Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Budd Co., Red Lion Plant, 1942
1 Red Lion Road, Philadelphia PA
(west of Bustleton Avenue, particularly Sandmeyer Lane, and east of Pine Road)

Irving Kosmin, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The Budd Company was founded in 1912 at Aramingo Avenue and Tioga Street in the Richmond section of Philadelphia, where it manufactured metal stamping. The company moved to larger quarters at the northeast corner of Ontario and I Streets in Kensington. The demands of the burgeoning automobile industry necessitated a major expansion, and Budd moved its plant to 24th Street & Hunting Park Avenue where it is still in operation.

The Red Lion Plant was built shortly after the start of World War II in 1942, on 572 acres of farmland in the Far Northeast section of the city. The complex was built by the United States Government and was operated by the Budd Company, which produced artillery shells for the war effort; it also developed a prototype cargo plane named the "Conestoga." It was flight tested on the adjacent 3,100 foot runway but never put into production—only a few test models were ever built.

In 1948 the Red Lion plant was purchased from the Government by Budd for $5.3 million. Rail car manufacturing was moved to Red Lion from the Hunting Park plant. The Budd Company became a leader in manufacturing passenger rail cars when it began experimenting with the use of stainless steel in 1931. From 1934 the Budd Company produced such famous trains as the Zephyr, Rocket, Silver Meteor, and Flying Yankee; El Capitan, the Chief, and Super Chief; and the Empire Builder, among many others. During the 1950s Budd built custom rail cars and components for several railroads and other companies including General Electric.

After moving to the Red Lion plant the company added subway and surface passenger rail cars to its line. In 1963 the Rail Car Division had a banner year with a backlog of orders totaling more than ninety million dollars. In 1966 the Budd Company built the first turbine-powered rail car which was tested on the Long Island Railroad.

Budd's Red Lion plant also produced automotive components, following installation in 1964 of a chassis frame assembly line capable of producing 4,000 frames per day. This doubled Budd's capability to supply the needs of General Motors Chevrolet Division.

In 1978 the Budd Company, whose headquarters were in Troy, Michigan, was purchased by Thyssen AG, West Germany, and the Red Lion plant was designated Transit Division of the Budd Company. In 1979 the huge plant, on 212 remaining acres, was bought by an investment firm, Integrated Resources Company of New York City, and was leased to the transit division. On January 1, 1985, Transit America was formed, a separate, wholly-owned, subsidiary of Thyssen AG.

Until 1987 when the Red Lion plant made its car the former Budd Company, now Transit America, produced an impressive number of passenger cars for rail transportation systems including:

the original Metroliner trains that form the backbone of Amtrak's fleet.

passenger rail cars for New York (over 600 in 1971), Chicago, and Connecticut .

the famous "Silverliners," built in the early 1960s for the Pennsylvania Railroad commuter service, which continue to run on the SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority) regional rail system.

state-of-the-art stainless steel cars for the PATCO High Speed Line running between Lindenwold, New Jersey and Center City Philadelphia; these cars are the first to be computer automated and monitored.

The main building at the Red Lion complex comprises two one-story, parallel structures, 1,800 feet in length, 600 feet wide covering 1,097,269 square feet of floor space. It was built of reinforced concrete to save steel during World War II. The Ballinger Company of Philadelphia were the architects; the barrel shell, or ZD roof, was developed by Roberts and Schaefer, an engineering firm of New York City. The configuration of the plant is reminiscent of an airplane hanger of the 1940s. Several auxiliary buildings of concrete and brick, including a two-story office building, also are on the property. All buildings are in good condition, well-maintained, and protected by a high chain link fence and a twenty-four hour security force.

Transit America survives today with a small staff. Plans to again produce rail cars at Red Lion have been thwarted by labor/management disagreements and the negative manufacturing climate for mass transit equipment which is now being made in Canada and overseas. At present the Red Lion plant apparently is undergoing a pollution evaluation and cleanup before conversion to any future use.

Update May 2007 (by Harry Kyriakodis):
Manufacturing at the Red Lion plant ceased for the most part in 1987. The Budd complex had played a vital role in the local and regional economy since World War II, employing some 2500 workers at its manufacturing peak. After more than a decade of inactivity, parent company Transit America demolished all structures on the 214-acre site in the late 1990s. Then, working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the firm voluntarily performed a $23 million environmental cleanup to redevelop the property into a country club, complete with 18-hole golf course and 8000-square-foot clubhouse. Transit America subsequently sold the site, now known as the Island Green Golf Club, for about $6 million. High-end housing is also part of the redevelopment.