Grain Elevator Switching

Discussion in 'Freight Operations' started by Boomer John, Nov 1, 2015.

  1. Boomer John

    Boomer John Member

    Can anyone answer how a railroad switches a grain elevator? I am not talking about some big terminal elevator, nor some two car wood one, but a large one in some town. A good example would be the one in Aurora, MO. To my untrained eye, it just looks like a bunch of hopper cars at a siding? But do these cars need to be classified into some kind of order before they go into the bay for loading? Are they classified by commodity type, destination , or does the road switcher just push them in the order they are in the train?
    I am trying to determine if there is any operational interest in having a grain elevator on the layout.
    A comparison would be a coal loaders at one time. To the untrained eye it looks like all the cars are the same, but actually different tracks were for different size coal and some switching would be necessary.

    Not a specific Frisco question, but thought there might be some railroader out there that could help me.
  2. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    Good thread, I am going to put a grain elevator on my new layout. From memory, the elevators that I have been around take whatever they were designed for, most like 5 to 20 car spots. The local would set "on spot" the cars, the elevator employees would pull the cars by a mechanical winch and load. The next day the local would bring the empties and pull the loads. They would set the loads in a yard track, until the full shipment was complete for a train. The order of the cars, didn't matter, provided they was all from the same shipper and destn to the same location. In years past, railroads owned the cars, the shipper would order the amount that would handle the shipment. Later the shippers built their own cars and handled them the way they wanted, sometimes leasing them to other shippers. Shippers leased back tracks to store the cars when not in use. An X on the end of the car reporting marks means a privately owned car. Elevators load the quality of each shipment in "batch", ready for loading. Railroads get paid on the loaded side of the shipment, the empty side is sometimes free or a small fee. All that is kinda secret, in their tariff, to each shipper. Trains are blocked, Shorts and Longs. in what is called a train's brief. An example would be a train from Kansas City to Memphis. The order of the train might be Springfield's on the head end, Memphis cars in the middle and what they call "beyond cars" on the tail end. So this particular train would be built in Kansas City. It might have a 30 car block of grain or coal in the Springfield block. This train would set out the Springfield cars, tack the power back on, then head on to Memphis. The local would pick up the shorts and spot to the industries.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 1, 2015
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  3. gbnf

    gbnf Member

    One example is Lakeville, NY, on the The Livonia Avon & Lakeville Railroad (LAL). The siding is on a grade. A string of empties are pushed uphill from the elevator. The operators looden the brakes on a car to position it under the loading chute. After filling, the brakes are loosened again and it coasts downhill. The local picks up the loaded cars and pushes up a new string of empties.

    An alternative might be a resident small industrial locomotive like this one at Edgerton, IN. (see attached photo).

    One past Frisco specific discussion on this forum:

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  4. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    Good example, I have seen elevators just release the hand brake and spot the car. In parts of the midwest, small shipments come in 5 to 10 cars of corn for all the chicken houses. Some places have a small engine or track mobile for switching. Neat subject, their is lots of modeling possibilities.
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  5. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    John, Chuck Hitchcock has very well reproduced the operations at a large elevator with the Elevator A job on his Argentine Industrial District Railway here in KC. Additionally, Mike McLain has the Bunge Elevator in Rosedale on his Katy Northern Division layout. Bill accurately describes what happens in both cases an empty is winched into loading position by the elevator personnel from a string of empties that were put into position by the rail crew. Bill also nicely describes the block-swapping that happened in SY yard in Springfield and is played out on Rick McClellan's Frisco Northern Division layout in Springfield Yard.
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  6. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    John, good to see you online. I would answer "yes" to your aforementioned question.

    Even on a smaller scale, I've read enough articles regarding medium-sized grain elevator operations where there might be 1-3 tracks for dedicated types of grain loading/unloading (e.g. corn, soybeans, wheat). There might also be a lower-slung building with sliding doors offset at 40-foot distances for loading/unloaded bagged grain or feed.

    And, seems that in the era of shipping grain via 40' box cars with grain doors, it seems there's always room for a clean-out track.

    I think that, at a bare minimum, having a loading track, an unloading track and a clean-out track would make for some good operational interest without taking up a significant amount of real estate.

    The old Scott County Milling Company had two mills/elevators in the early 20th Century: their main mill/elevator in Sikeston and another mill/elevator in Oran. There are early era Sanborn maps which give a pretty good birds-eye view of the trackage and action, albeit without much labeling:



    Let us know how it turns out on your layout!
    Best Regards,
  7. gbnf

    gbnf Member

  8. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    In Southwest Missouri, the wheat harvest is usually underway during late June, and in many small communities, such as Lowry City, the process for loading grain was about as simple as it could get. Empties were spotted on the House Track from the south end, and allowed to roll to the MFA facility, which was located at the north end of the House Track. Once loaded the car was allowed to roll from the House Track onto the mainline. The DS wrote an order, which warned the crew of the fouled mainline. lowry_city_train_order.jpg
  9. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Karl, the train order is a dandy. I could see where adding something like this to a model operating session would make things more interesting.

    John, upon further thought, I'd think that even a single-siding, smaller elevator would provide some good operational interest. In this case, if you had spots for:
    • Grain Door Installation
    • Loading/Unloading under a covered shed
    • Loading dock with side doors at 40' spacing
    • Spots for cleanout
    then I think the operational interest could be even greater. If your local or switch crew is bringing in new cars for the elevator, presumably some of these cars already at the elevator will need to be moved and then return to their prior spot. For instance, using the illustration as a guide:

    1. Cars 4, 5, 6 and 7 need to be pulled by the local and forwarded to their destination.
    2. Cars 11 and 12 need to be spotted in the "loading and unloading" shed so that they can be unloaded.
    3. Cars 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 would all need to "stay where they darn are," as Fibber McGee might say.
    Naturally, your local crew would have to pull cars 1-7 and then re-spot cars 1, 2 and 3 in their same locations after spotting 11 and 12 in the loading dock. To make all of these moves would take some time and planning with, say, a switch list.

    I've omitted any sort of run-around or double-ended team tracks that could make this switching a little easier. I'm hoping those more experienced or who've done the real thing on the prototype can add their input and/or put holes in this plan. Sometimes a plan looks good to me at first, and then after the help and guidance of others, I realize just how unconsciously incompetent I am.

  10. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    Very nice, drawing. which brings up a modeling possibility. Some elevators have cleanout area's like on the drawing. Some shippers require clean cars from railroad's, which makes for safer operation, in that, the rubbish is burned which is not good, around elevators . Railroad's, lease, yard tracks to outside contractors. The cars are spotted, cleaned and then pulled for use at industries. A good modeling scene, would be a yard track, generally the outside track, with rail car doors open and a few workers around, appearing to be cleaning the cars. The West leg of the wye at Monett, was used to cleanout the business and passenger cars.
  11. beanschelin

    beanschelin Member

    All, thank you for the discussion. The comments regarding operations were very helpful. I am modeling the mainline of Frisco at Monett east to Aurora and beyond, west to Sarcoxie and beyond, west to Neosho and beyond, and south to Seligman and beyond.
  12. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Here's your Switch List, Form C.T. 73 in pdf for for printing two-up.

    Attached Files:

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  13. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Nice, Keith. This switch list will save me the time and trouble of building one of my own in Excel!

    One additional comment to Bill's comment: I've read somewhere else since my above post (perhaps in a back issue of Model Railroad Planning) that grain doors would often be installed in the 40' boxcars on the clean-out track, once the clean-out work was finished. Accordingly, if one's model real estate is really crunched for space, you could get away with truncating where Cars 8 and 9 are spotted, and just have the clean-out/door installation area to the "left" of the loading dock.

    Best Regards,
  14. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Just fumbled across a 1980 revision of Form CT-73 that Ken Wulfert posted a couple of years back...

    From a modeling standpoint, I think I prefer a simpler version such as what Keith has above. Ultimately I think that it works better for my smaller layout; however, the 1980 form might be better suited for a larger layout with its additional detail.

    Best Regards,
  15. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Most of the local (model) operators that use switchlists use the abbreviated form. The extended form that Ken posted would be less likely to be used unless the layout owner specifically required its use and enforced it.
  16. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    Chris, that would make a lot of sense, some of the elevators on the end of track, was full of grain, in various stages of rot. Some would just shove off the old grain with a front end loader. When they had a car with a hole in it, some would plug the hole with straw. The hopper cars, they just opened the doors and the little bits left in them, ran out on the track. We use to have some carmen with farm's, they would empty the cars in the yard and bag it for their self's. On the receiving end, they would empty the car, most of the time small amounts would stick in the car. In transit, any remaining grain would end up in the bottom of the car. I don't know when they quit using box cars for open grain, their use to be old grain car doors laying around elevators and some in a close yard storage area. The older doors and straw was burned, along with other trash. The cleaning of the cars, used to be a pay grade on the union scale of the carmen. Later on when the cars were privately owned, the elevator did some of the work. Railroads contracted their cars cleaned by leasing the track to a company and of course saying the car was off line, so it was not the Car departments work. Their is a long line, in the way cars are handled. Someone who might know about a specific location might be able to help more.
  17. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Now that would be a fun detail to model. Thanks very much for the additional insight and background, Bill...this type of stuff is fascinating to me and is awfully tough to recreate through maps and photos.

    Best Regards,
  18. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Chuck Hitchcock models the Santa Fe Elevator A on his Argentine Industrial District Railway layout. He includes the spotting of box cars for cleanout and installation of grain doors before being spotting on 4 loading tracks for the elevator crew to winch the cars through the loading shed. It takes a crew of two an entire 3 hour session to work the elevator job including classifying the loaded cars into yard tracks for transfer out of Argentine and spotting of empties for cleaning and loading.
  19. Brad Slone

    Brad Slone Member Supporter

    In last months issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist (the free online Magazine) Clark Propst had an interesting article on switching a prototype feed mill in Mason City Iowa. While a feed mill differs from a grain elevator, there was some interesting operational possibilities discussed. Also slightly off topic, but Classic Trains has some interesting Frisco passenger photos posted on their webpage.

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  20. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

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