The Gregg Company Ltd.
By Jeff Livingston, Historian
The name "Gregg" is well known in Hawaii as the supplier of thousands of cane cars, portable track and other equipment used on sugar plantations across the state. Gregg also supplied equipment to the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard in the form of both boxcars and flat cars. In our ongoing OR&L research at Bishop Museum we have also encountered references to Gregg indicating that the OR&L purchased many steel underframes for flat cars, box cars and gondolas as well as steel frames for box car bodies. As the old wood framed cars wore out or were damaged many were rebuilt using Gregg frames and parts. One memo indicates that the supply of Gregg fames for rebuilding purposes needs to be replenished as there are only five remaining. In August 1924 the OR&L authorized construction of 100 flat cars to be numbered from 1095 to 1194 inclusive and 50 boxcars to be numbered from 1500 to 1549 inclusive under General Manager's Orders (GMO) 289 and 290. There is strong reason to believe that the material used to build these cars came from Gregg although absolute proof is still wanting. The following year, 1925, the OR&L authorized purchase of 50 steel boxcars and 100 steel flat cars under GMOs 325 and 326 and in 1926, under GMO 427 authorized an additional 50 steel frame boxcars to be numbered 1550 to 1599 inclusive Again, there is strong reason to believe that the material used to build these cars came from Gregg. There is no question that the 50 new 30 ton steel boxcars numbered 1600 - 1649 inclusive authorized under GMO 758 in 1931 were Gregg products as Gregg was specified in the GMO. Adding to the evidence of a large number of Gregg cars and material used by the OR&L are the continual references to "Gregg built" and "Gregg trucks" in the 1947/48 rolling stock inspection reports generated by the OR&L prior to and following abandonment of the main line. I contacted The Gregg Company Ltd. of Hackensack New Jersey in hopes that they might still have records of the material purchased by the OR&L. I received a very kind letter in reply from the Chairman of The Gregg Company Ltd., Mr. Richard T. Gregg, who informed me that the company no longer had any files regarding equipment sent to Hawaii. Mr. Gregg graciously included with his letter a copy of Edward S. Kaminski's book "The Gregg Company Ltd., A Centennial History, 1903-2003" which is now available for all to enjoy in our library. I have known about this very limited edition book for some time but have never seen one for sale. Mr. Gregg's gift to the HRS is all the more special for that. The Gregg Company Ltd. is to railway equipment manufacturers what HRS is to Hawaii, one of the best kept secrets ever. In reading the book I was both surprised and pleased to learn that the company's roots were in Hawaii. In 1898, William C. Gregg, founder of The Gregg Company Ltd. arrived in Hawaii with his family intending to act as "Agent" for any mainland companies wanting to do business in Hawaii. During a meeting with Ewa Plantation Manager Lowry, William Gregg witnessed a derailment of some early cane cars on the poor portable track then in use. Within a few days William Gregg had developed an improved portable track design and received an immediate order from Ewa Plantation. This improved design lead to his first three patents and eventually to the birth of The Gregg Company Ltd. in 1903. It is not surprising given the connection of the OR&L's founder Benjamin F. Dillingham to the Ewa Plantation that the OR&L would favor products built by The Gregg Company Ltd. In the HRS yard today you can see examples of the portable track designed by William Gregg as well as Gregg designed and built flat car frames. All of our original OR&L freight equipment, two flat cars and one boxcar rest on Gregg wooden bolster trucks.
The Gregg Company Ltd. has survived long after the end of the OR&L. Originally, in 1903, manufacturing and headquarters were located at Newburgh, New York. A second, larger plant was added in 1910 at Hackensack, New Jersey where the company is still headquartered, and operations in New York phased out. Since most of The Gregg Company Ltd. business was in the export market, another manufacturing facility was constructed in Lot, Belgium, just outside Brussels in 1925 and by 1935 all manufacturing had been transferred to the new plant. As a global supplier of specialized railway equipment, The Gregg Company Ltd. maintained offices in New York City, Porto Rico, Cuba and Honolulu among others. During World War Two the Belgium plant was taken over and occupied by the German firm Krupp. After the loss of the plant, The Gregg Company Ltd. successfully contracted with mainland steel fabricators to fulfill their orders. The Belgium plant was returned to The Gregg Company Ltd. at the end of the war, was expanded, and continued in operation until the early in 1980's. Gregg products were then built in partnership with Equimetal in Portugal and today The Gregg Company Ltd. subcontracts and provides replacement part for their equipment in service throughout the world.
29 September 2009