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

Prosser Twin Cylinder Car Company

The Prosser Twin Cylinder Car Company was established in the late 1870s at Chicago, Illinois, to manufacture the unique Prosser twin cylinder freight car.

Engraving of Prosser Twin Cylinder Car

 Here’s an advertising blurb from an unknown trade publication of the time —

“WHENEVER a mechanical novelty in railroading is broached, something that seems to be a wide departure from ordinary practice, it is the custom to set forth in glowing colors what the inventor claims for it, and what it is theoretically intended to accomplish. Certain premises are assumed in its favor, and these are not unfrequently [sic] made the basis of detailed estimates in figures, showing such an immense saving in the economy of cost and operation as to be quite revolutionary as regards existing methods.

“The Prosser Twin Cylinder Car, an engraving of which we herewith present, is certainly a novelty in its design and the mode of transportation it offers for certain kinds of freight, especially grain. There is no doubt whatever that grain can be placed in large cylindrical receptacles, and that these can be rolled over the track at a greater or less speed, the same as the wheels that carry the ordinary car body with its load. The question is as to whether the grain so transported will suffer any injury in consequence of the whirling or revolving process to which it must be subjected. This can of course be definitely determined by trial. If no injury results to the freight, whether it is corn, wheat, or anything else that can be rolled in this way ; and if there are no mechanical or other drawbacks to neutralize the many obvious advantages of the plan, then it must be conceded that this style of car is a success as well as a novelty.

“In the cut the box or top part of the car is omitted. The entire construction is very simple,  and consists of two large cylinders about 8½ feet long and 6½ feet in diameter, made of boiler iron. Through the centre of these cylinders is a hollow steel axle, the ends of which project so as to form the journals for the support of the frame to which the draw-bars  [sic] are attached, and which are of the same height as on ordinary cars. The axle tube inside the cylinder is perforated, and there are also a great number of minute apertures [sic] in the shell of the cylinder to allow the necessary circulation of air through the grain. Each cylinder is provided with two steel tires, flanged like an ordinary car wheel, and placed so as to fit the gauge of the track. These tires are securely fastened to the cylinders, and are the wheels of the car. The frame-work supports a box or covering over which the brakemen can pass for the purpose of operating the brakes. The weight of the car (empty) is 6,000 lbs., its length 16 feet, height 7 feet, and the grain capacity of the two cylinders about 75 bushels more than that of an ordinary box car.

“The advantages claimed for this car over ordinary grain cars on the score of economy are numerous, among which are a much easier draft, less friction, a very great reduction in the proportion of dead weight, a much lower center of gravity, less lubrication and wear of journals, which are relieved of the weight of load, less wear and injury to the track in consequence of the large circumference of the wheel tires, diminished cost of construction, and a less area of resistance to the air, or windage, as it is called. The cylinders being of iron are of course fire-proof.

“The most important thing, however, in connection with this peculiar and novel method of transporting grain, is the actual performance, a test of which has already been made, and is reported as follows: The first twin cylinder car was sent out on the 17th of June, on the Chicago and Pacific road, to Byron, Ill., where it was loaded with corn, and returned the next day, making a round trip of nearly 200 miles. The corn was delivered to the Chicago and Pacific elevator and was inspected by Major Fitch, State Inspector. His statement in regard to the condition of the grain is as follows :

CHICAGO, June 18, 1879.
The Prosser Car arrived this morning loaded with corn from Byron, Ill. The grain is in perfect order, and is improved, if anything, by being transported by the new system. The car was not loaded quite full, lacking probably 10 or 15 bushels. I regard the car as an undoubted success.
J. B. Fitch,
Asst. Grain Insp.

“It was demonstrated by this trip that a speed of about four miles per hour would hold the grain to the shell of the cylinders by centrifugal force, thus forming a solid mass, as it were, and preventing attrition. There was also sufficient ventilation, and a partial filling of the cylinders was not found to be injurious to the grain during transit.

“A company for the construction of these cars has been organized under the name of the Prosser Twin Cylinder Car Co., and may be addressed at 129 LaSalle Street, Chicago, Ill.”

We don’t know yet whether any railroad ever became sufficiently interested in this unique car to have some built for its use, but considering the extreme resistance of master car builders to anything new and different, we doubt it. The one thing this car had going for it was that it was “fire-proof,” a quality much desired in subsequent years, but more for passenger cars than for freight.

We have recently become aware of a firm named Thos. Prosser & Son that advertised ”Prosser’s Patent Lap-Welded Wrought-Iron Boiler Tubes” in the American Railway Times from 1852 to 1853. They dropped the word “wrought” and continued until mid-1859, when it appears the firm name changed to Prosser’s Patent and continued through the end of that year when the Times ceased publication.

Anyone know who Prosser was? Or what was/were the number(s) of his patent(s)? If you know, please share the information with us.

11 April 2006

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