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

Pullmans Palace Car Co. - Page 2

But Pullman thought he and Field could do better building their own cars. He raised capital from his Chicago business associates, leased space from the Alton in downtown Chicago (now the Union Station), hired workmen and bought materials. By autumn of 1864, assisted by his brother Albert (remember him?), he began work on the car that was to make history.

Drawing from U.S. Patent 49,992

Drawing from U.S. Patent 49,992 titled Improvement in Sleeping Cars, granted to Ben Field and George M. Pullman 19 September 1865. (Click pic for enlargement.)

The Pioneer was just a foot wider and two feet higher than anything that had preceded it, but it had only 12 large, open sections. It combined comfort and luxury with attractiveness of decoration, and was regarded as a marvel far in advance of any railway coach construction of that day.

Pullman's "Pioneer" Sleeper
The Pioneer, circa 1891,  25 years after its construction. It originally had two four-wheel trucks at each end. (Click lower pic for enlargement.)

Conventional Wisdom —

Although the fame of the Pioneer traveled far, it was so heavy, so wide, and so high that it could not. No railway could undertake to run it, as it would necessitate elevating bridges and cutting off station platforms.

Pullman might have been stuck with a white elephant, had not President Lincoln’s assassination required the return of his body to its place of burial in Springfield, Illinois. Mrs. Lincoln had seen and admired the Pioneer, and decided it should be part of the cortège. To get it over its tracks, the Alton was forced to cut off station platforms, elevate bridges, and add two feet more clearance to every structure along its right-of-way. But what publicity for Pullman’s sleeping car!

Shortly thereafter, General Ulysses S. Grant -- Civil War hero -- decided he would use the Pioneer for his return trip to his home town of Galena, Illinois, served by the Chicago & North Western Railroad, and it was forced to do the same make-over as the Alton. And Pullman’s sleeping car got even more publicity!

Historical Fact —

Lincoln’s remains were placed aboard a 48'-4" open vestibule car known as The President's Car, completed in the Military Railroad System shops at Alexandria, VA the year before, but never used by the President because he called it “too fancy and ornate.” {72} Six other cars made up the funeral cortège. The train left Washington 21 April 1865 and meandered around the country for 13 days, stopping at state capitols and major cities. Each of the various locomotives that pulled it was heavily draped with black cloth, laurel, American flags, and in at least one case, with Lincoln’s portrait. The train finally arrived at Chicago, where 125,000 people passed the flag-draped coffin as it lay in state.

Private car "United States"
The original caption on this photo identifies this car as the U.S. Military Railroads car “United States,” here bearing the body of President Lincoln to Springfield for burial.

After its time in Chicago, the funeral train proceeded on the Chicago & Alton Railroad to Springfield, where it arrived 2 May 1865. The coffin was removed and Lincoln’s body was interred in the tomb prepared for it. Gene Glendinning, in his well-researched book The Chicago & Alton Railroad; The Only Way {5} says —

“Over time, legends surrounding Pullman’s Pioneer and the composition of the funeral train took life. One story declared that Pullman’s then most famous sleeper carried the president’s coffin. Government records and published recollections written by those who had been there confirm the Presidents Car was the only carriage in which his remains were placed throughout the slow, meandering trip. Another myth declared that Mrs. Lincoln rode in the Pioneer with her two sons, Tad and Robert. In fact, Mary Lincoln was still in Washington as late as May 22 and only then left the capital; she had not accompanied the president’s remains. It is possible that Mrs. Lincoln was afforded use of the car later when she finally returned to Springfield, a fitting accommodation for the bereaved widow, but not as part of the funeral train itself.”

Glendinning goes on to tell of a special train of 11 sleeping cars that brought northern Illinois politicians down to Springfield for the ceremonies ahead of the funeral cortège and served them as accommodations while there. He opines that “it can be safely concluded the [Alton’s] best cars, the Pioneer and the Springfield, were included in that number.” Then he continues —

“Because of the Pioneer’s 10-foot width, it became legend that railroads could not operate the car until restrictive platforms and bridges were rebuilt, and to allow the car to operate over the C&A, crews hastily cut back offending platforms and timbers. In reality, the car’s dimensions were not that different from similar luxury cars of the period. The President’s Car itself was nine-feet, three inches wide and made the journey across the country without incident. The C&A was in the midst of its rebuilding program, so it is unlikely anything but the latest railroad clearance practices were employed. There is no evidence, for instance, that the recently rebuilt and covered bridge over the Kankakee River at Wilmington, the most formidable structure to pose a possible problem between Chicago and Springfield, was altered in any way.”


11 April 2006

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