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

Mount Vernon Car Manufacturing Company

The Mount Vernon Car Manufacturing Company was organized about 1889 at Mount Vernon, Illinois. A tornado had nearly destroyed the town in 1888, and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which served the town, had brought in some 1,900 carloads of material for rebuilding. Among the structures rebuilt was a recently abandoned car repair shop. We don't know the details, but this car shop was reopened as a commercial enterprise, providing much-need employment. {93} The original capacity of the shops is recorded as 10 cars and 100 car wheels a day, which seems rather high, but if what is meant is small, four-wheeled cars, perhaps not. {91}

The company somehow made it through the financial collapse of 1894 that saw 192 railroads in receivership, because an article in the New York Times of 7 November 1896 reports an order for 300 cars from the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, noting that the company had "resumed work."

(1895 edition, Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials)

But perhaps the recovery wasn’t without ups and downs, as by 1897 the company was in receivership. Walter C. Arthur, the company's Secretary-Treasurer served as Receiver until 1902, “bringing the concern out of bankruptcy, paying its debts, greatly improving the property and turning same back to the original stockholders without a sale of the property.” {91}

After six more years as Secretary-Treasurer, in 1908 Mr. Arthur replaced D.G. Settlemire, his father-in-law, as President of the company upon the latter’s death. {91}

The company built all different kinds of cars, though there is no direct evidence it ever built passenger cars. Likewise, some say it built horse cars, but 1890 is rather late for horse cars, and there is no direct evidence for this either. There is also a suggestion it built some trolley cars, as its baseball team won the 1934 Trolley League Championship. {92}

By 1909 the daily output was reported as 25 cars or 450 wheels, and the plant “[afforded] employment to considerably over one thousand mechanics and skilled artisan, many of whom have been with the company ever since it was established. The pay roll of this large and rapidly growing industry averages something in excess of sixty thousand dollars per month, and the average yearly product is five million dollars.” {91}

By 1912, the company was producing more than 50 cars a day. During the 1st World War the plant employed more than 2300 people. {91}  Unfortunately we don't know doing what.

In 1943 or 1944, the company was acquired by the H.K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh, a builder of small locomotives for railroad and industrial use. [One authority says specifically March 1944, but the 1943 catalog of products already refers to the company as

Just what Porter had in mind for the acquisition is uncertain, as it sold the company slightly more than two years later to the Pressed Steel Car Company.

It appears that Pressed Steel operated the Mount Vernon plant as a wholly-owned subsidiary, as there are records of cars of this time attributed to Mount Vernon Car Manufacturing Company.

The plant was closed down for more than a year from late 1948 into 1950. It reopened in October of 1950, but then closed again in February 1954. Operations ceased three months later.

One of the last orders built by Mount Vernon was for 10 light-weight head-end box cars for the Alton Railroad using aluminum supplied by the Reynolds Aluminum Company.

For More Information

Mount Vernon Car Manufacturing Co. 1943 Catalog at STEAM ERA FREIGHT CARS website.

11 April 2006

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