Industries of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad: Evaporated Milk (Part 2)

The Dixie Flyer, the Official Newsletter of the NC&StL Preservation Society, Spring 2016

The following are excerpts from the NC&StL Bulletin, March 1945

Switching the Carnation Milk Plant at Murfreesboro

By Mark S. Womack

A postcard of the Carnation plant in Murfreesboro. The reverse side reads, “Cost approximately $500,000, has a capacity of 200,000 pounds of milk per day. This plant pays to the dairymen of this section over $1,000,000 each year for milk.”

The era of the Carnation Milk Plant in Murfreesboro began in the late 1920s.  For many years, it produced a regular and substantial source of revenue for the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry.  There was a rather unique way for it to be switched, an activity that I witnessed many times.

Before I began spending time around the freight and passenger depots at Murfreesboro – about which I have written many times – my mother organized a birthday party for me or my younger brother, John; one of us was about 10 at the time.  Our mother, a school teacher, thought a party with educational overtones would be both educational and entertaining.  She arranged a tour of several Murfreesboro industries, including the Carnation Milk Plant.  Managers of the places on our itinerary were very cooperative.

Among other things I remember about the Carnation plant was seeing the cans, having been filled with milk, rolling along a conveyor belt “naked,” so to speak.  As the cans rolled along, they were automatically draped in red-and-white “Carnation Milk” labels.  I noticed just the other day Carnation Milk cans on the shelf of a supermarket, with the same red-and-white label – but the cans had not been shipped from Murfreesboro, that plant having ceased operation quite a few years ago.

There were three parallel railroad tracks or spurs on the west side of the plant.  One track was connected at its north end to the NC&StL’s southbound passing track, and from it, the other tracks near the plant diverged.  (Per standard practice, the southbound passing track, which like the Carnation plant was north of the passenger depot, would be used by a southbound train when necessary to head in at Murfreesboro on arrival.  To a person looking south, both the milk plant and depot were on the left side of the tracks.)

When the Murfreesboro yard engine was in service, the switching of the Carnation plant was done by its crew.  As I have explained in other articles, at times during the Depression of the 1930s, this yard engine would be discontinued, and the switching of a Murfreesboro industry or business would be done by crews of local freights Nos. 20 and 21.

In either case, since the switch into the Carnation tracks opened only at the north end, the engine handling the cars to be placed at the plant –including empties for loading and in-bound loads of, for example, empty cans – would be on the north end of the cut.  This way, as they were drawn beyond the switch, they could be shoved into the plant area.  Any cars loaded and ready for movement could be set out on the siding, and the empty cars and any inbound loads could be spotted for loading and unloading, as necessary.

It was the practice for the switch engine foreman, or conductor of the local freight servicing the plant, to remain at the south switch of the siding.  This switch was at the West Main Street crossing, next to the depot and south of the milk plant.

When the engine and cars collected from the plant began their south-ward movement, leaving the plant area and approaching the passenger depot, the foreman or conductor – if the way was clear – would line the switch for the siding, and the engine would shove the cars out onto the main track.

Most loads from the milk plant went south from Murfreesboro en route to various destinations in the Southeast.  So, to line up the cars properly for a southbound freight train to pick them up, the engine had to get to the other end of those cars.

Having shoved the cars out onto the main track, with the foreman or conductor aboard, the engine would surge ahead.  Another crew member – a switchman or brakeman – would line the north switch to what was called the short northbound siding, and the engine would “kick” the cars ahead of it onto that track.  That is, when enough speed had been attained, the cars would be cut off in motion.  The engineer “signed down,” and the cut-off cars would roll into the short northbound siding on their own momentum as the engine drifted to a stop.

Then, after the cut-off cars had rolled into the clear and the switch was realigned for the main track, the engine would proceed southwardly, passing the cars in the siding, to the end of that track.  This track was relatively short, holding 20 or 25 cars.  It also served as the lead track to the yard near the freight depot.  (The short northbound siding itself ended at a crossover be-tween it and the further continuance of the track, as a lead, and the main track.  I can remember passenger trains heading into that track to meet another train, but I do not remember a freight train using it for that purpose.)

After arriving south of the crossover switch, the engine would back in, couple onto the south end of the cut of cars it had just kicked into the short northbound siding, and pull them southwardly and onto the lead track after the siding, until the rear of the cut was south of a switch to a track called the Ransom Lead, which served a number of other industries.  Its switch was only a few feet from the crossover.  The switch engine would then shove those southbound milk plant cars into the Ransom Lead and leave them there.

Southbound freight train No. 47, known as the pick-up, would pick up those cars from the Ransom Lead, along with other southward cars that had been switched out from their locations and placed on the lead by the yard engine (or by one of the local freight runs in case the Murfreesboro yard engine was at that time temporarily discontinued).  No. 47 usually came into Murfreesboro from Nashville around 7 p.m.

Back to the switching of the milk plant: Had there been any loads going north, they would have been lined up closest to the engine, with southbound cars placed at the far end of the cut.  Then, after getting back onto the main track, any cars going south would be kicked into the short northbound siding; the cars going north would remain with the engine.  After placing the southward cars onto the Ransom Lead, the engine would shove the northbound cars into a track near the freight depot for pick-up by a northbound working run, No. 44.  The Murfreesboro freight depot and surrounding tracks were a few hundred yards to the south of the crossover at the south end of the short northbound siding, and the south switch of the Ransom Lead.

Paperwork involved with rail shipments was also part of the activity.  A representative in the offices of the shippers would prepare bills of lading on outbound shipments.  A bill of lading was a contract of carriage between a shipper and the railroad company.  It would contain information necessary for the shipment – the initial and number of cars it governed, the name of the shipper, the consignee and destination of the shipment, the route, whether the freight charges had been prepaid at the point of origin or if they were to be collected at the destination, and so forth.

The shipper’s representative would then take the bills of lading to the freight depot.  There, the agent or a clerk on the agent’s staff would sign the bill, as a representative of the rail-road company, and retain what was known as the shipping order portion.  Station forces would take the shipping order and prepare a waybill with information necessary for the movement of the cars covered by the bill of lading.  Blank bills of lading were available at the freight depot for the use of shippers who did not have their own traffic departments.

A freight depot staff person also would telephone the operator at the passenger station and give him the initials and numbers of cars to be picked up by southbound No. 47.  The operator would send a message to the chief dispatcher in Chattanooga, giving appropriate information for the cars to be moved by No. 47.  A member of the chief dispatcher’s staff would prepare a message addressed to No. 47 at Glencliff, showing the initials, numbers and destinations of the cars to be picked up at stations along the line including, of course, at Murfreesboro.

The waybills, having been prepared at the Murfreesboro freight depot, would be taken to the passenger depot and given to the operator, who would retain them pending the arrival of No. 47.  When that train stopped, the head brakeman would cut off the engine and the inbound cars for Murfreesboro from the rest of the train.  This cut would be made north of the passenger depot and north of the Main Street crossing, so the rest of No. 47 would not block the crossing.

The engine and its cut of cars would proceed southward beyond the crossover at the south end of the short northbound siding; then, the whole train would couple onto the southwardly headed cars in the Ransom Lead.  Those cars would be pulled out of the lead and set out on the main track; then, the engine would take the inbound cars, shove them into the Ransom Lead, and cut off from them.

Finally, the engine would pull out onto the main track, recouple to the outbound cars, and back northwardly to retrieve the rest of the train that had been left north of the Main Street crossing.  This done, No. 47 was ready to continue its run southward. (Somewhere in these movements, the engine also would take water.)

While all this was going on, the conductor of No. 47 would have walked over from his caboose to the passenger station, leave the waybills for the newly arrived cars for Murfreesboro, and collect the waybills for the cars his train was picking up.  The rear brakeman would walk over with the conductor to assist the head brakeman with the switching.  Both the conductor and rear brakeman would catch the caboose as their train departed – the engineer adjusting his speed to permit them to board the caboose safely.

As for northbound cars to be picked up at Murfreesboro by No. 44, the caboose of that train would be stopped near the freight depot.  The conductor could get waybills for cars to be picked up by No. 44 from a bill box attached to the side of the freight depot near the office door, and leave waybills for cars to be set out.

Meanwhile, the head brakeman would have cut off behind the cars to be set out at Murfreesboro.  He would then signal his engineer to pull forward until the rear of the cut was north of the north switch to the short northbound siding.  The movement would then shove toward the freight depot on that track – it becoming a lead at the crossover that ended the short northbound siding.

After leaving the freight depot area, leaving the cars for Murfreesboro and picking up outbound cars, No. 44’s engine would move back onto the main track, recouple to its train, and be ready to depart northwardly.  (Again, somewhere in these movements, No. 44’s engine would take water.  There were two stand pipes or water plugs for this purpose, one at each end of the platform at the passenger depot.)

No. 44 usually arrived at Murfreesboro about daylight or after-wards.  Therefore, the crews of No. 47 would be facing a long night, while the crews of No. 44 would have al-ready experienced a long night.

Local freights Nos. 20 and 21 would move any cars ready for movement at the time those trains were ready to go.  Also, shipments of perishables – products under refrigeration – and of livestock were sometimes moved by “fast” freight trains.

Although there are still several industries at Murfreesboro that supply carload traffic to what is now CSX, the Carnation Milk plant has been dormant for quite a few years.  The methods of handling rail traffic have vastly changed with the flow of technology.  For one thing, there are no longer any station agents or their staffs – such people having played such a crucial role in the ebb and flow of rail-road freight transportation.

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