Ralston Steel Car Co.

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The first drop bottom gondola built using Ralston Steel Car Co. patents. It was built in June 1905 by the Pullman Co. in Chicago. Thousands of these would be built over the years by Ralston in their plant on Cassidy Avenue in Columbus.

Freight cars by decade
1906 - 1910 - 1920 - 1930 - 1940


        For forty-eight years the Ralston Steel Car Co. was a fixture on the eastside of Columbus, Ohio. It was bounded on the west by Cassady Ave, the south by the Pennsylvania Railroad/Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shared trackage and on the north by Fourth Street. It purchased the property from the Rarig Engineering Co. in 1905. The original purchase was 10 acres which would grow to about 24 acres over the years.
        Joseph S. Ralston and Anton Becker, both of Chicago, were entering the freight car business at a prime time. They had Becker's patents for a 50-ton flush-floor drop-bottom general purpose gondola car which the coal hauling railroads hungered for. The railroads' problem, that Ralston's would be solving, was the hauling of coal in fixed bottom gondolas. When they arrived at the coal docks men, many men, with shovels and wheelbarrows would descend on the trains and laboriously unload the coal. With Ralston's gondola the bottom pans would drop down and the coal would pour out. The Ralston Co. would be able to turn out these special cars at a rate of 40-60 per day once their new plant was properly equipped.
        Another advance in railroad technology would work toward Ralston's advantage. The railroads were developing steam locomotives that could haul heaver trains. They had also started to purchase freight cars with steel underframes rather than the old style wood underframes. The older wood underframe cars aged faster than the steel cars which weakened them. When a new heaver freight train was made up of a mixture of steel and wooden underframe cars the trouble started. Usually the weakness showed up in emergency stops which sometimes caused the older wooden cars to be crushed. One of Ralston's very first commercial activities involved installing steel underframes in all wooden cars.
        The Ralston Co. was a big success expanding rapidly in its first eight years. Like most manufacturing concerns the 1930's were difficult. That low point ended with the build up to World War II. After the war the business held up for a time, but the railroads eventually fell onto hard times and by 1953 the Ralston Co. couldn't continue as a freight car manufacturer or make a go of it repairing freight cars. The company declared bankruptcy and the facility evolved into a warehouse service. Several of the old Ralston building are still in use including the 1410 foot Punch, Shear Fitting and Erection shop building as a warehouse. The Columbus, New Albany and Johnstown interurban car barn is also still standing and can be seen from the Rarig Avenue gate.

        The Ralston collection of photos and glass negatives was saved from the land fill by B.J. Kern a local railfan/amateur historian in 1954 at the time the bankrupt Ralston Steel Car Co. was reorganizing as a warehouse company. Over the last almost 60 years B.J. Kern, Donald A. Kaiser, David Bunge, George Greenacre, Charles Greenacre, Edward Miller, Walt Staffa, Alex Campbell and William Johnson have all helped preserve this historical collection.