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