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

Erie Car Works, Ltd.

The Erie Car Works had its beginnings at Erie, Pennsylvania, when William A. Davenport (1831-1888) opened a car wheel foundry there in 1866. Two years later he established the Erie Car Works.

Davenport was born in Schuyler County, NY, and began life modestly as a clerk. He took an active part in the affairs of the Master Car Builders Association, an interest not shared by most other car builders.

Erie Car Works Advertisement

Erie Car Works advertisement from the 1879 Car Builders Dictionary.

Erie was apparently well set-up to produce cars as fast as possible. White says: {43}

“In the 1870s the Erie Car Works used a six-spindle drill for making holes in arch bars for truck frames. One man could produce 200 bars in one 10-hour workday. A wood-boring machine had four heads so that different-sized holes could be drilled without constantly changing the bits. The Erie plant was also proud of its nut-and-bolt machine, which could turn out 6,000 pieces a day.”

Around 1870, Erie Car opened a boardinghouse for its bachelor workers.  The three-story building provided shelter for 100 men. Besides bedrooms and a dining hall, there was a reading room supplied with current magazines and newspapers.

According to the History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884 by Samuel P. Bates, the works then covered 13 acres and had 17 “substantial” buildings. Materials and finished cars were shunted about by the works’ own locomotive. Machinery was driven by a 200 horsepower engine. It employed 600 workers, and had a capacity of 16 cars per day. Production consisted of box, gondola, ore, drift (or mine cars), coal and stock cars. All this

“ ... involves the using annually of 170 tons of brass, 250 tons of malleable iron, 380 tons of steel springs, 150 tons of paint, 500 tons of tin and solder, 3,250 tons of axles, 5,000 tons of iron castings, 6,000 tons of wrought iron, 11,000 tons of car wheels, and 20,000 tons of lumber, or 5,000 car loads of material of ten tons each.

The officers of the Erie Car Works, LTD in 1884 were

“ ... President, W. R. Davenport; Treasurer, William A. Galbraith. The former is a gentleman of wide experience in this line of production, and of great enterprise and public spirit. The latter, in addition to his connection with this establishment, is a gentleman of wide reputation as a lawyer, and is at present the Presiding Judge of the Sixth Judicial District of Pennsylvania. They represent in business and social life the best elements of our civilization, while their contribution to the city's industry is one of marked value and importance.

Adjacent to the Erie Car Works was Davenport, Fairbairn & Co., manufacturer of car wheels, which was apparently the foundry from which the car works sprang in 1868. The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884 says their capacity then was 350 wheels per day. They employed 100 men and had a capacity of 100 tons of metal per day. A “general line of railroad castings” was manufactured as well as car wheels. All wheels used by the Erie Car Works were then coming from this foundry.

The Erie Car Works was a major freight car builder, but did not make any substantial contribution to passenger car design.

When the Jewett Car Company went bankrupt in 1918, Erie Car Company took over its Newark, Ohio, shops and used them for freight car repair work for several years.

09 April 2006

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