Clean out tracks

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Dec 4 18:52:51 EST 2018

My recollection of the Roanoke box car clean out track dates from the 
early 1960s when I was designing diesel locomotive servicing facilities 
(such as those in the new yard at Bellevue, OH), in the same office in 
the N&W Motive Power Office Building as a fellow by the name of Bob 
LeNoir (a native Mississippian with a speech accent to match) who 
designed freight car repair facilities (Shaffers Crossing, Lamberts 
Points, etc.).  As my imperfect memory recalls, Bob designed an improved 
box car clean out facility just west of Shaffers Crossing in the 
location mentioned by other contributors on this subject.  It consisted 
of three parallel tracks with the clean-out box cars on the two outer 
tracks, and a specially designed train on the middle track.  This train 
on the middle track consisted of flat cars specially equipped with decks 
that extended beyond the normal sides of the flat car so that there was 
only a small gap between the extended deck and the box car floors on 
either side.  This arrangement allowed the clean out carmen to easily 
enter a box car (no need to use a ladder) and provided a place to 
accumulate the junk dunnage removed from the box cars instead of just 
tossing it onto the ground.  Inasmuch as I was not directly involved in 
the design and operation of the new box car clean out facility,  I can 
only guess that a yard engine would occasionally re-spot the cars on the 
middle track and then at the end of the shift take them somewhere to 
unload the junk.  Of course the flat cars with the extended decks would 
have been handled as wide loads.  I seem to recall that some wags 
(plenty of them on the railroad) soon started calling the flat car train 
the "Mule Train" after a popular cowboy song of that era.  I don't know 
how long the Mule Train operation lasted.

I see that no one else who has posted on this subject has mentioned the 
Mule Train.  Can no one substantiate my memory on this clean out 

Gordon Hamilton

On 12/4/2018 3:44 PM, NW Mailing List via NW-Mailing-List wrote:
> Jim, Jim and Ken,
>  In my days on the yard, 1981 onward, the tracks Jim and Ken spoke of 
> , I knew as the "dirty hole", or "clean-out tracks". Even though there 
> was no cleaning of box cars at this date, there was an area toward the 
> east end of these tracks where MofW disposed of old rotten ties, fill 
> dirt, etc. There were only three tracks, I believe, that were used at 
> all. MofW stored their cars on two of them. The third was last used to 
> load fuel oil (for company use). We would spot as many as 25, or a few 
> more. Trucks from Montvale would continuously ran back and forth 
> filling these company tank cars. Almost every day, a 2nd shift yard 
> crew would pull the loads and re-spot the empties.
> Concerning the customers job of cleaning out their own cars, some 
> still didn't get the message! Crews were instructed not to pull cars 
> with trash still in them.
> I forget which year, but the old "dirty hole" was turned into a nice 
> looking EPA approved landfill.
> I personally believe the "super-elevation" was simply the lack of 
> track maintenance, coupled with the fact of the ground settling around 
> all the junk that had been dumped over the decades. It was obvious 
> during my time there was no maintenance on those tracks, unless they 
> were cleaning up a derailment!
> Jeff Sanders
> On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 1:11:12 PM EST, NW Mailing List 
> <nw-mailing-list at> wrote:
> Thanks Jim and Ken!
> On Tue, Dec 4, 2018 at 11:52 AM NW Mailing List 
> <nw-mailing-list at <mailto:nw-mailing-list at>> wrote:
>     Jim
>     Just to add to Mr. Blackstock excellent write up. The are west of
>     Shaffers was referred to, at least by my father a Radford Division
>     conductor, as the “Clean-out hole”.
>      Now, my father was a child of the depression, and always wanted
>     to repair, fix or use something over rather than buy something
>     new. Now, I am not faulting him on that. So, with that in mind, at
>     least once,  I recall him taking me down there one time to pick up
>     some good plywood he had spotted them tossing out, so he asked,
>     they said help yourself, and we went back in the truck to load up.
>     I honestly don’t remember what we used the stuff for, but I
>     remember walking around and like Jim said there was trash and
>     nails everywhere, did not remember seeing any rats. But it was
>     cardboard, paper, wood, scattered all over, and maybe 3-5 tracks
>     full of boxcars.
>     I suspect there are not many if any photos of the area, not
>     because it was unappealing to rail fans, but it was deep on
>     company property. The area is now all filled in, nicely covered
>     with grass, and fenced off, hard to tell what might be buried
>     under there.
>     Ken Miller
>>     On Dec 4, 2018, at 9:43 AM, NW Mailing List
>>     <nw-mailing-list at <mailto:nw-mailing-list at>> wrote:
>>     Jim
>>     The clean out tracks at Shaffers Crossing was just west of the
>>     engine terminal on the South side.  The old stock pen was in the
>>     same area.
>>     Re excessive super elevation.  Not sure on this.  Could be that
>>     the area between the tracks were worn down by removal of some
>>     dirt every time they ran machines to clean up the debris.  On the
>>     other hand it could have been by design to keep those rats from
>>     jumping in the open box cars.
>>     I was only at the clean out tracks three times.  One time to show
>>     me as a new employee where they were, one time to check on the
>>     location of a car and another to check out some interesting junk
>>     to see if it had potential use.  When you were at the location
>>     you had to watch every step.  There were plenty of nails and rats
>>     to avoid at all cost.  I never did see a rail fan with a camera
>>     taking any photos in this area.
>>     As for me, I would rather walk through the stock pens than the
>>     clean out tracks.
>>     Several years after my clean out experience when I was in the
>>     Traffic Dept. we put in charges for cleaning out cars.  This was
>>     a tariff charge that required all empty cars be cleaned by the
>>     customer before releasing the car to the carrier as an empty. 
>>     The only exception was dunnage used to block and brace the load
>>     being returned to the original shipping origin.  This eliminated
>>     the need to operate the massive clean out tracks.
>>     Jim Blackstock
>>     On 11/28/2018 12:57 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:
>>>     On another list there has been a discussion about clean out
>>>     tracks and the cleaning of cars; some photos show the clean out
>>>     tracks to have excessive super elevation that assisted in the
>>>     removing of dunnage and the cleaning of the car, i.e. steam
>>>     cleaning.
>>>     Does anyone have insight in how N&W handled cleaning of box
>>>     cars, etc? Were the clean out tracks super elevated?  Any photos?
>>>     Thanks.
>>>     Jim Brewer
>>>     Glenwood, MD
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