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

Dean, Packard & Mills

When most of us think of car-building in Springfield, Massachusetts, we think of the name Wason. But at one point in the mid-1800s Springfield had not one, not two, but FOUR car builders! If you are only interested in Dean, Packard & Mills, read on. Otherwise you might want to take a look at our article titled Springfield’s Four.

The firm of Dean, Packard & Mills was established at Springfield, Massachusetts, sometime before 1848 as a partnership of Reuel Dean, Elijah Packard and Isaac Mills. If the usual naming  convention was followed, Reuel Dean was the senior partner and probably the one supplying most of the capital. He was likely a businessman with other interests. Elijah Packard was almost certainly the “mechanical person,” as we find him in that role later with other companies. We have no idea yet what role 21-year-old Isaac Mills played, though he may have been the clerk (bookkeeper).

A letter dated 4 February 1848 from Dean Packard Mills [sic] to a Mr. Broadhead, Superintendent of the Hartford & New Haven RR was offered on eBay 28 June 2003. It said, “Sir. We will build two Second Class Cars after your plan for $1050 per Car. If convenient we should like an answer as early as Monday next. Your Obt. Servants, Dean Packard Mills.” The letter appears to have been delivered rather than mailed, as there are signs of sealing wax, no postage and no return address. The cars referred to would have been passenger cars, and show the firm must have developed at least minimal facilities by early 1848.

— also —
CAR WHEELS and AXLES fitted and furnished
at short notice; also STEEL SPRINGS
of various kinds; and
The above may be had at order at our Car Factory,

Reuel Dean
Elijah Packard
Isaac Mills


Facsimile of an advertisement from the 19 May 1849 issue of American Railroad Journal.

The 1848 and 1849 city directories for Springfield show the business at the end of Pynchon Street. (And it must be remembered that city directories generally reflect things as they were six months to a year before their print date.)

We don’t know yet either how nor why the partnership was formed. but since the Hartford & New Haven Railroad had been extended to Springfield in 1844, it is likely the partnership saw an opportunity to build cars for that line. The letter mentioned above supports this possibility.

Neither do we know what the partnership built, if anything, during its brief existence. And brief it apparently was.

By sometime in 1849 or early 1850, Elijah Packard was involved with Eliam Barney and Ebenezer Thresher in setting up the Dayton Car Works at Dayton, Ohio (later to be known as Barney & Smith). The firm was set up under the name of Thresher, Packard & Company (Eliam Barney being a “silent” partner). A history of Barney & Smith says “about this time (1850) Mr. Packard retired and returned east.” We have no way of knowing whether this was before or after his marriage to Lucy Rice in Springfield, 20 July 1850. Nor do we know whether Elijah resumed his duties with Dean, Packard & Mills.

Sometime around mid-1850, Dean, Packard & Mills “failed.” An announcement published in several newspapers says the failure —

“was mainly owing to the depression which had been felt in their business for a long time. It would, however, have been prevented but for the suspension of an iron Manufacturer in Berkshire Co. with whom their endorser was involved. Their liabilities are understood to be about $50,000 and their assets five thousands [sic] dollars more, but the latter, if forced into the market, must fall below the value.” {492}

There is a special section on businesses in the Springfield city directory for 1851-1852. Under Railway Car Manufacturers it says, “The only car manufacturing establishment in Springfield is now carried on at the old car and engine company’s building near the depot, by Mr. Thomas W. Wason.”

An advertisement in the American Railway Times for 20 March 1851 offers, “For sale: six eight wheel house freight cars—Coupled and ready for use. Also, for sale or rent the Machine Shop and Car Factory recently occupied by Messrs. Dean Packard & Mills, with a Twenty-four Horse Power Engine in the same.” The ad is signed by Eliphalet Trask and is dated March 1851. It was still running in October. Apparently this stuff was hard to sell.

Isaac Mills, for his part, by 1853 had entered his father-in-law’s coal business, which he would eventually own.

Why did this business apparently founder? Well, for one thing, it had substantial competition. The Springfield Car & Engine Company had been established in Springfield in 1848, and within a year had sold the machinery of its car department to Thomas Wason and his brother Charles, who also leased a portion of its shops for five years, and began to build all kinds of cars under the name of T. & C. Wason. This firm would grow into the Wason Manufacturing Company, a major builder of railway cars.

But our guess would be that Reuel Dean, whom we surmised was the senior partner and likely bankrolled the operation, possibly died in 1849 or 1850

One source suggests that Theodore Woodruff, one of the first to develop a practical sleeping car, and later founder of the Central Transportation Company, worked for Dean Packard & Mills as a young journeyman patternmaker. There is only one problem with this: in 1847 Woodruff was 36 years old!

This same source says Woodruff was acquainted with Caleb Parker, who had supposedly been a principle in Dean, Packard & Mills and reportedly “closed out” the business and brought that company’s machinery to Dayton sometime before 1854, thereafter himself becoming a partner in Barney, Parker & Company (predecessor to Barney & Smith).

If Dean, Packard & Mills ever produced anything other than the 4-wheeled work cars for the Western Railroad, we are unaware of it. If you know, would you share the information with us?

Cast of Characters

Reuel Dean (c1796?-b1860?) was born, but we don’t know yet when or where. The only things we do know are that he married his cousin Sarah A. Dean at Worcester, Massachusetts, 6 April 1842, and that the 1848 and 1849 city directories show him living on Water Street.

Elijah Packard (1797-1870+) was born at Bridgewater, in far eastern Massachusetts. We know almost nothing about his life until he became part of the Dean, Packard & Mills partnership about 1847 at age 50. We can infer that he was the “mechanical man” of the firm as in the two later census enumerations in which we have found him [1860 and 1870] his occupation is listed as “machinist.” We don’t know how he happened to come to Springfield, but perhaps it was to work at the federal armory that had been established there in 1794, and drew skilled men from near and far.

Apparently Dean, Packard & Mills was beginning to break up by 1849, because that year Elijah went to Daytopn, Ohio, where he helped Eliam Barney and Ebenezer Thresher establish Thresher, Packard & Company, the predecessor to car-builder Barney & Smith. (Barney then having another position, had to be a “silent” partner.) But Elijah didn't stay long, for in 1850 he reportedly “retired and returned east” where on 20 July 1850, he married 36 year old Lucy Rice [the record says 26] at Springfield.

We don't know whether the newlyweds stayed in Springfield or returned to Ohio, but we do know that two years later he was back in Ohio, this time at Sandusky, as we find the Fulton Iron Works & Car Factory advertising his services as superintendent of their car works. They ran these advertisements for almost four years, so it is reasonable to assume Elijah stayed at least most of that time.

Elijah was enumerated in the 1860 U.S. Census in his hometown of Bridgewater. Age 63, his occupation is listed as “Machinist.” He was enumerated in the 1870 U.S. Census at Worcester, still living (happily, we hope) with Lucy, and his occupation at age 73 was still listed as “Machinist.”

Isaac Mills (1826-1892) was born at Southwick, Massachusetts, of a notable family. He attended Monson Academy (high school) but did not graduate. He became a clerk in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, office of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, then moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, for awhile. [Note, the RR for which Mills worked must have been the New York & New Haven, as the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad did not exist prior to the 1872 merger of the Hartford & New Haven Railroad and the New York & New Haven Railroad.] When he returned to Springfield, he became the junior partner in Dean, Packard & Mills, car builders, which had its shops on the river bank near the foot of Bridge street. He was working for that firm in 1851.

Isaac married Anna Palmer, daughter of a prominent steamboat captain. In 1846, Annas father, Edmund Palmer, sold his steamboat and bought the coal yard established in 1838 by James B. Robb, and after several years took in Roderick Ashley as partner, under the firm name of E. Palmer & Company. By 1853 Isaac had entered the employ of his father-in-law, and eventually took over the coal business.

Thanks to Maggi Humberston and the Springfield Library & Museums for help in preparing this article.
20 April 2006

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