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Why are Billmeyer & Small still Shipping Rail Cars via the Isthmus and Cape Horn in 1879?

Map Illustrating Relative Shipping Costs from Coast-to-Coast in 1879

Asher & Adams’ New Columbian Railroad Atlas of 1879 is very large format; about 18 by 24 inch pages.  To get a lot of written material into a Billmeyer & Small ad appearing on page 408, the text is very small.  Small text coupled with the ad being reduced to 8-1/2 by 11 in all copies I have seen, renders the text on copies virtually impossible to read.

The written material in this ad essentially reads as if someone interviewed Billmeyer & Small on the state of their business in 1879.  On Wednesdays, in four parts, I’m posting a transcript of the text from the original of the 1879 ad.  This is part 3, the other posts in this series are:


The text from this third part of the 1879 ad indicates that Billmeyer & Small are still shipping rail cars via the Isthmus and Cape Horn.  Why not ship their rail cars to the west coast via the 10-year-old Transcontinental Railroad?  That was certainly an option, however that railroad, at that time, had the most expensive shipping costs, by far, of the three options.

In 1879, if it cost $100 to ship a product via Cape Horn, it cost approximately $300 to ship the product via the Isthmus of Panama.  The 47-mile long railroad across the Isthmus was completed in 1855; creating the initial alternative to the Cape Horn route.

The first Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was completed in 1869.  The owners of this single set of rails linking the two coasts of the country had a monopoly for the next 13-years.  In 1879, shipping by rail to the west coast typically cost at least 5-times the Cape Horn option and almost double the Isthmus option.  In 1882, the second Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was completed via a southern route.  With the competition, the rail options versus the sea options to the west coast became somewhat more competitive.

Part 3 Text from Billmeyer & Small full-page-408 ad in Asher & Adams’ New Columbian Railroad Atlas of 1879

We cannot attempt, within the limits of a single page, to describe the many different styles of Narrow Gauge Passenger and Freight Cars constructed by this Company.  For such details we must refer the reader to the Company itself.  They will promptly forward illustrated and descriptive circulars to all who apply for them, and will freely give such other information as they possess in relation to the building and equipment of Narrow Gauge Roads.

The better way, however, is to make a personal visit to their Works, such a visit will afford an opportunity to examine the Peach Bottom Narrow-Gauge Railway (3 feet) and its equipment, now in practical operation.  This road begins at York, Pa., only a few hours ride from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and on it cars built by the Billmeyer & Small Company are in daily use.

These cars have been drawn at a speed of thirty-five miles per hour by locomotive.  They have encountered the terrible severity of the gales so well known to travelers in Colorado, and no effort has been spared to put them to the severest tests.  Their success under all circumstances fully insures their future satisfactory performance, and demonstrates that the doubts entertained by many minds respecting narrow-gauge rolling-stock were without foundation and unworthy of this progressive age.

The Billmeyer & Small Company’s Cars may be constructed in sections ready to put together, or may be entirely completed before being packed for transportation.  They are prepared to furnish any part of these Cars well packed, ready for shipment to any part of the world.  The trucks are of iron and steel, and may be shipped complete, with their wheels in position, ready to be placed under the car bodies at place of destination.  Shipments in this way have been made to South America, the Islands, and to Washington Territory, via the Isthmus and Cape Horn, and by rail overland to San Francisco.

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.

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