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

New England Car Co. - Page 2

The Original New England Car Company?

A correspondent asked if we had information on Edward Crane of the New England Car Company. We checked out Edward Crane, and found that there was a New England Car Company circa 1847/53.

An inventor named Fowler M. Ray began experimenting with the use of India rubber in car springs in the late 1830s. Charles Goodyear had been trying for years to develop a process that would keep rubber from becoming a sticky mess in heat and as hard as rock in cold, and had finally in 1839 perfected the process that would later be called "vulcanization." Ray adopted the process, and in 1841 was granted a patent on the use of rubber "springs" for use in draft gear. (Goodyear did not patent the vulcanizing process until 1844.)

In 1843/44, Ray was able to test his ideas for India Rubber car springs at the Osgood Bradley car plant in Worcester, Massachusetts. The following year he was granted a patent (Pat. No. 3,962 dated 21 March 1845) for a car truck using India Rubber springs. Results of the tests were so good that during the winter of 1845/46 the New Jersey Railroad & Transportation Company road-tested them.

In 1847, Goodyear sold Charles Ely and Edward Crane exclusive rights to manufacture and sell his India rubber to be used solely in the manufacture of springs for cars, etc. A few months later Ely and Crane sold those rights to the New England Car Company, a Massachusetts corporation in which they presumably held an interest, as did Fowler M. Ray.

Portion of 1849 advertisement. (American Railway Journal)

Fowler M. Ray and the New England Car Company tried for several years to market India rubber car springs. We are aware of several advertisements in the trade press (1849/50) that list Edward Crane as agent for the company at 99 State Street in Boston and F.M. [Fowler M.] Ray as agent for the company at 100 or 104 Broadway in New York. The latter of these reportedly lists Crane as President of the New England Car Company.

We have no idea how successful these efforts were, but we suspect not very, as 1) the springs themselves were useless without the engineering necessary to design a truck to use them and 2) the winter of 1851/52 saw a battle royal between Fowler M. Ray and a promoter named Horace H. Day who had acquired rights to a number of patents on India rubber products, and who claimed to have prior rights to use India rubber for car springs.

The battle apparently was kicked off by the incorporation 15 October 1851 in New York of the New England Car Spring Company by the same stockholders and parties-in-interest as the (Massachusetts) New England Car Company. One month later, the New York corporation bought the license to use the Goodyear patent from the Massachusetts company. At that time Crane was president of the Massachusetts corporation and Ray was president of the New York corporation.

The next several years saw almost continuous litigation between Day and Ray; litigation that spawned "The India Rubber Case" and "The Great India Rubber Case" (emphasis ours). In the end, it appears Ray�s New England Car Spring Company (New York) won out. We know it was still advertising as late as 1862, while Day had moved on to other promotions. But the last evidence we have of the New England Car Company is a judicial order from 1853, restraining both of the New England companies from using processes covered by a patent issued to an earlier associate of Goodyear.

What happened to this earlier New England Car Company? Was it the same company, simply dormant from 1853 to 1879? Or did it die, and then have its name resurrected in the form of a new business in 1879? And did it ever build any railway cars prior to 1879? If you have even a glimmer of information that would help us solve this mystery, please contact us so we can share it here.

Cast of Characters

Matthew Van Wormer (c1819-c1884) was born somewhere in New York State. We know nothing yet about his upbringing or early career, but by 1860 he was living in Dayton, Ohio, and told the census taker he was a "Merchant." Ten years later he claimed to be a "Lumber dealer," and in 1880, a "Coal dealer."

Matthew apparently moved from Dayton to Melrose, Massachusetts, north of Boston and now part of the Boston metroplex, sometime between 1881 and 1883, probably to be nearer the offices of the New England Car Company (or United States Car Company, as it came to be called).

Just what got him interested in "tip cars," we may never know, but he applied for his first patent in May of 1877. By June of 1885, he held at least 11 patents pertaining to such cars. (We say "at least" because the nature of the U.S. Patent Offices classification system makes it virtually impossible to be sure that what is found is all that there is to be found.) These patents are quite detailed, and cover many, many details of 8-wheeled tip cars. They are not at all the simply conceptual thing that many patents are. (Pat. No. 311,047, for instance, contains six pages of drawings and four of text, much more than the two or three of drawings and two or three of text we have commonly found in researching railroad car patents.)

Here are the Van Wormer patents we have found to date. If you know of others, please contact us and help us update this list.

Pat. No. Date Inventor Location Remarks
193,101 1877 Jul Matthew Van Wormer Ohio / Dayton Witnessed by Bruce Van Wormer
199,761 1878 Jan Matthew Van Wormer Ohio / Dayton  
200,813 1878 Feb Matthew Van Wormer Ohio / Dayton Witnessed by Simeon Brownell
236,121 1880 Dec Matthew Van Wormer Ohio / Dayton Assigned to wife, Nancy Van Wormer
244,954 1881 Jul Matthew Van Wormer Ohio / Dayton  
284,691 1883 Sep Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Melrose Witnessed by Harrie C. & Frank Brownell
291,113 1884 Jan Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Melrose  
296,088 1884 Apr Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Melrose  
302,605 1884 Jul Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Melrose  
309,752 1884 Dec Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Maldon  
311,047 1885 Jan Clemson L. Van Wormer Mass. / Melrose Witnessed by Matthew Van Wormer
316,507 1885 Apr Matthew Van Wormer Mass. / Maldon  
319,638 1885 Jun David S. Stimson NH / Concord Assigned to C.L. Van Wormer

Simeon Brownell (1836-1908) was born in Washington County, New York. It is quite possible he knew Van Wormer there. At the time of the 1860 census, he was living in Ross County, Ohio, only about 30 miles from Dayton. Since he was a "manufacturer," and Van Wormer was a "merchant," it is quite possible they had business dealings. Somehow they got together.

By 1870, Simeon had moved back to New York, where he was an agent for a life insurance company. But he must have had some contact with Van Wormer, because he witnessed Van Wormer�s patent application from Dayton in January of 1878.

When the New England Car Company was organized in 1879/80, Simeon brought in one or more of his sons, Charles, Frank and Harry. When the United States Car Company was organized, he appears to have brought in his remaining son(s).

Whatever happened to Simeon Brownell and his sons? That�s what we would like to know. If you can help, please contact us.

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19 April 2006

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