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
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.
But 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.
Thresher�s 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.
Barney-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
Thresher�s notes for the entire property. When creditors came to press their claims, they
were offered payment in Thresher�s 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).
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. Woodruff�s design of
1858: the clerestory (clear-story)
roof. Unlike other companies, however, Barney filled the clerestory windows with
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 &
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 line�s financial manager when he
bought Parker�s 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 (that�s 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
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. Barney�s 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.
Advertisement from 1879 Car-Builders� Dictionary. (Click pic for
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
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
& 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 /
Halls Valley, and
#5 / Leadville.
(See also the Three Barney & Smith Cars
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!)