By the late 1950's it was thought that additional small box cars (as opposed to ventilated louvre vans – e.g. “U” vans) were required to replace both older vehicles and to provide for future railway traffic. At the time many older open 4-wheeled “I” and “IA” wagons and “U” louvre vans were being scrapped.
Thus it was planned to build 500 (4 wheeled – 14 ton capacity) steel box cars onto both scrapped and/or new underframes. The bodies of the box cars were of a style similar to the medium size bogie box vans coded “BB” and “BP” that had recently been built. The planned construction of “B” vans was later reduced to 400. The order was actually stopped at 350 built but with extra components still left unused, a further 30 vans were constructed taking the total class to 380 vehicles.
The prototype van B 1 was built at the North Melbourne wagon workshops, entering service on December 10th 1957. It was unique in that it merely had plain, sheet-steel ends without the strengthening pressings. It seems the rest of the class (379 wagons) were built at Bendigo North Workshops between September 19th, 1958 and June 6th 1961 from both second-hand underframes from vehicles constructed between 1909 and 1921 (about 1/3 of the fleet) and the remainder on newly constructed underframes (about 2/3 of the fleet).
The three “B” box vans in the DSCR collection are all interesting in they were in the 1/3 of the fleet built on underframes with “past lives”.
The Ford Motor Company opened its plant in Geelong in March 1925. Post World War II and struggling against General Motors / Holden (GM, at whose heart is our Rail Motor Car 63RM!) Ford decided to build a new $37M assembly plant at Campbellfield (Broadmeadows) Victoria. For this plant Ford decided to adapt the US-designed Falcon. The plant opened in 1959 and by 1960 the first Falcon was being produced there.
As Geelong temporarily remained a body building plant (later to become merely a component and engine plant) the problem for Ford was logistics between the two plants……….enter the Victorian Railways!
In the transition period Falcon bodies were built at the old Geelong plant and shipped by rail to Broadmeadows for completion. To facilitate this traffic the Victorian Railways converted one hundred and twenty four “I” and “IA” open wagons, most of them being prepared for scrap and therefore with no vehicle number identity to Falcon body carrying specialised rail vehicles.
These 4-wheeled car body carriers were classified “KF” (“K” = 4-wheeled flat car; “F” = Ford) and were numbered 1 to 124; entering service in this second role in both 1959 and 1960. When this role ended 58 “KF” wagons remained in the same usage but were reclassified “KW” due to the potential for confusion with wagons using the new Albury - Melbourne “standard gauge” line that were also using the letter “F” for speed classification.
DSCR’s “KF 91” was not amongst these 58 vehicles. Parts were then transported between the two Ford plants, rather than full motor car bodies. “I” and “IA” wagons took over the parts transfer role until 1977 with the introduction of the huge 60 foot long “BFW” box cars. There were reclassified “VBCW” in 1979 and the Ford’s train discontinued about 1987 when Ford’s transferred all their work to “B-Double” road trucks and left rail forever.
Then “KF 91” was officially placed “Off Register” (Scrapped) on March 27th 1961. She entered North Bendigo Workshops on May 5, 1961 and was rebuilt as “B 372” being the 7th last “B” van ever built. On November 14, 1979 she was again placed “Off Register” after just 18 years as a “B” van. Through fate she luckily survived scrapping and is now in the DSCR collection at Daylesford. B372 is not currently operational and is painted for circa 1976 period.
By the early 1980's, most “B” vans were rapidly being scrapped with some diverted into use as Departmental vehicles for the Way and Works and other Branches. In this guise some vans retained the classification “B” whereas most were reclassified “HD”.
The reason for the name of the “HD” vehicles is really interesting. Their classification has its heritage in the box vans acquired from the private Deniliquin & Moama Railway takeover by the Victorian Railways in 1923. This railway was built entirely in New South Wales but only connected to the Victorian Railways system at Echuca. It was planned as an “add-on” the original, private “Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway” (Southern Cross – Bendigo – Echuca), which went broke during early stages of construction and led to the formation of the Victorian (Government) Railways Department to complete the Railway.
At some point these purely “number only” D&MR wagons were assigned the coding “HD”, the “H” adopted from the official (then - old coding) VR wagon coding alphabet for “box wagon” and the “D” to denote the private origins of the wagon from the D&MR. This coding system was applied to the vehicles prior to the 1920's to assist in rolling stock identification when these private wagons ventured onto Victorian Government railway lines. Prior to this, “HD” coding the D&M stock was unclassed. The numbers of the HD vans were merely D&M Railway wagon numbers 5 to 31.
After the VR takeover and as these box vans had been built in the late 1870's, they were deemed unsuitable for freight traffic and were placed into service as railway 'plant'/service trucks. As previously outlined, these vans were used for storing workmens’ materials. These 1870’s Deniliquin and Moama Railway box vans began to be scrapped up to as late as the 1950’s. Their replacements were vehicles like the 1959/1960 VR built “B” 4-wheeled box vans which were modified for the same service stock use.
The “B” vans were the last modern 4-wheeled box cars ever built by the Victorian Railways. They transported non-perishable “less-than-car-load” small freight consignments to the dying branch lines of the once mighty VR. When the next/last large “batch” of Victorian branch lines were rapidly closed over 1976 - 1978 period, these not very old vehicles no longer had a role.
Prepared by Sean Kelly with thanks to rolling stock historian Peter J. Vincent and the late Frank Kelly.