Originally they built equipment at their customersĄ sites, moving from railroad to railroad. Their early shops were located in Sausalito, on the North Pacific Coast, and in San Francisco. By 1877 they had built what would be their final shop in Newark, on the South Pacific Coast Railroad. They specialized in narrow gauge equipment (and said so in their advertisements), but also built horse cars, cable cars, a few electrics, and some standard gauge equipment.
The remoteness of the Pacific coast worked to their advantage in drawing customers, for freight rates on eastern-built equipment were high and shipping problems not infrequent (the Central Pacific was not necessarily cooperative with many west coast lines). They used west coast woods - Douglas fir and redwood - and called on local foundries in San Francisco, Newark, Vallejo and Santa Cruz for their iron castings.
Their rolling stock was known for its light weight (maybe too light) but was well designed and constructed. Most of their designs used swing motion trucks, and Tom Carter even held a patent on one design for passenger trucks. While much of their production was custom, they did have standard designs for passenger, box and flat cars. This model is their standard 28' boxcar, which was available in 10 and 15 ton capacities.
Thomas died in 1898. Martin Carter closed their shop and retired in 1902, rather than make the conversion to modern steel construction. Their legacy was ensured by the wide distribution and long life of their cars on the used market. Although the Carters never built a new car for the line, used Carter cars made up the bulk of the rolling stock on the SP narrow gauge in Nevada and eastern California. Some boxcars which were still in use when the line was abandoned in 1960 were then over 80 years old. Even today, two passenger cars are in use on the White Pass Line in Alaska, and 16 cable cars in San Francisco.
The 28ft boxcar was the longest-lived design. The first cars were probably built for the South Pacific Coast in 1877, and the last were built about 1900. In these 23 years about 1,000 cars were produced, enough to supply most of the narrow gauge lines on the Pacific Slope.
There were several variations produced over the years. The earliest cars were 10-ton capacity, but by the early 1880Ąs the design had been upgraded to 15-ton capacity by adding queenposts and substituting heavier trucks. They were offered in two different door styles - conventional standard doors, and a double-door ventilator style for fruit service.
These were wooden cars, in the most traditional sense. The construction consisted of heavy wooden sills and beams, held together by iron rods. Unlike their eastern competitors, the Carters even used wooden bolsters on their narrow gauge cars. While they may have installed knuckle couplers and air brakes on some of the cars they built, and many of the users would later install improved safety equipment, most of these cars were built with link and pin couplers and hand brakes. The result was a cheap (about $550), workable car which proved to be very durable.
The cars were spread far and wide on the used market. The Southern Pacific never bought a new Carter boxcar for its Keeler branch, but Carter cars were the most common boxcar found on the line. Other second-hand users included the Death Valley Railroad, the Paterson & Western, and the Butte & Plumas (later the Swayne Lumber Co.). Other builders, particularly John HammondĄs California Car Works, built copies, which were used by the Pajaro Valley, the Tonopah and the Lake Tahoe railroads.
As they were used and rebuilt, many changes were made. Most cars had been equipped with knuckle couplers and air brakes by 1910. Both the North Western Pacific (which had taken over the North Pacific Coast) and the Southern Pacific exchanged the Carter swing motion trucks for other styles. Hand grabs were changed to comply with new federal rules. Many cars lost their distinctive corner casting in favor of steps. The ventilator doors started to disappear by 1900 on many lines. Southern Pacific even added extra truss rods, and large 12Ą queen posts, and rated the cars at 20 tons capacity, twice their original rating.
by Randy Hees, President, Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources