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

Laconia Car Company

Ranlet Manufacturing Company

The Laconia Car Company was established in 1881 at Laconia, New Hampshire, through a reorganization of the Ranlet (some say Ranlett) Manufacturing Company.

Ranlet had been formed in 1844 to do millwork and to build wagons, carriages, stage coaches, etc., but was very quickly also into building railroad freight cars. It is possible Ranlet Manufacturing became Ranlet Car Company in 1848 as several authorities refer to it by that name and state that it was founded in 1848.

By 1869 Ranlet employed 100 men and produced 300 freight and 12 passenger cars a year. {245}

Ranlet built only freight cars until 1870, when it turned out its first passenger car. So far we’ve drawn a blank finding anything Ranlet built other than 2' narrow gauge Sandy River & Rangely Lake caboose #554, built by Ranlet as a B&B excursion car in 1876 and purchased by Sandy River in 1879.

The Laconia Car Company plant occupied 7 acres in the heart of the city of Laconia. These acres were crowded with all types of buildings, most impressive of which was a four story brick foundry building where parts were forged for other car builders as well as for its own use.

Laconia built passenger and freight equipment for railways, horse streetcars and electric streetcars, and interurbans. Though the bulk of its production went to New England, Laconia cars could be found almost everyplace.

Though they built wooden cars, Laconia was selected by the budding Steel Car Company to finish the half-built steel car they had been trying to get built as a prototype—the first all-steel passenger car. Construction had started at a shipbuilding firm in Boston in 1884, been moved to the car shops of the Eastern Railroad in 1887, and finally turned over to Laconia in 1889.

By 1893, Laconia was producing 125 passenger cars a year. {245}

Some have suggested Laconia had a reluctance to make the move from wood to iron and steel, but Laconia built many steel cars, as well as supplying iron and steel parts to other builders. They produced a great volume of wheels, axles and trucks, especially in the 1890s, including a very distinctive electric traction truck that made Laconia double-truck cars instantly recognizable.

By the turn of the century, Laconia was heavily into the construction of electric streetcars and interurbans. Its products were in wide use, rolling on such systems as the Delaware County and Philadelphia Electric Railway, the Los Angeles Railway, the Augusta-Aiken Railway Co. of South Carolina and the Boston Elevated. It appeared the demand for such cars would never end, and this department alone had close to 500 employees.

In 1908, Laconia was equipped with new machinery that made possible the construction of steel frame cars. {245}

But the demand for trolley cars and interurbans declined steadily as the auto industry grew, and after 1914 Laconia steadily lost money. Its production turned largely to “head-end” cars, that is, baggage, mail and express cars. Laconia’s final foray into woodworking was a short-lived venture about 1926/27 into building plywood motor boats.

Two factors seem to have contributed to the demise of the Laconia Car Works: their heavy dependence on the declining electric car market, and the increasing trend of railroads to take over building of their own cars. After one last order for ten double-truck cars for the Boston Elevated, Laconia closed its doors in 1928.

11 April 2006

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