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

United States Rolling Stock Company

United States Car Company
Western Steel Car & Foundry

The beginnings of the U.S, Rolling Stock Company go back to the establishment of the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad.

The Western New York Railroad Archive website tells the story quite succinctly

The Atlantic and Great Western Railroad began as three separate railroads centering Jamestown, NY, Meadville, PA, and Franklin Mills, OH. These roads were the Erie & New York City Railroad, the Meadville Railroad, and the Franklin & Warren Railroad. The owners of the three railroads had been working closely together since an October 8, 1852 meeting in Cleveland to plan an expansion of the "Great Broad Route" through their respective areas. On March 12, 1862, general control of all three companies was placed under a central board made of two directors from each of the companies . . . The line reached Cleveland on November 18, 1863 and was connected to the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad in Dayton on June 20, 1864; thus linking St Louis with New York via a six-foot gauge line. On August 19, 1865 an agreement was drafted to merge the three separate into The Atlantic & Great Western Railway Company. On October 5th of that year the new company issued a $30 million mortgage to pay off the outstanding mortgages on various companies included in the merger.

All of this would have been impossible without financing by British investors, lead by James McHenry, an Irishman, who—after being brought up in the United States—went to Liverpool and made an immense fortune by creating the first trade in America dairy products. McHenry's endorsement was enough to give the road good standing with British investors. Their capital was lavished on the project as foreign money had never before been lavished on anything American.

Nevertheless, the Great Western went into receivership 1 April 1867. Between then and 1871, it was leased to Jay Gould’s Erie Railroad twice, and went into receivership twice more. On 26 July 1871 it was sold at foreclosure to William Butler Duncan, Allen G. Thurman, and former Civil War general George B. McClellan,

The United States Rolling Stock Company was established in New York in 1871 by James McHenry [the same] and business associates, for the stated purpose of manufacturing, selling and leasing locomotives, freight, box and flat cars, etc. Since car leasing firms had previously been set up in Germany and England, McHenry had no trouble raising the $5,000,000 capitalization among his British associates. The President of the company was Gen. George B. McClellan [the same]. The company’s offices were to be in New York City and its car works and storage yards in Chicago, Illinois. The company’s first client would be, of course, the Atlantic & Great Western.

At rental rates from 75 cents per day for flat cars and gondolas to $1.50 per day for box cars, the 4,000 cars supplied to the Great Western were expected to provide profits of at least 12%.

All went well until the financial panic of September 1873 that crippled railway financing for the next several years. In May 1874, the bankrupt Great Western was leased to the Erie, at terms very generous to the Great Western and it’s backer James McHenry [him again]. On December 10, 1874 the new president of the Erie, Hugh M. Jewett, repudiated the lease and the company went into the hands of a new Receiver. This action lead to a series of lawsuits between McHenry and Jewett that brought shame to both companies.

U.S. Rolling Stock was paid with receiver’s certificates rather than with cash or gold. Gen. McClellan bailed out, and because the Great Western had been built to the broad gauge of 6'-0", there was little market for the now-surplus equipment.

But somehow U.S. Rolling Stock survived. Further, it decided to expand into car building to replace the profits it was no longer earning on rental business.

In 1875, with a good deal of help from that city’s financial movers and shakers, a second set of shops were set up at Urbana, Ohio. As of 1881, this property consisted of 47+ acres, with three sheds 750'-0" long, a repair shop 800'-0" long, a blacksmith shop, a storehouse 150'-0" long, an office and other minor structures. {102}.

In 1878, acquired F.E. Canda & Company (Chicago)??????

In 1881, the U.S. Rolling Stock plant installed 125 bamboo-filament direct current Edison light bulbs, becoming one of the first industries to be lit by electricity. [Wish we knew whether this was in the plant or in the offices. Probably the latter.]

in 1882, a car trust was established that enabled railroads to acquire cars on a lease-purchase arrangement with payments spread over as much as five years.

Also in 1882, Adolph (some later sources say Achilles) Hegewisch became president of  U.S. Rolling Stock, whose works were then located near Blue Island, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago.  Hegewisch wanted to have a company town surround his plant, much as George Pullman had developed at Pullman, Illinois. He bought 100 acres centered on what is now 135th St. and Brandon on which to begin. Later investors would buy an additional 1,500 acres, north and northeast of the company, for proposed working class housing.

During 1884/85 the plant was built at the new town of Hegewisch. By 1890 this plant would be capable of producing 30 cars a day. Soon additional plants were added in Decatur and Anniston, Alabama.

But nothing seemed to solve the company’s lingering problems. In 1887 its capitalization was voluntarily reduced to $4 million to reflect its accumulated losses. But on 21 November 1890 it went into voluntary receivership. What Vice President Cyrus D. Roys told reporters could no doubt have been said by any number of struggling car builders — {103}

“This is not a case of insolvency in the popular sense of insolvency. This step is taken to tide over to that period when the money market shall be easy enough to enable those who are indebted to us to pay up, and when that is done every creditor of every kind will be paid in full with interest, and we shall still have more than $400,000 in the bank to our credit.

“In the depressed condition of the money market we have been unable to get money to any great extent from the various railroads for whom we have been building cars, but have been compelled to take seven, eight, and nine months’ paper in some instances, and in no case less than sixty or ninety days’ paper. We have 2,200 men on the pay rolls who are kept constantly employed, and the payrolls, together with material and supplies, make an aggregate monthly cash payment by us of about $700,000. There is a limit to this sort of thing when we receive paper and pay out cash.”

We have found no information that would help us continue this story. Somehow United States Rolling Stock either became or was bought out by the United States Car Company.

We know stock was being issued by the U.S. Car Company of New Jersey as early as 1893/94.

And we know the United States Car Co. of Cincinnati (?) was organized with capital of $3.5 million, with plants at Hegewisch, Illinois, Anniston, Decatur, and in Cherokee County, Alabama, and at Urbana, Ohio. About September of 1897, a federal judge approved the appointment of W.C. Lane and T. McGee as receivers upon application of C.T. DeCrews of London who alleged that the bonded indebtedness of the company was $4.027 million of which $2.092 million was past payment. Assets amounted to $1.124 million. {337}

And we know that U.S. Car Company was ordered 16 December 1897 to pay off a bonded debt of $200,000 within 10 days or sell off the company’s properties, Including plants at Hegewisch, Illinois, and Decatur and Anniston, Alabama. {103}

1898 - Illinois Car & Equipment in business

1912 - "changed its name to Western Steel Car & Foundry, which made electric steel, grey iron, and malleable iron."

1916-1925 - Western Steel Car (Chicago)
1922 - reportedly got orders for cars
1926 - "Taken Over" by Pressed Steel

1902-1925 - Western Steel Car & Foundry Co. (Hegewisch) subsidiary of Pressed Steel Car Co.
1906 - Western Steel Car & Foundry (Anniston) subsidiary of Pressed Steel Car Co.

11 April 2006

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