Eggs by Rail

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By Thornton Waite


Perhaps one of the more unusual and unexpected rail shipments was that of eggs, probably the most fragile agricultural product shipped by rail. The railroads were once used to ship carloads of eggs all over the country for many years, packaged in egg crates and shipped in boxcars. The shipment of eggs by rail ended shortly after the end of WW II due to the damage claims the railroads incurred.[1] They were then shipped by trucks which ran over the improved highways. It is probably safe to say the railroads did not work very hard for this business due to the high damage claims. There is not much literature on these shipments, but what can be found typically discusses the high losses and how to load and ship the cases of eggs.

Egg Shipments

Contrary to the packaging we see in the supermarket today, eggs were shipped in special wood crates with spacers and straw filler to absorb the jerking motions of the trains. These boxes came in many configurations as creative inventors tried to come up with a fail-safe means of handling the fragile shipments in the refrigerator cars.

The eggs were sometimes shipped long distances, even between the West Coast and East Coast. In 1917 Southern Pacific shipped $2 million worth of turkeys, chickens and eggs from the East Coast. As a result of this large inbound traffic, SP promoted the development of a local poultry and egg industry,[2] apparently with some success. In March 1920 Southern Pacific ran the Golden Egg Limited, a solid trainload of eggs from California for New York, showing how rapidly the markets could change. A solid trainload of 14 cars of eggs departed California on March 2, followed by another 20 car train the following week. The refrigerator cars went as a manifest fast freight to Ogden. The second train, which departed San Francisco, had over one million eggs. Most of the eggs came from Petaluma, with the balance from the bay district.[3] In the spring of 1927 the first of five carloads of eggs was loaded at Fresno, the first shipment of this kind from the San Joaquin Valley. Gharry E. Davis, manager of the Fresno Poultrymen’s Cooperative Association, was leading this effort.

Other markets also changed dramatically. Prior to WW I Utah had to ship in eggs and poultry to meet local demand. The Utah Poultry Producers Cooperative was formed in 1923, and by 1930 it was shipping $10 million of eggs and poultry out of the state. The $10 million in egg exports represented over one billion eggs, and it they were placed end to end, would have made an unbroken chain around the world. This would have filled 2500 freight cars.

Eggs from Utah reached New York City in 8-9 days, and if they were shipped via Railway Express Agency, they could be received within 3-4 days, which helped the Utah industry grow. In the first six months of 1930 three million dollars of eggs were shipped from Utah to New York City, in addition to broiler chickens to buyers in the east, mid-west, and Pacific coasts. Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys were another important commodity shipped by Union Pacific out of Utah.[4] In addition to investment by the poultry producers, there were egg grading plants and warehouses worth $500,000 in Payson, Morgan, Riverton, Richfield, Manti, Provo, American Fork, Draper, Salt Lake, Ogden, Brigham City, Tremonton and Logan in Utah alone.[5]

Railroads all over the country transported eggs on their trains. Some admittedly random figures show that the Caldwell, Idaho, farmers shipped out between 60 and 175 cars of eggs annually in the 1920s.[6] In 1926 the Central Railroad of New Jersey transported 159,508 cases of eggs, as well as 7,176 cars of produce and 3,988 cars of oysters.[7] The egg shipments were sometimes combined with the shipments of poultry products. In 1949 the Wabash Railroad reported it had transported 69,170 tons of poultry, eggs, butter, and cheese.[8]

In 1946 Northwestern Pacific was shipping out containers of live day-old chickens as well as millions of eggs. This poultry industry also helped the overall freight business since inbound shipments included chicken feed.[9] At the same time the New Haven Railroad was shipping out 1-2 headend cars filled with crates of hatching eggs from Massachusetts points to the Eastern Shore on the Delmarva Peninsular. The final leg of the shipments in Delaware was made in school buses.[10]

The narrow gauge Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad in Maine shipped eggs in the baggage compartment of its passenger trains, on an admittedly smaller scale than the larger railroads. There were times when the shipments were somewhat less formal. When one chicken farmer along the Camino, Placerville & Lake Tahoe Railway in California didn’t want to walk two miles with his eggs to Placerville, the train crew charged him one dozen eggs to carry him to Placerville. The transaction undoubtedly did not show up on the company’s ledger. Perhaps coincidentally, the caboose the farmer rode in was used by the train crew as a lunchroom during the layover in Placerville, so the eggs undoubtedly made a nice addition to the crews’ meal.[11]

The narrow gauge Lancaster, Oxford & Southern Railroad in Pennsylvania also regularly transported eggs. On Mondays and Wednesdays the railroad spotted a boxcar at Westbrook, to be picked up by the market train, after it had been loaded with eggs destined for Philadelphia.[12]

The railroad had to invest money to receive the eggs at their destination. New York Central built receiving facilities at St. John’s Park in New York City, and it was the railroad‘s principal receiving point for diary products, including eggs and dressed poultry.[13] The Erie Railroad had a Perishable Freight Terminal, which included facilities to handle and store eggs and dressed poultry.[14]

Promotion And Education

Since eggs are fragile, it was to be expected that some of them would be damaged during shipment, a constant source of contention between the shippers and railroads. Prior to WW I the United States Department of Agriculture routed a modified refrigerator car, MDTX 30911, through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas to demonstrate methods of minimizing the waste of eggs. At this time these corn states provided most of the eggs consumed in the East.

A report issued by the department gives a good idea of the egg shipments by rail at this time. Some of the waste was due to breakage in transit, but other causes were spoilage and deterioration due to poor handling. At one collection point twenty major shippers reported that the loss of eggs rose to 8.33% in November, with a mean loss of 4.36% for 32,720 dozen eggs, or over 1000 cases. Some was due to the farmer holding the eggs for up to four weeks at the farm before delivering them. Hot weather also resulted in spoiled eggs. The eggs cost about 60 cents a dozen, and were transported up to 2000 miles to the major cities on the East Coast. The farmer (or his wife) took the eggs to the local storekeeper, who transferred them to the local egg collector and shipper.[15]

To combat this spoilage the USDA had a “Poultry and Egg Demonstration Car” start a tour starting in May 1914 and working north from central Texas. It had previously run 7000 miles in the previous two egg-laying seasons. The demonstration run was done with full cooperation of the railroads.[16] The demonstrations included stereopticon and other illustrated lectures made by two men.[17]

Prior to the arrival of the demonstration car letters were sent to all of the commission men and local merchants dealing with eggs, inviting them to visit the car when it arrived and see some practical demonstrations. The local station agent also notified his egg shippers of the car’s arrival, and placards were put up in the post offices and other village locations. The schools notified the parents through the children, and the newspapers were given information so they could report of its arrival and how it could help the farmers.[18]

Based on a photograph, car MDTX 30911 was used for this purpose. The demonstration car had a chilling and packing room with an ice bunker holding 3 tons of ice since chilled eggs were an essential part of the loss prevention. Temperatures below 68 degrees F were needed to prevent spoilage.[19] The car also had two egg-handling rooms. It helped assure the eggs were not damaged before they were shipped. A gasoline engine ran the fans and provided electric lighting.

One section of the car had a small demonstration packing room. Part of the studies indicated that improved shipping cases were required, proper packing used, and the lids nailed on properly. The methods of bracing the egg cases and even the thickness of the wood was important. Cement coated nails were preferable to smooth nails, at least six nails were recommended to prevent undue straining, and the nails had to be driven in straight. It was especially important that the corners be square and tight so that the box did not lose its rigidity and break the eggs. [20]

The egg shippers were encouraged to bring in eggs to be candled and the local merchants made it a special day in order to bring in farmers from a radius of 15-30 miles. The farmers and their wives also saw candling demonstrations, which would improve their income when the eggs were sold. Photographs were also used along with the demonstration to show how to improve the quality of the eggs.[21] Another detail that would improve the quality of the eggs was to remove the roosters, so that the eggs would not be fertile. The success of this suggestion was demonstrated when about one million roosters were culled from Missouri farms in one week.

A study of egg breakage had recently been performed, and the results discussed at the meetings. The study had found 24 eggs out of every 30 dozen eggs that arrived at the market were either cracked, dented, leaky, or mashed. This was based on the examination of 6000 dozen eggs before and after shipment, and a general study of 71 carloads of eggs with over 500,000 dozen eggs shipped in car lots from 36 packing houses in the corn belt to ten markets on the East Coast. These numbers meant New York City alone had a breakage of at least 116,000,000 eggs each year. The study went on to determine the cause of damage - carelessness by the shipper or damage in transit. Over 200 cases, of 6000 dozen eggs, were examined at the packing house, and it was found that 19 eggs to a case, or 5.34%, were damaged before shipment. Following shipment there was additional breakage of 5 eggs per case.[22]

The study went on to conclude that the cardboard fillers needed to be new and not broken. The cardboard must not be reused. It was important the cardboard be around the edges to keep the eggs from contacting the wood box. The rigidity of the boxes was important. Shippers were encouraged to bring in eggs and practice loading them into a shipping box and closing the box, and then making sure they were cooled properly.

In 1913 and 1914 the egg demonstration car went over 7000 miles and visited 177 communities with over 11,000 farmers, commission men, and school children visiting it.

The railroads also ran special agricultural trains of all types to educate the farmers on improved techniques to increase their crops yields. In 1924 UP ran a poultry demonstration train in Idaho, starting in Boise, in western Idaho, and ending in Downey, in the eastern part of the state. At total of 16,748 attended the demonstrations at 40 stops. The railroad reported the following carload shipments on the UP system:[23]

Commodity 1921 1923 1924
Eggs 13 152 216
Poultry 12 56 138
Butter, cheese, eggs and poultry --- 5 7
Butter and eggs 1 56 64
Butter, eggs, and cheese --- 25 14
Butter, eggs, poultry -- 3 7
Cheese and eggs --- 3 14
Cheese, poultry, eggs 1 - 4
Eggs and poultry -- 3 8

As can be seen, eggs made up a significant part of the products shipped by rail.  Not many shipments were made with the different products. In the 1920s the U.S. Department of Agriculture again sent out a demonstration car to help reduce the $50 million in damaged eggs, since the issues had not gone away or been resolved.

The railroads began to investigate the damages of egg shipments in earnest in 1946. The railroad had conducted extensive research on how to best protect eggs, experimenting with buffer materials such as rubber and excelsior pads, with no major success in the effort to reduce damage to eggs.[24] All shipments in New York were inspected on arrival. Inspections were also made at the point of origin when damaged shipments received were consistently from that location. Different methods of packaging and loading the egg cases were tried, but no truly successful method was found.[25]

A major study was performed in 1949 by the Interstate Commerce Commission related to reducing damage incurred during the shipment of eggs. Although the ICC report was full of statistics that can be mind-numbing, the information shows the operating environment and conditions at the time, and made it obvious that the shipment of eggs by rail was drawing to a close.

Damage claims had been increasing, particularly during WW II, and in 1948 had totaled $,1933,060, or $90.23 per car. Of this amount, 95% was due to unspecified damages, while 5% was due to factors such as theft and refrigeration.[26] The increase in claims during WW II may have been due to rough handling due to the war emergency as well as increased car loadings in accordance with directions from the Office of Defense Transportation, General Order 18-A. The refrigerator cars used during the war may have had different dimensions, so that the packing was different. Another cause was the cost of increased expenses to recondition and repair the shipping cases. By law this was the responsibility of the shipper if it was found to be the carrier’s fault, even though it was performed by the receiver. Another factor was the increased cost of the eggs themselves.

A major factor causing the damage was increased slack. If there was more than 2” of slack 83% of the car contents had damage, reduced to only 43% if there was no slack. Typically the cases were stacked 4-5 high, with straw or other fillers. The cars were loaded from each end to the center, and any space left over filled with wood, hay or straw. Straw was the most common.

The wood shipping cases were made using 3/16-inch veneer, and some fiberboard was being used, with no differences in damages noted. Vertical motion may have been the cause of damages, since the eggs did not approach the car load limit. Irregular loads, in which there was not a complete top layer, showed increase damages. The following table shows the damages to the car contents noted in the study:

Type of Case Size of Load No. of Cars Inspected and Unloaded Percentage of Cases Showing Damage
Wood 4 complete layers high 125 10/3
Fibreboard 45 10.8
Wood 5 complete layers high 887 15.8
Fibreboard 46 15.4

A study was made of 1680 cars shipped to 41 markets from June - August 1948, about 7.8% of the total rail shipments made that year, and it was estimated that for 1,799,000 cases of eggs had some form of damage on arrival at the terminal that year. This added to the cost of the eggs and delayed final delivery of the eggs. The primary causes were determined to be rough handling by the railroads and improper packaging, loading and bracing. The increase in the claims, as adjusted, is shown in the following table: [27]

Year Wholesale egg
price index
Average claim
(per car)
Adjusted claim payments
(per car)
1926 100.0 $9.42 $9.42
1927 90.1 $7.89 $8.76
1928 96.6 $6.92 $7.16
1929 104.4 $6.11 $5.86
1930 80.6 $6.07 $7.53
1931 59.9 $3.36 $5.61
1932 53.6 $3.95 $7.37
1933 46.5 $3.27 $7.04
1934 57.7 $3.19 $5.52
1935 75.4 $4.82 $6.39
1936 72.2 $4.36 $6.04
1937 65.4 $5.42 $8.29
1938 63.6 $5.05 $7.95
1939 52.3 $4.88 $9.32
1940 56.5 $3.87 $6.85
1941 75.8 $3.15 $4.15
1942 99.9 $4.79 $4.80
1943 121.8 $10.37 $8.52
1944 105.9 $13.41 $12.67
1945 114.4 $28.80 $25.17
1946 109.0 $54.40 $49.90
1947 130.3 $83.72 $64.25
1948 133.7 $90.23 $67.49

Damaged cars were as follows:

Size of Load No. of Cars
Inspected and Unloaded
Percentage of Cars
Delivered with Damages
Percentage of Cases
Showing Damages
4 Complete layers 201 46.8 9.8
5 Complete layers 1044 69.1 16.1

This showed that stacking the egg cases more than four deep increased the damages. The ODT directive of 1942 had resulted in 5-layer shipments, and was revised in November 1948 to 4 layers, pre-war method of packing. The average load per car had increased from 11.42 tons to 16.33 tons in 1945, declining after that. It was hoped the claims would decline in the ensuing years.

The eggs were packed using flats and fillers. The flat was placed in the bottom of the egg case, and a filler installed on top of it. The flat has a depression to hold the small end of the egg. The filler consists of fiberboard in crossed sections which can hold 36 eggs. When each filler has the 36 eggs another flat is placed above it. In 1946 the height of the fillers was increased from 2.25 to 2.33 inches. The fillers were 1.75 inches square. However, tests performed by the Department of Agriculture in 1946 and 1948 showed that the fillers were too small for the eggs being shipped at the time, since they were now larger than they had been in 1917.[28]

The cases of eggs were loaded from each end of the car and bracing added at the center to prevent shifting. It was found that loading operations, if done properly, resulted in less damage than grading or packing. One reason for the increase damage claims was that the cost of eggs had increased substantially since 1940, and the cost of re-conditioning damaged cases had also increased, although that did not account for the 1800% increase in claims payments since 1939, even though the volume of egg shipments had decreased significantly.[29]

In 1941 egg claims were about $110,000, and in 1947 they were $2,338,462.[30] In 1947 the shell eggs made up 0.072% of the value traffic, but 1.91% of all claims paid.[31]

ICC Hearings

Given the fragile nature of the eggs, it is not surprising that large numbers of eggs were damaged in shipment. The railroads blamed the shipper, and the shipper blamed the railroad. As a result, the ICC was pulled into the disputes, and there were several hearings and rulings. These hearings gave a good idea of the problems the railroads faced, and how the eggs were handled. A study was instituted by the ICC in July 1948[32] so that the agency could set reasonable regulations for egg shipments by rail.[33] There were 131 railroads who participated in the proceeding, which began in 1948 and ended in 1952.[34]

Hearings were held in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 1948, and February 8, 1950; in Chicago on July 26-27, 1949, and August 1, 1950; in Brooklyn, N.Y., on December 15, 1949, and in Los Angeles on August 1, 1950. The railroad complied 1967 pages of testimony and 60 exhibits. Additional briefs were submitted by counsel for the responding railroads, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of the Army, National Poultry, Butter and Egg Association, New York Mercantile Exchange, Fairmount Foods Company, Zenith Godley Company, and four packing house companies.

After due deliberations, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued No. 30030, “Special Regulations, Eggs” on February 4, 1952. Prior to this date all issues related to inspection and deliver of eggs, in both carload and less than carloads, had been covered under ICC No. 10012, effective July 15, 1919, “National Poultry, Butter & Eggs Assn/ vs N.Y.C R. Co., 52 I.C.C. 47.[35]

The hearing results shows what the shipment of eggs was like at this time, in the waning years of these shipments. Ruling 10012 stated no inspection of eggs was permitted at Boston, New York City, or Philadelphia when no cases showed external damage, cases had not been repackaged during shipment, no lading had shifted, or transferred. At other points consignees were permitted to inspect up to 25%, not to exceed 20 in 1 shipment, and to examine the top layer. All cases requiring damaged eggs were then repackaged.[36]

These rules for the 20-case inspection were made effective on October 25, 1919, for shell eggs delivered to Philadelphia, and on February Boston and New York were added. There had not been, for all practical purpose, any other changes made to the rules. The receiver of the shipments had the right, before the shipment was removed from the carrier, to inspect the eggs. Any damages entitled the receiver to performed further inspection. Joint inspection was then performed by the carrier and the receiver. Before February 10, 1941, this was recognized only for cases which showed external damage.[37] If inspection showed no more than 5% damages, that was considered to be within tolerances, and no damage claims were allowed. Over 5% claims were allowed for anything over 5% if the damages could be shown to be caused by the carrier.[38]

The ICC noted that claims for egg shipments had increased in the past decade, primarily to trunk-line and New England destinations. Claims shipments to the South, Southwest, and Pacific Coast had not changed significantly. The New York claims were the highest, followed by Newark, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The following table shows the claims for shipments of eggs to New York. They are based on 600 cases per car, except for 1949, when it was 480 cases per car:[39]

Period Number of Cases Number of Cars Number of Claims Amount Average of Claims
Per Car Per Claim
1940 4,552,143 7,586 2,116 $71,652 $9.44 $33.86
1941 4,072,916 6,788 1,965 $59,889 $8.82 $30.48
1942 3,543,986 5,906 2,599 $111,469 $18.87 $42.89
1943 4,105,083 6,841 3,744 $302,875 $44.27 $80.89
1944 3,776,708 6,294 3,907 $475.714 $75.58 $121.75
1945 5,900,090 9,833 (Not Available) (Not Available) (Not Available) (Not Available)
1946 5,520,299 9,200 8,257 $1,577,671 $171.48 $191.07
1947 4,568,309 7,616 6,911 $1,505,472 $197.67 $217.83
(first 10 months)
3,204,027 5,341 3,808 $871,441 $163.16 $228.84
(first 10 months)
1,273,922 2,828 2,072 $491,542 $173.81 $227.23

As can be seen the claims were increasing almost every year, while the number of cars was decreasing. The number of cases received, and the claims are not directly related, since it could take up to nine months to file a claim, and up to four6 months to pay a claim. However, there was a definite trend of decreasing egg shipments and increasing amount per claim.

Another table showed data for major East Coast destinations for the year 1947:[40]

  New York Philadelphia Baltimore Boston Total
Total Cars 7,638 667 690 661 9,656
Total claim cars 5,044 325 114 176 5,659
Percent claim cars are of total cars 66 48.7 16.5 26.6 58.6
Total freight charges $2,638,905 $280,590 $262,332 $276,143 $3,456,960
Total claim payments $1,332,908 $32,741 $41,386 $33,590
(first 10 months)
Percent claim payments are of total revenues 50.5 11.7 15.58 12.2 41.7
Claim payments          
Per claim car $264.26 $100.74 $363.04 $190.85 $254.87
Per car shipped $174.51 $49.09 $59.98 $50.82 $149.19

As can be seen, in New York more than 50% of the revenue was paid out in claims. In first half of 1950 only 701 cars of shell eggs were delivered to New York, with freight charges totaling $270,994.16. No damage claims were filed on 334 cars but on the 367 which had claims filed, the freight revenue was $151,061.28, with an anticipated claims of $73,561.80, 27.1% of the total revenue. This was based on a claim tolerance of 5%.

Another analysis was performed on the damages found that there was little difference between wood and fiber cases. The numbers of damaged cases was large, as noted in the following table.[41] Damaged eggs were a total loss, while cracked and stained eggs could be sold at a lower price than whole eggs.

  New York Philadelphia Baltimore Boston
(10 months)
Total cases damaged 875,715 15,006 11,796 9,176 911,673
Fiber 446,869 9,794 2,130 3,348 462,141
Wood   5,212 9,666 5828 449,552
Types of damage (in dozens)          
Broken 1,172,376 26,156 41,264 24,354 1,264,150
Leakers 260,154 12,869 120 13,019 286,162
Cracked 757,201 16,037 64,942 29,682 867,862
Stained 989,272 14,638 2,045 4,166 1,010,121
Total (dozens) 1,197,003 69,700 18,371 71,221 3,428,295
Percentage of damage:          
Broken 36.9 37.5 38.1 34.2 36.9
Leakers 8.2 18.5 0.1 18.3 8.3
Cracked 23.8 23.0 59.9 41.7 25.3
Stained 31.1 21.0 1.9 5.8 29.5

Another table was preparedshowing losses for egg shipments compared to the losses incurred on other typesof shipments: [42]

Commodity Carload loss and damage Number of cars Freight revenues Loss and damage
Per car Per $100 revenue
Shell eggs $2,243,655 26,800 $10,585,213 $83.72 $21.20
Melons $2.977.472 56,389 $19,701,506 $52.80 $15.11
Sewer pipe, etc. $1,029,425 52,589 $7,822,128 $19.57 $13.16
Crockery and earthenware $241,170 8,260 $2,650,724 $29.20 $9.10
Furniture (new) $1,435,312 142,077 $33,178,697 $10.23 $4.38
Grain $5,586,511 1,619,751 $394,018,568 $3.45 $1.42
Meats, fresh and cured $1,388,274 407,144 $122,500,635 $3.41 $1.13
Plumbers’ goods $380,337 27,058 $8,743,043 $14.06 $4.35

As can be seen, shell eggs had a very high claims payment rate. For that year 1947 the payments were $197.67 per car in New York City. For claims payments paid in the year in which they were paid, they were $174.51 in New York, $59.98 in Baltimore, $50.82 for Boston, and $49.09 for Philadelphia.

A table for shell eggs received at New York City shows the high damage rates and plummeting shipments.[43] The damages were always above 10 percent but had remained relatively constant despite the declining shipments.

Period Cases received Cases damaged Dozens damaged
Number Percent Number Percent
1947 4,069,210 921,620 22.65 3,333,368 12.06
1948 2,882,527 543,251 18.85 1,741,788 10.69
1949 1,163,207 261,462 22.48 916,097 11.68
1950 (1st 6 months) 279,488 55,190 19.74 191,150 11.55

In the 1939-1949 period an average of 7,189 million eggs that were sold commercially were produced in the North Atlantic area. The number was 8,984 million in the East North Central area, 12,698 in the West North Central area, 2,940 in the South Atlantic area, 6,119 in the South-Central area, and 4,321 in the West. The West North Central area was the largest increase in the country. These states were Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas. Illinois and Wisconsin, which shipped the largest proportion of eggs shipped to all principal markets.[44]

The decline in egg shipments was clearly shown in the table for the five principal markets for the first half of the years 1947 through 1950. Part of this was due to the fact the trucks had not increased their rates as much as the railroads had, and trucks also offered pickup and deliver, faster transit, and less damage. In 1949 there had been just over 6000 carloads of eggs, and in the first 9 months of 1950 it has declined to 3261, showing the rapid decline of egg shipments.[45]

Market Receipts
Rail, Percent Truck, Percent
1947 1948 1949 1950 1947 1948 1949 1950
New York, N.Y. 70 59 32 13 30 41 68 87
Chicago, Ill. 35 37 13 8 65 63 87 92
Philadelphia, Pa 41 34 16 2 59 66 84 98
Boston, Mass. 38 39 24 2 62 61 76 98
San Francisco, Calif. 39 25 20 6 61 75 80 94
Los Angeles, Calif. 43 26 15 4 57 74 85 96
Baltimore, Md. 82 80 63 10 18 20 37 90
Atlanta, Ga. 29 10 8 1 71 90 92 99
Cincinnati, Ohio 11 4 1 0.1 89 96 99 99.9
Detroit, Mich. 7 8 3 2 93 92 97 98
New Orleans, La. 58 31 9 1 42 69 91 99
All 11 markets 49 41 20 7 51 59 80 93

The consensus by shippers and receivers was that the damages were caused by rough handling. Prior to WW II damages had been relatively low, but during and immediately after the war inexperienced personnel, shortage of equipment, and other factors resulted in high incidents of damage. However, in the East the damages had not appreciably declined in the ensuing years, particularly in New York, while other destinations had not seen as much in the way of damages. It was noted that the recovery of damages was usually slightly less than the costs to inspect and reconditioning the cases, along with the value of the shipment.[46]

New York was the largest destinations for eggs and demanded the highest quality. It was also the only point where all carloads of eggs were inspected. Interestingly, the receipt of eggs by the military, especially at New York, was less than that received by other receivers. For example, from 1944 through 1946, there were 2519 cars containing 1,511,400 cases of eggs which were received at the New York Quartermaster Market Center. Of these cars, 304 cars holding 181,201 cases were noted to be damaged. Final settlements resulted in the rejection of 9483 cases, or one claim out of every eight cars received, one case reported damaged out of every 19 cars, and one case out of 159 rejected and claim made for damages, compared to about nine claim cars out of every ten cars received by other New York dealers in 1947.[47]

The eggs were shipped in refrigerator cars, and one company in Omaha, Nebraska, stated the damages were the result of old refrigerator cars being used. The company said that 38 cars which had had damage claims were built between 1917 and 1931. The company shipped between 85 and 100 cars load to New York each year for export and had not had any claims.[48]

Swift & Company had about 80 dairy and poultry plants, principally in western trunk line territory, which collected, packs, and resold eggs. They were shipped to markets in trunk line and New England territories. The eggs were received by truck at the Swift plant from a 100 to 150-mile area. New wood or fiber cases were used to package the eggs, which were graded and inspected at the plant.[49]

In 1948 Swift shipped 274 carloads of eggs to the New York area. Of these cars, 51 had eggs damaged during transit, with an average cost of $305.36 per car. Swift shipped an additional 1696 cars to other points, and 245 cars had damage during transit, with an average cost of $186.80. In 1949 Sift shipped 246 cars of eggs to Pacific coast points, and five of them had damage claims, with an average of $29.78 o four claims. The other car had damages of $1,678.96, since it was wrecked. Swift had placards “Eggs handle carefully” on the sides and ends of the cars. Other packing companies packaged and shipped eggs in a similar manner.[50]

In the decade up to 1948 Armour & Company shipped about 50% of its eggs to trunk line and New England territories. About 90% of its claims were related to shipments to these territories, principally in New York. Armour stated it believed most damage was caused by the car float operations, but the ICC noted that the all-rail NYC shipments had the same high damages.[51]

In 1949 there were 2,371,178 cases of eggs which were received in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Of these, 1,579,257 cases, or 66%, originated in California, with the balance coming from other Pacific Coast States and points as far east as Illinois. Of the eggs received at Los Angeles, 39% were shipped by truck in 1945 and 90% in 1949. For San Francisco the percentages were 58% and 86% respectively. There were no indications of excessive damages to the West Coast. The principal reason for the switch to trucking was the shorter transit time, lesser damages, prompter settlement of claims, and the lack of the need to truck form the railroad loading and unloading points. The principal location of damaged eggs appeared to be in New York and other eastern points. Few eggs were shipped from the West Coast to the East Coast. In 1948 New York received about 130 carloads of eggs from Mountain-Pacific states.[52]

The Utah Poultry & Farmers, which consisted of about 6000 members, shipped its products largely to the West Coast prior to WW II. In 1949 there were 104 carloads, or 15% of the production shipped to eastern points, and 43 carloads, or 6%, went to the Southwest, including Los Angeles, and 10 carloads, or 1%, went to the Northwest. Of the 104 carloads shipped to the East, only 33 had no damage, while the 53 carloads shipped to the Southwest and Northwest had no damage. In the first half of 1950 there were 52 carloads shipped from Utah to eastern points, and ten were received with no damage. Most of the 83 carloads shipped to the Pacific coast, were not damaged.[53]

Most of the damage claims were related to the loss of the eggs, as opposed to labor, material, and warehouse charges. Damage claims for eggs in the entire country increased from about $110,000 in 1941 to a peak of $2,338,42 in 1947. The claims were the greatest relative to the value of the shipment than any other commodities. In 1947 the carload origin traffic was 0.072% of all rail traffic, while the payments totaled 1.91% of all claim payments. Claim payments were 2.32% in 1941, 7.02% in 1943, 16.16% in 1945, and 38.41% in 1947, relative to the revenue. In 1947 there were damage payments of $1,332,907 for shipments to New York. Since 1947 about 11% of the cases were damaged, although shipments were declining substantially. Other points also had large, but few claims for damages.[54]

The ICC was evaluating tariffs nationwide, but most of the focus was on the New York City area. New York City received about six million cases annually, Chicago five million, and one million cases at points such as Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Detroit, and one-half million at Baltimore, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and New Orleans. In 1947 there were 26,800 carloads of eggs originated, and 7,638, or 28.3%, were delivered to New York City area, and 66%, or 5,044 carloads, were considered damaged.[55]

It was acknowledged that damage with truck shipments was negligible. Some rail shipments had up to 400 cases damaged in a 600-case carload. Many believed the damage was caused by rough handling, and one person claimed he had seen a carload of eggs sent over hump in the yard, although he did not know if it was loaded or empty – the placard did say “Do Not Hump.” The railroads also were paying claims, an acknowledgement that they were responsible for damages.[56]

Following the hearings and the ICC revised the regulations so that no claims would be allowed if damages were less than 5%. Damages would be allowed on the amount greater than 5% for shipments packed at points other than the railhead, and 3% for shipments packed at the railhead. This would compensate for any damages which might have occurred prior to shipment, with some exceptions.[57], [58]

Suit was brought to protest this ruling, but the district court found the ICC ruling to be reasonable. [59] This was taken to the United States Supreme Court by the Utah Poultry & Farmers' Cooperative, Armour & Company, Swift & Company, and United States of Agriculture. This district court decision was reversed.

Egg shipments continued to drop. In 1948, it was estimated that the railroads had shipped 140,000 cases of eggs from the North Central states, while it was declined to 2800 cases in 1955.[60] It wasn’t long before eggs were no longer being shipped by rail.

Today it is hard to imagine eggs being shipped by rail, but there some proposals in recent years to do just that. In 2012 there was a proposal to ship eggs from Illinois to California in refrigerated boxcars, running two trains a week with 30 cars, with hopes to run 50 car trains. , and provide a 10-15% cost savings. The trains would be expedited but would still be slower than trucking using a team of drivers. However, it appears no further actions were made to try to get this traffic.

Interestingly, eggs were shipped by rail in India until 2013, when it ceased due to the same problems of handling and spoilage. It was reactivated in 2016, and here were hopes the egg shipments would return to the rails.

The Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway

The Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, completed in 1905, was built north of San Francisco in a rich agricultural area. The arrival of the railroad helped the ranchers raise poultry, and the railroad shipped pore eggs than any railroad in the country.[61] Petaluma claimed title to the largest egg shipping center in the world, with nearby Penngrove a close second. The shipment of live chickens was more lucrative than eggs.[62] The eggs and chickens were shipped by rail and steamer down the Petaluma River to San Francisco, southern California, and other points.[63] Immediately after WW II the railroad claimed it produced 45 million dozen eggs, many of which were shipped over the railroad.[64] By this time the eggs were being shipped by truck, and the railroad finally shut down in 1984.[65]

Egg Cases

Eggs were shipped in special egg cases, designed to protect the eggs during shipment and to be shipped back to reuse. They were the subject of numerous patents over the years. The cases would have the shippers address prominently written the box, with instructions of “Return To…” One “improved design” was divided into two sections. Each section had thin cardboard strips on the inside of the box which wove into dividers so that one layer could hold 3 dozen eggs. Another solid cardboard sheet was placed between the layers, so that there were five layers in a box. The box held 30 dozen eggs, or 360 eggs total. Different boxes held different quantities of eggs.


Hall, J.D., and P.L. Breakiron. Reduction of Loss and Damage in Rail Transportation of Shell Eggs by Improved Loading and Bracing.

Holt, Harrier D. Administrative Law – Carriers – the Interstate Commerce Commission’s Authority to Approve Tolerance Regulations – their Effectiveness. North Carolina Law Review. Vol. 34, No. 4, Article 8, 6-1-56.

Interstate Commerce Commission, Special Regulations, Eggs, No. 30030

Pennington, M.E., H.C. Pierce, and H.L. Shrader. The Egg and Poultry Demonstration Car Work in Reducing Our $50,000,000 Waste in Eggs.

Schmale, John, and Kristina Schmale. Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2009.

South Dakota State University Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 10-1-1958. 1958.

Thompson, W.H., Transportation of Poultry and Poultry Products from the North Central States.

The Union Pacific Magazine, December 1930, pp. 12, 34

Trains Magazine, various issues


[1]The History of A.R.T., p.32

[2] People and the Railroads, p. 48

[3] People and the Railroads, p. 48

[4] UP Magazine, p. 12

[5] UP Magazine, p. 12

[6] Idaho Magazine, September 2003, p. 36

[7] 100 Years of CNJ, p. 181

[8] Trains, July 1950, p. 25

[9] Trains, June 1946, p. 16

[10] Trains, May 1947, p. 20

[11] Trains, August 1951, p. 23

[12] Trains, October 1943, p. 40

[13] Trains, June 1944, p. 9

[14] Train, March 1946, p. 49

[15] Pennington

[16] Pennington, pp. 363-365

[17] Pennington

[18] Pennington

[19] Pennington, pp. 365-366

[20] Pennington

[21] Pennington

[22] Pennington

[23] The Pocatello Tribune – Reclamation Edition

[24] Holt, p. 482

[25] ICC 30030, p. 392

[26] Hall

[27] Hall

[28] ICC 30030, pp. 390-391

[29] ICC 30030, pp. 389-390

[30] Holt, p. 483

[31] Holt, p. 483

[32] Railway Age, 3-3-52, p. 918

[33] Holt, p. 482

[34] Holt, p. 482

[35] ICC 30030, p. 378

[36] ICC 30030, p. 379

[37] ICC 30030, p. 379

[38] ICC 30030, p. 381

[39] ICC 30030, p. 386

[40] ICC 30030, p. 387

[41] ICC 30030, p. 388

[42] ICC 30030, p. 388

[43] ICC 30030, p. 389

[44] ICC 30030, p. 389

[45] ICC 30030, pp. 390-391

[46] ICC 30030, p. 392

[47] ICC 30030, p. 396

[48] ICC 30030, p. 397

[49] ICC 30030, p. 397

[50] ICC 30030, p. 397

[51] ICC 30030, pp. 397-398

[52] ICC 30030, p. 398

[53] ICC 30030, pp. 398-399

[54] ICC 30030, p. 399

[55] ICC 30030, p. 400

[56] ICC 30030, p. 400

[57] ICC 30030, p. 403

[58] Holt, p. 482

[59] Holt, p. 482

[60] Thompson, p. 5. (The 12 North Central States were Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.)

[61] Schmale, p. 41

[62] Schmale, p. 73

[63] Schmale, p. 80

[64] Schmale, p. 85

[65] Schmale, p. 10