How to add a posting below . . .

To add a new posting, send an email to me at with a comment, question, story, photo, observation, etc. It will be posted below, shortly after the email is received. To comment on an existing posting, click on the "comments" command below the posting and type your comment. Your comment will show up immediately.   Pete Stemmer

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Clamtown Sail Car

Alternative energy is a concept that is currently politically correct. The two most discussed forms for non fossil fuel energy are solar and wind power. Plans for wind turbines off the coast of New Jersey are being seriously considered.

Well, who would have thought that the town of Tuckerton was way ahead of the curve. Seems that, in the late 1880's, some enterprising baymen used their ingenuity in solving a problem they had in shipping their clams to market. The baymen would ship their clams and oysters from Tuckerton to the big city markets of New York and Philadelphia by coastal schooners. This was a less than perfect operation, as the schooners were often slowed by adverse weather conditions, which resulted in the shellfish arriving in less than ideal condition. Profits thus suffered.

With the advent of the Tuckerton Railroad in 1872 this problem was solved. A spur line was constructed from the train station near the intersection of Railroad Avenues and North Green Street close to the pier at Edge Cove which allowed the Shellfish dealers to quickly and reliabally ship their products to the cities by rail. A fresher product with less spoilage meant higher profits.

The advent of the Tuckerton Railroad with a spur that ran almost down to Edge Cove allowed the quick shipping of clams and oysters to the big city markets by railroad.

Things went along fine for many years, until 1886, when the spur to Edge Cove was abandoned. Fortunately, the track of the abandoned railway route were left intact. The baymen, well versed in the skills associated with handling sailing ships, and resourceful when their livelihood was threatened, came up with a unique and imaginative solution . . . the Clamtown sailcar. An abandoned flat car was modified with the addition of a mast and sail, enabling the baymen to transport their cargo over the abandoned spur, with wind power, to the main line in Tuckerton where it could be shipped in a timely manner to the big cities.

Artist's rendition of the Tuckerton Sail Car. No photos or sketches of the sail car are known to exist. (Oil painting, by Hayes Parker, hanging at the Tuckerton Historical Society. February 12, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

How efficient the sail car was and how long it was actually used is a matter of debate. I believe it was more a brief diversion and lark for some imaginative clammers than a practical solution to the problem of getting the shell fish from Edge Cove to the railroad line in Tuckerton. The car was, undoubtedly small, and any sailor knows that the wind can be fickle. Wagons would clearly be more practical and reliable solution of carrying large quantities of clams and oysters from Edge Cove to the main railroad line in Tuckerton proper. Had it been a significant development, I believe we would have more information about it, today. We don't even know, with certainty, what the sailcar really looked like. Unfortunately, all that we have are a few sketches made some time after the fact from stories told by a few Tuckerton old timers.

Tradition says that the sailcar appeared to work well for several years, until some mischief makers took it for an unauthorized ride resulting in an unfortunate accident which destroyed the unique contraption. I believe the accident part of the story, but I don't buy the stories that the sailcar worked so well. If it was such a success, the car would have been repaired or others built. Businessmen will adapt and keep those innovations which enhance their profit. Clearly, the sailcar's success is a romantic notion rather than an historic reality.

Well, I've probably raised a few hackles among traditional Tuckerton historians, some of which also cling to the myth that Tuckerton was the third United States Port of Entry, but that's a story for another time.

Pete S


  1. i have a rail sailer that works quite well,,4 rail wheels with machined hubs with a standard 4 bolt trailer spindle..friction brakes on rear wheels,,2"sq tube frame 8'wheelbase,2 plastic sandrail bucket seats side by side,,a removable air craft wing section mounts vertically between and behind the seats, a speedometer has recorded 38mph..longest trip to date,25miles