Flashback: Collecting Iron Horses

March 9th, 2009

The following piece describes an early effort to salvage, restore, and preserve old American steam railroad locomotives, circa 1893, at the time of the Chiago World’s Fair. It originally appeared in the May 1939 issue of American Collector magazine (Volume VIII Number 4), a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.

In the final analysis, collecting of old locomotives is not essentially different from the collecting of early carriages, clocks, pewter cups, or Sheffield knives. The items are considerably larger and much clumsier to handle, but they are hardly less interesting.

The Historic Minnetonka, 1869: Built for the Northern Pacific Railway, probably by H. J. Porter & Co., Pittsburgh, Pa. She was discovered recently in a lumber camp in the State of Washington.

The Historic Minnetonka, 1869: Built for the Northern Pacific Railway, probably by H. J. Porter & Co., Pittsburgh, Pa. She was discovered recently in a lumber camp in the State of Washington.

For a great many years the early locomotive was a sadly neglected bit of Americana. Most of these antiques were measured chiefly in their scrap-iron value. The fact that this old engine or that, had, in its day, performed a valorous service in transport was quite overlooked.

No. 170 may have struggled bravely for years with the morning mail up Seventeen-Mile Grade; the man who handled her throttle the most of those years, and his fireman too, had been citizens of real distinction in the community. All this counted as nothing in the mind of the railroad manager of yesterday. He merely saw 107 with her Johnson car, big balloon stack, and squat little tender as an outmoded thing, fit chiefly for the scrap-heap.

If the 107s across the land continued to exist, it was because here and there some kindly souls who had a bit of reverence for the stout little engines that the Jim Perkinses used to handle so well and the Pete Smalls fire so accurately. They had a bit of sentiment as well, and contrived to hide an occasional 107 in a shady, disused roundhouse or shed.

The Atlantic, Built in 1831, with Two Passenger Coaches: This locomotive, the first to enter Washington, D.C., has been carefully preserved by the Baltimore & Ohio. The Atlantic was also used for forty years in switching service. The coaches are carefully constructed reproductions of the period.

The Atlantic, Built in 1831, with Two Passenger Coaches: This locomotive, the first to enter Washington, D.C., has been carefully preserved by the Baltimore & Ohio. The Atlantic was also used for forty years in switching service. The coaches are carefully constructed reproductions of the period.

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 marked the first renaissance of ancient railroad motive power. There was a brisk little man working for the Baltimore and Ohio. His name was J. G. Pangborn. His energy was endless and he conceived the idea of making that railroad’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition something quite a bit out of the ordinary.

Quietly, Major Pangborn scoured the whole land digging out early locomotives. There were still a considerable number to be found and the persuasive little Major had little difficulty in securing a number of interesting items, such as the first engines ever to run in Nova Scotia, the Samson and the Albion; the old Peppersauce, 1869, in New Hampshire, invariably known as the “Peppersass”; and still others.

In addition to these, the Baltimore and Ohio, the earliest public railroad to operate in the country, had a number of interesting engines of its own: the Atlantic, 1832; the Thomas Jefferson, 1834; the Memnon, 1847; the William Mason, 1856, and the Thatcher Ferkins, 1863, were chief among these. They all went out to Chicago. To these genuine antiques Major Pangborn added an imposing array of full-sized wooden models of most of the well-known early locomotives of the world. He was quite a showman, was Major Pangborn.

No. 169, of the Denver & Rio Grande: This narrow-gauge locomotive, by an unknown builder, has been carefully preserved by the railroad for which she was built. After the New York World's Fair, she will be on permanent display at Salt Lake City, Utah.

No. 169, of the Denver & Rio Grande: This narrow-gauge locomotive, by an unknown builder, has been carefully preserved by the railroad for which she was built. After the New York World's Fair, she will be on permanent display at Salt Lake City, Utah.

Other railroads contributed early locomotives to the Chicago Fair of 1893. The Pennsylvania made a notable showing with the John Bull, 1831, originally imported from England for the Camden and Amboy Railroad, one of its companies. The Boston and Providence brought forth the Daniel Nason, 1856, one of the few inside-connected locomotives still existant.

The New York Central could find no very early engine, but it discovered a wheel of the DeWitt Clinton which, in 1831, had made its first trip over the Mohawk and Hudson tracks that ran from Albany to Schenectady.

From this, and excellent, accurate, detailed drawings, evolved an interesting replica, both of the little engine and its stagecoach cars, which has been carefully preserved ever since and is now becoming, of itself, something of an antique. It was in that same year, 1893, of the first Chicago Fair that the New York Central built its 999. She was one of the most exquisite locomotives ever fashioned, promptly made a world’s speed record; and also was later carefully preserved in the company’s West Albany shops.

1893 and the Chicago Fair came and went. The little engines were all returned to their home resting places – that is, all except the Baltimore and Ohio group. They went into the Field Museum in Chicago where they remained until the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 at St. Louis when they were all dusted once more and placed on exhibition by the indefatigable Major Pangborn. They never returned to Chicago. At the end of the St. Louis Fair they were shipped East, to find lodgement for nearly a quarter of a century in an abandoned roundhouse of the Baltimore and Ohio at Martinsburg, West Virginia.

An Imported English Coach: It was built for the Boston & Providence Railroad and put in service in 1834. Structurally, this was a stagecoach body, mounted on railway wheels and framework.

An Imported English Coach: It was built for the Boston & Providence Railroad and put in service in 1834. Structurally, this was a stagecoach body, mounted on railway wheels and framework.

There I found them twelve years ago when we were planning the “Fair of the Iron Horse” as the centennial celebration of the Baltimore and Ohio. They were in sad condition, but we bundled them all, with the Pangborn wood models, upon a train of flatcars and under cover of night moved them to an engine house in Baltimore where they were all reconditioned and again emerged in triumphant roles. More triumphant than at Chicago or at St. Louis, for at Baltimore, in the fall of 1927, they all ran again bravely under their own steam. So did many others, including the John Bull, out of a long retirement in the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, and the DeWitt Clinton, from the balcony of the Grand Central Terminal in New York.

In from a tiny roundhouse at Chambersburg, the Pennsylvania Railroad people found the little Pioneer. 1851, of the erst-while Cumberland Valley Railroad. It, too, was reconditioned and ran quite as well as it had run half a century before. It was quite a star at the “Wings of a Century” at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 and 1934. After that it was sent to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and there so solidly bricked in that it is not likely to be steamed up again for many a year.

The West has contributed its full share of these early engines. In Leland Stanford University at Palo Alto, California, you will find, also bricked in securely, the Governor Stanford, the first locomotive of the Central Pacific; another early locomotive of that same road, the C. P. Huntington, is carefully retained in the Sacramento shops of the Southern Pacific and from time to time makes its appearance under its own steam, as do the William Crooks, 1861, of the Great Northern and the Minnetonka, 1869, of the Northern Pacific, and the Pride of the Prairies, 1872, of the Burlington. The even more historic General, 1857, of the Western and Atlantic, the hero of the Andrews Raid in the Civil War, will never steam again, yet is carefully provided for in an easy bunk in the old Union Station at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Ross Winans, Circa 1850: This is an early and unique type of locomotive built by the Baltimore & Ohio. Although the design was discarded, this locomotive was preserved by the railroad as an example of its type.

The Ross Winans, Circa 1850: This is an early and unique type of locomotive built by the Baltimore & Ohio. Although the design was discarded, this locomotive was preserved by the railroad as an example of its type.

These are some of the better-known early locomotives of the United States. There are others, not so well known. It is a real thrill to be scraping through some ancient railroad shop or roundhouse, suddenly come upon a giant and dusty shape rising up toward the rafters and realize that here is the West Wind, the Antelope, the Hercules, or some other old engine which in its heyday was an idol of the countryside. Men admired her racy lines, small boys looked up in awe to her overpowering smokestack. Her engineer was the lord of all creation, even the fireman’s hard job was an envied one. To find such an engine and rescue it from oblivion is an experience not to be forgotten easily.

Such was mine only a little while ago in the castle-like stone roundhouse of the once busy Virginia and Truckee’ Railroad at Carson City, Nevada, Engine No. 12 of that road (long ago, in 1871, when the Baldwin people first built her at their Philadelphia works they called her the Genoa), was there but had not turned a wheel since 1905. Yet she had been kept in good condition, free from rust and corrosion.

It was not too difficult a job to put her in running order again; load her, with her tender, on two flatcars and ship her across the continent to a railroad ship in the Bronx and there make her ready as an actor for a play which I had written for the New York World’s Fair. Transformed, No. 12 of the Virginia and Truckee has become the Jupiter of the Central Pacific, a prominent actor indeed in the historic American episode of the driving of the final spike-the Gold Spike in the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah, May 10, 1869.

The DeWitt Clinton of 1831:  This complete train was reproduced from the original detailed drawings for display in 1893 at the Chicago World

The DeWitt Clinton of 1831: This complete train was reproduced from the original detailed drawings for display in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. It has been carefully kept since then, and shown at special displays and exhibitions.

Gilbert Kneiss brought her across the continent for us, riding, eating, and sleeping for eight days and eight nights in a wooden coach of the old Central Pacific lashed atop a flatcar. He is something of a locomotive collector himself. In recent years a good many of the smaller railroads of the West Coast-especially the logging roads-have folded up and gone out of business. Here he found a fair field for collecting these old engines.

He discovered the old J. W. Bowker, 1874, also of the Virginia and Truckee, on a logging road which was being abandoned at Hobart Mills, California, acquired her for the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, and brought her down to an enthusiastic reception in front of the Ferry House at San Francisco: She also came East with the Genoa for the New York Fair. Then he found two narrow-gauge engines over in the central portion of Nevada and made them actors in a pageant at the San Francisco Exposition. And he has one or two others still, figuratively, up his sleeve.

The field is not entirely exhausted. I know of a number of early engines in the East still patiently awaiting resurrection. In the City of New York there are two or three of the tiny steam locomotives that the town.

The Genoa of the Virginia & Truckee:  Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1871, this locomotive was retained by the railroad at its Carson City, Nevada, shops until 1939, when it was reconditioned for use at the New York World's Fair.

The Genoa of the Virginia & Truckee: Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1871, this locomotive was retained by the railroad at its Carson City, Nevada, shops until 1939, when it was reconditioned for use at the New York World's Fair.

Two or three years ago I found the fine old Daniel Nason, sadly neglected and nearly forgotten, in an iron shed on the campus of a Midwestern university. The Nason recently was brought East and again put in good shape. Beside her stood what was left of the Marmora, one of the famous “Eddy clocks,” built by Eddy of Worcester, Massachusetts, for the Western Railroad, now the Boston and Albany, early in the 1840′s. It was scrapped nearly eighty years ago and its boiler was used for the then new Worcester station, the one with the tall clock tower, designed by the architect Richardson.

When the present Worcester station was built, more than twenty years ago, the remains of the Marmora was discovered in the cellar of the old structure and sent out to this Midwestern college. Some day it will be brought out and restored.

America is beginning really to appreciate these old engines. Henry Ford has done much to stimulate such appreciation. He has two or three excellent engines in his great museum at Dearborn, Michigan. With them, he has assembled some fine old railroad cars. Collecting early railroad coaches is only a shade less thrilling than getting together the energy that once propelled them.

This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.

6 comments so far

  1. Joe Phelan Says:

    AS A YOUTH I WAS TOLD THAT MY GREAT GRANDFATHER MADE A MODEL OF THE STEAM ENGINE THE DEWITT CLINTON AND THAT WAS EXHIBTED IN ONE OF NYC STATIONS

  2. Julia Davey Says:

    In March of 1929,at age 6,I arrived at Grand Central Station from California, with my Mother,my younger sister, and our nursemaid. We were coming to live on the east coast as my Father had been transferred by his company.

    One of the things which impressed me that day was the very old-looking railroad train up on the balcony in GC Terminal. Whenever we visited NYC after that, I looked for that train. Eventually it was removed from its place there. I never knew what happened to it.

    Yesterday I was telling a young woman about that experience back in 1929,but could not recall the name of the train. I have just read about it – The De Witt Clinton – and learned where it originated and why. I am delighted! It took a bit of looking through all the infoprmation on trains, Grand Central and the balcony at Grand Central!

  3. Curtis Gunderson Says:

    “Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad”copyright 1962 by R.Athearn has the same picture of no.169.It states it is a Baldwin built in 1883. The picture was taken in Denver before it was shipped to New York. This loco is almost identical, except for gauge to Sierra Railroad no.3,which is a Rogers built in 1891. No. 3 has been completely restored and will be on the rails again very soon at Jamestown 1897. Does anyone know where 169 is now? As a history and train nut I have really enjoyed your “flashback” article.
    For info on the restoration work being done on no.3 see Railtown 1897 blog.

  4. william wolf Says:

    I recently aquired a poster from the Baltimore & Ohio Centenary Pageant – Baltimore- Sept. 24 – Oct.8- 1927. In the left hand corner is a copyright “symbal 1927 The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad co.” In the right hand corner is; Ketterlinus, Phila. ( I forgot to use all CAP LETTER’S) By my description is this poster original? And if so what value does it have? Condition I would say excellent, a few mild creases, but no rip’s, tear’s, or any other damage. Thank’s for any help you may give.

  5. lorentz M. Kafka Says:

    I attended the ’39 worlds fair at the age five. One of the thrills was a Dewitt Clinton
    model with one stage coach, tender and engine, about 3 feet long and 11 inches high. It turned up at Daniel Antoun’s antique shop in New Lebanon, New York.
    Where is it now. It would be great to create a limited edition from that model.

  6. Matt Beckner Says:

    The Denver & Rio Grande 169 currently resides in Alamosa, Colorado and is being restored by the Friends of 169 group. It is housed in a custom made pavillion by the Alamosa City Hall.


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