Saturday, January 28, 2023

Follow the Money – The War Production Board Mailing List


You have surely heard the old saying that if you want to know what’s going on, follow the money.  This find is a result of that.  Not in the dollars and cents aspect, but from the arcane bureaucracy that came from government regulation of the economy during the WWII emergency.  Capitalism and centrally controlled economies are more than a tad incompatible, but total mobilization to win WWII tipped the scale toward the latter.  The agency responsible for deciding who got what resources and what they got made into was the War Production Board.  To do this, they had to keep track of what industry was doing, so they collected data, reams and reams of it.  But before the internet, the favored means of communication was the US Mail.  Industry had to provide periodic reports that told the WPB how many widgets they made that period, what resources they consumed, etc.  But to make sense of all that, it had to be provided in a standardized format so the WPB clerks could aggregate the info from A.A.A. Mfg. Co., through Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corp. to J.A. Zurn Mfg. Co. 


Why did I mention AAA and JA Zurn with the likes of Ford and GM?  Because the WPB needed info from every plant using controlled materials and they are the first

and last entries

 in the Mailing List for Form WPB-732, Plant Report of Operations.

This mailing list allowed the WPB clerks to send out the blank forms and allow us, 80 years hence, to see a large cross section of plants supporting the war effort.  It’s not complete, lacking direct reference to the Army and Army Air Force depots or Petroleum companies, but it does have 135 pages of manufacturers, and their plant mailing addresses.  The data on the pages is explained on the cover page:

OK, but what did these plants make?  For that, we need a not so super secret decoder ring, the Industry Classifications from the 1939 Census of Manufacturers.

So, for our first entry, AAA Mfg Co, their industry code is 1611, which is in the Electrical Equipment group, Group 16, specifically a manufacturer of wiring devices and supplies. 

They are in Waltham, MA, which falls in Region 1 for labor markets, with an area code of 017



And that is the Boston-Quincy area as shown on the following map from the back of the mailing list:


The Mailing List is available on Google Books at


while the Industry Classifications is available on Google Books


I hope that you find this WWII industry information helpful.


John Barry

Lovettsville, VA

28 January 2023

Sunday, January 22, 2023

House car distribution on the Santa Fe 1929-43

About ten years ago, I discovered a document at the California State Railroad Museum Library that was apparently a justification for an authority for expenditure to revitalize the railroad at the end of WWII.  Among the hundreds of pages related to weight of rail and traffic on certain segments, tonnage ratings for the various districts and a myriad of other info that supported the business plans, were a couple of tables showing the house car fleet.  These tables showed how many Santa Fe box, automobile and refrigerator cars where at home and off line each month from January 1929 to December 1943.  They also showed how many foreign cars of those types were present on Santa Fe rails over the same time period.  With those three numbers, we can calculate the total Santa Fe fleet on those dates, the number of cars of each type on Santa Fe rails, the percentage of the Santa Fe fleet at home and away, and the percentage of Santa Fe and Foreign cars on Santa Fe rails.  Gilbert and Nelson have described a theoretical distribution of free running freight cars where they postulate that the percentages of foreign road cars on a railroad are approximated by the relative totals of cars owned by the various railroads in the US car fleet.  The percentage of home road cars varied by year.  The data in this document show how that percentage varied through the Great Depression into the peak traffic years of WWII.  Due to the vastly different economic conditions, straight percentages won’t be accurate for what you would see in typical freight trains.  During the Depression, many freight cars were stored, traffic was way down, and lots of older cars were eventually scrapped or rebuilt and not available for use, but were in the home road totals until they were disposed of.  That said, there was an absolute higher percentage of home road cars in use on line during the Depression than during the traffic crunch of WWII.  

The Santa Fe Reefer fleet.

The Santa Fe Reefer fleet began 1929 with 18,177 cars, peaked in June 1931 with 18,798 before contracting to 14,080 cars in Jun 1937.  It ended 1943 with 14,687 cars.  In January 1929 4204 or 23% of the fleet was on foreign lines while 1471 foreign reefers were on the Santa Fe or about 10% of the reefers on home rails.  That percentage of foreign cars dropped to 4% in May and July of 1930.  The numbers of foreign reefers show annual spikes around November, but remain consistently low both in number and percentage on Santa Fe lines until the wartime traffic increase with a peak of 8898 cars or 48% of the reefers on line in July of 1943.   

Santa Fe retired many of its truss rod reefers in the mid 30’s resulting in a decline in numbers to around 14,000.  


The percentage of foreign reefers remained fairly consistent through 1936 , then began increasing as the economy recovered and wartime demand called for utilization of every available rail car.  These numbers comport with the long held image of nearly pure SFRD reefer blocks on the Santa Fe, at least in the Depression era.  SFRD business practice of providing its own reefers for loading whenever available contributed to the low percentage of foreign cars.  ICC car service orders changed the distribution during the war years.


The traffic increased with more foreign cars providing a greater share of the on-line cars.


The foreign portion seen on the Santa Fe during the depression averaged less than 10% of reefers on-line with slight seasonal bumps.  Starting in 1937, the percentages steadily increased with larger seasonal peaks.  

If you are a Depression Era Santa Fe modeler, you don’t need many foreign reefers.  And many of those should be meat reefers, of which the Santa Fe/SFRD had very few.  Not so if you model the WWII era.  In addition to the commercial meat reefer fleet, you will need a fair number of competitor’s reefers such as PFE, FGEX, ART and others.  

I’ll address the box and auto cars in future posts.

John Barry,

Lovettsville, VA