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Boxcar Shortage


When you’ve spent a lot of time growing your crop, caring for it, and harvesting it, you really don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste. So, in 1950, when the country found itself in the midst of a boxcar crisis, everyone felt the pressure…especially since the crisis took a turn for the worse during harvest time, August through October.

Shortly after the beginning of the Korean War in June, the average daily shortage of boxcars was around 27,000. By mid-August, as the demand for boxcars grew, that average increased to 38,800, and it would soon go even higher.

On this date in Van Hook, as residents were harvesting, they filled up elevators, and with no other place to dump their grain, they piled it on the ground. The Minot Daily News reported, “Nearly every farmyard in the immediate Van Hook vicinity is marked by piles of grain, ranging from a few hundred bushels to as high as 2,000.” The manager of the Farmers Union elevator in Van Hook obtained only eleven grain cars during the entire month of August. And while wheat had been stored at Van Hook in years past, the sheer quantity waiting for transport that year was much greater.

Making matters worse, the crops were already late that year, due to a delayed spring and variable weather. Moisture levels were high, and farmers were particularly anxious to move their grain as quickly as possible.

In September, Col. J. Monroe Johnson, head of the Interstate Commerce Commission, blamed two main factors for the boxcar crisis: that the demand was high, with the harvest season upon them, and the growing shortage, now at about 45,000 boxcars compared to the year before. The railroads had been junking them faster than they’d been buying them, and they had also fallen behind in repairs, with about 42,000 cars in “bad order.”

The railroads did see this dilemma, and ordered extra cars—but by then, they bumped into another shortage—a steel shortage, brought about in part by the Korean War.

Farmers and consumers alike felt these ill effects, and various newspapers across the Midwest reported, “The first big shortage of the little hot war is upon us—not rubber, not nylon, but boxcars.”

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Sheboygan Press, Monday, September 11, 1950, p1
The Minot Daily News, September 1, 1950
The Bismarck Tribune, August 4, 1950, p6