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

Middletown Car Works/Co.

Schall & King Car Works
Middletown Car & Manufacturing Company

The Middletown Car Works opened about 1869 at Middletown, Pennsylvania. We don't yet know who established it, or anything else about it’s early operation, except that it was probably hard hit by the financial panic of 1873, which reduced car orders to virtually nothing.

Our story begins in 1879, when Michael Schall, of York Pennsylvania, took over the boarded-up plant. He paid only $10,000 for a plant one authority values at $75,000 or more. {46}

Schall took as a partner Arthur King, who had been the manager of the Empire Car Works at York, which Schall owned in partnership with George Ilgenfritz, King’s father-in-law.

The New York Times for 25 December 1886 says the Schall & King car works at Middletown was almost completely destroyed by fire the previous morning, with losses totaling $150,000. Six substantial brick buildings were destroyed, including the carpenter and construction, machine, pattern, and blacksmith shops, and planing mills. More than $35,000 worth of seasoned lumber and finished iron was consumed, as were nine completed cars. As was usual for those times, the plant was grossly under-insured.

How the plant was rebuilt must be quite a story, but one we haven't discovered yet. Nevertheless, it must have been rebuilt, for the story continues.

Middletown Car Works is listed in the “Car Builders” section of the 1887 edition of Poor’s Directory of Railroad Officials, with the notation “Schall & King, Proprietors.”

Schall went bankrupt in 1891, one authority says because of overspeculation. {46} But King apparently persuaded the creditors to allow him to continue alone. Exactly when this happened is problematical. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania has a list of “Honored Railroaders.” For Arthur King it has “Founder -- Middletown Car & Manufacturing Co.” Under “Service” it shows “1839 [which we take to be 1889 for obvious reasons] - 1918.” It would appear the partnership of Schall & King was dissolved, and the business reorganized.

The company was hard hit again by the financial panic of 1893 and the ensuing lack of car orders, The 19 July 1896 issue of the New York Times reports that Arthur King, principal owner of Middletown Car Works, had been appointed Receiver. Creditors claimed debts of $57,673 “and that the value of the plant and material on hand is about $118,000 with a considerable number of orders to execute.” Employment was noted at about 200 “hands.” King’s Receivership continued until 1901.

In 1901, the business was incorporated as the Middletown Car Works, with King as its President.

The 14 Sept 1904 issue of the New York Times reports William B. Deming, export agent, announcing the “largest single order for cars for export ever placed in this market:” 640 freight cars for the Argentine government ordered from Middletown and 38 passenger, baggage and sleeping cars from Wason Manufacturing Company.

About this time, George I. King, son of the founder, designed a 70'-0" passenger car that appeared to be a standard passenger car, but employed two 12" steel channels as center sills. A description of this car was the centerpiece of a paper presented to the Master Car Builders calling for the adoption of all-steel passenger cars. It was said the Pressed Steel Car Company was working on a similar design. {225}

In 1910, the Middletown Car Works was acquired by the Standard Steel Car Company, but was apparently operated as a wholly-owned subsidiary doing business under its own name. We do not know yet whether this involved a reorganization of the company, but it seems that after this point it is referred to as the Middletown Car Company. It is so listed under “Car Builders” in the New York City section of White-Orr's 1930 Classified Business Directory.

In 1918/19, following the 1st World War, Middletown was involved in rebuilding the French railways, shipping passenger cars in knocked down (kit) form and then assembling them locally.

Around 1923, Middletown’s office in Brazil was apparently serving as agent for Standard Steel, Middletown Car Co., Baltimore Car & Foundry Co., Keith Car & Manufacturing Co., Osgood Bradley Car Co., Forged Steel Wheel Co., Butler Car Wheel Co., Butler Bolt & Rivet Co., Steel Forge Car Co., Verona Steel Castings Co., and Standard Motor Truck Co. Articles in the New York Times during 1924 and 1925 show orders to Middletown from the Central of Brazil and the Anglo-American Petroleum Company.

In November 1929, Arthur LeGrand Doty died. He had been Vice President of Middletown

The New York Times for 19 November 1929 NY Times: Arthur LeGrand Doty, VP of MCC died. After graduating from from Princeton 1892 was in RR equip export business with late William B. Deming "for many years." "In recent years" had been in charge of foreign business of MCC in Paris.

28 Dec 1929 NY Times: Pullman proposes merger of Standard Steel Car Company and Osgood Bradley (including Middletown Car Company) which "owns and operates a car assembling plant at Rio de Janeiro."

Built both freight and passenger, though primarily the former.

Executed sizeable orders for foreign countries.

Cast of Characters

Arthur King (1841-1917) was born in Virginia. His father was the Master Armorer at the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, and it was there Arthur received a basic education. His family moved to Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, and there Arthur was apprenticed to a machinist. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia, where he was employed at the Jenks small fire-arms factory and later at Sharps’ rifle works. After the war, about 1867, he moved to York, Pennsylvania, where he went to work for the Empire Car Works, became a foreman, and in 1868 married Lydia Ilgenfritz, the boss’ daughter. In 1879, he joined Michael Schall in reopening the moribund Middletown car works.

George Ilgenfritz King (1871-1953) was born at York, Pennsylvania, the son of Arthur and Lydia Ilgenfritz King. His grandfather, George Ilgenfritz, had founded the Empire Car Works at York in partnership with Michael Schall. George began engineering studies at MIT in 1889, but returned to Middletown to assist his father in management of the Middletown Car Company.  He returned to MIT in 1896 to complete his engineering studies. In 1897 he became a draftsman at the Schoen Pressed Steel Company, but he found Schoen “incompatible,” and the next year went to work for the Michigan-Peninsular Car Company at Detroit. In 1899, when Michigan-Peninsular merged into American Car & Foundry, he became head of their steel car department. In 1901 he returned to Middletown because of “family matters,” but he became intrigued with steel freight car design and obtained a number of patents. After the sale of Middletown to the Standard Steel Car Company he left car building in favor of lecturing and consulting work.

Michael Schall (c1822-1904)
Twenty-eight year old Michael Schall is found in the 1850 census for York, PA as a clerk.
Fifty-two year old Michael Schall, car builder, is found in the 1880 U.S. Census in York, PA.
In 1891, Schall failed because of over speculation.

For More Information

“Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company of Butler, Pennsylvania Records [ca. 1902-1982].” Pennsylvania State Archives. Online description of holdings.

Pullman’s Butler, Pennsylvania, plant was the former Standard Steel Car Company, of which Middletown was a subsidiary. Much of this material is pertinent to Middletown.

19 June 2006

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