By Glenn Guerra, ©2001 MCRHS
One of the questions visitors ask us when they come to an open house at the Car Shop is how were these cars built. Unfortunately there are no existing Barney and Smith Car Company records from the time when the Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western #63 was built. There is very little documentation from any of the car builders of this period. So to answer the question, we must piece together information from railroad trade journals, some company records, and information obtained from the car itself.
The Trade Journals
For this era, our best trade journal sources are magazines called the National Car and Locomotive Builder and Railway Car Journal and a book entitled Railway Car Construction. Both magazines covered the design and construction of railroad cars. During the late 1880's, William Voss, who at the time was a master car builder with the Burlington Cedar Rapids & Northern, wrote a number of articles for the National Car and Locomotive Builder.1 In 1892 he was enticed to write a book on railway car construction. This book, Railway Car Construction, is the only such publication written on the topic for this era. What interests us most at Mid-Continent is that at the time Voss wrote his book in 1892, he was then employed as the Assistant Superintendent of the Barney and Smith Car Company.2 Therefore some of his writings in 1892 could help us understand our car built just four years earlier in 1888.
What is most lacking in these articles and books, however, is the details and progression of construction. We know the woods most commonly used and where the parts are located but not the order they were installed, fasteners used, joints used, and the method of forming the parts.
Some company records would be of help but they do not exist and may never have existed. The few company records that do exist are not specifically related to construction but are contracts for the purchase of cars.
One such record is the handwritten order for the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railroad #213, which was built by the Jackson and Sharp Car Company in 1887.3 This car is also located at Mid-Continent. The order indicates the five cars were produced and shipped in 2½ months. This would seem to indicate that there was some standard design and tooling utilized to speed up production. We see other evidence of this in the quantity of cars that were assembled by all the builders in a year. For example, in 1888 when the Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western #63 was built, 2,471 cars were constructed that year in the entire United States.4