PENNSYRR.COM by Jerry Britton

Enola rail container terminal opened by Pennsylvania Railroad in November 1932 8

By the 1920s, trucks were chipping away at railroad freight service. Long haul trucking was decades away from being practical, but the short haul impact was being felt. By 1921, the New York Central had introduced less-than-carload (LCL) container service. In 1928, the Pennsylvania Railroad created a subsidiary, Keystone Container Car Co., to own fleet of containers for its new "Keystone Service".

There were two categories of containers in service -- merchandise freight containers and bulk freight containers.

Merchandise Freight Containers

October 15, 1928 -- PRR announces container service -- Initially offered to seven cities: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, and South Kearny, N. J. A container would be transported by truck to a destination not served by rail.

Container brochureBrochure (linked)

truck delivery


Modified FM flat cars (25) were initially used to transport containers in this new service. By 1936, 850 FM cars were in this service. Twenty-five F31 flat cars, designed to carry eight containers, were introduced, though this number never grew. 

April 16, 1929 -- An update in the news...

1929 clipping

End of 1929 -- 500 DD1 and 500 SD1 (single door) containers in service; 10 DD1 (double door) containers introduced. Mount Vernon Shops offers decals for the FM flat car which includes decals for the DD1 and SD1 containers; their F31 flat car set includes decals for the DD1 containers.

1931 -- Service extended to Chicago, Cincinnati, Akron, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Detroit, Columbus, Rochester, Dayton, East St. Louis, Harrison, N. J., and Louisville.

May 1931 -- While the NYC's container service was tanking, the PRR's was the exact opposite. The Pennsy ordered an additional 3,250 double door containers at a cost of $1.5 million; they started arriving by July. Some were variants of the DD1 design and were classed DD1A. The order also introduced 100 of a new DD3 model. Funaro & Camerlengo offers an FM flat with a load of DD1A containers.

DD1A on trailerTwo DD1A containers on a trailer, August 7, 1931. 8120LargeFunaro & Camerlengo FM flat with a load of DD1A containers. 


November 1932 -- In Enola, PA, the first container terminal in the world was opened by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The facility featured two cranes operating above seven tracks, each 900 feet long with a total capacity of 150 cars. A facility such as Enola would receive cars from multiple sources requiring multiple destinations and rearrange the containers onto cars going to the same destinations. A second facility was built at South Kearney to handle New York City traffic. These sites were handling an average of 850 containers per day.

Enola rail container terminal opened by Pennsylvania Railroad in November 1932 8

1988231 02 21 02Early PRR container being placed on a railroad car, ca. 1934.

SD1 on FM
SD1 containers on an FM flat car.

SD1 FM 1SD1 container loading at Baltimore. SD1 BaltimoreSD1 loading at Calvert Street, Baltimore.
containerloading truck with containers


1933-34 -- DD4 and DD4A containers introduced. 

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1936 --

Enola 1936Enola facility in 1936.

Post WWII -- DD64A containers were introduced; 4' square containers designed for shipping within "Merchandise Service" LCL box cars. 

DD64AA DD64A container, February 12, 1949.  


1950 -- This service continued until October 1950 when J. M. Symes ordered the retirement of over 3,000 merchandise containers and for all modified FM cars to be returned to general service. Container LCL service was directed to boxcar LCL service.

By 1953 -- Only 10 FM cars remain configured for COFC service.

SD1 diagram DD1 diagram DD1C diagram DD4 diagram


Bulk Freight Containers

The Pennsy's foray into bulk frieght container service was aimed at cement, crushed stone, lime, and dolomite.

1929 -- A half dozen DB1 (drop bottom) containers are constructed for test purposes. They were weatherproof and designed for carrying cement.

1930 -- DB2 (drop bottom) containers are constructed. They are non-weatherproof.

June 1930 -- The PRR rebuilds many G22 gondolas into class G22B, featured 100-ton trucks and were equipped to carry up to 12 bulk containers, including the Pennsy HB-1A or the Youngstown HB-4. The HB-1 container was weatherproof and featured hatches, for bulk cement service. The HB-2 containers were non-weatherproof and were intended for bulk mineral service such as crushed stone and coke.

G22B with DB2's on May 8, 1930. PRR G22B in container service.

PRR G22 in container service.


1931 -- Two experimental DB3 (drop bottom) containers are constructed. The class was never expanded, though the two lasted until at least 1950.

1932 -- One hundred DB4 (drop bottom) containers are constructed. They were weatherproof and, despite the introduction of the covered hoppers for cement service in 1932, the containers proved very popular.

G22B with DB4G22B with DB containers, December 7, 1931.  


1935 -- One hundred fifty more DB4's ordered.

1936 -- DB4A, with a larger loading hatch, introduced with delivery of 216 containers.

1936 -- The HB1 (hopper bottom) was introduced with delivery of 240 containers. The hopper bottom was developed in response to the drop bottom models not being able to control the discharge flow. A method was sought to deliver a partial or measured load. The HB1's were weatherproof.

1937 -- An additional 360 HB1's placed into service.

1939 -- Slight modifications to the HB1 design resulted in the HB1A. Six hundred were ordered. Rapido offers the G22B with a load of HB1A containers; the load is also available separately. Westerfield offers the HB1as a complete load of individual containers.

Rapido G22BRapido G22B gondola with container load.

1291 58320 full 1 1Westerfield HB1A containers.

1941 -- Six hundred HB1A ordered.

1941-42-- To meet a specific need for DuPont of Niagara, N.Y., airtight (and weatherproof) containers were needed. The result was 96 HB2's.

1942-- Sixty eight HB1A ordered. The HB roster now numbered 2,500.

G22B with DB4G22 with a load of HB1A containers.

G22 HB2 
G22 with HB2 containers. July 31, 1941.


1943 -- An additional 108 HB2's were placed into service.

1947 -- The use of merchandise containers drops significantly, while the use of bulk material containers increases dramatically. The Pennsy developed new lightweight containers... and delivered 408 HB3.

1949 -- An additional 960 HB3 are ordered.

1951 -- The Pennsy orders 640 lightweight containers from Youngstown Steel Door Company and calls them HB4. Approximately 2,500 were eventually purchased. Westerfield offers the HB4as a complete load. Bowser offers HB4 containers that are 3D printed.

1292 58331 full 1Westerfield HB4 container load.

1954 -- Youngstown Steel Door Co. introduces a drop bottom container. The PRR purchases nine, class DB5, but the trial ends there.

G22B with DB4G22 with all nine DB5 containers, February 1, 1955.  


1956 -- Youngstown introduces another container, which the Pennsy dubs DB6. Nine G27 gondolas are modified into class G27A to haul the DB6's.

G22B with DB4G27A with DB6 containers.


G22Bfor scrap
G22 at Lucknow (presumably for scrapping) in 1966 with a variety of containers, left to right, HB4, HB3, HB1A, HB1A, HB1, and HB3.
G22B with HB4G22B at Lucknow (presumably for scrapping) in 1966 with HB4 containers.


DB1 2 3 DB4 5 DB6


HB1 2 3 HB4


1966 -- Eighty five steel floored G36E were placed into container service.



Container Cars

References, various car profiles.

Buchan, Al and Gatwood, Elden, Pennsylvania Railroad Gondolas | Revenue & Work Equipment, 1869 to 1968, The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.

Burg, RIchard, "Container Service on the Pennsylvania R. R.", The Keystone, Spring 1985, Vol. 28 No. 1, The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.

Gatwood, Elden and Buchan, Al, Pennsylvania Railroad Flat Cars | Revenue & Work Equipment, 1881 to 1968, The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.