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

Woeber Brothers Carriage Co.

Amandus Woeber (1827-1905) and his younger brother Gallus (c.1833-1875) founded the Woeber Carriage Works at Davenport, Iowa, in 1853. They had come to the United States from Bavaria 13 years before with their father Aloyius and had settled in Cincinnati, where Aloyius carried on the family business of carriage building and taught it to his three sons.

Adam Woeber (18__ -1876+)—the third son—joined the business, and in 1867 went to Denver, in Colorado Territory, where he set up shop with capital supplied by Amandus. He called this business A. Woeber & Company. ("A" for Amandus? Or for Adam?) Gallus either went with him or soon followed and the business became Woeber Brothers Carriage Works. The initial works was on 11th Street between Wazee and Walnut Streets.

The Woeber brothers built everything from clunky ore wagons to the finest of carriages prized by Denver’s elite, but apparently their specialty was commercial wagons, including the ore wagons, delivery vans and wagons, and later, omnibuses. After Gallus died, in 1875, his son Charles William (c.1859-1888+) became associated with the business.

The Denver City Directory for 1876 shows —

Woeber, Adam (Woeber Bros.), r 238 11th.
WOEBER BROS. (Adam Woeber), mnfrs carriages and spring
     wagons, 242 11th.
Woeber, William, bkkpr Woeber Bros., r 242 11th.

It appears the Woebers first built cars for railways about 1884, when they delivered six diminutive horse cars to the Denver City Railway Company for use on its Broadway extension. Robertson {61} suggests they were persuaded to do so by the General Manager of that railroad who wanted to save the high freight charges incident to cars manufactured by eastern builders. He says about these cars —

“The Woeber-built horsecar was as attractive and as well constructed as its brethren from the Midwest and East. Since it was built of wood seasoned in Denver’s high, dry climate, the new horsecar cost less to maintain than the 37 other cars on the roster. All of those cars had been constructed in the damp climates of Eastern and Midwestern states. Consequently, their wood panels tended to dry out and warp, eventually making it necessary to replace them—at some expense—with locally seasoned wood.”

In ensuing years, as Denver expanded and its street railways multiplied, spread ever more widely, and underwent technological changes in propulsion—from horse to cable (yes, Denver did have cable cars) to electric—virtually every announcement appears to have contained the phrase ‘... cars have been ordered from the Woeber Carriage Company.’

About 1889/90, Woeber built a new plant specifically for the purpose of building streetcars, their 11th Street building(s) no doubt having proved too restrictive. That facility would henceforth be devoted to carriage and wagon construction. The new plant occupied five acres at the junction of South Bannock Street and West Colorado Avenue. Adam’s son Rudolph ( - ) became its manager. (This plant was destroyed by fire in the late 1890s.)

The new Woeber car works were kept quite busy. Robertson {62} says —

“The summer of 1890 was a busy time for the Woeber Carriage Company, whose 120-man work shop was hard at work building new cars: 19 electric streetcars and 13 trailers for the Tramway, and 50 cable cars for the Denver City Cable Company. They also were in the process of converting six former East 18th Avenue cable cars into electric streetcars, to be used on the Tramway’s forthcoming East 22nd Avenue electric route. Also in the works were two electric cars for the Colfax Avenue Electric Railroad, an electric car for the Eastern Capitol Hill Railroad, 10 streetcars destined for Pueblo, Colorado, and another 120 cars for Salt Lake City, Utah.”

Probably the most distinctive cars Woeber produced were constructed during the late-1890s. There appears to have been a number of outdated single-truck cars on Denver city railways that were not too old, and little cash for newer, larger double-truck cars. Necessity being the mother of invention, someone came up with the idea of merging two single-truck bodies on one double-truck underframe. Thus was born a unique center-entrance electric trolley. The body of a single-truck closed streetcar was mounted on one end of a 39' underframe and the body of a single-truck open streetcar was mounted on the other. A center entrance was constructed between the two.  These cars rode on a pair of Brill 27-G electric motor trucks. Some would be operating as late as 1920.

Woeber Brothers "Spliced" Car
“Spliced” car. Bodies of two single-truck cars remounted on one double-truck chassis.

Between 1898 and 1913, Woeber built all the cars owned by the Denver City Tramway Company. They also built cars for street railways in Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Trinidad, Colorado, as well as Salt Lake City Utah, Butte Montana, Galveston Texas and Salinas Kansas.

We have been able to find little on the Woeber operation during the twentieth century. Arnold and Charlton both say the company ceased railway car production about 1920, but other authorities say the company was sold in 1950 and kept the Woeber name until shut down in 1969. Perhaps someday someone will produce a second volume on Denver’s street railways covering the period after 1900, and we will find out.

For More Information

For more information on Denver’s street railways (but not much more on Woeber Brothers than we have here) —

Robertson, Don, Morris Cafky and E.J. Haley. Denver’s Street Railways - Volume I - 1871-1900. (Denver, CO: Sundance Publications, Ltd., 1999).


11 April 2006

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