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

Smith & Perkins Locomotive Works

Virginia Locomotive & Car Works

The Smith & Perkins Locomotive Works had its beginnings in the 1830s when T.W. and R.C. Smith opened a machine shop at Alexandria, Virginia. Somehow they manufactured three locomotives in 1837, but did not follow up with more until after 1851.

In February of that year, Thatcher Perkins, master mechanic of the B&O railroad, joined with C.H. Smith to form the firm of Smith & Perkins. {315} Work was also done under the name of the Virginia Locomotive & Car Works. Their 1st locomotive was completed in three months, and went to the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. {351}

The works were located on the south side of Wolfe at Union Street. They occupied “51,500 feet of ground fronting on the Potomac River.” {341} [One wonders whether the figure quoted might have been square feet, as 51,500 linear feet is almost 10 miles!] The works consisted of a machine shop, a foundry building, a blacksmith shop, a boiler shop, and a car shop. {342}

Smith & Perkins built coal-burning locomotives, at the rate of three per month, for railroads that included the Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania Central, Manassas Gap, and Hudson River companies. In 1852, the company employed some 200 men in its operations, {316} and had operating expenses of $12,000 to $15,000 per month. {342}

Smith and Perkins built all the cars used on the Manassas Gap and on the Orange & Alexandria railroads.  {341}

An 1855 article headed “MANUFACTURE OF MACHINERY IN THE SOUTH,” {315} had this to say about Smith & Perkins —

“[The company] is about to be removed to one of the Middle or Western States, for the reason that their patrons live in these localities. During the four years which the establishment has been in operation, they have turned out some 30 locomotives and about 300 cars annually, and although their work is equal to that manufactured at any other establishment in this country, and afforded on as reasonable terms, they have never been able to effect a single sale to a company south of [Alexandria]. ... [The company] employs constantly from 225 to 240 men. The expenditure for stock and labor is $300,000 annually ... ”

The firm declared bankruptcy in 1857, {342} probably as a result of the financial panic that struck in August of that year, ending a period of inflationary prosperity that began with the gold rush of 1849.

What became of Smith, we don’t yet know. But Perkins went on to have an illustrious career as mechanical head of the B&O Railroad, the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works, and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. {351}

The works and the company’s tools were sold at auction in May 1860. {351}

Cast of Characters

C.H. Smith ( - ) was ... do you know? [Hugh C. Smith??] Please tell us!

Thatcher Perkins ( - ) was ... do you know? Please tell us!

shop foreman of B&O, replaced James Murray as master of machinery in 1847, quit ca. 1851 to build locomotives at Alexandria. Returned to B&O as master of machinery 1859-1865. [Dilts, The Great Road, p. 365 and p. 444n14

In 1859, was engaged as a manager of the machine department for Tredegar Iron Works, in Richmond. [Kathleen Bruce, Virginia Iron Manufacture in the Slave Era (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1968), 323n]

"B&O Master of Machinery, Thatcher Perkins, introduced the first iron
boxcars in 1862, determined that the long term durability benefits
would outweigh the costs. Although many survived through the havoc
of the Civil War, they were too impractical for continued production."

... at some point may have been engineer and superintendent of the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works

Thatcher Perkins and William McMahon obtained a patent [apparently unnumbered] 10 April 1843 for improvements in the manner of constructing cast-iron wheels for locomotive steam engines, cars, trucks and so forth. They requested an extension of that patent and it was presented to Congress 12 April 1860 by Mr. Bigler of the Committee on Patents and the Patent Office in the form of a bill designated S. 403 (36th Congress, 1st Session). [Unknown whether or not the bill was enacted into law.]

Research Yet to Do —

"Thatcher Perkins, Master of Machinery," by John H. White, Jr., R&LHS Bulletin #169
Index to American Biography
Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, April, 1964

11 April 2006

Home/Bldr. Index Bibliography Links Car-Bldr. Dictionary All-time Bldr. List C&S Rolling-stock