Animal-feed trains

Ask Trains from the November 2016 issue
TRNAT1116_01
A Cargill unit feed train rolls through Shawnee, Kan., in June 2009. The train consists of covered bathtub gondolas pulled from coal service.
Zach Pumphery
Q While traveling near Atchison, Kan., I noticed a BNSF Railway train with covered bathtub coal gondolas. What were the covers for, and could they be removed should they be rotary dumped? – Lyle Sentel, Arthur, Ill.

A That was likely a unit train of Cargill Sweet Bran, a brand of cattle feed, and not coal at all. This is a product created from the corn wet-milling process conducted at plants within the Midwest. The commodity is moved in bulk between the mills and Cargill’s distribution centers in Dalhart and Bovina, Texas.

BNSF Railway, Canadian National, and Iowa Interstate operate the trains, which originate at various plants in Iowa.

The cars are aluminum Bethgon Coalporters, usually with a majority sporting Burlington Northern markings, reassigned from coal service. They are equipped with Shur-Lok brand roll tarps, similar to ones manufactured for use on grain-hauling semitruck trailers, to prevent the slurry-like product from being exposed to the elements and spoiling en route.

When the trains arrive at a Texas distribution center, they are unloaded with a rotary dumper on a loop track in a method similar to a coal train for consumption at area feedlots, and the empties return north. – Zach Pumphery, locomotive engineer
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