American Car & Foundry Company


by Edward S. Kaminski

Full Reviews of this book:

Review from Railway Age, May, 1999, p. 76

"Students of railroad history, particularly those interested in freight cars, will want to purchase American Car & Foundry Company, 1899-1999, a new 376-page book by noted rail photographer Edward S. Kaminski. Packed with 1,263 railcar photos (260 in color) and descriptions, this painstakingly compiled work traces the long, distinguished history of the company now known as ACF Industries. The author has worked for ACF since 1991 in sales and marketing, and thus has a unique vantage point and perspective, which clearly shows in this book's attention to detail. Chapter by chapter, covering all types of railcars, freight and passenger, Kaminski weaves a fascinating tale of U.S. railcar development as practiced by one of the industry's premier builders. The vast majority of photos have never been published, as Kaminski was given access to ACF's vast archives. The book is a fitting tribute to ACF as the company marks its centennial."

Review from Trains, November, 1999

"After a century of building railroad cars, American Car & Foundry (or ACF Industries, as it's now known) deserved a book-length corporate history. So thought Ed Kaminski, a district sales manager for ACF who also was inspired by the wealth of historical material still in the company's possession. The result is this impressive volume, which covers ACF history from corporate and product-development perspectives while emphasizing the firm's great variety and extent of car production.

"Following an introduction by Richard H. Henderson [sic--correct name is Hendrickson--publisher] which provides an overview of the carbuilding industry, Kaminski profiles the 13 companies that formed ACF, the various products ACF has made over the years (from railcars of all descriptions to yachts, army tanks, buses, and mixing bowls), and the plants at which the work was done. Significant corporate developments are also included.

"The bulk of this work is comprised of chapters on ACF's railcars products: tank cars; boxcars, refrigerator cars, and stock cars; flat cars; open-top hoppers and gondolas; covered hoppers (a category ACF revolutionized with its Center Flow design); passenger cars; and miscellaneous car types. These chapters lead off with descriptions of ACF's activities in the respective areas, but are comprised mainly of builder's photographs (black-and-white and color, more than 1200 in all) of the cars themselves. Selected car drawings, specifications, and an index round out the book.

"As the most substantial work ever produced on the nation's oldest surviving carbuilder, this centennial history is an invaluable resource."

-- Robert S. McGonigal

Review from Railroad Model Craftsman, December, 1999, p. 25

"This landmark book uses more than 1,200 photographs, with 260 in color, as the primary means of telling the story of the American Car and Foundry Company. Most of the photos are ACF builder's photographs. The focus of the book is on the many and varied car types produced by ACF during its long history as a car builder. The photos also provide an excellent guide to the history and evolution of railroad freight and passenger car design from the late nineteenth century to the present. Chapters two through eight cover specific car types built by ACF with the photos chronologically arranged in each of these chapters. The photo captions briefly describe each car including the built date, lot number and number of cars built. Color photos are included for many of the cars built since 1960.

"The remarkable story of how this book came to be is told in the author's preface and in the epilogue by Ed Hawkins. As an ACF employee, the author was able to obtain historical material from many ACF plants and present and former ACF employees. Generous cooperation with rail historians by ACF also played an important role in making the book possible. The introduction by Richard Hendrickson places the book in historical context and points out that many areas for further historical investigation are suggested by the material presented.

"ACF was formed in 1899 as a merger of thirteen railroad car building companies. Five additional companies were acquired after 1899. The first chapter presents a brief history of ACF and includes photos of ACF facilities over the years as well as photos of rail cars built by predecessor companies. Separate sections discuss individual facilities and ACF businesses. There are also photos of products other than railroad cars including military vehicles and trucks.

"Chapter Two, the longest chapter in the book, describes ACF's long history as one of the major builders of railroad tank cars. This chapter is an illustrated history of tank car design and construction during the 100 year period covered by the book. It could easily stand on its own as a history of railroad tank cars. The tremendous variety of tank car types is well illustrated by more than 400 photos. The photos show the many and varied paint schemes which have been applied to leased and privately owned tank cars since the turn of the century. There are also photos of tank car appliances, construction photos taken in ACF plans and diagrams which illustrate some aspects of tank car design and construction. A complete 1968 tank car specification is given in Appendix I.

"Box, refrigeration and stock cars are covered in Chapter Three. The photos illustrate the significant changes in house car design and construction which have taken place during this century. The standardization of boxcar designs during the 1930 to 1950 period, and the variety of design which was built in the 1960s and 1970s are both apparent. Comparable numbers of box and refrigerator cars are shown through the 1920s. Boxcars predominate in the more recent coverage which ends shortly before ACF's 1982 exit from the boxcar business.

"Chapters Four and Five cover, respectively, flat cars and hoppers and gondolas. Chapters Four include representative photos of general service and special purpose designs, ACF's Vert-A-Pak automobile loading system, and recent cars for trailer and container loading including the first double stack cars jointly designed by ACF and the Southern Pacific. The early gondola cars in Chapter Five are mostly composite wood and steel designs with a transition to all steel cars during the 1920's. With a few exceptions, the hopper cars are of all steel construction. As with previous chapters, the photos illustrate the evolution of gondola and hopper car design.

"The evolution of covered hoppers leading to the ACF Center Flow covered hopper car design is featured in Chapter Six. This chapter begins with an eight page description of the history of this unique design. Then ACF covered hoppers which predate the Center Flow design are shown, starting with a one of a kind car built in 1911, followed by typical designs from the late 1930's until 1960. This chapter concludes with extensive photographic coverage of the wide variety of Center Flow cars, starting with the first cylindrical designs and continuing with cars since 1961. It is interesting to note that many of these Center Flow cars have been built in the Huntington, West Virginia plant where some of the buildings date to before the turn of the century.

"Both heavyweight and streamlined passenger cars are featured in Chapter Seven along with the streamlined Motorailer design of the 1930's and the Talgo train of the 1950's. Many of the streamlined car are shown in color befitting the colorful paint schemes of this era.

"The eighth and final chapter is devoted to various types of railroad cars and other equipment which are not covered in the earlier chapters. Car types include cabooses, snowplows, container cars, mine cars, and a variety of other car types. Several cars used for testing and two traveling instrument cars are also shown. Two pages of color photos show contemporary plant switchers at a number of ACF plants.

"This is a remarkable book which is sure to be of interest to both modelers and railfans. It could be described as a "super" Car Builders Cyclopedia, devoted to the work of one car builder. Unlike Cyclopedias, it provides a photographic history of freight cars for the entire twentieth century in a single volume."

-- Larry Kline

Review from Model Railroad News, October, 1999, p. 27

"The year 1999 marks the 100th anniversary of the American Car & Foundry Company, a railcar builder with roots going back to the 1860s. When the thirteen predecessor companies were folded into ACF in 1899, no one could have envisioned it would still be going strong 100 years later. Still a sizable market force, ACF has long been an innovator and industry leader, giving freight cars both a new look, and a new design as the times have dictated.

"Signature Press' new book on ACF is a weighty tome, filled with photos and data. Author Edward Kaminski covers a lot of ground; there are many cars and car styles in 100 years of corporate history. Thankfully, there is precious little corporate history; no in-and-outs of the boardroom or the company minute books--just railroad cars and their development and manufacture.

"The first chapter deals with the firm in general, its founding, the component plants that made up ACF, and their standing through the years. From here we go into chapters covering tank cars (which were actually first manufactured by an ACF predecessor), then house cars (box, reefer, stock), flat cars, hoppers and gondolas, covered hoppers, passenger cars, and miscellaneous other types. There is a final epilogue, then short sections on tank car data and drawings.

"The book is well made and bound, and page layout is good. Most pages have three to four photos each, and these photos are arranged chronologically as designs progressed. Cars in each classification are shown in myriad variations--from the first crude wooden cars, up to today's modern behemoths.

"The most interesting part for me is the great variety of road and shipper's names shown in the photos. Most have a small thumbnail text caption to give more data, and modelers with a penchant for odd roadnames will find many to choose from. This is where the book really shines; ACF built one or one hundred cars, it didn't matter to them, and the great and not-so-great are all pictured. From a 500-car lot of tank cars built for Sinclair in 1918, right down to two tank cars built for the Beaver Dam Railroad, ACF did them all (and still does) with attention to detail and craftsmanship. Nearly 40% of the book covers tank cars. This is only logical, since ACF has always been the major builder of tank cars up through recent times.

"The highlight, as mentioned, is the many finely reproduced builders photos of the cars ACF has built. The photo quality is usually very good to excellent, as these were all professionally shot scenes. Most of the dimensional data is readable, and railfans who are in any way interested in freight cars and their history will find this book indispensable in their modeling or research. I defy anyone not to find a car lettered for a shipper who may have once operated near their present location. Shippers like the Southern Acid and Sulphur Co., Polar Wave Ice and Fuel Co., or the Tennessee Copper Co., are all neatly shown, as well as all the major railroads we all recognize.

"Most of the cars illustrated date from the golden age of railroading--that is, from the late teens to the mid 1950s. That's not to say older or newer cars are slighted, just that the majority of them will be from that era. Steel or composite construction cars are also more prevalent, but occasionally you will find a few oddities like narrow gauge boxcars, or bobber cabooses. Other miscellaneous lots include underground mine cars, scale test cars, early L.C.L. containers, and some ACF-bodied rail motor cars. I found myself absorbed in merely paging through at various times, reading the captions, and thinking to myself, 'That car would make a neat model... '

"ACF's innovations in freight car design are also highlighted. These include: tankcars, closed Center Flow and Pressureaide hoppers, a number of intermodal cars, the Railbox series (ACF built the prototype, and more than 5,400 of the production run), and the lowly trailer hitches applied to thousands of intermodal flats. A quick reading, or a detailed study, will certainly net you something of interest in your time spent with this book.

"Having done some work for ACF in the past, I know them as a leader and innovator. This new book now opens up a view into the company's history as well, a history that has been long neglected. I thank Edward Kaminski and his publisher for this new book, and think that if the research material is there, a second volume covering the predecessor companies would be well worth it.

"If you should purchase this book, be advised it will grow on you. You may spend more time reading it than you spend modeling--but then that is what books are for, after all. I enjoyed this book, and think anyone with an interest in freight cars would do well to obtain a copy."

-- Jeff Saxton

Review from The Lexington Quarterly, March, 2000, p. 5

"In this centennial year of the establishment of the American Car & Foundry Company (ACF), employee and enthusiast Edward Kaminski has crafted a brief historical overview of this durable rail car manufacturer and has gathered a rich collection of illustrations, including more than a thousand photographs. As with most American corporations, American Car & Foundry grew out of the fusion of several smaller firms. Such railroad freight and passenger car builders as the Ensign Manufacturing Company, Missouri Car and Foundry Company, the Jackson & Sharp Company, and Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company emerged as components of ACF. The company prospered, becoming a dominant player in freight-car manufacturing. In recent years ACF's core business has focused on building and leasing covered hopper and tank cars.

"The strength of this book is pictorial. Kaminski has gathered a superb array of images of ACF-built rolling stock, especially for the recent years. Although most are builder's photographs, they still offer much. Those in color generally are even better. And these illustrations are logically arranged as: tank cars; box cars, refrigerator cars and stock cars; flat cars; open-top hoppers and gondolas; covered hoppers, passenger cars and miscellaneous equipment. These illustrations offer a feast for fans of "fallen flags," whether the Chicago Great Western, Cotton Belt or Erie Lackawanna.

"Where the work is less satisfactory is the failure of both Kaminski and Richard H. Hendrickson, who penned the short introduction, to thoroughly explain the firm's past. At best, they provide only superficial coverage. Much remains to be written. For example, what were the strategies of Carl Icahn, who in the mid-1980s gained control of ACF? What were the over-all objectives and effects of the major divestitures during the early Icahn era? What corporate thinking led to the company exiting box car manufacturing in 1981?

"Still, there are other positive features of this ACF study. Unquestionably, this is a handsome publication. Kaminski, moreover, provides a useable index, vital for a work that is primarily a visual reference volume. Indeed, anyone interested in American railroad car builders will want to acquire this centennial study."

-- H. Roger Grant

Review from Railroad History, No. 182, Spring, 2000, p. 117

"In recognition of American Car & Foundry's centenary, an employee, Edward S. Kaminski, has compiled this heavily illustrated album of photographs. Taken largely from the firm's files of builder 's photos, there are also a few illustrations of cars in service on the lines of various carriers, as well as some advertising photos showing projected customer applications of cars, and cars in exhibitions. The book is divided into lengthy chapters recapitulating production by car type, each covering the 100 years of production or that portion of the century applicable to the type. Passenger car production stopped before reaching the anniversary, while covered hoppers came along some years after the company's founding.

"Each chapter is introduced by a brief essay, but the bulk of the book text is provided by photo captions providing car sizes, owners, and lessees (wellsorted in the index) as well as truck weights, car number series, order numbers, and sizes of orders-in addition to information on special features and innovations when appropriate. Since well over 1,000 cars are depicted, a vast amount of information is thus made available through both the captions and the images themselves. The lengthy chapter on tank cars, long a staple of ACF production for both common carriers and private car lines, shows images of 425 cars spanning the century of production.

"From each of these comprehensive, if not complete, sets of pictures, the evolution of car-building technology can be followed as the vehicles grew larger; trucks were modernized from built-up to cast construction; rivets were replaced by welds; center sills were replaced by "stub" sills or side sills; as wood was supplanted by steel and then steel was replaced (to an extent) by aluminum and even by polymers and composite materials. For the fan, nothing in this book can equal simply seeing the heralds and emblems of the old roads and private lines and the scores of lessees on these pictures of old cars. The bold imagery shown here is as appealing and every bit as sophisticated as anything done by today's computer-aided graphic artists.

"Of particular interest are several reproductions of ACF advertising from various periods in the firm's history; those which promoted products that were unsuccessful are among the more intriguing. Postwar attempts to lure passengers with diesel railcars and mid-sixties efforts to ship produce in refrigerated covered hoppers did not work, but such efforts at innovation illustrate a corporate effort to create new markets. Such an attempt that did succeed was that resulting in the Center Flow hopper.

"While one appendix offers a useful chart of tank car types and specifications and another offers a collection of drawings of several car types, the book provides no comprehensive tabulation of the total car production of ACF. That omission is compensated for by profuse illustrations, but annual production figures by order lot would have been instructive. Nor is the work a particularly good source for technical data other than what can be taken from photos. For more technical depth, works like Eric Neubauer's A History of the ACF Center Flow (1987) are still required reading.

"Apart from such caveats, however, American Car & Foundry Company, 1899-1999 is a splendid overview of the product history of a large U.S. car builder and a welcome addition to the growing body of material on the American railroad freight car."

-- Neill Herring, Jesup, Georgia

Review from Bulletin, National Railway Historical Society, October, 1999

"In 1899,13 railroad carbuilding firms merged to form the American Car & Foundry Company (ACF). Some of these builders were small, but others were more substantial and they included such well-known vintage names as the Ohio Falls Car Company of Jeffersonville, Ind., Ensign Car Works of Huntington, W. Va, and Michigan Peninsular Company at Detroit, Mich. This action saved some concerns that were destined to oblivion and made all of them part of a stronger competitive force. Through expansion and acquisition, ACF grew and prospered in the 20th Century. (One of its acquisitions was the famous Jackson & Sharp Company at Wllmington, Del.) Many of its plants were innovators of the progressive system," which was a kind of slower-paced assembly line than that practiced by Henry Ford's regime. ACF celebrates its centennial this year.

"By 1920, the company owned and operated 16 plants in nine states, basically in the northeast quadrant of the U.S. Some facilities had similar production lines, while others specialized in products such as wheels. Because of its huge capacity, railcar orders could be routed to one plant or another that had production capacity available, thus saving the customer perhaps months by having important profit-making cars built and placed in service. The economic depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash decimated ACF's smaller competitors and by the 1930s there were only a few relatively large carbuilders (and railroads which built some of their own equipment) at work. Due to the shortage of steel during World War II, ACF wound up building hundreds of composite freight cars in order to keep America's freight rolling during those emergency years. The company also built ordnance and armored vehicles during World War II and the Korean conflict. One of the largest and most well known ACF plants, at Berwick, Pa, produced railcars until 1962. Today the company builds covered hoppers and tank cars at its Huntington, W. Va, Paragould, Miss. and Milton, Pa plants. Even though there is no manufacturing there, the facility at St. Charles, Mo. remains ACF's corporate and engineering headquarters.

"Members, other fans and modelers will find this book a pleasure to read and peruse. The written corporate history is brief but adequate. Most of the text deals with specific car types with hundreds, maybe close to a thousand, captioned black-and-white and color photos. Quite a few of these deal with tank cars from the turn of the century to what we see trackside today, including the modern OMYA cars for limestone slurry and the standard black ACFX and SHPX marks leased to many shippers. Of the hundreds of covered hoppers we see examples from the old Lehigh & New England cement cars, to the brand-new (1998) BNSF 409000-series covered hoppers seen rolling everywhere. Also in more modern cars we see examples of the ill-fated Vert-A-Pak auto carriers and the more successful TOFC and double-stack container cars. Almost every railfan can relate to the products of this famous and historic firm.

"Here are some classic examples of ACF's previous work shown in the book: Pennsy's Imperial series sleepers in 1948, hundreds of IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) cars for New York City's subway system, Otto Kuhler's Rebel for the Gulf, Mobile and Northern, streamlined passenger cars for the KCS Southern Belle, the 500 "State of Maine" red, white & blue boxes built for the Bangor and Aroostook, Motor-railers for the Illinois Central, the New York, Susquehanna & Western and the Missouri Pacific. Those deviates among us will also like the color photo of an ACF-Brill intercity bus lettered for Burlington Trailways. Author Kaminski should be commended for his efforts in preserving the photos and history of this special company that was and is so important to railroading. I enjoyed it thoroughly!"

-- Bulletin, National Railway Historical Society, October, 1999.