Ellsmere – Basic History
Ellsmere was built in December of 1899 for Dr. William Seward Webb, then president of the Wagner Palace Car Co of Buffalo, New York. This was the last passenger car and a private business car built by Wagner as in 1900 the company merged with the Pullman car Co. of Chicago, IL. This car was also the third variant of Ellsmere, a car dearly loved by Dr. Webb.
This is an all-wood passenger car, a partial steel underframe was added ca. 1915. Ellsmere was considered one of the finest and elegant private business cars of the era. As a comparison of costs, a standard wood passenger coach of the same era would cost approximately $2500, whereas Ellsmere cost $25,000, or approximately $2.5 million in today’s dollars. She served Dr. Webb as his personal car from 1900 to approximately 1915, when he reduced his worldly travels due to health reasons.
Dr. Webb and his family made many trips to the west coast and California during the time he traveled. Many of his trips were from his home in the New York area to Chicago on the New York Central RR, to Albuquerque and Kingman AZ on the Santa Fe RR to the Los Angeles area. Since these were extended trips covering many weeks, he and his family would travel with a nursery car, baggage cars and his friend’s private cars in their own trains.
Ellsmere was completed for Dr. Webb in December of 1899. She received a major overhaul in 1915 when a partial steel underframe was added to the massive timbers making up the main underframe of the car. This was for regulations that required passenger cars to have at minimum the partial steel underframe, due to the propensity of all wood cars, like Ellsmere, to telescope into each other in collisions. She also received an upgrade in electrical equipment at this time.
The history of Ellsmere becomes a bit cloudy at this time due to World War I, we presume that she was in wartime service in the US until after the war. After WWI she was purchased by the Missouri Pacific RR and was assigned to the Texas & Pacific RR, a subsidiary of the Missouri Pacific.
Ellsmere remained as a private business car on the Texas & Pacific until 1961. She received a major upgrade in the mid-1930s with an additional electrical upgrade, stainless steel sheathing on the walls of the galley, and the addition of air conditioning. The chilled air was provided by using the clerestory roof area for the ductwork, and a pan was added in the roof area over the galley which holds approximately 400 pounds of block ice. The pan had two fans which blew the chilled air through the new ductwork and to the compartments. A propane stove replaced the original coal stove at approximately this time.
Ellsmere retired from service on the Texas and Pacific RR in 1961. She was acquired by a museum in Texas, then transferred to another museum in Texas, to be sold with a number of antique cars to a casino owner in Las Vegas in the 1980s. She was moved to the Nevada Southern in the early 2000s, where she resides today.
For more information on Ellsmere and the restoration of this very special car, you can download this brochure HERE.