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7   The Survivors

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

A number of cars produced by the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company have survived into the twenty-first century in various conditions, from derelict car bodies to fully functional cars. They are located in trolley museums from coast to coast.

FIGURE 7.1. Seattle Everett Traction Company No. 55, as delivered in 1910, is now preserved in Lynwood, Washington. Niles Historical Society.

FIGURE 7.2. Aurora Elgin & Chicago Railroad No. 20, preserved and operating at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, Illinois. Built in 1902, it is believed to be the oldest operating interurban car in the United States. It has been modernized by replacing the original arch windows, a common rebuild practice with these old wood cars. Fox River Trolley Museum.

FIGURE 7.3. Rochester & Eastern Railway No. 157 of 1914, preserved inoperable in Rochester, New York. New York Museum of Transportation.

FIGURE 7.4. A “One Owner” car operating in Washington since it was built in 1909, on the traction line of the original purchaser, Yakima Valley Transportation Company, work car “A.” Author’s collection.

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2   The Catalog

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

The Niles Car & Manufacturing Company entered a business that was already crowded with well-established car builders, many of which had evolved from carriage-, horse-, and cable-car building. There were three other large car builders in Ohio alone, which was not surprising because there were soon to be more miles of electric railways in Ohio than in any other state. Therefore, Niles had to offer something the others did not. The company management decided at the outset to adopt robust steam railroad car construction, and nothing epitomized that better than the products of the Pullman Car Company. By the early twentieth century the name Pullman usually meant a sleeping car owned and staffed by the Pullman Company but operated by the railroad. Pullman also built other types of cars for the steam railroads as well as cars for electric railways. Niles succeeded in building interurbans that were so highly regarded that many traction lines began to refer to them as “Electric Pullmans.” No higher praise could have been bestowed on the cars.

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3   The Cars Roll Out

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

No company records have survived the more than one hundred years since the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company began producing railway cars, so newspapers, trade journals, and traction line histories have been relied upon to determine what cars were built, and when. Often orders would be placed and reported in the trade journals but a few months later the order would be reduced or even canceled. And the date the cars were delivered was frequently not the same year in which they were ordered or built. Nevertheless the information reported here will give the reader a fairly good idea of the activity at the plant.

Niles was best known for its big interurban cars, and those were what the company preferred to concentrate on. However, the company was not about to turn down orders for smaller city cars that would keep the plant busy, and the Niles catalog included illustrations of several small single-truck car designs for city use. It was decided not to embark on the construction of motors or trucks (Baldwin trucks were preferred), but Niles would supply those components with the car bodies to give the buyer a ready-to-run product, if so desired. But in the interest of economy, traction lines frequently purchased only car bodies, to which they added trucks, motors, and other finishing materials in their own shops to complete the car, saving the markup (usually 10 percent above cost) that Niles would have applied to those components.

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1   The Curtain Rises

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

The year was 1901. William McKinley, the favorite son of Niles, Ohio, began his second term in office as president of the United States. National unemployment was at 4 percent, and Marconi demonstrated his wireless by sending messages through the air from England to Newfoundland. The electric railway era was well along and, like the steam railroads before, electric lines were springing up all over the country in an attempt to connect nearly every town and hamlet. Did this look like an opportunity to invest in America’s future? It did to a group of Niles businessmen, and on May 3, 1901, they incorporated the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company, which, according to its Articles of Incorporation, intended to “manufacture and deal in all kinds of street and railway cars, motors, steam engines, water tanks, and acid tanks and for manufacturing and dealing in railway supplies and appliances of all kinds.” The company was capitalized at $200,000.

The inclusion of the manufacture of water and acid tanks was no doubt influenced by the fact that Niles was located in what was then the heart of industrial America and was home to steel mills, rolling mills, and plants that produced glass, pottery, and firebrick—businesses that would require such equipment—and these tanks were made out of wood, as would be the trolley car bodies. Among the investors were F. J. Roller, superintendent of schools; B. F. Pew, a prominent Niles grocer; G. B. Robbins, director of the Dollar Savings Bank (whose brother, Frank Robbins, became President of Niles); and W. C. Allison, president of the Allison and Company planing mill, whose property would soon become the site of the Niles car factory.

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6   Observations

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

The cars Niles built were used in a variety of service modes: city, suburban, and interurban, as well as freight. In some cases they were called upon to run almost constantly, particularly in city and suburban service, but in others only at night, which became the rule for freight service when cities balked at having them on the streets in daylight. The Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway, for example, ran its Niles passenger cars as a boat train that met, in Grand Haven, boats from Chicago and carried the passengers and their baggage to Muskegon. Their freight motors, in season, carried large quantities of fresh fruit from western Michigan to Grand Haven for shipment to Chicago.

Although Niles produced an extensive catalog of car body designs, there is no evidence that Niles had a significant design department. Rather, throughout its existence it was, to a great extent, a contract builder of railway car bodies, and the Niles catalog features numerous cars known to have been designed by others. Niles did not participate in the Master Car Builders organization but preferred to remain independent. Trucks, brakes, and hardware were purchased from other manufacturers and the catalog featured Baldwin trucks. In some cases the cars were designed by the railway companies themselves. Many of the larger traction systems maintained well-staffed engineering departments that were perfectly equipped to design cars and had a better understanding of the requirements for their systems than an independent designer might have had. Additionally, there were several well-known and respected engineering firms that railway companies called upon to design power plants, track, and cars—firms such as J. G. White & Company, Ford Bacon & Davis, and premier among them, Stone & Webster Incorporated, all of New York.

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