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Reference \ Car Builders \ Carter Brothers, Builders

Carter Brothers, Builders.

T he most important and longest lived of the many Railroad car builders in Northern California were the Carter Brothers, Thomas and Martin. Active from 1874 to 1902, they originally built equipment at the customer’s site, moving from railroad to railroad. Early shops were located in Sausalito, on the North Pacific Coast, and in San Francisco. By 1877 they built what would be their final shop in Newark, California on the South Pacific Coast Railroad. The Carters probably built between 5,000 and 10,000 cars over 28 years. They specialized in narrow gauge equipment, (and said so in their advertisements) but also built horse cars, cable cars, a few electrics, water tanks, turntables, along with standard gauge equipment. They built some equipment, and or had involvement with every early California narrow gauge line, building all of the rolling stock for the Monterey and Salinas Valley, and Santa Cruz and Felton, most for the South Pacific Coast, much of the early equipment for the North Pacific Coast, and the first order of freight cars for the Nevada County Narrow Gauge. Thomas was the Superintendent of the SPC and Santa Cruz railroads; Martin was the Master Mechanic of the SPC.

Their early rolling stock was known for its light weight (by some accounts too light) but was well designed and constructed, and very competitively priced. Their designs would improve, to that eventually Thomas Carter would boast that the cars they built followed MCB standards. While their narrow gauge designs continued to use wooden bolsters through the end of production, the standard gauge cars used iron bolsters from an early date. By an early date they chose to use only higher quality eastern wheels from Whitney or Taylor. Most of their designs used swing motion trucks. Thomas Carter held patents for a log bunk and an iron passenger truck.

They developed several long lasting standard designs for narrow gauge passenger, box and flat cars. They used the remoteness of the Pacific Coast to their advantage, using the high freight rates on Eastern built equipment, and possible shipping problems (the Central Pacific was not necessarily cooperative with many west coast lines) to draw customers. They used west coast woods, Douglas fir, and redwood, and called on local foundries for in San Francisco, Newark, Vallejo, and Santa Cruz for the iron castings.

Thomas died in 1898. Martin Carter continued in business until 1902 when he closed their shop and retired after an unsuccessful attempt to hire someone to take over and manage the business.

Reference Data Available Online:

Car Lists.

Carter Brothers Car List.
Known Carter Brothers Orders. Compiled By Randy Hees.


Logging Truck Patent
Patent No. 341,877, May 1886. Curtesy Google Patents.

Carter Car(Passenger) Truck Patent - 1886.
Patent No. 353,286, Nov 1886. Curtesy Google Patents.

Period Newspaper Articles.

San Francisco Call. November 27th, 1908. Martin Carter, Death Notice.


Photographs of equipment built by the Carter Brothers.
Items tagged "Carter Bros" in our gallery, collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Revised: March 7, 2017.
Reference \ Car Builders \ Carter Brothers, Builders
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