PASSENGER CAR CLEANING
By George Whiteley
Superintendent of Motive Power and Car Department
The restored Canadian Pacific Railway Solarium Lounge car River Rouge once used on the Trans-Canada Limited -
11 Oct 2003 William Slim.
Many, many years ago Canadian Pacific published a series of ten books named the
"Foundation Library". One particular book in this collection, published in 1937, is named "Factors in
Railway and Steamship Operation". It contains many short stories and articles dealing with the company during
that period. This month's article is from that book, "Passenger Car Cleaning", written by George Whiteley
and reprinted here for your enjoyment with the addition of some appropriate photographs.
The 1937 Article
Car cleaning is one of the major problems confronting the railways, particularly as the public demand grows for
comfort, cleanliness, and sanitation. It is the never ending fight that the Company has been waging against dust and
other forms of dirt since the first through passenger train rolled westward across the country from Montreal to the
coast 50 years ago. It is no mere dusting job that keeps the Company's hundreds of coaches, sleeping, dining, parlour, and lounge cars
fresh and shining, day in and day out, the year round.
At all large
divisional points across the entire system there is an experienced staff whose particular job is car
cleaning, inside and out. Equipped with the most modern devices there is little these men do not know about cleaning
and sanitation. The largest staffs of this kind are maintained at terminals such as Glen Yards and Toronto Union,
where hundreds of men are assigned to this work. They clean as many as two hundred cars daily at each point.
Car cleaners trained in every detail of the work and aided by the most modern equipment perform so thorough and speedy
a job that it must be seen to be appreciated.
Car cleaning is a business of its own. When railways first brought out their sleeping cars, men had to learn how best
to clean them and keep them sanitary. As a result, necessity as usual became the prolific mother of invention, and
today modern household science owes many of its chief developments to this unique trade. Housewives could get many
hints from watching the special thorough cleaning given to sleeping cars at frequent intervals.
As the process is much the same at the Glen Yards as elsewhere, it might be interesting to study one of the special
cleaning jobs done here. Live steam, compressed air, and vacuum cleaners do much of the work, but even with the
assistance of these and other labour-saving devices it takes approximately 25 man-hours for
the complete cleaning inside and out, of a sleeping car.
In the first place, everything is taken from the car - carpets, seat cushions, mattresses, drapes, bedding, head
rests, pillows, blankets, and berth curtains. When the car is entirely stripped of interior moveable equipment the
All of the dust inside the car is blown out by means of compressed air. Sufficient air pressure is used to insure
complete removal of all dust from corners, around the seats, between the windows, and around the pipes. The bunks are
brushed out and washed by hand with a disinfectant. All windows are thoroughly cleaned by dry wiping or by using
cleanser. The toilet hoppers are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The nickel work, wash basins, and mirrors are
cleaned and polished. All cuspidors are cleaned and disinfected. The woodwork is either
dusted, washed, or polished as required. The floors, toilets, and vestibules are washed with a soapy solution
containing a disinfectant. The ceilings are washed when necessary.
Meanwhile, the furnishings that have been taken from the cars are put through several novel processes which thoroughly
clean them. The linen, of course, is not handled by the car cleaners. This important feature is left to the sleeping
and dining car department.
Blankets and berth curtains, air cleaned every time a car is cleaned at
Montreal or any other terminal, are sent out periodically for dry-cleaning. The blankets, incidentally, are
especially made for the Company, and are too valuable to be trusted to the ordinary wash-tub. The air cleaning machine is a simple device, a
pipe with many vents, which forces air under pressure through the blankets, removing all dust.
and carpets are also taken to the same dust mill. Compressed air, applied to the seats by an easily operated
hand machine, blows clouds of dust from the interior of the seat, the top, and along the edges. This cleaning is done
with a thoroughness and rapidity that is truly amazing to the layman. The process used in cleaning carpets would be a
revelation to husbands who spend sweaty hours in the backyard, beating an unfortunate carpet slung over the clothes
line. The carpet, nap down, is run through a large machine. About 50 leather paddles, a foot long and about 2 inches
wide, revolve on a main axis to beat out all the dust. Blowers are used to carry the dust away, and revolving brushes
keep the nap of the carpet looking neat and new. Mattresses and pillows are also placed
on a moving table and subjected to the same kind of beating and air cleaning. The work here is done quickly and efficiently,
as in all other processes employed in cleaning cars.
Although the above description illustrates the thoroughness with which the work is done on sleeping cars,
other cars used in passenger service are cleaned with the same care.
The amount of car cleaning that a car requires depends entirely upon the service to which it is assigned. Naturally,
cars in local runs do not require the same amount of cleaning daily, and consequently, in a
well-organized coach cleaning yard, there is a schedule of the class of cleaning which a car should
There are three classifications of car cleaning in the vernacular of the coach yard, namely, Thorough Cleaning,
Terminal Cleaning, and Railroad Cleaning. These terms represent the amount of cleaning that is required to be done on
a car to put it in a good clean and sanitary condition. The amount of labour involved in cleaning the outside of a
passenger car depends largely on the length of time it has been in service and the territory through which it
operates; the cars travelling through the prairies and tunnels naturally accumulate more dirt and grime, and require
more effort to remove it. At frequent intervals it is necessary to use a patent solution to loosen this dirt, followed
by several dousings of clear water. At other times it is necessary only to wipe down the car or to wash it with clear
At certain stated periods all passenger cars must be fumigated; a "thorough" fumigation must be given to
cars in cases of actual infection; and "ordinary" fumigation must be given to sleeping cars at periods of
not over thirty days. All local cars running to points having sanatoriums for consumptives must receive fumigation on
each round trip.
One of the car employee's particularly important duties is the drinking water supply. Samples of drinking water are
taken regularly from water containers for official analysis. On Eastern Lines alone the Company has about 24 samples
tested each month, in addition to inspection made by government men. The drinking water is carried in metal containers
having a section for water and one for ice. The law governing public carriers rules that ice cannon be put into the
water and must be kept separate. These containers are sterilized at regular intervals. The apparatus for sterilizing
and cleaning these is another useful invention. The containers are placed in a large metal box in which there is a
series of pipes and racks on which the containers and covers are placed. These pipes have all been perforated and
allow live steam to come in direct contact with the containers; after they have been subjected to this sterilizing
process for some time cold water is turned on for cooling and rinsing.
This is the fire extinguisher used on passenger cars from 1910 until the 1950's. Solid brass, 3 inches
in diameter and 14 inches in length.
Something new in cleaning has been introduced since the Company started operating air-conditioned cars.
The air entering the car for ventilation is passed through special filters and these filters must be cleaned
thoroughly at stated periods. On Eastern Lines this is usually done after the filters have been in service for
approximately 1,200 to 1,400 miles. In order to take care of this work it was necessary to have specially equipped
plants. These filters are removed from the cars and taken to a rack where they are placed in an upright position and
washed with steam and hot water under pressure. After this they are placed in a drying oven which has a temperature
of at least 160 degrees F. The hot air in the oven is driven through the filter by a fan. When the filters are dry,
they are then either dipped in a vat containing a viscous liquid, or the liquid is sprayed on. They are then placed in
another oven and baked for period of at least eight hours, after which they are removed and put into storage racks
ready for service. It has also been necessary to devise a means of cleaning the air-distributing ducts
and the heating and cooling units, which is usually accomplished by using brushes and compressed air. At intervals
these air distributing ducts are sprayed with a fumigant.
And then too, there are the innumerable things people leave behind them. Not long ago, in Montreal, one of the car
cleaners came running to the car foreman with a roll of bills. There was $300 in all, and it was turned over to the
Lost and Found Department, but never claimed. False teeth and crutches have been found in the cars here.
There was a peculiar case at Vancouver when a cleaner came across a bundle of letters touchingly tied with a blue
ribbon. To his eternal credit let it be said that he does not know to this day whether they were love letters or
The bottom part of pajama suits seems to be the article most often left behind in a sleeping car, and veteran car
cleaners ascribe this to the habit people have of throwing pajamas carelessly into the berth, where they are apt to
get mixed up with the bedclothes.
Most articles, however, run the whole gamut of male and female adornment from unromantic socks, garters, and
suspenders to luxurious under things and négligés. Shaving brushes and razors are commonly forgotten.
Fishing rods - a few of them very expensive things - amazingly have been mislaid - probably the fish refused to bite
and the owner got disgusted. Eyeglasses, keys, card-cases containing driving licences, other indispensables, earrings, brooches, necklaces,
and even watches are frequently left behind.
Occasionally, too, a traveller leaves a wallet containing money under his pillow, but he usually finds it out in time,
and is back to the car before the train leaves the station for the coach yards.
If you should be travelling any time, however, and leave something behind in the car, don't give it up as lost.
Porters and car cleaners are very honest people and take great pains to turn in lost articles to the sleeping and
dining car offices, where and when they were found and by whom, with the number of the car and the sleeping car space
for further identification.
By Michael Leduc
White Mountain Publications
Box 1178 New Liskeard Ontario P0J 1P0
64 pages - 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches - 14 x 21.5 centimetres - soft cover $22.
This book covers the history of CPR's Glen Yard in Montreal. The yard was built to service locomotives and passenger cars
using Windsor Station. At its greatest extent the yard had 76 tracks totaling 16 miles in length. The book outlines
its founding, growth, and decline to abandonment.
Associated Web Sites
Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Historical Association
Additional CPR Web Sites