The economic success of the railroads depended on freight shipped in full cars. The idea of putting truck trailers on flatcars was a method of moving less-than-carload shipments economically. This "intermodal" concept held the hope of competing with trucks which were taking more and more of this business from the railroads.
In the mid-thirties, the Chicago, the Great Western and then the New Haven railroads began piggy back service limited to their own railroad. By 1953, the CB&Q, the Eastern Illinois and the Southern Pacific railroads had joined the innovation. Most cars were surplus 50's flatcars equipped with new decks by the railroads. By 1955, an additional 25 railroads had begun some form of piggy back service. A significant legal battle between the truckers and the railroads resulted in a ruling permitting interstate piggy back service using either railroad or privately owned trailers. The stage was set for rapid expansion of intermodal services.
After Trailer-Train incorporated in 1955, they and many other railroads began to build 75 foot cars. Most cities had piggy back facilities. Many small towns had their own ramp for 'circus style' loading. Some of the railroads offering this service were: B&O, CB&Q, CGW, C&EI, C&NW, C&O, DL&W, D&RGW, ERIE, GN, KCS, LV, MDT, Nickleplate, NYC, PENNSY, SF, SP, WABASH and WM.
Another landmark was the introduction of the ACF Model A mechanical hitch in 1956. Until that time, trailers were secured to the flatcars with ropes and other time-consuming tie-down methods. In 1961, the Model 2 hitch was introduced and, later, many other types.
A Brief History of Trailers
Trucks with trailers became a viable transportation business in the 1930's. Early trailers had round noses and were mostly 20 feet long. Box, refrigerator and open top designs with smooth or horizontal corrugated sides were common. Most used only one axle. After World War II, the 35 foot trailers became much more popular with long haul truckers. Flat nose trailers with vertical post sides also were being built in greater numbers. In the early fifties, the round nose trailers were still the most common, but few were being built. In 1958, the 40 foot trailer became legal and most production of long haul trailers switched to this length. Vertical post trailers with flat noses were the most common design, but smooth and corrugated trailers were still being built. This situation remained little changed well into the 70's. Tractors and trailers last for many years and occasionally a short, round nose trailer could still be seen in local service in the 80's.
In the history below are mentions of various "plans" (levels) of TrucTrain service. From actual PRR marketing documents come the following descriptions of the levels:
Plan 1: Railroads and motor common carriers -- PRR carries trailers owned by motor common carriers, on a "division" of the prevailing truck rate -- a flat charge per traler based on weight and distance. The trucker solicits and bills all freight at the truck rates; takes trailers to and from railroad terminals.
Plan 2: A railroad operation, door to door -- PRR carries its own tailers, under its own tarriffs. Under this all-rail plan, the railroad deals directly with shippers; furnishes all equipment; and provides all pick-up and delivery between shipper plants and rail terminals. Pick up and delivery confined to specified territories.
Plan 3: Shipper trailers, rail cars -- PRR carries trailers owned or leased by shippers, at a flat rate. The shipper delivers trailers to railhead; the railroad puts them aboard flat cars, ties them down, transports them to destination and grounds them. The shipper or receiver picks them up at the rail terminal.
Plan 4: Shipper trailers, shipper cars -- PRR carries trailers owned or leased by shippers on cars which are also owned or leased by shippers. Charge is a flat rate per car, whether trailers are loaded or empty. The railroad performs terminal-to-terminal line-haul movement only. Shipper provides drayage at origin and destination.
Plan 5: Joint rates, rail-motor -- PRR carries its own trailers, or common carrier truck trailers, under joint rail-motor rates. In effect it extends the transport operation of each participant into the other carrier's territory, and permits each to sell for the other.
Early Relevant History
As early as 1928, the Pennsylvania Railroad operates short run truck service to coordinate with its LCL (less than car load) service. In the early 1950's this service is upgraded and dubbed "Keystone Merchandise Service".
Per Chris Baer: "Excelsior Truck Leasing Company was incorporated in Delaware on 8/18/1953 for the purpose of owning and leasing trailers to PRR for TrucTrain service. On 2/1/1954 it absorbed Scott Truck Leasing Company and Penntruck Leasing, Inc. It was controlled by the PRR through the American Contract & Trust Company, later American Contract Company, and lasted long enough to become a Conrail subsidiary in 1976."
January 30, 1950
PRR announces introduction of "Keystone Merchandise Service" for LCL freight, including 500 special new box cars, 3,000 containers and expanded truck pick-up-and-delivery service; will restore speed of freight trains to prewar levels. Partly a response to NYC's "Pacemaker Service" introduced in 1946.
April 24, 1950
PRR establishes second morning service for LCL and freight forwarders, New York-Chicago and New York-East St. Louis; establishes new LCL-2 (Chicago-Harsimus Cove), LCL-3 (Harsimus Cove-East St. Louis) and LCL-4 (East St. Louis-Pitcairn); revises operation of LCL-1 and drops old LCL-2 (Pittsburgh-Harsimus Cove) and LCL-3 (Enola-Chicago); all new freights are diesel powered.
April 29, 1954
PRR announces it will begin piggyback service between five major markets on June 16 using 50-foot cars.
The Pennsylvania Railroad announces its new trailer on flat car (TOFC) service to its customers with the brochure "Quick Facts about the New Rail Highway Trailer Service". The service is initially called "Pennsy Rail Trailer Route", but a contest to formally name the new service is announced to employees.
115 flat cars of Class F30d, built in 1951, are converted for use in TOFC service. These 50' cars can each hold one trailer.
Existing LCL service 24' to 26' trailers will be used in the new TOFC service. These trailers have smooth or ribbed sides, a rounded front end, and a curb side door. The trailers feature the text "PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD" running diagonally from lower left to upper right. At each end of the text is a keystone logo with the text "KEYSTONE MERCHANDISE SERVICE" inside. Elsewhere on the trailer sides is the text "DOOR TO DOOR SERVICE" and "PICKUP AND DELIVERY". By the early 1950's, over 8,600 tractors and trailers are in service.
The Pennsy leases 150 new 30' Fruehauf trailers for the new service. Lettering is the same, but the text inside the keystone logo is replaced by "PRR". Like earlier trailers, they had one axle.
In 2005, Merchandise Service guided Alan Curtis Models in producing F30D flat cars in N scale.
July 12, 1954
PRR president Symes inaugurates Plan II piggyback service (PRR trailers) between New York and Chicago in LCL-1, LCL-2, and LCL-7. Philadelphia-Pittsburgh service added July 14; piggyback terminals built at Meadows Yard (Kearney, N.J.), 55th Street Yard (Chicago), Kensington Yard (Philadelphia), and Island Avenue Yard (Pittsburgh).
November 15, 1954
Plan II TrucTrain service extended to St. Louis (Rose Lake Yard) on LCL-3 and LCL-4.
New 75' flat cars, capable of holding two trailers, begin arriving from Bethlehem Steel. 200 are ordered; they are Class F39.
Employee contest completes and service is officially named "TrucTrain".
March 1, 1955
PRR extends Plan II TrucTrain service to New York-Cincinnati and Chicago-Cincinnati; piggyback terminal built at Undercliff Yard.
March 3, 1955
First solid TrucTrain trains TT-1 and TT-2 begin running between New York (Kearny, N.J.) and Chicago in 29 hours. Class EF15a (EMD F7's) assigned to Enola pool for this service.
Trailers owned by common carriers begin being transported on TrucTrain trains. Some of the participating companies were Cooper-Jarrett, Inc., Iowa-Nebraska Transportation Co., Schreiber Trucking Co., Eastern Motor Express, Spector Freight, and Mid States.
TrucTrain is depicted in the PRR's 1956 calendar painting, shown at right.
Pennsy orders 32' dual-axle trailers from Freuhauf and Trailmobile.
May 1, 1955
Plan I (?) TrucTrain service extended to St. Louis; Rose Lake Yard being extended for TOFC traffic.
June 14, 1955
Plan II (?) TrucTrain service to Louisville (Portland Avenue Yard) and Indianapolis (Hawthorne Yard) from both New York and Chicago, including new Chicago-Louisville overnight service.
Pennsy builds 250 Class F39a cars and 50 F39b cars for TrucTrain service.
November 9, 1955
PRR, N&W and Rail-Trailer Company of Chicago incorporate Trailer Train Company to own and lease an interline fleet of TOFC/COFC flat cars; Trailer Train is owned 25% by PRR and 25% by Rail-Trailer Company, with remaining shares reserved for other railroads that join.
December 16, 1955
Organization meeting for Trailer Train Company; James P. Newell of PRR named Pres.; Trailer Train agrees to buy 300 TOFC flat cars from PRR and 200 from Van Car Company, a subsidiary of Rail-Trailer Company.
January 19, 1956
First westbound run of PRR container-on-flat-car (COFC) service leaves Kearny en route to Chicago in partnership with Rail-Trailer Company and Spector Freight Systems, Inc., of Chicago; "Mobilvan" container system is developed by Clark Equipment Company and manufactured by Fruehauf Trailer Company of Detroit.
March 17, 1956
Trailer Train Company goes into operation; stockholders include PRR, N&W, St. Louis-San Francisco and Missouri Pacific.
June 13, 1956
First run of daily run-through TrucTrain service between Pittsburgh and the Southwest via M-K-T, Santa Fe, and St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad.
Mid 1956 (seems out of sync)
Pennsy owns 500 75' cars (F39, F39a, F39b), 115 50' cars (F30d), and 522 trailers (including 175 dry vans, 208 open top, 35 insulated, and 104 flat bed) dedicated to TrucTrain service.
TTX purchases all 500 F39 flat cars and "TTX" is painted over "PENNSYLVANIA". 86 of the F30d's were also transferred.
35' trailers introduced.
September 8, 1956
PRR extends run-through TrucTrain service from Southwestern points to Philadelphia and New York.
October 1, 1959
TrucTrain (TOFC) trains begin using Baltimore and Washington tunnels after completion of project to increase clearance and installation of gauntlet track at Pennsylvania Ave. curve in B&P Tunnel; 1-2 courses of tunnel's brick lining removed; SAL begins through TOFC service to Kearny, N.J., yard.
TTX builds first 85' flat cars, class F85a.
TrucTrain terminals built on President Street Branch between Bay View and Highland Avenue in Baltimore and at Richmond, Ind.
PRR begins Plan III TrucTrain service between New York and Dayton.
June 24, 1960
PRR begins Plan I TrucTrain service between New York and Pittsburgh and between New York and Louisville.
PRR custs TrucTrain times between New York and Chicago from 26 to 24.5 hours and between New York and East St. Louis from 32.25 to 29 hours.
New logo for PRR TrucTrain service introduced. This is the round disk that was applied to the sides of trailers.
January 7, 1961
First solid TrucTrain train from the South via Washington, TT-24, inaugurated; Florida-Kearny, N.J. via ACL.
April 24, 1961
PRR opens 28th TrucTrain terminal at Marion, Ind.
PRR ends LCL freight service; trucks used in pick-up-and-delivery converted to TrucTrain service.
TrucTrain terminals open at Washington, D.C., and Wilkes-Barre.
PRR inaugurates Plan IV TrucTrain service.
June 18, 1962
PRR opens new TrucTrain terminal at Trenton, N.J.
PRR and Southern Railway inaugurate twice a week TrucTrain service between New York and Atlanta on a 27 hour schedule.
PRR opens TrucTrain terminals at Lancaster, Pa., and Trenton, N.J.
PRR inaugurates new fast schedule for TOFC and perishable from Potomac Yard to New England.
September 16, 1963
PRR opens 33rd TrucTrain terminal at York, Pa.
PRR establishes piggyback train TT-5/TT-8 operating between Baltimore and Harrisburg via York instead of Port Road; running time of TT-4 from St. Louis to New York cut from 30.5 to 29 hours; TT-3 westbound cut from 28.5 to 27.5 hours.
PRR enlarges TrucTrain terminals at Detroit, Jeffersonville, and Fort Wayne.
August 9, 1965
PRR begins shipping refrigerated trailers of perishables from West Coast via TrucTrain.
October 14, 1965
PRR inaugurates TrucTrain TT-24 from Potomac Yard to Kearny.
PRR opens new TrucTrain terminal at Kalamazoo.
PRR enlarges TrucTrain terminals at Kearny and Cleveland.
PRR begins interchanging TrucTrain traffic with Missouri Pacific.
May 24, 1966
PRR dedicates enlarged TrucTrain yard at Kearny, N.J.
PRR begins hauling mail by TrucTrain from Kearny to southern points via Potomac Yard.
PRR announces it has acquired 255 large-volume 40-foot highway trailers.
August 19, 1967
TrucTrain terminal at Canton, Ohio, opens.
It is now post-PRR-NYC merger into Penn Central.
TrailVan becomes designation of TOFC/COFC service, replacing PRR's TrucTrain and NYC's Flexi-Van.
Reference Materials Available
The Keystone, Volume 23, #1, The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.
The Keystone, Volume 25, #3, The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.
"Quick Facts about the New Rail Highway Trailer Service", brochure, issued by the PRR in June 1954. Introduces PRR's new trailer-on-flatcar service and includes photos.
"New PRR Service: Trailers on Flatcars", The Pennsy, June 1954, Pennsylvania Railroad employee magazine. Includes photos.
"$500 Price Offered for the Best Name for Rail-Trailer Service", The Pennsy, June 1954, Pennsylvania Railroad employee magazine. Includes photos.
"Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Ice, Nor Fog Can Stop PRR's Trailers on Flatcars", The Pennsy, September 1954, Pennsylvania Railroad employee magazine. Includes photos.
"The Winning Name: Pennsy TrucTrain Service", The Pennsy, October 1954, Pennsylvania Railroad employee magazine. Includes photos.
"How to Sell Pennsy TrucTrain Service", The Pennsy, November 1954, Pennsylvania Railroad employee magazine. Includes photos.
"Opening a New Frontier", PRR promotional video from circa 1955, included on "Pennsylvania Collection: Four Vintage Pennsylvania Railroad Documentaries" from Rail Pass Video, distributed by Interurban Press.