The Cars Of Pullman: By Joe Welsh, Bill Howes, And Kevin Holland

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Over the years there have been a few books covering the history of the Pullman Palace Car Company (and its other many names). However, I'm not sure any have gone into such great detail as The Cars Of Pullman, a book written by three well known rail historians; Joe Welsh, Bill Howes, and Kevin Holland. Released just in 2010 by Voyageur Press (a division of MBI Publishing), the book offers not only an excellent history of the company but also vivid and engaging photography (an MBI trademark). Overall, the book is five chapters in length (not including the introductory and concluding sections) spanning just under 200 pages. It opens by discussing how the company was created by Mr. George Pullman and then looks at early car designs including original all-wooden equipment, the transition period with steel and wood, heavyweight cars of the early 20th century, and finally the lightweight streamliners post-1930s. If you enjoy studying the history of Pullman this book really needs to be in your collection.

The Cars Of Pullman

begins with an interesting overview of the Pullman Company describing its founding, high watermark during the late 19th through the first half of the 20th century, and finally its decline after World War II. This introduction is only a page in length but gives you a good idea of what you will find throughout the rest of the book. Also of note here is the Southern Pacific advertisement on page seven describing "The West's First All Room Train." Additionally, on pages eight and nine you can see a 1930s brochure from Pullman describing the evolution of their cars from the 1850s through the late 1920s. The point here is to note that throughout the book you will not only see fabulous photography but also historical advertisements Pullman used over the years.

Finally, there is an acknowledgements section with the book mentioning all of those who helped bring it together. However, it is featured directly at the back, near the bibliography. In any event, the book's opening chapter, "The Pullman Company: An Overview", gives a further in-depth look at the operation, much more so than the introduction. However, this chapter provides less of a history of the company and more of a background of how it carried out its business such as purchasing rivals like the Wagner Palace Car Company, various car designs it patented, and the services it provided railroads. You will also read here about its large fleet of cars and those that it operated such as sleepers (the authors also offer a very nice inset article that offers a further background on Pullman's sleeping services), diners, parlors, and others.

In chapter two, "The Wood-Car Era; 1867-1910", the book finally begins discussing the earliest years of Pullman describing how it began with a fleet of just 48 sleepers and grew from there. In this chapter you will read about some of the smaller car manufacturers Pullman purchased and also the plant he built just outside of Chicago naming and incorporating his own town; Pullman, Illinois. Much of the reading, however, revolves around the company's early car designs. While the photos here are almost all black-and-white they show how these early wooden cars were perhaps the most ornate ever built featuring incredibly detailed woodwork, plush carpeting and seating, stained-glass, and opulent chandeliers. You can also read an inset article describing the master woodworkers and carpenters Pullman employed (inside and out) that allowed for such impressive craftsmanship. Eventually, increased costs forced the company to do away with the Victorian look.

Moving into chapter three The Cars Of Pullman highlights the heavyweight era of all-steel cars that began to appear during the first decade of the 20th century. Despite being far heavier than wooden cars the use of steel improved safety and generally offered longer a longer service life. Also, heavyweight cars ended entirely the lavish and resplendent detailed woodwork ending an era of car construction that would never been seen again (unfortunately, very few of these cars remain preserved today). The chapter talks about such things as new building techniques with steel cars, upgraded facilities and services (such as air-conditioning), and different overall layouts. You can also read an inset article that discusses precisely how Pullman built steel cars.

From a railfan perspective chapter four is quite interesting as it details the transition of Pullman from its traditional construction techniques to the new lightweight, streamliner era that began in the early 1930s. By this point Pullman was the preeminent car builder save for the rise of the Budd Company at the same time (whose own stainless-steel lightweight cars became extremely popular). The equipment the company produced during these last years of passenger rail service within the private industry were quite impressive, and unique such as the Union Pacific's domed diners. In any event, the chapter concludes by highlighting Pullman's final years in business as it had to work harder and harder to compete not only with Budd but also declining sales. The company tried to transition over to building freight cars which proved to be unsuccessful.

If you are interested in Pullman and the equipment it manufactured you will very much enjoy The Cars of Pullman, which by far offers the best look at the company's various types of cars and equipment which it produced (although it does not include much information in the way of Pullman's freight car business). I have used the book somewhat as a reference for the writing of some of the material here at the website. However, truthfully, I found it to be far more enjoyable to read and check out the excellent photography!