Vintage Photo: Valiants on a Train

New York Central photo

Wow, that’s a lot of 1960 Valiants all in one place! I count about 50 of ’em, but it gets a bit difficult at the far end of the train. And I don’t spot any wagons, which seems a little strange.

Oh, sure; as found, it was captioned The New York Central had several auto-carrier Flexi-Vans in the early 1960s. This is a publicity shot of carriers with new Chryslers on their way to New York City in 1960. At least they didn’t call them Plymouths, but could this actually be a rare uncensored glimpse of an early practice run for the Great San Francisco Valiant Swarm of 1961?

I didn’t know anything about Flexi-Vans. The concept seems to be mass-optimised carriers for hauling cargo intermodally (i.e., by rail and by road). I found an article by reputable trucking-and-transport expert Tom Berg, but I’m not quite sure it fits with this what we’re looking at. Anyhow, the carriers hauling these Valiants look as though designed in a markedly more reality-based manner than those Vert-a-Pac things they used to infect the land with Chevrolet Vegas.

This is one of those photos that makes me daydream about time-tripping with a well-disguised high-resolution digital camera; call me a philistine, but I’d love to see it in (real) colour. No such luck—and no such time machine—but Paul saw this post before it went live and found a couple of more photos on the site of one James Hurley, an apparent devotee of the Canada Southern railway:

These are brought to you in fabulous Post-Facto Selective Super ColouRamic (I just made that up), and that last carrier in the second image has ’60 Darts—one of them done up in what looks like taxicab livery.

Paul also found info about the Flexi-Van system on a British N-scale model railway site; I’ve concatenated it from a couple of pages and copyedited for clarity here:

As trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) service evolved in the late 50s, many railroads began trying to cut costs, opening the door to new ideas. Among these was the Flexi Van system, first tested by the New York Central in 1957. Designed to speed loading and unloading, the Flexi-Van design used a special turntable and a 36′ or 40′ trailer with a removable wheel assembly called a bogie. In operation, the trailer on its bogie was first aligned with the turntable and backed into place. The bogie was then unlocked and the trailer slid aboard the Flexi-Van car; the turntable allowed the trailer to be swung round onto the Flexi-Van car. Once in position, a pin locked the trailer to the turntable, which was turned to the loaded position using the on-board hydraulics.

The NYC introduced their Flexi-Van cars and trailers in 1958. These were low-profile skeleton cars, designed to meet clearance restriction on the NYC and carry two trailer units.

Early cars handled only 36-foot units, but as 40-foot was quickly becoming the standard length for highway trailers, the later Mark II models carried a 36- and a 40-foot unit; some Mark III and Mark IV cars built from 1961 to 1968 carried two 40-foot units.

Lighter and lower than standard TOFC cars, the unique Flexi-Van design proved well-suited for high-speed operation, and many cars were rebuilt so they could be moved in both freight and passenger service. The system eventually proved most popular for handling mail, including head end cars. These autocarriers were used to transport automobiles across the [New York Central] and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (more commonly, “Milwaukee Road”) railroads, as well as a number of others.

The rapid rise of containers; the acceptance of industry-wide methods for moving trailers on flat cars, and the unusual design of the Flexi-Van system ended Flexi-Van service by the early 1970s.

Well…now I know a little about Flexi-Vans!