Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Weaver Popcorn Co. (Revised)

Weaver Popcorn apparently started loading boxcars at Del Monte’s loading facility at Manito, Illinois in late 2014. Photo taken January 19, 2015.

NOTE: I’ve got confirmation that these boxcars are being loaded by Weaver Popcorn for shipment to Mexico, and perhaps other points. I’ve revised the text and will insert in order with the rest of the Peoria Area Rail Users series. 

Four years ago, Indiana-based Weaver Popcorn Co. made public its desire to improve its transportation options for export shipments of bagged popcorn.

Our net weight allowed on an export container is currently restricted by the fact American exporters have been obliged to ship the first leg of all of our shipments by dray over the road (“OTR”) to a container ramp. We have used in the past Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis. Today the overwhelming majority of our containers from both plants pass through Chicago ramps. This OTR dray/tmck passage for the first 180 miles to Chicago of our products’ passage dictates the net weight we can ship for the entire 5,000,6,000, or 8,000-mile journey! The result of this is significant. Weaver, like other American producers, can ship at most 21 tons on a 20′ export container of bulk popcom. Our Argentine friends, without the same weight restrictions on their own road system, can ship 25-26 tons.This results in, usually, a 20-25% freight subsidy for our Argentina competitors. This freight differential is substantial in a bulk commodity market.

Weaver Popcorn wanted to set up intermodal facilities where containers would be loaded onto railcars at or near its Van Buren, Indiana and Forest City, Illinois plants, thus avoiding the on-highway weight restriction. In May 2012, the Wabash Central LLC (WBCR), which serves Van Buren, was the recipient of $269,273.00 from the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Industrial Rail Service Fund (IRSF) to construct such a facility.

I can find no confirmation that this facility was ever built. I know nothing like this has been built at Forest City. So perhaps it seems that Weaver Popcorn found an alternative in using boxcars. After all, the 50′ cars shown above can hold up to 70 tons, nearly twice that of a single platform with two double-stacked containers. The extra handling is more labor intensive, but the higher volume per unit and lower freight rates might make such movements feasible.

Multiple destinations are possible. The three middle cars seen in the photo above are refrigerated boxcars, indicating shipment to a warm climate, probably Mexico. They carry St. Louis Southwestern Railway markings (“Cotton Belt Route”), which places them in the Union Pacific family. These cars will probably be delivered to UP at Springfield.

The other two cars have CSX Transportation markings, and are actually “XP” type normally used in paper service (but can also hold 50-lb bags of popcorn). These may be destined to a northern climate, probably a northeastern port. Routing may span all three area Genesee & Wyoming Inc. lines (IMRR, TZPR, TPW) to reach a CSXT connection in Indiana.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Weaver Popcorn

Weaver Popcorn is, unfortunately, on the list of dormant rail users. The company hasn’t loaded any covered hoppers at its Forest City facility in several years. Reasons range from lack of adequate car supply and unacceptable service by the Illinois & Midland Railroad.

The real reason, however, may be that Weaver Popcorn is processing and bagging popcorn at its Forest City facility and no longer needs to ship in bulk to its Van Buren, Indiana plant.

Despite this, rail facilities remain intact, so I’m profiling it here. Hopefully, railcar loading will resume in the near future.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – United Suppliers LLC

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United Suppliers LLC’s Henry fertilizer plant on November 9, 2012

United Suppliers LLC operates a granular fertilizer plant on Henry’s northside. It is a neighbor to Emerald Polymer Additives LLC, Mexichem Specialty Resins Inc. and Ozinga Materials, all of which are served by the Iowa Interstate Railroad.

The Davison Chemical Division of W. R. Grace Chemical Co. built an anhydrous ammonia terminal and granulation plant here in 1966 with production commencing in early 1967. Eventually, it appears, W. R. Grace spun off the operation in 1988 to a new entity called Henry Fertilizer Co. In 1995, Agrium US acquired the facility and expanded it. But changing market conditions led to closure by 2002. Fortunately, United Suppliers LLC acquired it that year, and has been making granular fertilizer in Henry ever since.

Typical ingredients for granular fertilizer are ammonium sulfate, potash, phosphoric acid and phosphate. Bulk granular fertilizer shipments move in covered hoppers, and there is reason to believe bagged fertilizer may be loaded into boxcars from time to time.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Taloma Farmers Grain Co.

Taloma Farmers Grain Co. maintains rail-served grain loading facilities at both Delavan and Allen Station (west of San Jose). These will be profiled here together.

Taloma Farmers Grain Co. at Delavan, May 6, 2011

The present Delavan Farmers Cooperative Elevator, built in 1957, was served by both the Gulf Mobile & Ohio and Illinois Central for many years. The two carriers merged in 1972 to form the Illinois Central Gulf as a way to meet barge and truck competition. But the competition had unfair advantage: government-funded facilities in the former of navigable rivers and surfaced roads. As long as grain moved in small volume and short distances to processors, it was not competitive with trucking. Likewise, export grain could be trucked to Illinois River ports at Pekin much cheaper (and quicker) than the Illinois Central Gulf.

Eventually, the railroad industry gained control of its destiny through freedom of pricing. After halving shed thousands of miles to a core system, the Illinois Central Railroad by the early 1990s had become far more efficient and profitable. In the mid-1990s, Delavan Farmers Cooperative Elevator-successor Taloma Farmers Grain Company installed new rail facilities and load two storage tracks on the long-abandoned Gulf Mobile & Ohio right-of-way.

Between my first visit in 1997 and 2004, it seemed this elevator used rail only rarely or not at all. Today, the Delavan elevator regular ships corn and soybeans via Canadian National Railway to Decatur or other points.

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Taloma Farmers Grain Co. Allen Station on June 5, 2013

Union Pacific began serving this 2 million bushel elevator in 1998 after completion of an additional siding and elevator track. This facility, located just west of San Jose, can load unit trains of up to 100 cars. Likely destinations are in Arkansas, Texas and possibly even Mexico.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Specialized Transport

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Specialized Transport hauls a variety of commodities, including power poles. This load was parked by TZPR freight house on August 3, 2011.

Little information on is available Specialized Transport, except that which comes from a letter supporting Genesee & Wyoming Inc’s acquisition of RailAmerica (see page 548):

“My name is Dave Hibbert, owner of Specialized Transport located at 305 Wesley Road East Peoria, IL. Specialized Transport has been in business since January of 2000. The TZPR in Creve Coeur, IL and the I&MRR in Springfield, IL provide services to our crossdock operations and our transload facilities. Our customers for the transload facilities include Commonwealth Edison (electric supplier for Central & North Illinois), Do It Best Corporation, Nudo, Truss-Slater and several other smaller companies. They depend on these two railroads for services as well. We unload poles from flat cars, roofing shingles & plywood from boxcars and lumber from center beam cars. We have also reloaded Caterpillar parts into boxcars.”

It appears that Specialized Transport handles much of the business formerly belonging to Peoria & Pekin Union Railway subsidiary Peoria Midwest Transportation Service (PMTS). I wrote a separate profile for Carver Lumber and MBS Building Supplies, though it appears Specialized Transport may handle crossdock operations for them.

The reference to reloading Caterpillar parts into boxcars is interesting. I know that in late summer 2002, at least two boxcars were loaded with track-and-link assemblies at then-P&PU’s freight house and sent west on the Union Pacific, but probably none since.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Seneca Petroleum

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Tank cars at new Seneca Petroleum rail facilities in Peoria, Ill. February 25, 2012

Little definitive information about Seneca Petroleum Co. can be found on the Internet, so when I noticed two new “stub tracks” built between ADM’s South Yard and Peoria River Terminal in the summer of 2011, I wasn’t sure to whom they belonged. I’d only know for sure when Genesee & Wyoming Inc. mentioned this company in its application before the federal Surface Transportation Board to control RailAmerica.

Unlike neighboring Peoria River Terminal, Seneca doesn’t use rail much. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen any tank cars at its rail facilities in more than two years (not that I haven’t missed some). That said, Seneca Petroleum qualifies as a Peoria Area Rail User.

All three railroads with access to ADM’s River Track – the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad, Toledo Peoria & Western Railway and Union Pacific Railroad – can serve Seneca Petroleum. But only one (probably the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad) actually does so.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Seneca Foods

Seneca Foods’ Princeville cannery has a long history that goes back to at least the 1920s. The Princeville Canning Co. name was used for many years until acquired by Joan of Arc Co. in 1970.

After the Pillsbury Co. acquired Joan of Arc in 1985, the Princeville cannery was put of for sale. Owatonna Canning Co. acquired it in 1988 and revived the “Princeville Canning Co.” name. Chiquita Brands International acquired Owatonna in 1997 and had its Friday Canning Co. operate the Princeville plant. Eventually, this was rebranded “Chiquita Processed Foods.”

Seneca Foods acquired Chiquita’s vegetable canning business in 2003. In 2010, a large new warehouse was built, 215′ x 300′ and 36′ high.

During the late summer and early fall, Seneca ships canned pumpkin in boxcars to distribution centers in Idaho and Massachusetts. I shot video September 5, 2013 showing a BNSF local train picking up a boxcar here.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Scotwood Industries

Two tank cars spotted for unloading at Tazewell & Peoria RR Creve Coeur Team Track on February 13, 2014

Overland Park, Kansas-based Scotwood Industries specializes in dry and liquid ice melt products. This company in recent years has supplied liquid calcium chloride to area public works departments. Presumably, it still does.

And if Scotwood still does supply liquid calcium chloride to local public works departments, it appears that Tetra Chemicals is the actual manufacturer. Product shipped here is likely sourced from one of several plants – Lake Charles and Norco LA, El Dorado AR, Wichita KS or Parkersburg, WV.

Whomever consigns liquid calcium chloride to the area has it transloaded from tank cars to tank trucks at the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s Creve Team Track. This is hardly a high volume source of business. Fewer than ten cars arrive each year, and the actual number is probably closer to five.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – SCH Services LLC

An empty coal train is seen at the SCH Services LLC Havana Dock on March 9, 2014

SCH Services LLC is the apparent operator of Dynegy Inc’s Havana Coal Dock, though the company website no longer includes it in its listings. I’ll expand on this later, but first some history.

Commonwealth Edison Co. first tapped this site just north of Havana for a rail-to-barge coal transfer facility in 1933. A larger dock (behind the trees in the distance) replaced the original dock in 1937. The dock seen at left opened in 1949.

Coal loaded at mines in the area just west of Taylorville were hauled by several daily “Quiver Turns” (named after Quiver Yard, located just east of the dock). Eventually, this business dried up but was replaced, starting in early 1970, with coal from Montana and Wyoming which was dumped into barges and moved up the Illinois River for three Chicago area plants.

By 1995, this business had also dried up and Commonwealth Edison closed its Havana facilities. Four years later, Kentucky’s Southern Coal Handling Inc. acquired the facility with the intent to dismantle it and rebuilt it at Cahokia, Illinois. Local leaders convinced them to stay and in 2000, the first coal trains arrived. Coal dumped into barges here was floated upriver to Dynegy’s Hennepin plant.

Southern Coal Handling sold its barge dock to a subsidiary of Dynegy in 2001 but has continued to operate the facility. If SCH no longer operates it (which is possible), either Dynegy’s subsidiary does so directly or has contracted the operation to another party.

The Illinois & Midland Railroad delivers one or two 135-car coal trains a week to this facility. In January 2004, BNSF snatched the contract from Union Pacific, so that is the only change in many years.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014 – Ruff Bros. Grain

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Ruff Brothers Grain Co. east of Toluca, September 23, 2006

After the 1980 Staggers Rail Act deregulated railroad pricing, Class I railroads such as Santa Fe and Burlington Northern increasingly discouraged single-car shipments of grain from country elevators to barge loadouts or processors, especially if these movements were short hauls of a few hundred miles or less. But since the early 2000s, several “shuttle” loaders have popped up, either at existing or new facilities along BNSF lines in northern and western Illinois, thus restoring rail-hauled grain shipments from Illinois elevators.

One of the early players was Ruff Brothers Grain, which opened a rail loop and grain loading facility east of Toluca in 2004. Since this facility is located just inside the Marshall County line, I count it as a Peoria area rail user.

Grain trains of 110 cars each can be loaded here, typically for feedlots in Texas. The elevator can also receive grain, as it reportedly did in the fall of 2012 following a severe drought. Corn received from the Northern Plains was trucked from Ruff to an ethanol plant in East Central Illinois.

– David P. Jordan