Photo courtesy of Jonathan C. Fischer
The 651 E is a unique maintenance of the way car that
I photographed at Birchwood approximately 30 years ago today. This was another
picture taken when I ventured into the wilds of Alaska on my first real trip
out of the city.
The ARR has only recently joined the AAR. Prior to joining
the AAR the ARR listed the AAR mechanical designation in the lower right hand
corner of their freight cars. The Official Railway Equipment Guide (I've been
using the October 1974 edition for consistencies sake) generally lists freight
cars that are in interchange service. It does not list cabooses or maintenance
of way equipment. A relevant exception is that the Guide does include the ARR
power cars on it's roster, even though I sort of doubt those cars were ever
in interchange service. The Guide does provide definitions of the various AAR
mechanical designations that apply to maintenance of the way equipment.
In this case ARR 651 has been listed by the ARR as having
an AAR mechanical designation of MWF. A MWF is used for transporting rails,
ties, or ballast and for storage of wrecking trucks, or gathering scraps along
the right of way. These cars are at times equipped with low sides, about 10
to 12 inches high.
I'm glad I took the pictures at Birchwood that I did.
Of course, I wish I had taken more as there was a plethora of railroad equipment
flotsam that would continually accumulate at Birchwood. Birchwood was often
the last stop before oblivion, and that was probably the case with the 651 as
I never saw this car again.
It's such a "cute" car. What did it do? I’ve
speculated that it was used to transport herbicides, but I have no factual information
to back up that thought. It reinforces the notion that there is a prototype
somewhere for every model. It also provides an alternative definition to the
acronym TOFC (tank on flat car). The 651 has a light weight of 36800, and from
the general look of the car, it looks to be less than 40' in length. In 40 years
of photography I don’t recall seeing a similar car.
There seem to be many websites that are satisfied with
sensational super saturated scenery shots with trains in them. I like those
pictures as much as anyone else. However, I appreciate a website that can take
a moment to recognize the contribution of a small bedraggled flat car on its
way to extinction. The gritty essence of railroading is more aptly reflected
in these humble pieces of work equipment than the aforementioned ethereal photographs.