Nation & World News

Illinois Train Conductor’s Challenge: Keep The Beer From Freezing

By Bill Chappell on January 28th, 2014

In a railyard outside Chicago, the deep cold of winter can threaten a Midwest staple: beer. The large distribution hub regularly holds more than 1 million cases, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. A Crain’s reporter spent a night on the job with the man who must keep the beer safe.

“Beer freezes at around 13 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s Bill Diamond’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. Not on his watch, at least,” reports Crain’s Meribah Knight.

Diamond is a veteran Union Pacific train conductor at the Proviso Yard in Northlake, home to a huge distribution center for locally based Crown Imports.

“It serves 107 wholesalers throughout the Midwest and holds more than 1 million cases of beer at any given time,” Knight writes.

That’s not the only challenge facing Diamond and his crew: They work to separate anywhere from 16 to 80 train cars of beer from other freight; some of that’s done manually, out in the yard. And on recent nights, they’ve been contending with temperatures that hover around zero.

The beer is particularly vulnerable when it’s waiting to go into a large warehouse known as “the beer house.” The bottles and cans — many of them Grupo Modelo’s brands such as Corona and Pacifico that have traveled the rails from Mexico — are prone to freezing solid if they sit still on the tracks.

The trick, Diamond says, is to keep the beer moving around. In what can be a tedious process, he switches cars around the yard to get them ready to go into the beer house. The movement also means that if the brews start to freeze, they’ll turn into a sort of beer slushy instead of hardening into an ice mass that can break through its sealed cap — or shatter the glass altogether.

Knight sums up a “peak season” for Diamond, who works 12-hour shifts from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.:

“During the recent polar vortex, it hit minus 18 degrees in the yard, the switches froze and beer was lost—but not a lot. Midwest Corona guzzlers owe this team a bit of gratitude. In the months leading up to Cinco de Mayo, it’s not uncommon to have 80 cars of beer in the yard at once. In Mr. Diamond’s 12 years dealing with beer, he’s learned that cans freeze faster than bottles and, surprisingly, bottles don’t always shatter when the contents freeze.”

In case you’re wondering whether Diamond is tempted to taste one of those ice-cold beers, it seems he’s not: Knight reports that he prefers rum and Coke.

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