Home  

SLEEPING CARS ON THE ERIE FIFTY-SIX YEARS AGO.

George M. Pullman nor Webster Wagner is any more entitled to the right of being called the inventor of the sleeping car than the man in the moon is entitled to be called the inventor of the sewing machine. As to Pullman (being of Erie interest), his chief claim to the monopoly in the sleeping-car patent was founded on his control as assignee of patents issued to Eli Wheeler, of Elmira, September 20, 1859, which patents Rudolph Dirks, of Sumneystown, Pa., claims were his; but even the Wheeler patents were antedated by the Charles McGraw patents more than twenty years—Decernber 10, 1838, being the first one. Sleeping cars were in use years before Pullman or Wagner was ever heard of, and among the very earliest of railroads to have them was the Erie, which had two in 1843, although the railroad was only three hours' journey in length. These cars were two of six cars of extraordinary size, built by John Stephenson, one of the pioneer car builders of the country. The models of the cars were made by Thomas Brown, of the Stephenson works, then in Harlem. They were not intended as sleeping cars, as the term is now known but to be used by passengers if they chose, for reclining and sleeping during their journey. Railroads were not long enough in those days to require much night travel. But these cars, according to the positive statement of John Stephenson himself, were built with the idea that they were to be slept in, and for that purpose.

These pioneer sleeping cars were known by the name of the "Diamond Cars," from the fact that the sides of the frame of the cars were built trestle form, thus making the spaces for the windows diamond-shaped, so that the windows were necessarily of that shape. The frames of the seats were stationary, two seats being placed back to back, causing each pair of seats to face each other. The cushions were loose from the frames of the seats, and a rod or bar could be slid from under one seat, across the opening between two facing seats at the front or aisle-side, and fitted in a hole in the frame of the other seat. The aisle ends of the seat cushions were laid upon this bar, the other ends resting upon the truss plank at the wall side of the car, the cushions being pushed forward over the foot space, and supported as above. The back cushions were moved down to take the place of the seat cushions, thus making a platform or bed. The bar had a little lip on it, so that when in the hole in the other seat it could not get out without being raised, and the ends of the seat cushions abutted against the forward ends of the arms so they could not slip out into the aisle. There was a partition against which the back cushions rested, forming head and footboards between the beds. When the cushions were in place they made two facing seats. The passengers occupying the seats manipulated the bar and changed the seats into a bed at pleasure. There were two of these cars. Six seats or beds were on each side. There were no bed clothes or pillows. The cushions were black hair cloth. There was a large diamond-shaped window opposite each seat, and one in the middle between each pair of seat backs, and a small window in each door. The cars were eleven feet wide.

Archippus Parish was car-builder foreman of the car shops at Piermont in 1843, when the two diamond cars came to the road from Stephenson's car works at Harlem. They were delivered at Piermont from a ferry-boat. Parish had them taken off the boat and superintended the putting of the trucks under them. The cars were named "Erie" and "Ontario." The "Ontario" for a time was run on a train known as the "Thunder and Lightning Milk Train," which ran between Otisville and Piermont. Parish afterward went on the road as conductor, and ran between Piermont and Otisville from 1846 to 1847.

These curious forerunners of the luxurious sleeping cars of the present day were soon found to be too heavy for practical use on the railroad at that day, and they were placed aside, to be used only in emergencies.

A necessary adjunct of the railroad for years was a wood train, which passed over the line gathering up wood as it was brought in from the woods and ranked up at convenient places, and delivering it at points where it was needed for fuel. The men in charge of the wood train made application to have one of the diamond cars, but Superintendent of Transportation S. S. Post said he could not spare either of them, as the Company was short of rolling stock, and he frequently had to put them on passenger trains to help out. The end of the diamond cars was that they became boardinghouse cars for track laborers. In 1850 the "Erie" was on a siding at Piermont, and the "Ontario" at Suffern, and gradually fell to pieces and disappeared years ago. They were sleeping cars, however, and when, in 1879, the Pullman Company brought suit against the Wagner, or New York Central, Sleeping Car Company, to recover damages for infringement on the Pullman patents, Pullman was so nonplussed at the revelations made in regard to the Erie diamond cars of 1843 that a halt was called in the proceedings, and both Pullman and Wagner wisely concluded that it would not be well to go any further in the legal test of their "rights," and agreed to a compromise, by which they both continued to share in the profits of an invention which was old long before either of the claimants had thought of making it his own.

About the time of the coming of the diamond cars on the railroad, the first cars with swinging-back seats were put on. They were made by Eaton & Gilbert, of Troy, N. Y.

(From the Goshen Independent Republican, June 19, 1847.)

The New York and Erie Railroad Company have been treating their patrons and themselves to some new and elegant cars. The old ones are pretty good, but the new ones are perfect "dazzle eyes." The seats are mahogany, trimmed with figured crimson velvet. The stiles of the body inside are also of mahogany and the panels curled maple. The windows are protected by blinds, and the cars are lighted and ventilated in the most perfect manner. Altogether, they are fine specimens of utility, taste and elegance.

About the time the Erie began running its trains through to Jersey City, a man with some genius originated a chair seat for passenger coaches. The prevailing seat was the plain kind, with low back; a comfortable seat, but unless a person could have a full seat in which to recline, a night journey was anything but pleasurable. The chair referred to was reversible, and much higher in the back, and provided with a headrest very similar to those in use upon barbers' chairs. These chairs were most highly appreciated. Persons intending to take the night train would go or send to Jersey City early, buy a ticket, and secure a night chair, thus enjoying the greatest luxury in travelling then known. Prior to the introduction of this chair, "fakirs" haunted the station with a device to aid the passengers to enjoy sleep. It was an upright piece of steel that would reach from the middle of the back of the head to a point below the shoulder blades. Crossing this horizontally were four other pieces of steel. When put in use, the appliance was placed between the back of the person and the back of the seat, with the passenger's head resting on the top cross-piece and the point where it was riveted to the upright piece. Thus the head rested upon a spring, and responded to the jar or motion of the car. These contrivances sold "on sight" at $1 each.

In 1851, after the Erie had arranged with the Paterson and Ramapo and the Paterson and Hudson River railroads for transfer of its passengers, mail, express, and baggage between Suffern and Jersey City, D. H. Conklin was sent to Suffern as telegraph operator, and to put the instruments in the waiting room of the other railroads. The situation was too much exposed, and Superintendent Minot gave him permission to take the body of an old baggage car that stood on a siding at, Chester junction. This was ordered to Suffern, and was placed at the side of the Erie track as an office. This car had a cupola in its centre, and a colonnade or gangway entirely around it. At the time this old car had been placed in service the railroad probably had no time-card, or if it had, the train arriving first at a given point waited a stipulated time and then proceeded, running by "sight," with a man seated in the cupola, whose duty it was to watch for the train against which they were running. The brake wheel of the car was in the cupola. It is only within very recent years that a caboose with cupola and brake wheel therein was introduced on railroads, and claimed as a new idea.


Erie Page | Stories Page | Contents Page

Home
This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery . The Railroad Extra pages are ©2001 Thomas Ehrenreich.