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 Which cars were lost in the 1913 Freight Station Fire?

Which cars were lost in the 1913 Freight Station Fire?

In the early morning hours of July 6, 1913, the Cataract Company's Hamilton freight station (formerly the Hamilton, Grimsby, & Beamsville's Hamilton station) burned to the ground. Described as ‘The largest fire to visit Hamilton in some years’, fire crews were unable to save the building, but were able to prevent the spread of the fire to several nearby buildings. Several large explosions, caused when several large barrels of gasoline stored inside the building ignited, aided the fire’s destruction of the building.

Remains of Hamilton freight station

The remains of the Hamilton freight station after the fire, looking south from a neighbouring building. Photo from the Archives of Ontario, L 23 Newspapers, N 184 reel 191, Hamilton Spectator, July 7 1913, pg 1.

Damage was estimated at $75 000, divided as ‘Four freight cars; $40 000, one motor truck; $2 500, freight in shed; $5 000, and building; $20 000’ The four freight cars ‘were burnt to a cinder and all that was left to tell the tale that they had been there was the heavy iron trucks’ (Hamilton Daily Times, July 7, 1913)

The question is which cars were lost in the fire? The Cataract Company did not keep very good records, and with two changes in ownership plus a system-wide renumbering in 1910, the records of the HG&B are incomplete and inaccurate, sometimes even contradictory. Three sources were used for this article. Ride Through the Garden of Canada (RTGC) was written in 1967 by William Blaine for the Grimsby Historical Society. Cataract Traction (CT) was written by John Mills in 1971.

CT has the following relevant entries in its roster

Car number Builder and Date Remarks
22 Ottawa, 1895? Origin Uncertain, Scrapped c1915, burnt?
155 Ottawa, 1898 Ex HG&B ‘Hamilton’, ex #390, Reblt freight 1904, burned 1913
167-169 Ottawa 1894 Ex HG&B 10-12, 167 burnt; rest scrapped 1927
171:1 Ottawa Ex HG&B (no?), burnt Hamilton 1913
172 Ottawa Ex HG&B (no?). Reblt trailer 1913 (After fire?), scrapped 1924
173:1 ? Ex HG&B (no?), burnt Hamilton 1913
174:1 ? Ex HG&B (no?), burnt Hamilton 1913

RTGC only mentions two cars that might have been lost in the 1913 fire:

Car number Builder Date DP&T # Disposition Date
10 Ottawa 1894 167 Burned Pre 1920
Hamilton Ottawa 1904 155 Burned 1914

The third source is a bit unusual. In the margin of my copy of RTGC are pencil written notes, left by some unknown author. Some of the notes are updates to a particular description or fact. Others however are corrections to the original text. Here’s the previous roster, with the margin notes. I’m taking a leap of faith by using these comments, but some of what’s been stated I’ve been able to verify independently, so I’ll give our mystery note maker the benefit of the doubt.

Car number Builder Date DP&T # Disposition Date Notes
5 Ottawa 1894 172 Scrapped Pre 1920 Ham. Frt.
Stn fire
6 July 1913,
5 cars burnt
6 Ottawa 1894 - Scrapped Pre 1920
21 Ottawa 1894 21 Scrapped 1908
22 Ottawa 1894 22 Scrapped 1905
Hamilton Ottawa 1904 155 Burned 1913

Looking at all of the rosters, we can make one easy decision. HG&B #155 (Ex HG&B ‘Hamilton’) is given by all sources as being one of the cars that was consumed by the fire.

Now we come to the cars with less unanimous agreement. HG&B 167 (ex HG&B 10) is listed as being burned by two sources, with one source giving the date as before 1920. The margin notes do not include it as being one of the station fire victims. HG&B #22 is listed as being scrapped in 1915 by all parties, two of which state that the car was burnt, but only one saying that it was in the 1913 fire. It looks like both of these cars were destroyed by fire, but not necessarily in the Hamilton Freight Station fire in 1913.

CT states that HG&B 171:1, 173:1, and 174:1 were lost in the fire. This is confirmed by the fact that replacements for these cars were ordered two weeks after the fire, and were assigned the same numbers as those lost. HG&B 172 was the only survivor of the four freight motors in the 17x series. HTC 677 is a twin of 171:2, being built by the same company to the same specifications at the same time. This suggests that it was originally going to become 172:2, but became HTC 677 when it was decided to rebuild HG&B 172 into a trailer and have it retain its original number.

So, let’s recap. We have confirmed that four cars that were destroyed in the fire, HG&B 155, 171:1, 173:1 and 174:1, with 172 being badly damaged but later repaired, and HG&B 22 & 167 as additional possible victims. However, as I’ve stated in the article on the HG&B’s radial cars, there is considerable confusion as to what freight cars were renumbered to after the takeover by the Cataract Company. So there is a real possibility that the cars listed as burned in the margin notes were lost, but under their new numbers.