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Published Monthly by the CONNECTICUT EASTERN CHAPTER of the N.R.H.S., Inc.
Jeffrey Ricard, Editor  Volume 7, Number 2, February 1999 
Paper Passenger Car Wheels
By John E. Eichman, Sr.   Via The Proto Journal V4#2
Submitted by Jerry Griffin.
Many people are surprised when they learn that paper was used for passenger car wheels in this country; it is a fact that defies conventional wisdom.

The Pullman Company used them exclusively for may years on their cars.  Paper wheels (really paper-centered wheels) replaced wood-centered wheels, and were themselves replaced by solid cast-iron wheels, around 1915.  Paper wheels were used for interurban and street car service for a much longer time period:  The St. Louis Car Company used them until the late fifties / early sixties, presumably as replacements in kind, rather than in new construction.

The paper car wheel was invented by a man named Richard N, Allen, a former locomotive engineer (1827-1890).  Allen was a "Boomer," moving from one job to another.  He was persuaded by his brother-in-law to buy into a paper mill, at Pittsford, Vermont.  The mill produced a paperboard-type product, known as "strawboard".  Owing to poor market conditions at that time (the supply of strawboard exceeded the market demand for the product) Allen soon found himself the sole owner of an unprofitable business venture.  Allen, needing to create a market for his product, turned to his former work experience for a solution,  He came up with the idea of replacing the wood then being used for passenger car wheel centers with compressed paper.  His idea found willing acceptance in the industry.

The term "paper car wheel" is a misnomer, because the wheel was in reality of composite construction.  It was made up of a cast-iron hub incorporating an external bolting flange, the pressed-paper center, two 1/4" iron plates (one was placed on each side of the paper center), and a cast-steel rim, with an internal bolting flange.  Assembly of the wheels was accomplished by bolting the 1/4" iron plates to the hub, rim and paper center.  Twenty four (or more) bolts were employed in the assembly of the wheel.  With the bolts tightened up, the paper center was a solid, dense, compressed mass, quite capable of supporting great weight.

The paper centers were made by gluing 200 circular paperboard (strawboard) sheets into a sandwich, using ordinary flour paste.  This "sandwich" was then placed in a press, and subjected to 650 tons of compression, for a 3 hour period.  Following pressing, the centers were dried and cured in a warm room for a period of 6 to 8 weeks, to ensure the evaporation of all moisture from the centers.  After curing, the
centers were lathe-turned to proper size, and the various bolt holes were drilled.  The centers were then ready for assembly into a complete wheel.

Paper wheels found favor with the rail industry primarily because of their ability to dampen rail/wheel noise.  This resulted in a quieter ride for the rail passenger.  In today's terms we would know this a reduction in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) which is a constant concern of today's automakers.  It is also possible that cars equipped with paper wheels provided a smoother ride, because of their dampening ability.  Paper car wheels fell from favor as passenger car weights increased, and the technology of making solid chilled cast-iron wheels mproved.  They were not used for passenger cars after 1915.


The 1999 train show is fast approaching.  Sunday February 28th at Windham High School is the date to keep in mind.  We would like to request all members lend a hand setting up tables and chairs on Friday February 26th at 5:00pm.  The more members we have available the faster we get set up.  We will again need members
to help vendors unload, and help with parking on the 28th.  Please arrive on the 28th at 6:30am. 

The show will end at 3:00pm and again members will be needed to assist vendors with packing and loading.  If you can lend a hand, please bring a handcart if possible.  The show committee would also like to request that members not park close to the school.  We would like to leave these spaces available to the public.

During the show we may need members to help serve lunch to the vendors.  Please contact show chairmen, Bill Robinson on the morning of the show if you can assist.

Entertainment for February
Member Bob LaMay will present a slide show called:

Amtrak's First 38 Years!

As you know Bob's slides are something you don't want to miss.  See you at the show!

 Railbus Update

Bill Voorvaart and his crew have been working quiet diligently on the restoration of the railbus and have requested that we ask the membership for some additional parts that are needed to help complete this restoration.  We are looking for and amp meter, oil pressure gauge, engine water tempature guage, volt meter and General Motors automatic transmission linkage from the 70's.  If you have any of these parts or have access to these parts and would be willing to donate them to the chapter, please contact Bill at 742-5247.  This would be a great help if we did not have to purchase these items.

The Keys Please

Again we would like to remind members that the security of the museum only works if the gates and buildings are locked.  Please make sure you check all locks if you are the last to leave the site.  If you open it, you should close it.

In 1947 when we had passenger trains everywhere, carrying people and mail in an energy-efficient system, we imported 159 million barrels of oil and exported 164 million.

In the daily gridlock around our cities, people waste 1.6 billion hours in traffic jams, burning 114 billion gallons of gasoline.  Another reason for mass transit.

Membership Renewals

If you have not done so already please make sure that you return your membership renewal form with a check to Howard Bidwell in the envelope provided.  For those of you who have not renewed, this is the last month you will receive a copy of The Ghost Train Journal! 

Thank you to all members that have made a contribution of the chapter with their membership renewal.  Every little bit helps!

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Copyright ©1999 Connecticut Eastern Chapter, National Railway Historical Society February 12, 1999.