Cattle Cars and Stockyards

Cows getting off cattle car

Livestock being herded off into cattle pens on the railway. Courtesy of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Ronk, PA.

The Cattle Car

During the early days of railroading no dedicated stock car existed and railroads simply used whatever was available to move livestock, usually open gondolas or boxcars with slats to provide the animals with fresh air.  The cattle car (which hauled all types of livestock and poultry) was introduced in the 1860s and its design remained essentially the same for 120 years.  These cars initially were made of wood and could only carry around 10 tons of livestock; however, by the early 1900s the use of steel allowed them to transport around 30 tons.  New features were also added to make the journey more humane.  Compartments were partitioned to prevent trampling and animals were provided with water and feed troughs. 

Cattle cars were positioned directly behind the locomotives.  This location not gave the animals the smoothest ride possible, it allowed for them to be quickly and easily fed and watered and also provided the most efficient way to transfer the cars in and out of the train.

After World War II, trucks gained a larger market share.  Railroads were slower and significantly more expensive.  Cattle cars slowly disappeared from freight trains.  Today, livestock traffic by train is virtually non-existent and the cattle car, like the caboose, has become an obsolete piece of equipment. 


“The Shippensburg News (Shippensburg, PA), Aug. 20, 1888

“New Stock Yards, “The Shippensburg News (Shippensburg, PA), Aug. 24, 1888


The Stockyard

The Shippensburg Stockyard was located on the corner of Orange and Earl Street.  Although an exact date of origin is unknown, maps of Shippensburg indicate that it was built sometime between 1858 and 1872.  An 1858 map of Shippensburg shows the beginnings of the stockyard near the CVRR and the H. Ruby & Co.  An 1872 map labels the cattle pen as the “Cattle Yards.” 

Among many features, it offered new platform scales.  Sidings were extended to service the stockyard.

Toy Cattle Pen

Toy Replica of Cattle Pen

Sanborn Map of Shippensburg Stockyard and Cattle Pen

1878 was the first year the cattle pens appeared on the Sanborn maps for Shippensburg.

In 1888, a new, unique cattle pen was constructed in Shippensburg.  It was the only one on the CVRR line that was equipped to supply running water readily to livestock.  The pen was designed to allow for a humane and efficient loading process.  A roadway opened directly into the stockyard, permitting farmers to easily offload their animals.  When trains arrived, the corralled cattle was guided up a ramp to a small platform, and then quickly loaded onto the railroad cars.