Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Barney & Smith Manufacturing Company

Thresher, Packard & Company
E. Thresher & Company
Barney, Parker & Company
Barney, Smith & Company
Dayton Car Works

The Barney & Smith Car Co. had its beginnings in 1849 at Dayton, Ohio, when Eliam Barney and Ebenezer Thresher formed a partnership they called the Dayton Car Works to build cars for horse-drawn street railways.

Eliam Eliakim Barney (1807-1880) had been a teacher of classical literature and managed several schools in the east and midwest. He came to Dayton from New York in 1833 (or '34) to be head of the Dayton Academy (high school), which he was until 1838. For two years he taught a private school for both sexes, but his health failed and for some reason he went into the lumber and sawmilling business, which he conducted for four years. In the meantime the Cooper Female Academy had been established, and he became its Principal in 1845, a job he held until 1851

Ebenezer T. Thresher (1799-1886), had been a Baptist minister in Maine until his voice became impaired and he was forced to take an administrative position. He helped to found several denominational schools and edited two religious journals before coming to Dayton for his health. (In those days, �going west� from anywhere was supposed to be healthful!)

Thresher met Barney through the local Baptist church and bought the sawmill business. By 1849, Thresher had recovered his health, accumulated some capital, and become close friends with Barney. The two investigated the possibility of manufacturing cars for the budding railroads, and soon joined with an experienced car builder, Elijah Packard, to purchase a tract of land and begin construction of a shop building. It was quite an adventure, considering that Dayton had no railroad and cars would have to be shipped by canal boat.

E. Thresher AdvertisementBut Packard, the only one with experience, died suddenly in mid-1850. Fortunately, he had brought in skilled people who were nevertheless able to carry on, and E. Thresher & Co., as the partnership became known, was not only able to carry on, but to expand its operations. Along with railroad equipment, a full line of agricultural equipment was introduced in 1852. The agricultural line was successful, but car building soon demanded all available resources, and the agricultural line was sold to another company.

Threshers health began to fail, and Barney became increasingly active in the management of the business. In 1854 he brought in a new partner, Caleb Parker (1803-18__) and the firm was reorganized as Barney, Parker & Company. Thresher sold his interest to the other partners in 1858.

Parker, too, was a staunch Baptist and had been trained as a teacher, but early went into the mercantile business. He then went into politics, and eventually into banking, before becoming a partner in the same car building enterprise from which Elijah Packard had come (Dean, Packard & Mills Car Manufacturers of Springfield, Massachusetts). Parker closed out that business and moved its machinery to Dayton.

The first Barney-built sleeping cars came out of the factory in 1855. Barney supplied them ready-to-run, including all blankets, quilts and pillow cases. They were noted for their quality, because Eliam Barney would tolerate nothing but the best craftsmanship! But while the plant capacity was extensive, car building was not. That year Barney produced, among other things, 400 reapers for Cyrus H. McCormick.

The panic of 1857 brought bankruptcy. The practice of the day was for a railroad to make a down payment when a contract was signed, then pay the balance after the cars were placed in revenue service. The financial panic meant many cars went unpaid-for, and the company was closed for almost a year.

By 1859, things were looking up. Barney-Parker employed 1,250, building�among other things�sleeping cars for private individuals who operated them on southern railroads a la Pullman. George Pullman also started buying sleeping cars from the company. He continued to do so until 1870, when he was able to build his own plant at Detroit. But even afterward, Pullman continued to buy some unfinished car shells from Barney-Parker, and occasionally a completely finished car, until he opened his own plant at Chicago in 1851.

Eliam E. BarneyBarney-Parker had sold cars to many southern railroads, and when the Civil War came, was stuck for payment. Barney employed two devices to stay in business. First, he sold out to Thresher, who had left the company, and took Threshers notes for the entire property. When creditors came to press their claims, they were offered payment in Threshers notes, which they were hesitant to take. Second, he sent men south to physically reclaim unpaid-for equipment, a tactic that was reasonably successful.

The war brought recession, and things began to look grim. But the railroads of the north needed cars for the war effort, and by the middle of the war the car works was working at capacity, building almost exclusively for the military (at the usual inflated prices, of course).

Trostel-25 tells the story of �an inquisitive chap� who once asked who was the �car builder� of the firm. Barney replied that he learned to build cars �in the school room.� Parker replied, �in the bank.� And Thresher said, �in the pulpit.� A very unlikely trio to be running a successful enterprise where skilled craftsmanship was the name of the game.

The company emerged from the war a secure and established equipment producer. Without any outside help the original $10,000 capitalization had been increased to $500,000 and the plant had been expanded to produce 20 freight cars a week and two passenger cars a month. The average number employed was 350, and the monthly payroll was more than $17,000.

During the war, the company had adopted T.T. Woodruffs design of 1858: the clerestory (clear-story) roof. Unlike other companies, however, Barney filled the clerestory windows with stained glass.

In 1864, Caleb Parker retired and sold his interest in the company to Preserved Smith. Barney, Parker & Co. was merged into the newly formed Barney, Smith & Company.

Preserved Smith (1820-1887) was the first non-Baptist to have an ownership in the company (he was a Presbyterian). Smith had operated a mercantile business, built a hotel, and been involved in the organization of the Dayton and Michigan Railroad. He was that lines financial manager when he bought Parkers interest, and brought that experience into play for Barney, Smith & Company.

Disaster came to the company in 1866, when the levee between it and the adjacent Mad River (thats a noun, not an adjective) broke and flooded the property. 3.5 million board feet of lumber went down Monument and First streets, the canals or into the river proper. All the machinery on the ground floor was under water as well as the office. (19) Although operations soon resumed, sawyers were dulling blades on embedded sand as much as two years later.

In 1866, Eliam Barney and his son acquired the interests of several of the skilled craftsmen who had bought into the firm, and in 1867, the firm was reorganized as a joint stock company {424} with capitalization of $500,000. This company was called the Barney & Smith Manufacturing Company of Dayton, with Eliam Barney as President, a position he held until his death 13 years later. Barneys son, Eugene, became Superintendent of the company. Preserved Smith was the only non-Barney family member (and presumably non-Baptist) on the Board of Directors. 350 workers produced 20 freight cars and two passenger cars a month.

Barney & Smith 1879 Advertisement

Advertisement from 1879 Car-Builders� Dictionary. (Click pic for enlargement.)

The post-war years were prosperous ones for Barney & Smith. The financial panic of 1873 found the company flourishing, running at capacity, with large contracts coming in. But the panic stopped virtually all investment in railroad construction. Car builders were forced to cut prices for what little business could be obtained. Barney & Smith had to cut wages and lay off workers. It also experienced a fire of unknown origins that burned the wooden roofs off two brick buildings.

Looking for additional sales, Barney & Smith took to building horse-cars for local street railways. They expanded their sleeping car business. And they entered the new narrow gauge market. (Jackson & Sharp had built the first narrow gauge car in the U.S. in 1871.) This proved to be an excellent move, for as fate would have it, Eliam Barney soon got involved in the development of a narrow gauge railroad to bring coal to Dayton from mines about 125 miles to the southeast, cheap construction being the driving force. Needless to say, Barney & Smith built all the rolling stock for this line. Barney also got involved in several other narrow gauge lines that were brought into Dayton, and built their cars as well.

By 1878, Barney & Smith had one of the few car building facilities in the country served simultaneously by standard gauge, broad gauge and narrow gauge railroads. Chappell-25 reports that on May 31 of that year, the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad received a number of box cars and flat cars from Barney & Smith, apparently the second lot of cars received from that firm that year. And on June 29 it received three elegant new passenger coaches, #3 / Geneva, #4 / Halls Valley, and #5 / Leadville. (See also the Three Barney & Smith Cars page.)

DSP&P Coach #3

Denver, South Park & Pacific coach #3, built 1878.

Barney & Smith was the first company to produce two-and-two seating in narrow gauge cars. Up to that time the conventional wisdom held that the narrow width of the cars required two-and-one seating. Barney & Smith widened their cars to 8'-0", which helped, though passengers still found the cars cramped. But the railroads liked having the greater capacity. One of the three coaches received by the South Park was even 2" wider!

Eliam Barney remained active in the business until his death in 1880. He acted as a salesman, directly supervised the lumber yard, and gave attention to all kinds of new developments in the car building industry, one of which was the advent of the first Circus cars in 1877. He was not above prowling the grounds, critiquing the work of the skilled craftsmen. He was considered solemn and taciturn, yet loyal and generous. (In other words, a good Baptist!)


09 April 2006

Home/Bldr. Index Bibliography Links Car-Bldr. Dictionary All-time Bldr. List C&S Rolling-stock