Home  


The illustration and story are from—

HARPER’S WEEKLY—November 27, 1877

THE FAST MAIL TRAIN—ENGINE No. 110

Here is a picture of one of the most perfect specimens of mechanical skill that ever came from the hands of the artisan, Engine 110. The performances of this engine are so remarkable that she—engines, like ships, are always of the feminine gender—deserves to have her portrait in Harper’s Weekly, and to have the story of her exploits told.

The experiment of running a Sunday newspaper train between New York and Niagara Falls, a distance of more than four hundred and seventy miles, in eleven hours, for nine consecutive Sundays, was carried out successfully last summer. The average rate of speed was about fifty miles an hour, more than an hour being lost in stoppages and other detentions on the route. On several occasions Engine 110, which drew the train from Syracuse to Buffalo, attained the astonishing speed of sixty-five, seventy, and seventy-five miles an hour. It must be confessed that the railroad officials at first viewed this experiment with some feelings of uneasiness and trepidation; but discovering that with stanch engines, plucky engineers, and steel rails there was not the slightest increase over the ordinary dangers of railroad traveling, the fast train became very popular. The first trip was probably the most interesting as on it mainly depended the success of the experiment.

It was on the morning of Sunday, the Fourth of July, the hour half past two. At the Grand Central Depot was gathered a party of ladies and gentlemen numbering about one hundred, awaiting the opening of the doors to take their seats on a train that had just backed down on the Hudson River Railroad track. This train consisted of an engine, No. 70, with tender, a baggage car, in which a dozen men, stripped to the waist, were folding papers and arranging them for the various points on the route, and also for the far West, and there were also two passenger-cars. It was the inauguration of fast railroad traveling, as it is now known on the grand trunk lines. The experiment was particularly hazardous considering the peculiar conformation of the Hudson River Railroad, so full of curves, tunnels, and rock cuts. It was not likely to inspire confidence even in the most experienced traveler. An old grizzled engineer, Captain NAT SAWYER, was in charge of the engine. As soon as the Herald wagon had arrived at the de;p;t and had deposited its load of papers, for which the train was waiting, in the baggage car, the conductor, ED LOWERY swung his lantern, SAWYER pulled the throttle-valve and the train started. The long bloused form of the engineer stretched along the seat on the right of the cab, his dark eyes peering out into the circle of light thrown forward by the headlight of the locomotive, his hand on the air-brake lever; the rush of the train through the Fourth Avenue tunnels; the gradual increase of speed until the rails in front seemed to take on an incandescent form; the dash across Harlem Bridge; then skirting the boundaries of Westchester County; the quiver of the iron monster when the speed of a mile a minute was attained—all made up an experience which can not easily be forgotten by the one that rode on that eventful morning on the locomotive.

The speed increased constantly, until the lights on the road and on the river seemed to be blended into one coruscating gleam. On the platform of the rear car sat a news agent clinging out bundle after bundle of papers with unerring accuracy. He had to calculate for the wind of the train; otherwise half the bundles would have been deposited in the river.

At Albany some time was lost, and when the train reached Syracuse it was over half an hour behind time. Here were met JEM WOODS and his engine. No. 110. A description of this engine which has proved itself the model locomotive of the United States, will be of interest.

Engine 110 was built by Mr. WATKEYS at Syracuse over a year ago. Her dimensions are as follows: cylinders, 17 inches diameter; stroke, 24 inches; driving-wheels, 6 feet 1 inch diameter; link motion for valve gear, 5´ inch throw to eccentrics; steam ports, 18 inches long by ï of an inch wide; lap of valve, 11/8 inches; exhaust nozzle, 3 inches. A prettier and a faster engine was never placed upon any track. The engineer; JEM WOODS, is over forty years of age, and has been twenty-three years in the service of the New York Central Railroad Company. He is rather shy and reticent, and thinks only of doing his duty faithfully. He is entirely devoted to his engine, and on one occasion expressed his desire that the Herald train would be at least three-quarters of an hour behind time, so that he could "give his pet a chance to show herself."

On this Fourth of July he certainly demonstrated to an alarming extent the speed of this wonderful locomotive. He not only made up lost time but he brought the train into Buffalo five minutes ahead of his schedule. There were "spurts" of seventy-five miles an hour, during which all conversation was suspended. The cars swayed, and the current of air produced by the train seemed like a tornado. People who were walking on the track far ahead did not content themselves by merely moving aside, but climbed the fences on either side of the road, and many a terrified face glanced at the flying train from a ditch or a hill beyond the limits of the railroad. The country people who congregated at the various stations to see the train flash by were obliged to crouch against doorways and behind boxes, lest the wind of the train should catch them in its deadly embrace. One remarkable feature about Engine 110 is that never during the nine Sundays on which it took the Herald train from Syracuse to Buffalo was it subject to heated journals, while every other engine suffered from that complaint. This can only be accounted for by the perfection of its mechanism.

The first fast mail-train on the New York Central and Lake Shore railroads, which to many appeared as a natural result of the example set by a New York journal, had a very remarkable trip on September 16. There were four mail cars, named after four Governors of States, and a palace-car for invited guests. The rate of speed averaged about fifty miles an hour. The engine which took the train from the Grand Central Depot (No. 57) was the one on which poor "DOC" SIMMONS met his fate some years ago at the fatal New Hamburg bridge near Poughkeepsie. It was raised out of the ice-bound creek into which it had plunged on that bleak night in February, 1872, the body of the gallant engineer being found in the cab, his hands grasping the lever. The fast mail reached Buffalo in eleven hours and fifteen minutes, the mails being received and delivered with remarkable promptitude and accuracy. The process of catching the mail-bags from the cranes set up on the side of the track was watched with much interest. When the mail-sack was unusually heavy, a perceptible shock was felt throughout the car as it was hooked on the arm of the iron catcher. The rate of speed on the Lake Shore Railroad was rather slow for such a train, not exceeding thirty-five miles an hour, until Cleveland was reached. Here quite a flattering ovation was tendered to the first fast mail that entered the huge depot. Thousands of people were present, and their cheers were deafening as the train steamed into the depot. At Sandusky, Ohio, a choral society stood around the engine and sang "Old Hundred." The engineer who took the train from this point to Chicago brought back reminiscences of JEM WOODS by the amazing bursts of speed which he made during the night, at times running more than a mile a minute. He fainted on entering the Michigan Southern Depot at Chicago, the result, probably, of nervous prostration after the exciting ride from Sandusky. The fast mail-trains on the Pennsylvania Railroad have met with success equal to those on the Northern route. The question of the practicability of fast railroad traveling in this country has therefore been satisfactorily solved, and the time is not far distant when San Francisco will be only five days’ travel from the metropolis.


Stories Page | Contents Page

 


Home
This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery . The Railroad Extra pages are ©2001 Thomas Ehrenreich.