FreightWaves Flashback 1974 — JAX mini-bridge speeds delivery of 7,000 West Coast-bound VWs

The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each Friday, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

The following is an excerpt from the April 1974 edition of the Florida Journal of Commerce magazine, which over the years grew into American Shipper. FreightWaves acquired American Shipper in July 2019.

Click here to view the entire edition of the Florida Journal of Commerce – April 1974.

Volkswagen creates mini-bridge out of Jacksonville to speed delivery of 7,000 VWs to the West Coast

JACKSONVILLE — This port overflowed with compact import autos during February-March with cars of many makes and fashions lined up in colorful platoon formations in every vacant waterfront lot and others rolling West by the trainload in one of the largest mini-bridge operations ever assembled for a single movement.

Enough Volkswagens poured into the Port of Jacksonville during February to fill the ordinary needs of the Southeast market for an entire quarter. A multitude of circumstances attributed to the sudden invasion, but the urgent need to deliver an additional 7,000 beetles to the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver) markets in the shortest possible time was the chief factor.

(While the mini-bridge operations were going on here, another rare operation was underway at San Juan, Puerto Rico. There Volkswagen delivered 440 VWs March 18 on the banana ship “Fort St. Marie” for immediate relay to the West Coast in Sea-Land containers — 2 beetles to the box. The cost via San Juan was understood to be comparable to the mini-bridge over Jacksonville.)

The mini-bridge operation here got underway with the arrival of the chartered M/S Fernfield with 1,646 autos on February 26. The cars were discharged by McGriffin & Company stevedores at Talleyrand Docks and Terminals.

As cars came off the ship, they were inspected, cleared through U.S. customs, and moved out in tri-level rail cars to Manuel, California, in the Los Angeles dock area. At Manuel, they would be processed and redistributed in the normal manner as if they had just come off a ship from Germany.

The day after “Fernfield” discharged here, the small reefer ship M/S Vegesack arrived at Talleyrand with an additional 285 cars for L.A. The regular automobile carrier M/S Norse Transporter arrived with another 1,650 VWs for the West Coast on March 12.

To facilitate the mini-bridge operation, railroads participating in the movement lined up 110 tri-level auto carrier rail cars, each capable of carrying 18 Volkswagens.

The rate to Los Angeles is $3,682 per carload, averaging out at about $20 per car. For the Fernfield’s entire shipload, it cost about $338,000, but almost three weeks sailing time was saved.

Seaboard Coast Line supplied 15 cars, the Frisco 15, Cotton Belt and Southern Pacific 60, and Union Pacific 20.

As the rail cars were loaded, they were put on a run-through train non-stop to L.A., according to Robert Hess who handled the shipment for SCL. If possible the rail cars were to load again in L.A. with Japanese cars destined for the East Coast, but if no cars were immediately available, the trains were to return empty as the name of the game is speed.

According to Hess, SCL took the car as far as Birmingham. The Frisco pulled them to Memphis where some were picked up by the Cotton Belt and Southern Pacific. Other cars were then routed through Omaha and Kansas City and finally delivered to L.A. by the Union Pacific.

Future shipments may go over SCL/L&N through New Orleans. In choosing routes, Hess said Volkswagen tried to find the fastest straight-through route while trying to give each railroad a percentage of the haul equal to the percentage of cars they provided for the mini-bridge.

The percentage of cars donated by the Frisco and SCL was lower than the other lines, according to Hess, because of the large number of domestic autos being delivered by rail along the East Coast creating a shortage of rail cars.

While Volkswagen was looking for rail cars to deliver VWs to the West Coast, they were having trouble finding space on Blount Island to put all the cars being discharged for delivery to the Southeast.

On February 13, H.L. Rather, Volkswagen North America’s supply and distribution manager, and his assistant, Conrad Woerman, came from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., to Jacksonville to look over the facilities at Talleyrand and Blount Island, where VW now receives autos for its Southeast market.

Because of delay last fall in signing the contract for the move to Blount Island, paved holding areas for the automobiles had not yet been completed. The great number of Volkswagens which came in during the month of February and the problems of trying to pave parking areas resulted in Volkswagens being held on Blount Island anywhere space was available.

Many of the vessels coming into Blount Island carrying Volkswagens during the past month were small banana ships of a type not used extensively by Volkswagen at Jacksonville for many years. Others were large, specialized auto carriers.