Perhaps the most famous name in freight cars, Pullman Standard’s history of freight car design and construction is one of the oldest and richest in the industry. While the Pullman name will forever be associated with passenger trains, Pullman Standard also built many of the most common freight cars found on North American rails.
Pullman Standard was formed through the consolidation of two of the largest car builders of their day. Pullman purchased a controlling interest in the Standard Steel Car Company in 1929. Pullman subsequently organized its own manufacturing divisions into one subsidiary and then merged the two assets together in 1934.
In addition to these two big names, there were many smaller companies which had already been incorporated into both Pullman and Standard Steel. Pullman had acquired Haskell & Barker in 1922 and Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad in 1928.
On the Standard Steel side of the family tree were the Middletown Car Works (acquired in 1909), South Baltimore Car & Foundry (c. 1910), Keith Car and Manufacturing (c. 1912), Osgood Bradley (c. 1913), Richmond Car Works (c. 1928), Siems-Stembel (c. 1928) and Canton Car Co (c. 1934 – after Pullman ownership but before consolidation.) This gave Standard Steel Car manufacturing facilities in seven states.
For most of the years between the company’s consolidation in 1934 and the sale of its assets in 1982, Pullman Standard would build more freight cars than anyone else in North America. Operations from its predecessors were gradually consolidated and some new plants were built.
Pullman Standard’s production officially came to an end in 1982. The parent Pullman, Inc sold Pullman Standard’s car building assets to Trinity Industries. Pullman Standard also had a large freight car leasing subsidiary. This was sold to ITEL rail car, which is today a part of General Electric.
Freight Car Design and Production
In its early history, Pullman was slow to adopt to new steel car construction and was building the majority of its cars from wood as late as 1907. Haskell and Barker too was predominantly a wood car builder with its steel car shop not built until 1910. It is interesting to note that at the time Haskell was acquired, they were building more freight cars than Pullman itself. Standard Steel Car on the other hand was an early pioneer of the all-steel freight car since its incorporation in 1902.
There was nothing sluggish about Pullman Standard’s engineering and construction following the consolidation however. Among modelers, the company is certainly best known for its standard car designs which originated in the late 1940s. While there had been earlier examples of common designs proposed by railroad associations, the USRA and others, Pullman Standard’s standards quickly became the most widespread in use and represented a complete product line few other builders could match.
The Pullman Standard designs included the PS-1 boxcar, PS-2 covered hopper, PS-3 hopper, PS-4 flatcar, and PS-5 gondola. While there were standards for each car type, there were still plenty of options for customers to choose from. For example, boxcars came in 40 and 50 foot lengths, there were different sizes of doors, and interiors could be fitted with a variety of load restraints, moveable bulkheads, floors, etc. But the cars all shared a familial look thanks to common parts and design features.
Production of Pullman Standard’s cars took place at record paces. In fact, production was so chaotic among the various plants that three “1,000,000th” commemorative boxcars were produced!
As time progressed, more and more options were introduced and the PS- designations became just a part of the overall product name. Thanks to the limits of patentable parts of most freight car designs, the designs of these cars were also adopted by other car builders with very little change.
In 1951, Pullman Standard acquired the Trailmobile Company and operated it as a subsidiary which would become a leading builder of truck trailers. Many of these trailers would regularly ride on Pullman Standard flatcars in the growing intermodal markets in decades to follow.
Pullman Standard didn’t stop building passenger equipment either. The company continued to supply railroads with passenger equipment up until 1982. Its last passenger car was an Amtrak Superliner sleeper. The cars significance was honored by naming it the George Mortimer Pullman.
Although even the youngest Pullman Standard cars are now into their third decade of service, many can still be seen in today’s freight trains. Additional historic examples can be found preserved in railroad museums all across the country.
As common as they have been in the real world, so too have Pullman Standard’s products been a large part of the Lionel line. Scale versions of the PS-1 boxcar, 60′ boxcar, PS-2 2003 and PS-2CD covered hoppers, the PS-4 flatcar, PS-5 gondola and most recently the 86′ boxcar are all modeled directly from Pullman Standard plans. Don’t forget the waffle-side boxcar and of course all of those passenger cars in your fleet as well! The Pullman Standard legacy is sure to live on for a long time to come.