Swift Refrigerator Line 25048
This mechanical refrigerator car represents one of the final and most important stages in the evolution of the refrigerated boxcar. In 1878, Gustavus Swift, founder of the Chicago meatpacking company called Swift & Company, commissioned the designing of a new kind of freight car to carry butchered meat. The boxcar used large blocks of ice which, when deposited through roof hatches, would chill meat products on the floor below. While these were unpopular with railroads, who had invested significantly in stock cars to transport live animals, the “reefer” quickly caught on nationwide. By the 1920s, the Swift Refrigerator Line had over 7,000 reefer cars on rails across North America. In the 1930s, SRL was purchased by General American Transportation Co. who continued the “Swift’s Premium” Brand.
The URHS’s Swift reefer was built in 1954 in an order of about 50 cars. These cars differed from their predecessors because they were chilled by a diesel generator-driven refrigeration system, eliminating the process of loading cars with blocks of ice before every run. Inside, the car is intact as-built. The floor is covered by raised panels, which could be lifted to clean out condensation and droppings from the transported meat. The car also has wooden bars running the length of the ceiling which were used to hang dressed meats and carcasses. To keep the cold in, the reefer closes with ten-foot wide “plug door” which locks into place with a complicated system of rollers, hinges, and latches. It is not easy to open and close, but nonetheless, URHS volunteers currently use this car as a workshop for tools and storage. The car will soon be restored to its original appearance: metallic silver with the large red “Swift’s Premium” logo next to the door.