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Packing House Operations on Model Railroads

with an emphasis on the ATSF

May 5, 2003

Compiled by Steve Sandifer (webmaster) and Donald Lake (Corporate Plant Operations Manager, Darling International, and an O scale modeler, Omaha, NE)

The first use of a refrigerator car to handle beef was in 1873. The car was a Texas and Atlantic car taking meat from Denison, Texas, to New York. The refrigerator car meat business nearly died 100 years later.

The operation of a meat packing plant is a very involved and time sensitive matter. For a model railroad, a packer can keep a switch crew busy all day long. It is not a matter of the local dropping off a few stock cars and picking up a few reefers. This is an attempt to understand how a meat packer would have operated in the age of stock cars and ice reefers.

Since I am modeling the ATSF in Kansas in 1950-53, my primary focus is the meat packing industry at that time. In Emporia, Armour had a large packing plant in the middle of the Anderson Cattle Company stockyards. Unfortunately I have learned that Armour did not open their Emporia plant until 1963, but I will backdate it as only modelers can.

Most packers (the larger ones ie. Swift, Armour, etc.) had multiple facilities, meat preparation and cold storage around the country, east coast and west coast. Meat from Swift in Marshalltown would go to Swift in Chicago or New York or wherever Swift had a distribution facility. Here it might be further processed, beef quarters cut down to pieces of meat, or it was distributed to local meat markets and butchers, etc. Remember, this was the day before convenience frozen foods and local butchers were still in control of meat distribution.

Most of the stock arriving in Emporia went to Anderson Cattle Company or Peak & Hatcher sales barns that were adjacent to Armour. Armour stock came through these companies as well as their own chutes. Since supply and processing often did not match, stock would be fed at the adjacent yards until needed. Grain, hay, and other maintenance supplies were necessary at these yards.

Pages to follow include:


Cars needed

Model Operations


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