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

Hicks Locomotive & Car Company

F.M. Hicks & Company
Central Locomotive & Car Works
Liberty Car & Equipment Company

The Hicks Locomotive and Car Company had its beginnings in 1897 when Frank M. Hicks leased a small building in Chicago Heights, Illinois, and opened a shop to repair locomotives he purchased from the large railroads and then sold to the small. Demand for such motive power was great in the succeeding years, and F.M. Hicks & Company grew quite rapidly. There was similar demand for freight and passenger cars, and these were accordingly added. {27}

We don’t know just where the original building was. But we do know that a new plant was begun in the latter half of 1901. It was at Center Avenue and Seventeenth Street. {168}

Hicks Locomotive Original Plant
Hicks Locomotive & Car Company’s then-new car works at Chicago Heights, Illinois. Inset left: Original Hicks works. Inset right: Frank M. Hicks himself.

The six buildings of the new plant were intended to have a capacity of 30 locomotives and 12 passenger cars with track room enough to handle 200 freight cars. The main building would have a frontage of 810 feet; the machine shop would be 100 x 350 feet, the erecting shop 170 x 750 feet; the foundry 100x 300 feet; and the office building 100 x 300 feet. The buildings were to be of brick with stone foundations, well lighted and well ventilated, with steam heat. {165}

A newspaper article of the time indicates that “besides the manufacture of locomotives and freight cars, the company intends to carry on an extensive business in repairing and remodeling all classes of cars and railway engines.” Expected employment was 850 workmen. Chicago Heights was selected for the location of the new plant because “of its superior railway and shipping facilities, three belt railways and several trunk lines having direct connections with the new industry.”  {165}

It appears this plant was completed and the machinery installed sometime in early 1902. {167}

There is some question about when the company name changed from F.M. Hicks & Company to Hicks Locomotive & Car Company. A promotional book put out by the company refers to “the present company [presumably Hicks Locomotive & Car Company, as identified in the title of the book], incorporated in 1906 . . . ” {27}

But a newspaper article from 1903 {179} refers to “The Hicks Locomotive and Car Works [sic],” and the Official Catalog of Exhibitors at the 1904 Universal Exhibition - Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis lists the Hicks Locomotive & Car Works as Exhibitor No. 0141 in Dept. G, Group 74 (Railways et al.). {180}

Now either these references were using “locomotive and car works” generically, or the company changed its name before it was incorporated in 1906.

By one account “the Hicks company had on exhibition a very modern and palatial Pullman [sic] coach and only officials of railroads who could pass credentials were admitted to the car.” Apparently the assistant ticket agent of the Wabash Railroad at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, was one of these “lucky men.” {166}

F.M. Hicks' Prize-Winning Private Car
This is the car that took a gold medal for Hicks at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis. Click on image for enlargement.

Early in 1905, Hicks purchased the steel tubing plant at Chicago Heights for $170,000 together with an additional 40 acres, with the intent of erecting a new plant for their car department. The old Hicks works was to be used for the manufacture and repair of locomotives. The steel tubing plant consisted of several buildings, 80 x 300 feet, 80 x 280 feet, 80 x 290 feet, a boiler house 60 x 80 feet, an engine room 60 x 80 feet, a forge shop 60 x 105 feet, an office building and one mile of standard gauge railroad track. {168} This would be known as their “East Works,” and be used exclusively for freight cars. The other plant would be known as the “West Works,” and be devoted exclusively to locomotives and passenger cars. {27}

The aforementioned Hicks promotional book, which appears to have been an effort to promote the company during the “down days” following the stock market crunch of 1907, indicates that the company had “formerly” done a large business in rebuilt coaches, but at the “present time” was doing very little except new work. It also says the company had “made a specialty” of private and business cars, and “received the Gold Medal Award at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.” {27}

With regard to locomotives, the Hicks promotional book says, “some new locomotives have been erected, but work in this department has been chiefly the rebuilding of locomotives, both for sale and on contract for railroads and private enterprises.” {27} Out of eight photographs of locomotives in the book, only one is captioned as “new:” an 0-6-0 switch engine for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway.

Hicks-built 0-6-0 switcher
Hicks built an unknown number of these 0-6-0 switchers for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific about 1907.


09 April 2006

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