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

Columbia Steel Car Company

The first information we find about the Columbia Steel Car Company is a real estate notice in the Chicago Tribune for 5 October 1890:

“It is reported that $300,000 was paid for 600 acres in Secs. 27, 28 and 29 in the Township of Maine. [Maine Township in Cook County, Illinois, includes the city of Des Plaines, northwest of Chicago.] The Columbia Steel Car company is the purchaser. This company was organized about three months ago with a capital stock of $1,000,000. The company hopes to begin building operations this year [1890]. The Chicago and Northwestern and Wisconsin Central railroads intersect on the property secured by this company.”

As year-end approached [28 December], the Tribune published information on “Chicago’s New Manufacturers:”

“The Columbia Steel Car Company controls a tract of 600 acres in Secs. 27, 28 and 29 of the Township of Maine. Plans have been drawn for the works and it is stated that building operations will begin at once. This company, as well as the Harvey Steel Car company, has been organized during the present year for the manufacture of steel railway cars.”

A few days later [4 January 1891], the Tribune reported:

“The Columbia Steel Car Company is about ready to begin building operations on the tract of land recently purchased by it in the Township of Maine. The main factory building to be erected will be 148x660 feet.  The capacity of the plant will be from fifteen to twenty steel cars a day. The tract of land owned this company is located at Riverview, about two miles south of Des Plaines. The Des Plaines River crosses the entire tract.”

Two weeks later [18 January]:

“The Columbia Steel Car Company will begin work on its permanent plant next week. The estimated outlay for buildings and equipment is $100,000. The main building will be 660x148 feet. The plant will consist of a machine-shop, blacksmith-shop, two erecting shops, a paint-shop, and a power-house. All will be brick. A temporary shop has been erected on the grounds and a sample car will be turned out next month. The company owns a tract of 600 acres in Secs. 27, 28 and 29 . . . [and more like the preceding]”

This stock certificate was issued 23 March 1891 to Martin White. It is signed by G.L. Hoodless, Secretary (left), and Freeman J. Short, President (right):

Stock Certificate issued to Martin White

Several months later [21 June]:

“The Columbia Steel Car company has four buildings under contract to be completed by July 15. The work on two of them is well advanced.”

Two weeks later [10 July] we learn in a passing mention by the same source that F.J. Short is President of the Columbia Steel Car company.

And almost before we know it [16 August], the company is being reorganized:

“A reorganization of the Columbia Steel Car company has been practically completed. The new company will consist of a few members of the old concern with Benjamin F. Holmes and a number of New York capitalists and railroad men. The lands of the company, consisting of 1,000 acres near Desplaines [sic] with a plant now erected, are valued in the reorganization at $500,000. Mr. Holmes is said to represent the Palace Stock-Car company. No changes will be made in the proposed work of the old company as to improving the land lying between the Northwestern and Wisconsin Central railroads”

At this point, the New York Times checks in [16 August] with a press release from Chicago dated the day before:

“Negotiations for the establishment of a big manufacturing town just outside of Chicago have been completed. Arrangements provide for the sale of the plant of the Columbia Steel Car Company near Desplaines [sic], the transfer of 1,000 acres of land, and the formation of a new organization, the price paid being $500,000. B.F. Holmes of New York is at the head of a strong syndicate of Chicago and Eastern capitalists and railroad men, and they have perfected plans for the erection of factories that will, when completed, furnish employment to 500 skilled car builders and mechanics.”

Mr. Holmes came to this city [Chicago] a month ago to place the contract for the manufacture of 1,000 steel cars, but ascertained that the Columbia Steel Car Company had not sufficient facilities for undertaking the work, and finally decided to acquire its plant and manufacture the cars himself. He associated himself with a number of capitalists, and they have been quietly securing all the available land in the vicinity of the proposed works.”

Exactly two months later [16 October], the Tribune reports:

“The Columbia Steel Car company has made a mortgage to W.G. Bentley to secure $250,000 in bonds. The bonds run for twenty years and bear 6 pre cent interest.”

And then [14 November]:

“An attempt of the Columbia Steel Car company to make a manufacturing center in the Town[ship] of Maine has come to grief, and the courts are asked to settle conflicting claims. In the Superior Court Benjamin F. Holmes, a New York capitalist, complains that the stockholders of the company have not kept their agreement under which he was to furnish capital for the enterprise, and he asks for an injunction restraining Freeman J. Short, Samuel Chandler, George M. Sterne, G.L. Hoodless, J.C. Bailey, and Martin White from interfering with his claimed rights. In the Circuit Court Holmes is made defendant and the stockholders seek to have their contracts with him annulled.”

“The Columbia Steel Car company was organized a year ago with a capital stock of $1,000,000 divided in 10,000 shares. Besides the construction of large factories in Maine [Township] the stockholders intended to buy up land in the neighborhood and hold it for sale.”

“Holmes said he found the company last July with uncompleted factories and no money. He claims to control enough Eastern money to put the business in shape, and on agreement to do so received all the property of the company. The stockholders, he says, represented that the total indebtedness was $20,000, that $52,000 had been invested in the plant, and that the company held valuable options on 450 acres of land. Holmes now charges that the debt exceeded the stipulated sum by $25,000, and that the land contracts proved to be not binding. In return for the transfer to him of the property he claims to have agreed to furnish the $250,000 or $500,000 needed to float the business, and he still professes his ability to fulfill his contract. But he charges that besides deceiving him regarding the state of the company the stockholders have conspired to prevent the completion of his plans. They refuse, he says, to transfer the stock to him, and he believes are holding money and collateral belonging to the company. During a recent absence from the city he says they obtained his books and records and he fears unless they are restrained from further interference his alleged rights will be prejudiced. Judge Shepard issued the restraining order. It was intended to prevent filing a bill by the opposition, but while the Holmes’ attorney was before Judge Shepard the Circuit Court bill was filed.”

Three days later [17 November], the Tribune reports that:

“Freeman J. Short and his fellow-stockholders yesterday filed an answer to Benjamin F. Holmes’ bill of complaint in the matter of the Columbia Steel Car company difficulty. The defendants deny Holmes’ charge that they are withholding books and records of the company and charge in turn that he and his assistants forcibly deprived Secretary Hoodless of his office. The answer says that Hoodless was seized and detained in a dark hall while a pretended meeting of the Board of Directors, of which he was the member needed to constitute a quorum, was held. Here he says his resignation was demanded and accepted and his successor, Holmes’ private secretary, was elected. Hoodless’ friends think this election should be set aside. Late in the afternoon G.L. Hoodless, the deposed secretary, entered suit in the Superior Court for $25,000 damages for assault. He makes Isaac E. Adams, A.K. Rylaud, and H. Havemayer, his successor, defendants. The three men are alleged to have made Hoodless an involuntary attendant at the directors’ meeting.”

And almost a month later [8 December]:

“The Columbia Steel Car company and Benjamin F. Holmes are complainants in a Superior Court bill filed yesterday. Holmes represents that $50,000 worth of bonds constituting a claim on the company’s plant that he confided to Wilber G. Bentley have been delivered to George W. Henry. Holmes fears they will be sold and asks an injunction preventing Bentley, Henry, and Freeman J. Short, one of the former officers of the company, whom he believes to be connected with the deal, from making a sale. In the Circuit Court bill Holmes recites the contract by which he claims Freeman J. Short, George M. Sterne, Martin White, Samuel L. Chandler, J.C. Bailey, and G.L. Hoodless, originators of the company, agreed to transfer the property to him in order that the concern might be reorganized. He claims they are not living up to this agreement and asks a decree for specific performance and an injunction restraining interference with his possessions.”

We don’t know yet what was the disposition of these court actions.

The nearest thing to an explanation of what became of the Columbia Steel Car Company is contained in a story in the Chicago Daily Tribune of 13 January 1892.

William Armstrong, a stockholder of the American Fireproof Steel Car Company, sought a legal order setting aside the assignment of certain patents made by William F. Green, its President, to Freeman J. Short of the Columbia Steel Car Company. The consideration for making the assignment was $10,000 in notes, $100,000 worth of stock in Columbia, and a commitment to pay a royalty to American for all cars built by Columbia under those patents.

Short, in turn, transferred the patents to Columbia for $999,600 worth of its stock.

Armstrong alleged that American received only $5,000 in notes, the balance going to Green personally and to officers of Columbia. The $100,000 worth of stock in Columbia could not be owned by American because its charter did not allow it to own another company. The story continues:

“False representations are said to have been made by Short as to the financial conditions of his company. He promised to build extensive works in Cook County, but, after expending $25,000 in an incomplete building in Maine [Township], the Columbia company became involved in litigation with Benjamin F. Holmes and has done nothing but create debts.”

We have no idea at this time, how much longer the Columbia Steel Car Company continued to exist, or what disposition was made of it. But it appears it never manufactured so much as a single car . . . or anything else, for that matter.

12 March 2006

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