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The Crossen Car Company

By Ted Rafuse

James Crossen began his working life with the Helm Foundry in Cobourg. By his mid thirties he was a full partner in this enterprise and two years later he became the sole proprietor of the enterprise.

In the mid 1860's the moribund Cobourg & Peterborough Railway was undergoing a resurgence led by a number of Cobourg citizens. By this time the iron ore deposits at Mamora served as the impetus for the railway revival. To that end the railway company required ore cars and James Crossen agreed to construct several dozen of these. All were delivered in early 1867 and unknowingly Crossen initiated what was to become Canada's largest independent manufacturer of wooden railway passenger and freight cars.

In the following years orders were sporadic as railways were not being constructed and the demand for rolling stock was slight.

Perhaps Crossen's first passenger car was built for the Cobourg, Peterborough and Marmora Railway and Mining Company in 1872. Business however had improved to the point that in 1873 Crossen created a separate company for the purpose of rolling stock construction. The new Company was named the Crossen Car Works and was also known as the Cobourg Car Works.
Canadian Pacific Railway First Class Coach #426 constructed by Crossen Car Company in July 1890
Click any photo for a larger version
At this stage much of the production went to the Grand Trunk Railway but cars were also constructed for such early railways as the Credit Valley Railway.
Left Refrigerator car constructed for the Canadian Northern Railway by Crossen Car Manufacturing Company in September 1910.

The CNoR by the end of the teens had become a constituent part of the Canadian National Railways which was formed in 1918. By the time this car was constructed the CNoR was the only customer of the CCMCo and in 1915 when Crossen closed its doors its final units were also destined for the CNoR.
Following the introduction of the National Policy in 1878 by John A. Macdonald's Conservative Party, Crossen expanded his business operation by constructing a series of large buildings on property between University Avenue and the Grand Trunk Railway and west of George Street. [in Cobourg].

With the creation and construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, rolling stock demand increased dramatically and Crossen became a primary supplier of equipment to that Company.

With James Crossen's death in 1890, the enterprise was reorganized as the Crossen Car Manufacturing Company of Cobourg under the ownership and direction of William Crossen, the founder's son.

In the early 1890s the CPR began constructing its own rolling stock to the detriment of the Crossen Company.

Constructed originally for the Canadian Northern Railway as First Class Coach #163 this Crossen car was erected in December 1912. It was renumbered CNoR 8011 then CNR 3410. It was scrapped in London in 1960.
However the 1890s witnessed a boom in the construction of street railways and Crossen supplied several dozen street cars to several different radial railway lines. But the primary construction centred upon rolling stock for standard railways.
Left CNR car #34 began life as a Crossen car built in 1899 for the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway. It was their business car. This car was absorbed into the fledgling CNoR in 1901 as #99. It was then absorbed into the CNR as #80, subsequently renumbered 34 (first use) and lasted on the CNR roster until December 1960 when it was scrapped in Moncton, NB.

With the return to economic stability in the late 1890s the construction of new Canadian railways commenced and of course these required rolling stock. Notably amongst the new customers were the Canadian Northern Railway and the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway. The CNoR became a significant purchaser of Crossen equipment and was the only customer for the final years of the Crossen Company.

With the advent of steel in rolling stock construction William Crossen became aware that the new technology was a challenge to his company. He either had to invest heavily to compete in the new manufacturing process, or cease operations. He chose the latter and in mid 1915 the final wooden cars left the plant in Cobourg. The company ceased operations and the property itself was sold several years later.

The only Crossen structure that survives on site is the original office building. All the other buildings were constructed by later companies. On the west side of George Street, on either side of Park Street, sit the houses of James and William Crossen, as reminders of what was once the largest employer in Cobourg.

Ted Rafuse is a retired history teacher and former vice-principal. As a history teacher he became interested in developing a local history program in the mid 1970s and that led to an interest in local railway history. He has contributed articles to several railway periodicals including Canadian Railway Modeller, Steamboat Bill, and CNLines of which he is a volunteer editor.

He recently wrote and published Coal to Canada: A History of the Ontario Car Ferry Company which chronicles the history of that Company's railway car ferry operation between Cobourg and Rochester between 1907 and 1950. In July 2003 he was a member of the Maple Leaf 2003 Convention and Train Show held in Toronto. Ted was the Train Show coordinator for this international modelling gathering which had more than 2,000 participants. When not writing or researching Ted squires his 4 year-old grandson to the Port Hope or Cobourg stations to watch trains hoping to instil in the future generation the knowledge of railroading's significance to the development of the area and the country.