There aren’t many freight cars big enough to make it to the Supreme Court – but the Southern’s innovative Big John did. And it paved the way for a host of new freight car designs for multiple commodities, making the railroads competitive once again.
The Big John
Up until the 1960s, grain generally traveled by rail in 40 foot boxcars. Although they were harder to load and unload, the cars could be used throughout the year in general service when not needed for the grain rush. Faced with growing competition from trucks and barges on new Federally funded interstates and inland waterways, the railroads were loosing this business rapidly. Some railroads sought protection in rate regulation. The Southern would beat them with technology.
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