Was York First? It’s All In The Details.
Two weeks ago I posted an article from the York Daily issue of June 30, 1871 that ended by boasting railcar builder Billmeyer & Small of York “have secured the building of the first one hundred narrow gauge cars ever used in this country, most of which are already far on their way to The Rocky Mountains.”
Three weeks later, the pictured article in the July 21, 1871 issue of the same newspaper stated that the first narrow gauge passenger cars ever built in the United States have just been built in Wilmington, Delaware. Was Wilmington first or was York first?
The book “Narrow Gauge Railways In America” by Howard Fleming contains the answer to the question. This book was published in 1876 to provide a sketch of the narrow gauge railways rise, progress and success.
Page 49 of “Narrow Gauge Railways In America” by Howard Fleming notes:
The Jackson and Sharp Company, of Wilmington, Delaware, prepared and submitted designs for passenger cars, built on the American plan, of placing a long body on swinging trucks, to the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, the initial narrow gauge railway in the United States. These were approved and adopted by the managers, and on the opposite page will be seen a side view of the car “Denver,” constructed in 1871, and being the first narrow gauge car built in America.
It seems that Wilmington was first, but not so fast. Page 54 of “Narrow Gauge Railways In America” by Howard Fleming continues:
In 1871, the well-known car builders, Messrs. Billmeyer & Smalls, of York, Pa., were requested by the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company to submit designs and dimensions for a Flat Car and Box Car, for their three feet gauge railway, then being constructed. The design being approved, they commenced building the first eight-wheeled narrow gauge freight car constructed in America.
The “eight-wheeled” term was likely added to differentiate against narrow gauge four-wheeled mining cars already in use at some mines in the country. Thus we have learned that Jackson and Sharp Company, of Wilmington, Delaware produced the first narrow gauge PASSENGER car built in this country. Whereas Billmeyer & Small, of York, Pennsylvania produced the first narrow gauge FREIGHT car built in this country.
Which narrow gauge RAILROAD CAR was produced first?
The June 30, 1871 article noted Billmeyer & Smalls’ “building of the first one hundred narrow gauge cars ever used in this country, most of which are already far on their way to The Rocky Mountains.” Thus on June 30, 1871 most of the narrow gauge FREIGHT cars were already shipped.
Three weeks later, the July 21, 1871 article noted the first narrow gauge PASSENGER cars ever built in the United States have just been built by Jackson and Sharp.
The FREIGHT cars were built before the PASSENGER cars by several weeks. Therefore I think Billmeyer & Small, and York, PA can rightfully claim producing the First Narrow Gauge Railroad Cars ever built and used in this country. Like I said, it’s all in the details.
Go to this post for an index of everything on YorksPast about 19th Century Rail Car Builders of York, Pennsylvania. Check back often, as the posts on this subject expand to include all manufacturers.Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts