Twin Tank Milk Cars: How were they used?

I've got a Lionel 6-83576 B&O milk reefer on order, Vol. 2, 2016, p. 41.  I was planning on adding little milk cans, sawdust, and ice to model farmers loading up the car for transportation to a dairy company like Borden's/Hood or better yet to a RR commissary.  Then I reread the catalog copy.  This car has twin glass-lined tanks that kept the milk cool.  So, individual milk cans are out.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how these large tanks worked in a typical transportation scenario.   Would a car like this be stopped on a team/freight track that the farmers would drive up to and empty their cans?  Would a large diary have its own car and siding?  Then off it would go to its destination for partial or complete unloading (via a spiggot or something)?  Into milk cans or a large holding vat inside a building?  Or were these tanks used instead only by those large dairy companies that I just mentioned, perhaps to transport for processing or to large customer institutions?  And what sanitary measures would be taken?  It seems like individual milk cans traceable to a farm would be better than big vats that comingle the product.   

The underlying question is that I'd like to understand the real RR "operations" behind these cars for working out a farm-to-dining car scenario -- in this case, for the tons of milk that were used daily in a dining car kitchen.   (If the real world scenario is uninteresting, not relevant, or too complicated for a floor layout, I can just remove the vats and go back to my original milk can and sawdust idea .)

Thanks in advance,

Tomlinson Run Railroad


Original Post

Milk trains consisted of tank cars and can cars..... sometimes one or the other and at others both kinds. Tankers were came in two forms, a tank which sort of sat on a flat car base, and the enclosed tank car such as the one you ordered.  Milk tank cars usually were loaded from tank trucks which collected the milk from various dairy farms.

As to railroad operations with these tank cars ... I'm not quite sure if these cars were loaded from a team track or spotted on a siding so they could be loaded by several tank trucks, and later being picked up by the local milk train and hauled to the processing plant. 

Cheers and Happy Railroading,

Patrick W  

CEO - The Free State Junction Railway 

" Where the music is sweet and the trains always run on time"

Home Office - Patsburg, Maryland 

Glass lined bulk milk cars were seen on Wisconsin rail lines in the mid 1930's to the early 1950's. All we see now is roadgoing bulk milk transport trucks.

Trivia: The technique used to line the rail cars cast iron tanks with glass was developed for the brewing industry by a fellow named Caspar Pfaudler. The first such tanks were made in 1887 by the Dickson Manufacturing Company, who interestingly also produced hardware for steam locomotives. Eventually Dickson merged with other companies to form the American Locomotive Company (ALCO).

Big Jim, thanks for sharing the article with us.  Very interesting read on the history of milk cars.  I didn't realize that milk cars lasted into Amtrak times. 

I have a wooden reefer milk car, but now it seems I need a Borden's car as well!


Historic Frederick County, Maryland.  Modeling both the Reading and B&O Railroads.


Alastar 'Bear' 3/8/06 - 8/24/15, one heckuva great dog!

As the trackage declined in quality and became quite rough the railroads realized that a potential new product possibly worth millions was at their fingertips. The tank car was a new way to make MILKSHAKES,however it was never well received by the American public and went away

clem k posted:

Thank you for starting this post and Jim for the information link !  You guys done good 


"What he said."  I've been able to sneak peaks at Big Jim's PDF and MWB's link at lunch.  Interesting idea about the connection to beer technology.  I think I'd read that somewhere but along the lines of poor people were getting sick drinking the mash milk.  Looking forward to savoring the full details this evening.  Already I'm getting ideas for operations involving a (real) glass milk bottle or two to symbolize a milk processing plant ... (How many remember those fine roadside attractions?  I think there's still one in Boston for Hood's -- perhaps near South Station?)

Thanks guys,


As the trackage declined in quality and became quite rough the railroads realized that a potential new product possibly worth millions was at their fingertips. The tank car was a new way to make MILKSHAKES,however it was never well received by the American public and went away

In reality, if the milk warmed up enough a sloshing tank car was an effective means of churning chunks of BUTTER.  I have read about this happening a few times...

At the farm, milk is sampled for testing, the weight, of the amount to be shipped, is also recorded, and the temperature of the milk, when pumped to the bulk truck. The weight is an indirect measurement.  There is a calibrated stainless steel rod that determines the weight, related to the inches of milk, in the tank. There is a corresponding chart for each/every tank.  Some tank systems may have a chart recorder for the raw milk temperature, over the few days it's stored, before pick-up. Usually a very good refrigeration system, the tank will also have an agitator/paddle to stir the milk before sampling and pumping to the tank truck.    Usually milk that is well refrigerated will make the trip to a processing plant without additional truck refrigeration required.  The sample is tested for antibiotics, bacteria count,  and butter fat content.  Any antibiotics present, is a serious problem.  Relatively high bacteria count indicates problems with the milking and storage system sanitation, another problem.   Butter fat determines the quality of the milk. Higher butter fat content, the more value is added to the milk.   You have a serious problem with your milk, you may  have to pay for the entire milk truck contents.   IMO Rail pick-up of milk would have been after delivery to a raw processing plant and then moved to a larger urban plant for bottling and other processing;  pasteurized, homogenized, 2%, 1%, skim cream, ice cream, cheese, etc.  Though at one time all this was done at small, community oriented, creameries.      

If you search on the 2 rail forum Ed Rappe has a posting on how the PRR used to handle milk train cars from Huntingdon PA to Philadelphia.  Here's an excerpt of the start of that from the PRR T&HS discussion web:

"For many years two Supplee milk cars were picked up and dropped off at Huntingdon PA each day. I understand in the steam era the milk cars were set out and picked up on a siding behind the shelter on the south side of the main, and that a locally based H class consolidation performed this function. One of the Supplee cars was exchanged with the H&BTM RR for movement to a creamery in Bedford PA. The Supplee car moved into Bedford using H&BTM trackage rights over the PRR Mt. Dallas branch. "

Here is the further discussion:


Rob M. ARHS # 3846 PRRT&HS # 8141 EPTC "Life Is Like A Mountain Railway, With An Engineer That's Brave..."

Having ridden in the bed of a 1937 Chevy pickup along with banging, clanging milk cans out a rough and curvy farm road to deposit them beside the highway for pickup, this is a subject l am interested in.  I just recently acquired Matchbox 1938 IH trucks to bash into the insulated trucks that picked up the cans. However, they drank milk in Denver, too,,and l have never seen mention of the Denver and Interurban, D&RGW, or ? using specialized cars to move milk. Anybody know? I see such for Wisconsin and the NE, but not even for California.

??Another one of THOSE!!??  What you want to sell is not what I want to buy!

Wow.  Learned lots this evening from reading the awesome Dispatch issue that Big Jim shared.  It answers just about every imaginable question about operations, and MWB's link has excellent information and photos about the area I currently live in (although I'm not modeling the "milk era").  

Dominic, based on what I just read, private-owned dairy cars had the twin tanks, while RR-owned milk cars shipped the 40-quart cans.  It's incredible that ice wasn't needed for the tanks because the sheer volume (and insulation) kept the cargo cool.  No mention is made of AmEx or REA per se in the article, but front-end baggage cars were used.  So, maybe?  As reefers, it seems it would be hard to say whether these would contain cans or the tanks. I'd guess the former because of their use for shipping fruit and etc. 

If this difference in tank vs. can shipping method holds true across all private/lessee vs. RR owners, then my on order B&O car should not have the twin tanks. It's a good thing they are removable :-).  

Back to the baggage cars: my current town was a milk producer for the B&M. One surviving photo shows dairy farmers in front of an open car door with the cans stacked two high inside, as is typical.  But what's interesting is that there are two glass paned windows on the side of the car.  Glass windows seem like a bad idea for a reefer. Unfortunately, it's a close-up photo and that's all that can be seen.  I have a B&M-specific photo book that might provide more clues.

MNCW, that's an interesting sounding book you've mentioned, and Rule 292, thanks for the pointer to the 2-rail post; I'll definitely follow-up on that soon. (It's getting late.)  Also, Lionel is making a Supplee car along with the B&O. Your post is the first I've heard that name.

Mike CT, you've provided the "micro-micro" milk operations details!   Dare I ask how you came to know all of that?  When I lived on a farm, the farm mom would hand-milk Beulah first thing in the morning, pour the milk from the pail through a paper filter to remove bits of the cow's behind (if you catch my drift), then pop the milk in to the institutional-sized milk dispenser in the kitchen for us all to drink.  No bacteria testing, no temperature monitoring, no weighing, and I've lived to tell the tale!  We couldn't drink it fast enough, so farm mom decided to make cheese -- in the house. Yuck! curds and wheys stink. But that's an operations story for another time.

Cohighrailer, good luck with the truck tanker kit bashing project.  It's great you found a model in the time frame of the pickup truck you rode in.  I think I will just pretend I have a tanker with a nice Divco milk truck.  Did you see in the Dispatch article that interurbans were used?  (There's no mention as to whether they were modified.)  But, it seems possible that they could have seen use for milk in Denver.   Is there an "Images of America" photo book for Denver?  That book series has proved useful for answering many questions.

Tomlinson Got Milk? RR

trumptrain posted:


As to railroad operations with these tank cars ... I'm not quite sure if these cars were loaded from a team track or spotted on a siding so they could be loaded by several tank trucks, and later being picked up by the local milk train and hauled to the processing plant. 

Thanks trumptrain. Page 21 of the Dispatch link in the first post had an operations section that at first surprised me but then made sense:  it says that at a station, the road engine and milk cars would uncouple from the passenger train, swicth tracks and back into the local milk plant so the milk could be pumped in. The train would then be remade for its next stop.  No switcher needed.  The next page talks about city dairies, which didn't have sidings, so milk cars were spotted on tracks and the milk transferred to tank trucks.


tank milk cars were produced by the General American Car Company in both 40' & 50' lengths and carried reporting marks of GACX among others. they looked very much like reefers built by GACC except for the lack of roof hatches. they were filled at creameries from the processed raw milk brought in by dairy farmers.

a terrific reference for milk operations and related equipment, particularly in the northeast, is the four volume paperback set: 'Railway Milk Cars'.

I am John Galt !


Cans are still around used by the Amish.  I hauled cans, in a pick-up truck, before school,  to the local creamery my senior year in high school.  That summer we switched to the bulk tank on the farm and a different milk company.  Was still milking cows my entire college years.  Early morning start.   Cows were sold 1990, my fathers health a big part of the sale.

10 gallon cans, filled, easily over 100 lbs.  They were chilled in the milk house using an ice bath refrigerated cooler. The cans were semi-submerged in the water.   If you shipped 5 or 6 cans of milk a day, there was double that number of can, each with a shipping number on both the lid and the can.  Getting full cans out of the cooler was a challenge for a very young man.  Cans were galvanized steel with a friction fit lid, missing in this picture.  Eventually there was discussion about the solder/lead used in the assembly of the cans.   Bulk tank and all the milking equipment was stainless steel.  There were stainless steel cans, rare today, IMO.    My sweetheart painted this can.  


Mike CT, you've provided the "micro-micro" milk operations details!   Dare I ask how you came to know all of that? The small family farm was enough, with Father working for the Pittsburg and Shawmut Railroad, as a machinist, to put (5) of us through college.  Fair amount of work, but a life long education. IMO.   There were no college loans or debt, when we graduated.    Four of us graduated from Clarion State (PA) college/university.  Brother Robert, who works for USDA in Vermont, graduated from Penn State. Brother Dan attended a trade school and has been a machinist all his life.

 When I lived on a farm, the farm mom would hand-milk Beulah first thing in the morning, pour the milk from the pail through a paper filter to remove bits of the cow's behind (if you catch my drift), then pop the milk in to the institutional-sized milk dispenser in the kitchen for us all to drink.  Milking was done with stainless can type milkers (vacuum equipment), eventually after I graduated from college/one less farm hand, a pipe line milker was purchased. Brother Richard left the farm,  an endless chain gutter cleaner was purchased.    

No bacteria testing, no temperature monitoring, no weighing, and I've lived to tell the tale!  As a boy scout, I did the Dairy merit badge, which was a pretty good education for a young man. Since I milked the cows, I was also responsible for cleaning the equipment. High bacteria counts, where quickly brought to my attention, and I was scrubbing/cleaning a bit harder.  

  We couldn't drink it fast enough, so farm mom decided to make cheese -- in the house. Yuck! curds and wheys stink. But that's an operations story for another time.  Eventually the local creamery did not do Sunday milk.  We were required to Separate the Saturday milk/Sunday delivery, Cream and Skim milk. The Cream was then shipped along with the Monday shipment.  The tremendous amount of skim milk was used to feed the calves and us.  Mother baked constantly, and used a lot of the skim milk to make puddings.   Nothing ever got wasted.   

Great morning discussion.  Thanks to all who contributed. 

Mike CT

Mike CT,

Your sweetheart did a fantastic job on that milk can.  I love the bold colors and classic mill scene.  And you have interesting stories. The farm I lived on briefly was a former veal farm, so it wasn't set up for milking.  However, the farm dad also taught science at a local high school. He was great at solving various problems that came up, say, with the farm equipment or even my car.  I learned things like "If a cause is unknown and can't be traced, replace the cheapest part first"; "9 times out of 10 that's all it takes". He was right and I've kept that lesson in mind when it comes to model trains. 

Tom, thanks for the pix of the real thing.  As a sometimes historian, I love the operations and other information that you can glean from the milk can tags; and thanks Scale City Designs for making the scale version.   I'll need some when my boxcar comes in.

Great information everyone.  And to think, milk is just one of the many items that had to be ready and in place for a dining car's daily run!  (PRRMan, four volumes! Wow.)  Now on to modeling operations for the proteins, fruits, and  veggies!  And, then there's all that table linen ...


Shipping milk  was a big business for RRs and interurbans before the highway were improved in the later 30s. What they used and the how they did it depends on the time frame of your layout.  Plus a dairy could receive milk both ways.  A cheese or butter plant wouldn't be as concerned with quality as a milk plant.  Some Pgh. dairies had a satellite plant or two outside the city to collect the farmer's milk possibly separate the fat out and transship the  milk to the city plant or to another processor like and ice cream plant. Lots of possibilites.

I'm glad someone pointed me to this thread- 
I'm in the process of gathering information and putting together a plan to build our local milk plant. Our Plant was a Rieck plant, based out of Pittsburgh. A 1923 newspaper article said they ship one railcar of sweetened condensed milk to Pittsburgh daily, and 80-120 cans of cream. I believe it was a 6000 gallon car that sat on the siding & was filled & shipped. The railroad also brought in cane sugar in 100lb sacks and coal to fire the two boilers.
I interviewed a local man, who frequented the milk plant 65-70 years ago when his grandfather helped to manage it. It was great talking to the guy and him pointing out what happened in each building and the process. I am in a state of shock at the amount of automation that was present at our plant in the 1940s.

Hoping to have Andre cut the building out once I get finished with the research.

Don't take it too serious- they're just toys...

Rogerpete, what a great sounding project!  I'm modeling general operations in the Pgh area, so I like the very specific focus of your project.  I wonder where the cane sugar came from and how it got there?  Perhaps via the port of NY, then train?  (Florida ports?) I know that during WWII some food stuffs came and went from Pittsburgh to New Orleans by Dravo/Union Barge tug boats on the Mississippi River, and I am interested in the intersection between rail and those boats.  Hence, your mention of cane sugar caught my attention.  Clearly it wasn't hauled in from Ohio farm, so where did it come from?  And, your scenario will include the coal shipments as well. 

Will you have empties for the milkcars?  In other words, did a turnaround trip require that the plant have two of each car - one to deliver and the other to move out the next day while the first one was cleaned?  You are lucky to have a resource to describe the process to you -- especially one with a three generation connection to the plant.  Please keep us posted -- and especially if you have Andre help on the structure!  What a treat that would be.

Do you have photos of the plant to share?

Tomlinson Run Railroad

The old photos are interesting. My first sales job was selling cleaners to the food industry and the older milk plants usually had a certain look about them. You can still find a few but being used for something else.  I worked for awhile at Otto Milk in Pgh. and it was in an old brewery building. Now it is a residence for old folks !!  Talk about repurposing.  It was near a PRR rail yard but was gone right before I worked there. Good money but hard  work. I was glad to go back to school. Milk was an important commodity back in an earlier day. I read a RR, maybe the NYC, would head a train south in NY state  picking up full milk cans and arrive in NYC in the morning  with thousands of gallons of milk for the city.

Some stats:

James Porterfield cited the Bureau of Railway Economics 1924 (p. 102) in his book, Dining by Rail.  Up to 4,000 cows working day and night produced 6 million quarts of milk and cream. (That was for dining cars alone.)  He translated the amount into cubic feet and said it would float the ship, Leviathan.  The 6 million quarts that the Bureau recorded didn't include the ingredients for the 900,00 quarts of ice cream served on the cars.


Earlier in this post I mentioned a photo of a B&M milk car with two glass windows in its the side.  It may have been taken in the 1920s? and is of the Fitchburgh branch of the Boston & Maine that runs through several former farming towns.  (Now a communter rail branch.)

"Images of Rail: Boston & Maine Trains and Services", from the same publisher, has a milk car photo section that solved the mystery. Page 54 shows an 1880s photo of Concord Railroad (NH?) Milk Car 5.  It has two sliding doors on either end like a baggage car, and two high-silled glass windows in the center. The caption says the predecessor design was the baggage car and that the milk cargo was handled by the baggage man.  This example was built by the Laconia (NH) Car Company and is quite handsome.  H.P. Hood himself (a big NE area diary owner) is seated in the right doorway.  There's a light weight horse drawn covered wagon backed up near the other door.  It's a handsome looking car but the wrong place and time for my layout.

Sorry, no photos as I don't want to wreck the nice binding.  PRR Man and Tom's books might have more examples; this is just what my own shelves had to offer when I took a look.

Tomlinson Run RR

This is such an interesting and informative thread!  Thank you to all who are contributing information.

I grew up in Southern California, where dairies were concentrated in Artesia, Norwalk, and Cypress, about 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles.  This territory was served by Pacific Electric Railway. The area produced a very great amount of milk, but I have never heard of any milk trains on the PE.  I believe that the distance to the processing plants was so short that there was no need to ship carloads of milk.  Also, California was very early in building a good network of paved roads and highways, so it was possible (and faster) to use tank trucks instead of milk trains.  However, old head Conductors I worked with on Santa Fe told me that, when they were working Baggagemen assignments, they routinely loaded dozens of milk cans in Santa Fe baggage/express cars, mainly from small dairies along the Second District (LA-San Bernardino via Pasadena/Azusa/Pomona).  And I would feel safe in presuming that PE hauled a lot of milk cans in its express box motors.  But the large dairies used trucks.  California was populated a hundred years after the northeast, and therefore had the advantage of building many dairies in southeast Los Angeles County and southwest Orange County, instead of scattering them throughout the region.

Around 1960, the progress of suburbia made the dairy land too valuable for agricultural use and the farms moved farther out.  But, by that time, large trucks and stainless steel trailers could quickly transport the milk, and there was no more rail transport of milk.

In the northeast, upstate New York and Vermont were settled much earlier and dairying was well-established on family farms that were scattered more widely than the dairies where I grew up.  Thus, collection and shipment was done differently.



Superintendent, High Plains Division (O Gauge) 

The Panhandle & Santa Fe Railway Co.

Lone Star Hi-Railers

Santa Fe, All the Way


Thanks very much for your contribution regarding the west coast side of milk production and transportation.  What you wrote about the early creation of a good roadway system makes sense.  And, what a great source you have for Santa Fe baggage car information. I seem to recall that a few Pacific Electric Railway cars ended up being made into diner-style restaurants.  It's a stretch, but I'll bet they carried milk! 

Your contribution inspired me to check with Charles Ro just now.  Unfortunately, delivery of the Lionel milk cars from the 2016 Vol. 2 catalog has been pushed out until December of this year.  My operations fun will have to wait a little longer.


Tomlinson Run Railroad

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