Boxcars: the rolling of two sixes in a dice game, specifically craps, or it could refer to an enclosed railway car used to carry general freight. When retired from service the latter are sometimes sold to be used as sheds and the like. Farmers are known for their thrift and they often would buy these up, no doubt cheaply, for just such a use. In this report, we’ll concentrate on some old boxcars found down on the farm, although a couple dice, showing two sixes of course, may make an appearance.
Surprisingly, the three boxcars we found were either inside the city limits of just outside them. They are all relatively complete but heavily weathered, their paint faded or nonexistent, and all are clearly showing their age. A forth was spotted but it was far off and inaccessible in a field and could not be properly photographed.
There is no way to really identify these cars. It’s certainly possible that something, some old paint, the faint shadow of a road number, might be found on each – some kind of hint telling us the who’s and what’s. This would require viewing them up close however and that was simply not possible. They are all on private land.
One thing we can do is roughly date them. Given the style of construction, their size and that the bodies are all wood, tells us they could be from the 1890s or perhaps the early to mid 1900s. Wooden boxcars before that period were smaller and those after, were more likely to have identifiable steel elements like ends and side braces. These rules are not hard and fast though and there would be some overlap and exceptions.
Starting in the mid-1920s boxcars would be made completely of steel although as before there was a transition period. The modern boxcar of today looks much like the wooden relics we’ve seen here. It’s a simple design that works well.
It’s likely these cars were at least 15-20 years old, or perhaps a bit older, when they were retired from railway service and sold as surplus. This means they may have been sitting in their respective fields, pastures and barn yards for close to a century now. Wood boxcars, by the way, were not nearly as long lasting as their steel brethren, and the latter could be expected to last forty years easily. Rail cars took a beating, and wood ones wore out quickly in comparison.
It’s not known if these are ex-CPR cars, but that seems likely. That railway has a large presence in Calgary. Its competitor, the CNR, is in comparison a minor player in town.
A couple of the cars seen have been modified with the addition of windows. They being used as pens or sheds or for storage, who knows. On the one, some of the sheathing is missing and this gives a view of how the car was constructed. Note the large beams – I am told they are typically made of oak.
Some deer took great interest in us as we photographed one boxcar.
The origin of the dice term – I guess the arrangement of the six dots on each die sort of looks like a railway boxcar. By the way, the odds of throwing two sixes, or boxcars, is one in thirty six. Calling boxcars is often heard when playing any game of dice although it origins is with craps. Interestingly in that game, every possible outcome of the dice is given a nickname – for example, “snake eyes” for two, a “natural” or “seven out” for any seven and “yo” for an eleven.
It’s more than likely many other boxcars cum farm sheds can be found in the area. They may be hidden away behind barns or in some way out of view however. Even so, I am sure we’ll discover more in our adventures. We travel a lot of back roads and pass many, many farms. Interestingly, flat cars are sometimes sold to be used as bridges when retired and we’ve come across a few. In that same vein, we’ve also seen a caboose made into a cabin (the post: More soup).
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Calgary area, AB.