Moving cars …(without a locomotive) — Part II

In this post, we will look at a few businesses in West Texas on the Texas Pacifico Railroad that need to move cars without the help of a locomotive.  (The October edition of Trains Magazine has a nice article on the Texas Pacifico by Fred W, Frailey.)

Miles, Texas


Small cable system at Miles, Texas about 2009.

The first is a small cable moving system at Miles, TX.  During wheat season these tracks would be full of covered hoppers for loading and a track mobile is used to shuffle them around.  During non-wheat season, an occasional car of corn is unloaded here, which is probably why this one car is spotted here, although it is under the loading chute and not over the unloading trough.  The blurred objects in the photo above are birds flying off.  See cable attached to car.  The cable was used to position each bay over the unloading gate.  (It could be used to position under chute as well.)
Reverse angle.  Note cable.

Reverse angle. Note cable.

Rankin, Texas

Now we will visit an industry that had a much larger version of similar technology in Rankin, Texas also on the Texas Pacifico Railroad.

Badger Mining in Rankin, Texas about 2007.

Badger Mining in Rankin, Texas, 2008.

Badger Mining in Rankin, Texas received covered hoppers of frac sand for many years.  It used a cable system to aid in the unloading of the cars.  (Badger Mining relocated to San Angelo a few years ago.  This facility is now operated by Halliburton.)


The rope is used to pull the steel cable back here so the steel cable can be hooked to loaded cars.


Empty cars after being pulled down for unloading.  The cars were not uncoupled but moved together.  Nine or ten cars could be moved, this was all the siding could fit.


Power unit is shown under shelter.


The roller lifted the steel cable over the unloading trough cover.


Two pulleys were required, one by the cable reel and this one.


The electric winch and rope on the right were used to pull the steel cable back down to the left.  You can see the first pulley here just above the steel cable reel.


The motor on the left, the transmission to the cable reel, and the fuel tank.

When Haliburton took over the operation, things changed.  The cable system was abandoned.


Cable system deactivated. Note loading grates underneath and to the left of the Union Pacific hopper.

Note cable system is now deactivated.


This is how the cars are now moved at the Rankin plant.

Fort Stockton, Texas

The last company we will visit in this post is Texsand in Fort Stockton. Texsand also receives frac sand.

Like many frac sand dealers who have had to rush to meet demand, Texsand is challenged in having to transfer a great deal of sand from train to truck with minimum supporting infrastructure.  Initially, Texsand used a front-end loader to move cars.  That proved problematic fairly quickly.


Damage from using front end loader.

After this, they acquired a track mobile.

Trackmobile at Texsand in Fort Stockton. Texas about 2010.

Trackmobile at Texsand in Fort Stockton. Texas about 2010.

The track mobile was a good solution until the volume exceeded what it could handle.  At that point, the railroad began to switch the operation.  Fortunately, they use mobile conveyors to transfer the sand, so locomotives are only required to move large cuts of cars.


Conveyor at Big Lake, TX.

Conveyors are common place in the sand business in West Texas.  Today, at Ft Stockton, McCamey, Big Lake (above), Barnhart, and San Angelo, rather than move the cars to a unloading spot over a hole, mobile conveyors move from car to car and transfer the car contents to trucks.  Since there are different grades of sand, cars are not always unloaded in order, and the railroad has to switch out the empties from the loads.

In the next post, we will visit how shippers along B. Smith’s LCN RR, tackle these challenges.


Until then, I will leave you with a couple of goodies (little modelling opportunities) I caught in Rankin near Badger Mining July of 2008…

Derail at Badger Mining.

An open derail at Badger Mining, 2008.  Note orange paint to denote derail.

I did a three part series on derails earlier this year.

Simple, almost appealing graffiti.

Simple, almost appealing graffiti.

This was on the side of an ATSF hopper in Rankin.  Pretty easy to replicate.


Moving cars …(without a locomotive)


Using the old John Deere to position a BNSF box car at a rice mill in Beaumont, Texas 2007. photo by C. Hunt

It is fascinating all the different ways that have evolved to move or unload freight cars without locomotives, many of which weigh well over 100 tons.

Track Mobile in Winona MN.

Track Mobile in Winona MN.

The need arises in industries that need to shuttle cars for various purposes but the volume is low enough that the industry cannot justify having a locomotive on hand.  An example is an industry that unloads covered hoppers over one or a few unloading features such as a grate. 


Using a cable system to move sand cars in West Texas. Photo by B. Smith

Sometimes the unloading device can move so the cars don’t have to move.


Auger connected to tractor. Fosston, Minnesota 2010. Photo courtesy –


This auger was positioned to unload the below string of cars in Odessa, Texas June 21, 2008. Photo by C. Hunt

Cars awaiting unloading.

Sand cars awaiting unloading.

Lastly, one of my favorites…


The manual rail mover. Photo courtesy –

This devise is good for moving one car short distances at about five feet a minute.

This is the first installment of a three part series on this topic.  This post was a quick overview.  The second will focus on a couple of industries in greater detail.  The last will show how this aspect of railroading has been modelled on B. Smith’s LCN Railroad layout.

Note: The image of a tractor pulling a covered hopper is courtesy, Photo © –E. Clark

Revisiting one of my favorite spurs in Texas



View of spur from road looking west.

Along the Union Pacific in San Marcos, Texas, there’s an interesting short spur.  The spur was busy June 16, 2014 .  Two cars filled with what appears to be oats were spotted.  I discussed this same spur during the series on derails March 29, 2014.


CNW 490119 spotted in San Marcos, TX on June 16, 2014

The unloading operation is simple and great for a model railroad–lots of operations, little space required.  All you need is an auger.


There are no kits of an unloader of this nature.  It is a nice scratch-building opportunity.  Here is a post of one modeller’s efforts.


The oats unload into this bin.


Bin into which the oats are unloaded.

Then brought up the auger and put into a truck.


CGEX 1781 spotted at San Marcos, Texas, June 16, 2014

This time, there was a second car waiting to be unloaded.  It had an aging, but attractive Cargill logo.


The derail I discussed March 29 is still on the job!


Here is an aerial of the spur.


Aerial of spur

Here is a close-up.  Truck to which the oats are unloaded can be seen in this photo.


Note truck with red cab standing by to receive unloaded oats.

Short spurs like this can add a lot of operational interest to layouts.