RAILCAR GOLD is a historically accurate multi-generational fictional tale of hidden treasure, primarily set in York County, Pennsylvania during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. This is Part 3 of Chapter 22 . . . Diversify. A new part will be posted every Thursday. Recent chapters stand alone, starting here; however new readers may want to start at the beginning.
CHAPTER 22 . . . DIVERSIFY . . . Part 3
George Billmeyer decided to get into the quarry business. On his own, he purchased a small quarry and the surrounding 23-acres just west of Hellam. The land had a nice link to the railroad between York and Wrightsville; having over 1000-feet of frontage along the Pennsylvania Railroad. The purchase was made from his wife’s relatives; David and Emma Stoner.
Going into 1891, Billmeyer & Samll still had a competing car building firm in York; the Empire Car Works, owned by Michael Schall. With the downturn in the market for wooden railcars, Michael had been investing in other businesses, just like George Billmeyer was now doing.
However Michael Schall diversified on a grander scale; he became involved in banking and stock broking, in addition to investing in the York Rolling Mill. Michael also invested in car works outside of York; being a partner of car works in Glen Rock, Middletown and Dauphin. Michael Schall and a partner were gearing up the Middletown Car Works to potentially produce steel railcars.
George Billmeyer was grateful that he diversified much more conservatively, because in 1891, it all came crashing down for Michael Schall. All of Michael’s business interests were either sold or bought out to pay creditors. The Empire Car Works shut down and railcar manufacturing in Glen Rock ceased, leaving Billmeyer & Small as the only railcar builder in York County.
Once all the railroad mileage figures were released during 1891, it was shown that for the year ending 1890, approximately one quarter of the peak narrow gauge miles in service had been swept away in only five years. This resulted from very few new narrow gauge railroads being built and the increasing conversion of narrow gauge railroads to standard gauge rails.
The early 1890s saw increasingly depressed conditions in the economy. Billmeyer & Small’s lumber business was also starting to experience a downturn. George Billmeyer put a hold on further diversification. The car works of Billmeyer & Small shut down for weeks at a time.
Emma Billmeyer was overjoyed when she learned that Becky was, at long last, pregnant. However, months later, the joy was replaced with sorrow, when Becky had a miscarriage. During a two-week shut-down of the car works, George and Emma Billmeyer asked Becky and Dan to join them on a trip to visit the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The theme of the Exposition was a celebration of discovery of the New World 400 years ago by Christopher Columbus. The Exposition opened in 1892, however George, Emma, Becky and Dan were visiting the grounds during May of the second year of the expo.
Upon the expo grounds were an array of glistening white exhibition buildings of classic Greek style containing an interesting variety of displays. The expo featured a new type of restaurant; it is self-service, where customers move along a line, choose their food and carry it back to a table where they eat it. These restaurants, throughout the expo grounds, were called “cafeterias.”
The main draw at the expo was the brainchild of George Ferris. Ferris built a giant wheel, 250-feet in diameter. Attached to the Ferris Wheel were 36 boxes containing 10 windows each. Each box accommodated up to 10 passengers who stood at the windows, as they are carried up and around the wheel.
Dan thoroughly enjoyed riding the Ferris Wheel and even tried to convince George to get into the business of making such a ride. After all, the 36 boxes on the ride bore a striking resemblance to the two-foot narrow gauge railcars they had produced for railroads in Maine. George Billmeyer briefly entertained that notion and did manage to track down George Ferris, however Ferris already had suppliers lined up to produce his Ferris Wheels.
Go to Part 4