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

Springfield Car & Engine Company

Springfield Locomotive Manufacturing Company

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 the Springfield Car & Engine Company, read on. Otherwise you might want to take a look at our article titled Springfield’s Four.

In 1848, Chester W. Chapin—president of the Connecticut River Railroad and president of the Agawam Bank of Springfield, Massachusetts—joined together with two other Springfield men, J.M. Blanchard and W.C. Averill in establishing a corporation they called the Springfield Car & Engine Company, capitalized at $100,000 (equivalent to roughly $2 million today, though we don’t know how much of that was paid-in). They began by building 4-wheeled work cars for the Western Railroad, in which Chapin also had an interest. And that first year they also built a locomotive for the Old Colony Railroad.

But for some reason, possibly

o lack of paid-in capital
o lack of orders
o dissention among the stockholders
o lack of interest by the managing stockholder
o inability to hire a qualified mechanical manager

within a year either their entire works was shut down, or they had decided to abandon the car-building part of the business, as Charles and Thomas Wason,  who were looking to expand their own newly-formed business, bought the machinery of the Springfield Car & Engine Company’s car department, leased the shop for five years, and immediately began to build all kinds of cars, giving special attention to passenger cars. With more appropriate facilities, their business increased rapidly and they began to make a name for themselves.

In 1852, Averill and Blanchard, who seem to have been the “mechanical” end of the Springfield Car & Engine Company, either hired or took as a partner C.W. Kimball, who took over the locomotive shop. That same year, they found a new financial backer, Eleazar Ripley. The firm was reorganized as the Springfield Locomotive Manufacturing Company. Unfortunately, Ripley died a month later.

It appears that name may have been a business name rather than a legal entity, as the next year William Averill was killed when he became entangled in a drive belt. (Remember, in those days machines were driven by long exposed leather belts connected to an overhead main shaft that was, in turn, driven by a steam engine, or, more likely in this case, by a water wheel.) The newspaper announcement of the accident indicated he was of the firm of Blanchard, Averill & Company. {493}

Blanchard and Kimball struggled on. By the fall of 1855 they had produced a total of 19 locomotives. But in March of 1856, they declared bankruptcy and Blanchard left. The Receivers were unable to put the business back together, and the company’s assets were sold at auction to Stephen C. Bemis (Bemis & Company) who shortly thereafter sold out to the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

[Bishop, {405} writing in 1868, says Wason "recently purchased the extensive property formerly owned by the 'Springfield Car & Engine Company,' the original cost of which with the buildings and machinery was over $120,000." Then he goes on to describe the property.]

Interestingly, while most books of the time support the story given above, a lone author, writing about Hampden County in 1902, says Springfield Car & Engine was incorporated in 1848 by Osgood Bradley, Amasa Stone Jr. and Azariah Boody with $250,000 capital. He continues, “previous to the incorporation some of the persons interested in the company had begun the manufacture of cars for the railroads, but the business was conducted in a small way and it was expected that the stock company would establish a plant of greater magnitude and employing capacity.” {466}

Although we have found no support elsewhere for this idea, let's examine it in some detail. But let us first say that though we have found a great deal about Chester W. Chapin, we have found nothing on J.M. Blanchard, W.C. Averill, C.W. Kimball or Eleazar Ripley, though these surnames are not foreign to the Springfield area. We know Chapin was very actively involved in the building of railroads in western Massachusetts. But we have no idea what were the interests of these other gentlemen.

Osgood Bradley, Amasa Stone Jr. and Azariah Boody are quite another matter. It is relatively simple to find information about these men.

Osgood Bradley (1800-1884) was a well-known car builder at Worcester, Massachusetts, about 40 miles east of Springfield. He had built his first cars in 1835 for the Boston & Worcester, and by 1848 was quite successful, at that time in partnership with Edward B. Rice, in a firm styled Bradley & Rice. It is just possible Bradley would have been interested in relocating, as he may have been experiencing problems with his partner, since they parted ways the following year. He would go on to become one of the best known of car builders, largely in the field of street railways.

Amasa Stone Jr. (1818-1882) was, in 1848, in partnership with Stillman Witt and Frederick Harbach, engaged in constructing and equipping the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad from Cleveland to Columbus, Ohio. He was nevertheless living in Springfield, Massachusetts. {467} It is possible he was also, in 1848, a principle in the firm of Stone, Harris & Birney, which was building a bridge across the Connecticut river for the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad. {491}

Azariah Boody (1815-1885) had been in partnership with Amasa Stone in the firm of Boody, Stone & Company until 1847*, building bridges in New England under license from William Howe, inventor of the Howe Truss. When their partnership dissolved, they split the states between them, Stone taking Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and Boody taking Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. It appears likely that Amasa Stone’s younger brother Andros was in business with Boody, building bridges on the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in Vermont. {467} + {eye}

Thus, in 1848, it is quite possible Bradley, Stone and Boody had something to do with the fledgling Springfield Car & Engine Company. But if they did, their influence lies buried somewhere in corporate records beyond our long-distance reach. If you could help us search Massachusetts corporate record archives, please let us know.

Cast of Characters

Chester William Chapin [Sr.] (1798-1883) [our 4th cousin 6 times removed] was born at Ludlow, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Chicopee, where Chester attended the Westfield Academy [high school]. {468}

Chester began his business career quite early, by selling flip and cheap cigars to ferry passengers and fishermen at the ferry landing on the Connecticut River at Holyoke (north of Springfield). During the winters he taught school. {376}

Chester’s 1st business venture was a dry goods store on Chicopee Street, but he soon went into partnership with Stephen Bemis, who shortly bought out his interest. The next year (1826), Chester bought an interest in the stage line from Brattleboro, Vermont, to Hartford, Connecticut, operated by Horatio Sargeant, and they did an extensive business as Sargeant & Chapin. {468}

In 1830, Chester bought the Hartford to Springfield steamship franchise from Thomas Blanchard, and for the next 15 years controlled the passenger traffic between those cities. He became involved with the several railroads being established in the area, and was instrumental in having the Western Railroad built from Worcester to Springfield. {468}

Chester won legislative approval for the Springfield & Northampton railroad, which was joined in 1845 with the Greenfield & Northampton to become the Connecticut River Railroad, of which he became the 1st president. In 1854, he became president of the Western Railroad, a position he held until it was merged with its parent Boston & Worcester in 1867, becoming the Boston & Albany, of which he became the 1st president. He continued in that position until 1877. {468}

Chester W. Chapin was a stockholder and/or director in a number of railroads, banks and other companies, and represented the 10th Massachusetts district in Congress from 1875 to 1877. {468}

Kirkland {483} says of him:

“Chapin … was one of the great railroad capitalists of New England, indeed of the nation. A former stage driver and steamboat man, he was called by Addison Gilmore into the Western. He became a large investor in the New York, New Haven and Hartford, the Connecticut River Road, and the New York Central [at least 3,400 shares and sat on the board after 1867 {484}], as well as the Boston and Albany. Characterized by one of his associates as ‘one of the hardest men I ever knew,’ he exemplified the policy of presidential management, if not dictation. He determined the composition of the board of directors, assembled it at his pleasure ‘when anything happened,’ and secured the succession to the throne.”

J.M. Blanchard ( - )

William C. Averill ( -1853)

C.W. Kimball ( - )

Eleazer Ripley ( - )

* We have found a reference to Boody, Stone & Co. dated

20 April 2006

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