RAILCAR GOLD Chapter 22 . . Diversify . . Part 2
RAILCAR GOLD is a historically accurate multi-generational fictional tale of hidden treasure, primarily set in York County, Pennsylvania during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. This is Part 2 of Chapter 22 . . . Diversify. A new part will be posted every Thursday. Recent chapters stand alone, starting here; however new readers may want to start at the beginning.
CHAPTER 22 . . . DIVERSIFY . . . Part 2
George Billmeyer and John Small talked about retooling the car works to construct steel railcars. Steel cars were still expensive, compared to wooden cars, however the price difference was narrowing every year.
Ultimately, for several reasons, George and John choose not to get into the steel railcar business. Billmeyer & Small had a huge infrastructure built around processing lumber. Their retail and wholesale lumber business remained extremely profitable. They foresaw expansion of their lumber trade, as a better opportunity. Besides, both George and John had recently diversified, investing in other businesses; and both expected to continue branching out.
That did not mean that their interest in Billmeyer & Small waned. They still were very competitive in fighting for every railcar order. They were also establishing a good track record in getting specialty car orders.
In 1891, they produced custom designed excursion cars for the New York & Sea Beach Railroad. These cars proved so popular on excursions to Coney Island, that Billmeyer & Small received repeat orders from not only that railroad, but also from other railroads connecting to coastal resorts.
George Billmeyer was well aware of the significance of the two-foot gauge Festiniog Railway in starting the dialog for the narrow gauge railway movement in the United States. The two-foot gauge Festiniog Railway had been carrying passengers in Wales since 1865 and was a freight railway even earlier.
In 1877, George had visited the first two-foot gauge railway in the United States on a trip to Massachusetts. The construction of that railway was directly influenced by the Festiniog; right down to the two-foot gauge rail spacing. The railway connected the towns of North Billerica and Bedford in Massachusetts.
Billmeyer & Small had never built railcars as narrow as two-foot gauge, however, in 1891, they decided to give it a try, when they bid on producing railcars for the Phillips & Rangeley Railroad in Maine. The Saddleback Mountain Range separates the towns of Phillips and Rangeley. The Massachusetts lumbermen proposing the railroad were well aware of the two-foot gauge railroad in their state and thought the same gauge would be well suited for this new railroad in Maine.
While that railroad primarily was being built with the goal of harvesting timber holdings, the realization set in that easier recreational passenger travel to the Rangeley Lakes region could create nice additional railroad revenue. Hence the bids went out for some nice-looking two-foot gauge passenger and combination coaches.
Billmeyer & Small won the bid and produced the coaches during February 1891. The coach seating consisted of a single seat next to the windows on both sides, with a narrow isle down the center. With no two-foot gauge track to test out their suspension design, Billmeyer & Small shipped the coaches without testing.
The suspension and height of the coaches had to be adjusted as the cars were put into service. Parts to modify the designs were quickly produced, delivered and installed. Stable operation was achieved, resulting in additional two-foot gauge coach orders for Billmeyer & Small.
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