"A modern containerport is a factory whose scale strains the limits of imagination. At each berth - the world's biggest ports have dozens - rides a mammoth oceangoing vessel, up to 1,100 feel long and 140 feet across, carrying nothing but metal containers.......A ship carrying 3,000 40-foot containers filled with 100,000 tons of shoes and clothes and electronics may make the three-week transit from Hong Kong around the Cape of Good Hope to Germany with only twenty people on board.
"on the wharf, a row of enormous cranes goes into action almost as soon as the ship ties up. The cranes are huge steel structures, rising 200 feet in the air and weighing more than two million pounds. Their legs stretch 50 feet apart, easily wide enough for several truck lanes or even train tracks to pass beneath.......each crane moving 30 or 40 boxes an hour from ship to dock. As parts of the ship are cleared of incoming containers, reloading begins, and dockside activity becomes even more frenzied. Each time the crane places an incoming container on one vehicle, it picks up an outbound container from another, simultaneously emptying and filling the ship........as the stacking crane lifts the container onto a steel chassis pulled by an over-the-road truck. The truck may take the cargo hundreds of miles to its destination or may haul it to a nearby rail yard, where low-slung cars specially designed for containers await loading."
"The colorful chaos of the old-time pier is nowhere in evidence at a major container terminal, the brawny longshoremen carrying bags of coffee on their shoulders is nowhere to be seen. Terry Mallory, the muscular hero played by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, would not be at home. Almost every one of the intricate movements required to service a vessel is choreographed by a computer long before the ship arrives."
"The result of all this hectic activity is a nearly seamless system for shipping freight around the world. A 35-ton container of coffeemakers can leave a factory in Malaysia, be loaded aboard a ship, and cover the 9,000 miles to Los Angeles in 16 days. A day later, the container is on a unit train to Chicago, where it is transferred immediately to a truck headed to Cincinnati. The 11,000 mile trip from the factory gate to the Ohio warehouse can take as little as 22 days, at a rate of 500 miles per day, at a cost lower than that of a single first-class air ticket. More than likely, no one has touched the contents , or even opened the container, along the way."
Excerpts from The Box: How the Shipping Container Made
the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
more to follow..........................