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How Were Late 19th Century Passenger Cars Numbered?

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  • Member since
    October 2022
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How Were Late 19th Century Passenger Cars Numbered?
Posted by Gild3dAg3 on Monday, October 3, 2022 11:36 AM

I'm researching late 19th century passenger cars in the North Eastern and Southern United States. I have read that railroads numbered passenger cars according to acquisition, but I am curious if the numbers could also have regional meanings, mechanical indications, etc. From what I can tell, passenger cars from this era have three digit numbers. I am not concerned with Engine Cars or Locomotive Numbers. Any information as to how passenger cars were numbered circa 1880 would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 10:37 AM

This is going to be an interesting discussion.  John White does not explicitly mention examples of numbering schemes in the American Passenger Car 'treatise', although I suspect that you (or contemporary railroads) could recognize special types of car, like the ones in the Fall River boat trains, by some form of numerical series.

My immediate advice would be to ask this over on RyPN, where at the very least you'd be directed to 'passenger-car specialists' who could look in their records for any patterns that would address your question.

My very uninformed guess would be that the numbers would be assigned in some kind of series, rather than sequentially or, worse, the way PRR numbered some of their engines by slotting them into the (random, apparently) blocks that opened when earlier power was scrapped or renumbered.  This would keep equipment types separate in a way that would be clear when road maintenance or emergency repairs became necessary.

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 4:42 PM

My understanding is that for many years  the PRR assigned blocks of numbers to the various parts of its system, so a member of a certain class of locomotive assigned to, say, the Middle Division would be in a different series than those assigned to the Columbus Division. This broke down around 1918 when the PRR began using a block of numbers for each class regardless of assignment. What happened when a loco transferred between assignments during the prior era is beyond me. I assume - note ASSUME - it retained its number, but that would have rendered the whole "numbered by assignment" system meaningless - perhaps one of the reasons for going to system wide blacks of numbers. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 8:04 PM

Railroads (and any other organization that has equipment in quantities greater than one) will have as many different identification schemes for their equipment as they have company leaders that think they have a better scheme to keep track if their equipment than their predecessor.

Each company will employ a system that makes sense to whomever the individual was that originated the system.  The equipment can be locomotives, freight cars, passenger cars, hi-rail trucks, computers, computer screens - any kind of equipment and/or device that has to be controlled within the company.

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