CARS OF THE EARLY LINES.
AT the outset car building was, if possible, in a more primitive
condition than the construction of locomotives. Many individuals
felt as free to adopt their own devices as if the vehicles were
to be used on common roads. The first car used for transporting
passengers on an English road resembled a small log cabin on wheels,
and some of the earliest American cars were not much better. Another
English device was to fit up on railway trucks a platform on which
passengers could place their own carriages and sit in them while
they were traveling. Some of the best of the primitive American
passenger cars were stage-bodies put on trucks adapted to the
rails, and a number of the expedients were of a less convenient
and appropriate character. Pictures of some of the early cars
represent stage-coaches, and others depict clumsy covered box-wagons,
some of which had seats made of rough planks.
DEVELOPMENT OF A NECESSITY FOR "SPRINGS."
The National Car Builder says that "the cars for carrying
passengers on the Liverpool and Manchester road in 1830 were without
roofs, the body consisting of floor sills, and side and end framing
boarded up. There were no springs, and the journal-boxes were
bolted to the sills. In the following year springs were introduced
for the purpose of protecting the rigid frame from the shocks
of concussion. This improvement could hardly fail to be suggested
by the important service rendered by springs in ordinary vehicles.
The face of the car wheels were next made conical instead of flat,
in order that they might get around curves more easily. A few
years later came the class carriages, designated as first, second,
and third class, the first having cushioned seats, but quite devoid
of any special ornamentation. In addition to these there were
'mixed' carriages, so-called, having three compartments, the centre
one being for first-class passengers and the other two for second
In a report of the Baltimore and Ohio for the year ended September
30th, 1831, Jonathan Knight, chief engineer, says: "It has
been found absolutely necessary to the comfort of passengers,
that carriages used for their conveyance should be mounted upon
springs, or upon some equivalent elastic fixture, And the jars
and concussions that would destroy the comfort of the passengers,
become increased with a load of stone, minerals, or of agricultural
products, or with any other loading having a less elasticity than
persons, and although the articles of traffic may not be damaged,
yet the effects upon the carriage and road will be injurious.
The chief disadvantage to be apprehended from springs is their
cost, but should this be more than returned in the increased desirability
of the cars the investment would be profitable. Under these considerations
it is recommended that a number of burthen cars shall be furnished
with springs in order to test their advantageous use on such cars."
IMPROVEMENTS ON THE BALTIMORE AND OHIO.
Of cars used in early operations on the Baltimore and Ohio
Mr. George W. Smith, in his notes on Wood's Treatise on Rail-roads,
published in 1832, says: "The wheels of the wagons are made
in accordance with the old-fashioned plan formerly pursued on
some of the colliery railroads in Great Britainthe felloe
being slightly conical, and curving towards the flange; this has,
however, been claimed as a new and important invention. The novelty
of railroads in this country, has induced many ingenious persons,
connected with this railroad, to submit to the public, through
the press, a number of devices purporting to be original; all
of which (so far as they have been examined by the writer) are
either in use, or have been proposed elsewhere, with two exceptions,
namely, the mode of oiling the friction wheel of the wagon, claimed
by Winans, and the plan of oiling common axles by means of a cork
floating in oil; the latter was introduced by Colonel Long."
Other accounts of early operations at Baltimore state that
in December, 1828, Ross Winans exhibited in that city the model
of a car weighing about 125 pounds and running upon tracks. It
was repeatedly loaded with deposits of 5 cwt. and two men, and
the whole weight drawn by a piece of twine. This feat attracted
much attention, as it was regarded as a remarkable demonstration
of advantages that could be derived from the use of such anti-friction
Another account says that the first car was like a market-car
on wooden wheels. The next was a nine-passenger coach, with leathern
braces and springs. At a later date Ross Winans made an eight-wheeled
passenger car which he styled the Columbus. It was followed by
novel devices, one of which was nicknamed by the workmen the Sea
Serpent, and another the Dromedary, and then by improvements of
the eight-wheeled car embodied in vehicles called Washington cars.
Baltimore was one of the early centres of car improvements.
Of the first passenger car on the Baltimore and Ohio, a modern
writer says that on this road "ran, first of all, a little,
clap-boarded cabin on wheels, for all the world like one of those
North Carolina mountain huts, with the driver perched on top of
the front portico-driver, because the motive power then was one
horse in tread-mill box."
It was succeeded by something like a market car on wheels,
and subsequently by stage-coach bodies. An advance is described
in the Baltimore American, of August 4th, 1830, as a device of
Richard Imlay, of which that journal says that "the body
of the carriage will contain twelve persons, and the outside seats
at either end will receive six, including the driver. On the top
of the carriage is placed a double sofa, running length wise,
which will accommodate twelve more. A wire netting rises from
two sides of the carriage to a height which renders the top seats
perfectly secure. The whole is surmounted by in iron framework,
with an awning to protect from sun or rain. The carriage, which
is named the Ohio, is very handsomely finished."
Cars similar to the above were run upon the Baltimore and Ohio
until a year or two later, when Ross Winans built what is reported
to be the first eight-wheel car ever constructed for passengers.
It was a large box, with a truck of four wheels at either end,
and seats on top, which were reached by a ladder at one of the
corners. Several improvements on this device speedily followed,
and the one which met with most general favor resembled a combination
of three coach bodies into one, divided into three apartments,
and entered by doors on the side of each apartment. This device
was succeeded shortly afterwards, on the Baltimore and Ohio, by
cars embodying the plan, which has since been almost universally
adopted, of having doors only at the front and rear of the car,
and with an aisle between seats extending through the entire length
of the car.
Much importance was attached to inventions of Ross Winans,
which were reported to include the chilled-iron car wheel and
other devices, which had a tendency to diminish friction. An engineer,
writing in 1831, says: "A few years ago Tredgold estimated
the friction at one in 130. N. Wood ventured as far as one in
200. Now the Winans car enables one pound to draw 450." Another
account states that "the Winans wagon, invented by an American,
was the model used both in the United States and England. The
wheels were three feet high, and the wagon ran with a friction,
according to a statement published it the time, of only 2½
pounds to the ton. The wagon would run, by its own gravity, on
a railroad that inclines 5 feet 10¾ inches a mile, or one
inch in 70 feet, which was considered one of the wonders of the
An early account of a trial trip on the Little Schuylkill and
Susquehanna Railroad, opened in November, 1831, says that "two
splendid pleasure cars, of Baltimore construction, containing
about sixty persons, propelled by two horses each, and one of
less dimensions, and lighter construction, with one horse, and
two trucks for burthen, also containing passengers," were
An early description of cars says: "The railway cars or
carriages are fitted with iron wheels, which, being cast in a
chill, afford surfaces like hardened steel. Each wheel has a flange,
or projecting rim, of about one inch in depth, which runs below
the rail plates on the inner side of the tracks, and which effectually
prevents the wheels from leaving the rails."
THE FIRST EIGHT-WHEELED CAR IN THE UNITED STATES.
In connection with the claim of Ross Winans to the invention
of an eight-wheeled car, and suits brought against various companies
for an infringement of his patents relating to this subject, a
protracted legal controversy sprang up during the sixth decade.
It was reported that if his claims had been fully sustained the
amount of damages might have amounted to several millions of dollars,
and that a quarter of a million of dollars was spent in the various
car suits. The final decision was adverse to Mr. Winans, largely
on account of evidence furnished by Gridley Bryant, projector
and constructor of the Quincy Railroad, built in 1826, to the
effect that he had used eight-wheeled cars in hauling extra heavy
loads of stone on that road, which eight-wheeled cars he had formed
by attaching together, by a platform and ring bolts, such trucks
as were commonly used on his four-wheeled cars.
Captain John Grant, who was officially connected with the Pontchartrain
Railroad, running out of New Orleans, for a distance of 5½
miles, which was opened in 1830, says that on that line the coaches
were of every design and pattern, and the appearance of a train
of cars was so unique that in comparison with a train of the present
day it was ludicrous in the extreme. He added that one of the
most remarkable of the early coaches was used on the Charleston
and Hamburg. This car was in reality a mammoth cistern laid on
wheels. A door was out in each end, and between the hoops were
cut openings that served as windows. The seats were arranged longitudinally
inside the car, which, as it stood on the rails, was an object
of great curiosity to Captain Grant, familiar as he thought he
was with every form of railroad cars in use in those days.
The following reference to these novel cars is made in the
report of the South Carolina Railroad (which had originally been
the Charleston and Hamburg), for the half year ending June 30th,
1840: "Another improvement, of perhaps greater importance,
and which has originated with ourselves, is the barrel carconstructed
both for passengers and freight. These are made with staves grooved
and dove-tailed together, and supported by six iron hoops two
inches wide by half inch thickdoors at both ends. The passenger
car is 30 feet long in the clear, with portico at the ends 2½
feet long. The diameter in the centre is 9 feet, and at the ends
8 feet. The staves are 1¼-inch boards 5 to 6 inches wide,
extending the whole length of the car. There are 20 windows on
each side, 15 x 30 inches, glazedthe sash passing up overhead.
The freight car, which has been in use about four months, is only
21 feet longbut others are being constructed 30 feet long,
and will carry about 40 to 50 bales of cotton, or 15,000 pounds
of other goods."
LIMITED CAPACITY OF FREIGHT CARS.
The freight cars used on coal roads before passenger traffic
was commenced were of limited capacity. On the Mauch Chunk Railway
each car weighed 16 cwt., and carried 32 cwt in addition.
On the Little Schuylkill, an early coal road of Pennsylvania,
the cars used carried three tons of coal. The wheels were three
feet in diameter, and five of them on one side were loose on the
axle, which also revolved. This arrangement was adopted to lessen
friction on curves. Stage-coach bodies were used for the conveyance
Jonathan Knight, civil engineer of the Baltimore and Ohio,
in 1832, said: "As the most economical ratio of weight between
that of a car and its load is 1 to 3, and as the weight of a car
to carry 3 tons is 1 ton, we shall, therefore, on the present
occasion, assume the proper weight of each car to be 1 ton, and
its freight 3 tons, as a general rule, upon great lines of railway."
It is stated that "the first freight cars put on the Boston
and Albany were made just large enough to hold two hogsheads of
molasses, and one director, named Hammond, was considered well
nigh insane because he predicted that as many as eighty-five such
freight cars of that pattern would at some time be needed between
Boston and Albany. When the long cars were first introduced it
was the custom of the company to number each end separately, so
that the goods in one end of the car were billed under one number,
and those in the other end were differently designated."
One of the most distinguished of American engineers says: "The
cars first in use were small affairs. The 'burden cars,' as freight
cars were then called, were boxes, a little larger than their
width, and had a wheel at each corner. Three or four tons made
a load for one of them. Cars and engines have been in course of
improvement ever since the first were put on the track."
"In 1831," said John Stephenson, the veteran builder
of horse cars, to a New York Tribune reporter, "I designed
and built the first tramcar of the first railway for street service
in this country or abroad. The car consisted of three separate
compartments, each compartment holding ten persons, and being
entered by separate doors, on the side, from a guard-rail. Seats
were provided on top of the car for thirty more persons. The car
was very much like the English railway coach, though it was considerably
lower. It was hauled by a team of horses, the conductor remaining
outside on the rail, rain or shine. The company for which it was
built was called 'the New York and Harlem road,' running from
Prince street, on the Bowery, along the line of the Bowery to
Fourteenth street, thence along the line of the present Fourth
avenue to Yorkville and Harlem."
This style of car, or something similar, was introduced on
a number of the early railway lines while horse-power was being
used on them. A description of a Kentucky railway, opened about
1838, says that "the cars were two stories high, and very
curious-looking affairs. The lower story was inclosed, and set
apart for the use of ladies and children, while the upper story,
being open, was generally occupied by men; but in warm weather
many ladies preferred to ride up stairs, as they called the top
PASSENGER CARS ON THE CAMDEN AND AMBOY.
The first passenger cars used on the Camden and Amboy were
built at Hoboken, of a style closely resembling the English compartment
car of that period, or a three-bodied coach. They held about twenty-four
persons, and presented a neat and attractive appearance.
Of the passenger car first placed on the West Chester Railroad,
it short branch of the Philadelphia and Columbia, opened in 1832,
a correspondent of a West Chester journal gave the following account
in 1879: "The first car put on the track was built in Wilmington,
Delaware,a four-wheeled one with five seats inside, running
across the whole width of the car. The driver's seat was of equal
length and but little elevated above those inside. Each seat was
ample for five persons. There being a driver's seat at each end,
the seating capacity was sufficient for thirty-four persons besides
the driver. Along each side, outside the car, was a platform nine
inches wide, affording standing room for twenty persons. After
the thirty-four passengers had taken their places other comers
were admitted only on sufferance, and although they paid fare
they had to seek their own comfort,rather a forlorn hope,the
only solace being the consideration of a ride on a railroad;a
slight improvement on 'riding on a rail.' There was not an apology
for a spring about the car to relieve the monotony of the incessant
jar. Passengers complained of the tremor causing their heads to
itch. The oldest physician now living in West Chester, after he
had ridden a few miles out and returned, gave it as his opinion
that the constant jarring might be productive of concussion of
the brain. A joker within bearing remarked that 'if Dr. T's theory
is correct we shall soon be a community of addle-pates.' The
car was drawn by one horse, of which John Griffith (old Griffy
as he was familiarly called), was the driver."
Of the cars used on the Philadelphia and Columbia on the day
it was formally opened, in 1834, it is stated that "there
were two trains, each consisting of thirty four-wheeled cars,
each car seating sixteen persons, eight on a side." Some
of these cars were constructed by stagecoach builders.
Of the cars which passed over the Portage Railroad about 1834,
Mr. W. Milnor Roberts who had charge of its operation, says:
"The freight cars were all four-wheeled, weighing from three
to three and a half net tons each, or six thousand to seven thousand
pounds. The passenger cars first used were of the primitive formation,
designed and put upon the road by Mr. Lot Dixon, one of my assistant
engineers. They seated comfortably twenty-five persons inside,
and, like the interior of a modern street car, accommodated an
indefinite number outside."
On the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad cars
of the stage-coach pattern were at first used. Of later devices
one of its early employees says that the company "adopted
a new form of coach, more nearly approximating the modern pattern
of a steam railroad car. These were constructed by joining two
of the old carriages together, making an eight-wheeled car, with
a door at each end; and a passage way through the middle."
He adds that two of the new eight-wheel cars "were twin
cars, and were named the Victoria and the President. They had
each a bar room at one end and a ladies' saloon at the other.
The body of the car was fixed up with seats along the sides and
in the middle. They were models of elegance and comfort."
Of the freight cars used on the Petersburg Railroad, of Virginia,
in 1835, a report states that "new covers had been obtained,"
which indicates that the English practice of using tarpauling
was adopted, as a substitute for the box cars.
Mr. W. Milnor Roberts, in his reminiscences of early railways,
says: "I think it was in 1835 that I went with Mr. Norris
to Mr. Imlay's car shop, on Bush Hill, Philadelphia, to examine
the first eight-wheeled passenger car, as I understood. I pronounced
it just the thing for the Columbia railroad, which abounded in
curves. Mr. Imlay remarked that I was the first civil engineer
who had said it would succeed. It was soon after placed upon the
Columbia railroad. I had the honor to have a similar car, which
was placed on the road the same year, named after me by the authorities
in charge of the road, without my knowledge or saying by your
leave. Eight-wheeled passenger cars in those days were regarded
as grand affairs."
About the period named, or soon afterwards, eight-wheeled passenger
cars were placed on a number of the progressive lines, and a few
years later their use became quite general.
Many accounts of the origin of the sleeping car have been printed,
but one of the earliest references to such a device is contained
in the following article, which appeared in the Baltimore Chronicle,
of October 31st, 1838:
THE OLD TIOGA EIGHT-WHEELED PASSENGER CAR.
"The cars intended for night traveling between this city
and Philadelphia, and which afford berths for twenty-four persons
in each, have been placed on the road, and will be used for the
first time tonight. One of these cars has been brought to this
city, and may be inspected by the public to-day. It is one of
the completest things of the kind we have ever seen, and it is
of beautiful construction. Night traveling on a railroad is, by
the introduction of these cars, made as comfortable as that by
day, and is relieved of all irksomeness. The enterprise which
conceived and constructed the railroad between this city and Philadelphia
cannot be too highly extolled, and the anxiety evinced by the
officers who now have its control in watching over the comfort
of the passengers, and the great expense incurred for that object,
are worthy of praise, and deserve, and we are glad to find, receive
the approbation of the public. A ride to Philadelphia now, even
in the depth of winter, may be made without inconvenience, discomfort,
or suffering from the weather. You can get into the cars at the
depot in Pratt street, where is a pleasant fire, and in six hours
you are landed at the depot in Philadelphia. If you travel in
the night you go to rest in a pleasant berth, sleep as soundly
as in your own bed it home, and on awakening next morning find
yourself at the end of your journey, and in time to take your
passage to New York if you are bent there. Nothing now seems to
be wanting to make railroad traveling perfect and complete in
every convenience, except the introduction of dining cars, and
these we are sure will soon be introduced."
At the Chicago Railway Exhibition of 1883 one of the exhibits
was an eight-wheeled passenger car built in 1840 for the Tioga
Railroad, by the Harlan & Hollingsworth Company, of Wilmington,
Delaware. It had been in service from that time up to the date
of the exposition, and its arrangements showed that marked progress
had been made in its construction, although it lacked a number
of useful modern improvements. The National Car Builder, in noticing
ARRANGEMENTS FOR HEATING CARS.
"The seats are of the same pattern as the common seats of
to-day. Their frames are iron and their arms of walnut, the upholstering
being plain and of leather. The body of the car has the following
dimensions, viz.: 8 feet 4 inches by 6 feet 4 inches by 36 feet.
The timbers are about the same as those put in to-day, excepting
that the end sills are mortised into the side sills. The body
is supported by no springs aside from the ordinary rubbers in
the pedestals. On the original trucks, which served for twenty-eight
years, the wheels were outside of the bearings. The car is fitted
with the ordinary freight drawbar and chain brakes. The only ventilation
afforded is that by means of a 10-inch flue in the centre of the
car. Light is supplied by two candles, one in each end of the
car. There are no closets, lavatories, or water coolers in the
car. One stove is furnished in the winter. A curious feature about
the windows is that they do not raise, the panels between the
windows being raised instead. This feature is, we believe, still
to be found upon some other roads. This antique car originally
cost $2,000, and has a recorded mileage of 1,100,000 miles."
On some of the early lines, in northern latitudes, no arrangements
for heating the passenger cars, whatever, were made. Others had
stoves, of which a writer in the Boston Transcript gives this
racy description: "And the stove! What a pleasure it was
to hear the wood crackling and snapping, and to see the glowing
cheeks of the honest old stove, as he sat sedately and without
ostentation in the centre of the car, blushing in rustic self-consciousness
at being the cynosure of every eye, and the wished-for Mecca of
successive rows of shivering passengers, from those in the remotest
and most frigid corners of the car, even to those who sit, freezing,
but one seat removed! It was hot enough, goodness knows, to the
favored passengers whose seats abutted immediately upon the stove,
but why there should have been heat nowhere else must ever remain
a mystery. There was no hole or crevice through which the heat
might escape, and no crevice or hole through which the outside
air might come in as an adulterant of the caloric; still was the
heat concentrated in one place, and the coolness elsewhere disseminated.
Hence it will be seen that there were two distinct climates in
each car, instead of the monotonous temperature of this day of
heaters and kindred abominations."
DEVICES FOR LIGHTING CARS.
It is doubtful whether, at the outset, any arrangements were
made for lighting the interior of some of the passenger cars used.
But when the desirability of such an accommodation was recognized
it was considered sufficient, during a comparatively protracted
period, to furnish one or more candles. Of an eight-wheeled car
built in 1840, which contains many improvements, and probably
all that had been general at that time, it is stated that "light
is supplied by two candles, one at each end of the car."
The writer remembers traveling by night in 1867 on an accommodation
train in an inferior old passenger car on the Camden and Amboy,
which had a side-door opening, and which was particularly noticeable
for the great variety of styles of lamps and lighting apparatus
which had been introduced at various stages of progressive improvements.
Either because they had successively failed, or for other reasons,
a resort to the early expedient was renewed, and the car was again
illuminated by two candles.
Of seats of some of the early cars it is reported that they
were plain pine boards, but transitions toward more comfortable
arrangements were soon commenced. On this subject the Boston Transcript
says: "There were no soft, effeminate cushions in those grand
old days; no cunningly contrived easements to back and body and
legs were imposed upon the traveler, to rob him of his manliness
and his energy and his powers of resistance; everything was constructed
upon heroic principles; everything was so ordered that even death,
at any time likely and at all times probable, was robbed of half
its terrors, and oftentimes looked upon with complacency, if not
TREAD-MILL HORSE-POWER EXPERIMENTS.
At the very earliest stage of development on some of the lines
several novel expedients were adopted. One was the use of a car
with sails, to be propelled with wind, which was soon found to
be too unreliable. Another, resorted to on the Baltimore and Ohio,
the Charleston and Hamburg, and some of the New England railways,
was the use of horse power created by the operation of a horse
on a tread-mill, in the same car that carried passengers. The
object of this device was to gain greater speed from horse power
than could be extracted from horse movements on a track, but it
was quickly abandoned. On the Boston and Lowell such an experiment
was specially unfortunate, because, when a party of editors were
riding in the car it ran into a cow, and the passengers were thrown
down the embankment, and afterwards had to endure many jokes about
| Antebellum RR | Contents