeping the "cotton cars" spaced a certain distance back from the locomotives. That would make a lot more sense with exposed cotton.

    As an aside to all of this: The original Frisco depot at Hackett, Arkansas burned when it was less than a year old when a passing train apparently ignited one of maybe 200 bales of cotton which were sitting on the platform at the time.

    Attached Files:

  7. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Supporter Supporter

    Sake's Alive, That is a lot of cotton.
    Nice photo.
  8. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Since we're talking cotton processing...

    Is this the correct sequence of events:

    1. Pick the cotton. (By cotton pickers, of course!)
    2. Gin the cotton. (Bale it as pictured in this thread.)
    3. Ship it to where? A compress?

    If so, what does a cotton compress do with the bales?
  9. gbmott

    gbmott Member

    I worked much of 1969-70 on assignment on the Fort Worth & Denver. There was still quite a bit of Texas cotton moving by rail and we utilized 40' boxcars exclusively. A requirement for cotton was that the car must have a wood, not a metal, floor. Boxcars with steel floors were specifically anotated on consists and other records as "NFC" -- not for cotton. The reason was that friction between the metal bands on the cotton bales and the steel floor could produce enough heat/sparks to set the cotton to smoldering. There was nothing worse than a fire in a cotton car -- the only successful way to fight it was for a firefighter to feel along the roof of the car until he located the hot spot, then chop a hole at that point and stuff a firehose in and flood the car. If you ever opened the doors without doing that the whole car would burst into flames as a result of oxygen entering the car.

  10. john

    john Supporter

    While in search for an answer to "what is a Compress" I discovered another (better) copy of the cotton train (flatcar) photo printed in a Fort Smith history book. The wooden car at the end of the train turns out to be an Arkansas Central caboose, and there are perhaps 20 flatcars of cotton showing just ahead of it. A second photo shows the grounds at the Fort Smith "Compress". "The largest cotton compress and oil mill in the world was located in Fort Smith by 1887... The crude cotton, 40,000 bales handled in 1886, was brought from a 100 mile radius by wagon, rail and steamboat..."

    Please see this description of a compress:

    Basically it did what it says, compress the cotton to reduce the size of the bales for reshipment. Maps show the operation in Fort Smith was connected with the Little Rock and Fort Smith (another part of the Missouri Pacific system) and Frisco, each of which had a long covered shed with an open loading/unloading platform. Extracting cotton seed oil seems to have been another important part of the process.

    I'm still attempting to find a reference to spacing "cotton cars" away from the locomotive. The Frisco Rules of the Transportation Department (Feb 1909) devotes part of two pages to "handling cotton" (pages 75-76, rules 540 to 548) but I found no reference specifically for flat cars and some of the rules seemed to be intended for inclosed cars. The rules do make it very obvious that cotton was a huge fire risk (ie "542. Agents must not allow smoking on or near cotton platform, or where cotton is being loaded..." and an earlier rule (519) does state that "Agents and Conductors will see that the doors of cars loaded with powder, oil, hay, straw or other inflammable material are securely fastened and placed in train near the caboose, or at least ten cars distant from the engine, as a pretection against fire..."

  11. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Hi John:

    Thanks for the additional input.

    What is the title of the Fort Smith history book you reference?

  12. nickmolo

    nickmolo Member

    Can I add that from 1980 train wheel reports, cotton was still being moved via forty foot boxcars and a lot of them were coming from Texas to the southeastern states where a fair number of mills were loacted, including cotton dealers/brokers.

    Nick Molo
  13. john

    john Supporter


    The book is Reflections of Fort Smith. It was probably incorrect to call it a history book. It's about 8"X12", 130 something pages of old photographs of Fort Smith identified with various amounts of text. Most of them are reproduced actual size or larger. Some of the photos have been widely distributed, mostly the postcards and some commercial photos, but there are many others you might not see anywhere else. A large number of the photos are old (well-to-do neighborhood) homes but there are quite a few interesting business and industry photos as well. I know they have a copy in the library at Fort Smith and I've seen it for sale on eBay a few times (that may be where I got my copy).

    There are three photos of the KCS/Frisco Union Station, one of which shows SL-SF 1044 with crew at the passenger shed; a good photo of the original Frisco station (with the Iron Mountain station in the background); and a smaller photo showing two Frisco engines on the garden tracks beside the roundhouse (an earlier brick one I think, not the last one). There are other railroad related photos but that's about it for Frisco. Of course some of the industry shown was on the Frisco.

    My GUESS is that the cotton car photo was probably taken prior to the mid 1920's as I think the Boll Weevils had pretty well destroyed the local cotton industry by that time. Only "modern" pesticides make it possible to grow cotton here now.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 16, 2009
  14. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    John and all:
    A good summary of cotton operations, which are vital if one wants to model this Frisco region and the era.

    I would have to look back through some of the old Frisco Employee's Magazine issues, but I know there are several references to employees being commended for moving burning cars of cotton away from adjacent buildings or rolling stock. As an insurance underwriter, it's the type of stuff that prematurely turns one's hair quite gray.

    If I recall correctly, it seems the predominant rolling stock for cotton in the 1920s was your basic 40-foot boxcar.

    Best Regards,
  15. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Supporter Supporter

    Looking at all the bales loaded on those flatcars has me wondering if anyone here, other than myself, has ever picked any cotton?

    My father always wanted me to experience as many things as he did in life. When I was fairly young he took me to a friends farm who had a rather large cotton field and gave me a brown paper bag to pick some cotton. He wanted me to at least fill one-half of the bag.

    After that experience, I always felt sorry for the people "pi-kin cot-ton". My hands had numerous cuts from the cotton bolls. It an't easy and certainly not much fun, but I will always remember that experience.
  16. john

    john Supporter

    This Oklahoma postcard, dated 1920, just turned up. It seems to support everyone's theory that Frisco cotton moved by boxcar. The compress location was not further identified.

    Does anyone have anything they can add about the cars?


    Attached Files:

  17. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    I'll weigh in since I missed this thread before and I grew up in swampeast Missouri (cotton country).

    The steps are as Andre (coonskin) indicated, however the cotton compress was usually adjacent to the gin. Once ginned (separation of the cotton from cotton seeds), the cotton would then be compressed into bales for shipment to textile mills or other countries.

    A standard bale of cotton, is 55" X 28" X 21", and weighs approximately 500 pounds. A bale meeting these requirements is called a universal density bale; enough cotton to make 325 pairs of denim jeans.
  18. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Supporter Supporter

    A cotton compress and a cotton gin are not the same.

    After the gin "created" the standard size cotton bale, the cotton compress further reduced the size of the bales for shipment thru the use of hydraulics.

    Please see Post 10 of this thread.
  19. HWB

    HWB Supporter

    I have dug beets and stomped spinach at Conrads in Bixby.
  20. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Supporter Supporter

    Howard .. You got me there on one. I too have dug some beets, but, have never heard the term "stomped spinach"? :confused:

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