The Big White Rectangle

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Sat Sep 16 09:38:04 EDT 2006


At a Prototype Modelers clinic, Al Westerfield was giving a presentation on
USRA Single Sheathed boxcars and he had a photo of an N&W boxcar with the
white rectangle. Someone asked what it signified and Al said it was his
opinion it was used to designate cars that had been equipped with air
brakes. His reasoning was that there were many rail workers who could not
read; thus, instead of the railway having to rely on someone being able to
read stenciling that said "Air Brake Equipped" they put the white rectangle
on the car.

A couple of years ago, while working at the archives, I came across a
stenciling diagram of an early gondola with the white rectangle; the
notation was that it was to be applied on cars equipped with air brakes. I
made a copy of the diagram and gave it to Westerfield. As I recall, the
diagram also contained stenciling for "Air Brake Equipped" but I didn't keep
a copy of it for myself.

Al's suggestion that it was done for illiterate trainmen is plausible; of
course, it might have also been done to more easily classify cars with or
without air brakes. I don't know how cars with and without air brakes in
the same train were handled.

So, I think the diagram certainly suggests the cars with the white rectangle
had air brakes. The reasoning for this stenciling indication is still a bit
cloudy. Hopefully, the answer lies within the archives in the stenciling
revision books or other documentation.

Jim Brewer

----- Original Message -----
From: <nw-mailing-list at>
To: "'NW Mailing List'" <nw-mailing-list at>
Sent: Friday, September 15, 2006 9:28 PM
Subject: The Big White Rectangle

> For about the first 20 years of the last century (and a bit before that)

> N&W freight cars had a large white rectangle painted on them. The cars

> delivered in 1893 didn't have the rectangle but the steel frame HD hopper

> of 1896 did. The secondhand box cars N&W bought in 1895 may or may not

> have had it. The last car to have it was the prototype GS battleship gon

> built in September 1920, as the production GS gons did not have it.






> Why did N&W put that rectangle on every car it would fit on (box, stock,

> hopper, and gon, but not flats)?


> David Thompson


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