During these frosty, freezing days of winter, take a moment to appreciate that beer you’re raising to your lips, in all its unfrozen, unslushy glory. It’s not easy getting that brew from its factory to your door in the icy months, but rest easy — one train crew and its stalwart conductor are on the job.
When temperatures dip below freezing and get down to about 13 degrees Fahrenheit, beer likes to freeze. Well who knows if it likes it, but that is what it does. Crain’s Business got an inside peek at a day in the life of train crews responsible for getting loads of beer from one place to the next without letting it slushify.
The 56-year-old train conductor on the job for the Union Pacific Railroad Co. in an Illinois rail yard has been workign the rails for 37 years, with the last 12 devoted to delivering cars of Grupo Modelo S.A.B de C.V. beer — Corona, Modelo Especial, Pacifico and Victoria — coming up from Mexico and heading to a nearby “beer house,” or simply, a warehouse.
The colder it gets, the tougher his job is.
“As long as they keep moving they may get slushy, but they won’t freeze,” he says of his cars full of beer.
When it’s time to sort the cars of beer, it’s time to really suit up.
“It’s all about layers,” the conductor says. Layers indeed: There’s steel-toed boots wrapped in plastic bags before slipping them into massive rubber boots, windbreaker pants, a fleece, a quilted jacket, a hat with fleece-lined bill and earflaps, and of course, a seasonal beard.
“It really cuts the wind,” he says.
He and his team head out to sort the cars and move them through the yard. It can be tough going, especially in the months before Cinco de Mayo, when up to 80 cars of beer can be in the yard at one time.
The distributors who have their beer going through the yard are grateful for how quickly the team works, with Chicago-based Crown Imports’ manager of transportation praising the yard workers.
“They will always make an extra effort to move cars through the yard a little quicker when there is that opportunity for freezing beer,” he says.
After hours of moving the cars around and taking 16 loads of beer into the beer house, it’s 1 degree outside and the workers start unloading the beer. The more jostling, the better — the movement helps keep the beer from freezing.
“Just another rough night on the railroad,” the conductor says when all is said and done. And not one beer had frozen when it was unloaded in the morning. You’re welcome, everyone. Enjoy that beer and maybe pour some out for these guys.
This brew crew keeps trainloads of beer from freezing [Crain's Business]