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Some Classic Cars

Evolution Of An Art Form

In The Beginning:

The Heavyweight Era

In 1902, the New York State Legislature decreed that all cars operating into the city of New York had to be made of steel. This forced Pullman to get off the dime on upgrading and replacing their fleet of Varnish cars, many of which were becoming rather worn.

George Pullman had been a cabinet maker by trade before founding his empire, and the Pullman company had long held the ornate Varnish dear to their heart. Nonetheless, goaded by the legislative act of New York State and similar threatened legislation in other States (and the public outcry over a few well publicised wreaks of the time) they began experimenting with steel car designs.

The target for replacing the Varnish cars was 1908, so the move did not come as a total surprise. Still, the task ahead was no less than monumental. They had to abandon a generation of proven manufacturing methods, design a completely new and previously unheard-of type of equipment in a material that was neither easy to make nor easy to work.

The scramble to completely reequip Pullmans factory and shops, and to replace the vast fleet of wooden cars with new steel ones is one of the great untold stories of the Railroad Age.

The first steel passenger car was the 12-1 sleeper "Johnstown", built in 1907. The design was refined and production of the Plan 2410 cars began in earnest in 1910. (They received a stay of the law's implementation - the alternative being the complete discontinuance of passenger service in New York State) With the most critical demand being for railroads radiating from New York City, Pullman put together a package of designs oriented to the eastern market.

The result was an initial group of 12 steel car designs. The chart below shows where these first steel cars went.

This chart shows only the original Plan type of each car; all of whom had been superseded by later subtypes by 1913. Some of them ended here, and were never duplicated. Others went on to become standards of the Pullman inventory, often with several subtypes running into the hundreds, or even thousands, of units.

As you can see, the orientation is heavily into parlor and parlor-obs types (reflecting the regional daytrip market of the east). The sleepers went mostly to westward operations on the NYC - Chicago run. So great was the demand that the two big roads absorbed everything Pullman could produce for years- leaving only a trickle for the others. These, in turn, were often cars, such as the 4 sleepers on the Santa Fe, that ran on run-through agreements into the City. Prior to the Great War, the only real chance a small road had of getting steel cars was to latch onto the handful of sleepers that Pullman reserved for pool service.

"Gothic" cars

The first steel cars were design adaptations of the late Varnish equipment and have come to be known as Gothic cars - the term refers to the "gothic" arches in the windows, a late-Victorian style. A predilection for portholes is another hallmark of this equipment.

Another distinctive feature is the fake board siding. Many Gothic cars are covered with false front steel panels to resemble the Varnish equipment. (These panels are rolled sheet steel strips which fit together very much like tongue-and-groove siding). This was done because it was believed many patrons would be afraid of riding in a steel car lest it derail and short out the electrified third rail.

A final spotting feature is the roof, which is made up of pressed galvanized sheet steel panels with upturned edges that appear as a series of ribs running across the car. These edges have a folded sheet metal cap placed over them and rivets run through all to join the panels into a continuous watertight roof.

Standard "Heavyweights": "Betterment" Cars




 Collision Protection


Equipment Of The Early Years

Gothic & Heavyweight

RPO cars - - common head end cars - - specialized head end cars

combines, coaches and parlor cars - - sleepers - - diners and club cars - - observation cars


Prewar Pullman: sleepers - - Prewar Pullman: other cars

Some Special Cars

 Troop train equipment - - Betterment cars

Interesting Car Designs - - Articulated Cars - - Giants Of The Rails


Early "Crab" locomotive and cars, circa 1830


Current update: 8/14/99