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

Brandon Car Company

Brandon, Vermont, was the site of an iron smelter set up about 1820 by 47 year old entrepreneur John Conant (1773-1856).

Conant, born in Massachusetts and trained as a carpenter and joiner, had come to the area in 1796. He presumably practiced that trade until he built a stone grist-mill on the Neshobe River in 1816. Bog iron was discovered nearby about 1819, and Conant set up the primitive smelter that would become known as “Conant’s Furnace.”

The smelter must also have included a foundry operation, as in the future one of Conant’s most notable products would be the upright stoves that he designed. But his shops also produced kettles, chains and agricultural implements, among other things.

In 1823, Conant took into partnership his sons Chauncy W. (  -  ) and John A. (  -  )and they did business under the name of John Conant & Sons. Sometime between 1823 and 1837 the firm apparently became known as C.W. and J.A. Conant and in 1837 it became the Brandon Iron Company.

In 1849, the Burlington-Rutland Railroad came to Brandon and according to the town’s website it became a “center for the manufacture of railroad cars.” By now the iron company was turning out tieplates, spikes and other railroad hardware—probably primarily for the Rutland—and sometime between 1849 and 1855 the Brandon Car Company had come into existence with John A. Conant as Director.

The operation must not have been a small one, for between the years of 1855 and 1863, the last year it is known to have been in operation, the works turned out 25 freight cars for the New York Central, two passenger cars and 20 box cars for the Chicago & Milwaukee RR Company, and something on the order of 25 passenger cars and 150-200 freight cars for the Rutland.

But quality may have been been a problem, as Jim Shaughnessy, in The Rutland Road (Berkeley, CA: Howell North Books, 1964, p. 18) says, “(Rutland’s) operating superintendant, E.A. Chapin, was sentenced to creeping defeat in his Herculean efforts to keep the rolling stock, built by the amateurs at Brandon, from falling apart.”

Shaughnessy says the Brandon shops closed in 1861, but it is known they were still doing business as late as 1863.

For More Information

Online —

Fox, Jerry. “Risky Business: Building Railroad Cars in Vermont.” Shortline. April and October 1994.

The “Shortline” is the publication of the Champlain Valley [Vermont] Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. We have the pleasure of republishing this article here with their permission.

Brandon Iron Company Records. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Online description of holdings.

09 April 2006

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