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A History of 110 Years of Canadian Railway Car Building

by Andrew Merrilees

This page contains an unpublished Andrew Merrilees manuscript written in 1963, which can be found as part of the Merrilees collection at the National Archives of Canada and also at the Archives of Ontario. To date this effort has languished within these collections, aside from a handful of copies made by assorted freight car enthusiasts. Although many changes have occurred in the Canadian railway industry since 1963, this unpublished Andrew Merrilees manuscript does provide a good overview of the railway car builders up to that date.


We have now had a lengthy discussion on Canada's car building past. What of its future?

The future is, of course, bound up inextricably with the future of railroading — an industry which has suffered much in the past quarter century through other transportation agencies skimming off much of its most valuable traffic.

It is only in comparatively recent times that railroads have learned to live with truck lines and other transportation services, and today an atmosphere exists in which each recognizes that the other has its place. So much is this so that our two large railroads are today owners of many of the country's largest truck lines, and also of its two largest air lines.

As these words are written, many of the abandonments and curtailments of railway services which were attendant upon the changed conditions in the industry are behind us, and railroading has emerged from the process stripped of much of the chang-resistant executive thinking which has characterized it for so long.

In railroading, as in most other competitive industries today, the time for thinkers has come. And happily, here and there in the recent annals of our industry, we can find refreshing evidence of the revivifying efforts of fresh, original thought on our old profession.

The rolling stock industry has done its part too. When one speaks of freight cars one speaks of the direct unit with which railroads make their money. It is therefore important that this unit be designed with the utmost intelligence to handle its designed payload.

The huge "hotdog" type tank car, the aluminum tank-type covered hopper car, and the radical design in modern piggyback and auto rack cars are just a few examples of new, original thought on the part of car builders and railroad mechanical departments. And some of these developments post the question that possibly some new, revolutionary engineering design in freight cars may be long overdue, and that when it comes it will result in large volume orders for our carbuilders.

This book, as the reader may have guessed, is written by someone who loves the industry, has studied its past and present, and even had some small part in bringing to pass some of the events recorded. Yet he is not blinded by nostalgia to the extent of not rejoicing in some of the changes which have combined in recent years to bring railroading up with the times, and make it a more effective competitive agency to the forces which assail it.

It is one thing to study history from a nostalgic point of view. It is another to relate it, as one reads it, to events in the present, and to use it in charting... perhaps even in creating, events in the future.

It is not enough to know that certain events happened. One must also know why they happened, and what resulted because they happened. It is also interesting to know how certain individuals met, and dealt with, what were at the time difficult situations. There will always be other difficult situations, and those of us who are here will have to meet them, just as those did who have gone before.

About The Author:

Andrew Merrilees was born at Hamilton, Ont. on June 2, 1919 into a family long identified with the electric railway history of that city.

His interest in railways commenced at an early age, and his collection of railway photographs, original documents and other memorabilia connected with railway transportation was begun in 1932. It is now, on authority of W. Kaye Lamb, Dominion Archivist, Ottawa, the largest ever assembled in Canada on the subject.

It was not possible for Mr. Merrilees to enter his chosen field due to depression conditions in Hamilton when he left school, but after some years in the newspaper, magazine and advertising fields, he jointed the staff of the Department of Research and Development, Canadian National Railways, under S.W. Fairweather, then Vice-President.

Mr. Merrilees resigned from C.N. service late in 1944, and moved from Montreal to Toronto where he founded the firm bearing his name in 1946. In 1952 he acquired the old-established firm of John J. Gartshore Limited, warehousers of new and used rails and track materials.

Andrew Merrilees Limited is a unique firm in that, while is sells railway supplies, it rarely sells them to railways. Its customers are instead those large industries of Canada which own and operate extensive yard trackage in connection with their plants. To many of these firms Mr. Merrilees has long acted as a railway consultant and has sold them steam and diesel locomotives and freight cars, and much rail and track material.

Mr. Merrilees is now known from one coast to the other in Canada as an industrial railway equipment specialist. Regardless of the operation's location he has at one time or another visited it personally, gained an understanding of its problems, and filed its requirements away in his phenomenal memory.

As railroading is both his business and his hobby, his approach to the subject is a unique combination of the thoroughly practical, and the sentimental, and he seems to be able to keep these in two separate compartments of his life.

As will be seen by this book, his knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic, and it is doubtful if a work of this kind could be prepared by anyone lacking Mr. Merrilees' knowledge of Canada, or his staggering collection of unique source material.

In preparing this history of the various Canadian car builders, he has done a piece of completely original research in an area never covered before by any writers. It is a penetrating study in depth into a littl-known and picturesque phase of Canada's industrial history.

Postscript: This volume was never actually published, possibly having been put aside to be completed following Andrew Merrilees' retirement. Following his death in 1979, large portions of his collection found their way to the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada and the Archives of Ontario.

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