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CHAPTER XVI

MORE FACTS ON THE "STOURBRIDGE LION"

 

In September, 1829, a locomotive built by George Stephenson, at his works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, arrived in New York and was to be seen, for some time, in the yard of E. Dunscomb, Water Street; its wheels were raised above the ground and kept running for the amusement of the crowds attracted by its novelty. Of this engine Mr. Horatio Allen speaks in a letter to the author as follows:

"This locomotive, or motive (but not progressive motion), was not the engine which made the first run on the railroad at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. This engine (built by Stephenson at Newcastle-upon-Tyne) was set up at an iron-yard on the East-River side of New York, and being blocked up, so that the wheels could not touch the ground, the engine could go through the motions without running."

As we are determined that our history of the first locomotives in America shall lack no evidence to sustain the facts we record, we cannot close our testimony in the case of the "Stourbridge Lion" without removing an impression which many persons entertain, and have often declared to the author, that this same old engine, which came from England and made the first trip on a railroad in Americas is still in existence somewhere in New England. Such is not the fact. Not withstanding the testimony upon this point to be found in the latter part of the Hon. John Torry's letter to the author, where he distinctly records the ultimate fate of the Lion, we have another letter from an old citizen of that region, the same gentleman who favored us with the file of the Republican, Mr. Dilton Yarrington, from which we will extract such parts as relate to the final disposition of this locomotive, thus:

"As far as the locomotive was concerned, it was considered a failure from the very first time it was used. It stood around for some years, and by degrees was taken to pieces and wasted away like an old cripple. I worked up some of the fragments of it in the shop in 1849.

"The boiler is now in use here in Carbondale, in a foundry, where it has been in use for twenty years past, and is still considered reliable. The iron plates composing it are full half an inch thick. Mr. Yarrington was a blacksmith in the company's shops, an old citizen of that region, and lived in Dundee from 1821 to 1847.

We will now close our description of the events incident to the first locomotive in America, by giving our readers Mr. Allen's account of his ride alone the "Stourbridge Lion," in a speech made by him in 1851, at Dunkirk, on the occasion of the celebration in honor of the completion of the New York and Erie Railroad, and transmitted by him to the author. After alluding in terms of commendation to those who, by their talents and perseverance, had carried through to a successful completion the great work just finished, Mr. Allen continued:

"Having occupied your time with these statements of perhaps no great interest, but the omission of which would have been an act of injustice, I leave thought that, on this great railroad occasion, a reference to some of the incidents in the early railroad history of this country might be appropriate. To bring before you as strikingly as in my power, it has occurred to me to lead your imagination to the conception of the scene which would present itself if, on some fine morning, you were placed at an elevation, and gifted for the moment with a power of vision which would command the railroad movements of the whole United States. There would be presented an exciting picture of activity, in a thousand iron horses starting forth from the various railroad centers, or traversing the surface of the continent in all directions. When the imagination has attained to some conception of the scene, let it seek to go back to the time when only one of these iron monsters was in existence on this continent, and was moving forth, the first of his mighty race. Then was it? where was it? and who awakened its energies and directed its movements? It was in the year 1829, on the banks of the Lackawaxen, at the commencement of the railroad connecting the canal of the Delaware and Hudson Company with their coal-mines, and he who addresses you was the only person on that locomotive.

"The circumstances which led to my being left alone on the engine were these: The road had been built in the summer, the structure was of hemlock-timber, and the rails, of large dimensions, notched on to caps placed far apart. The timber had cracked and warped, from exposure to the sun. After about five hundred feet of straight line, the road crossed the Lackawaxen Creek on a trestle-work about thirty feet high, and with a curve of three hundred and fifty or four hundred feet radius. The impression was very general that the iron monster would either break down the road or that it would leave the track at the curve and plunge into the creek. Any reply to apprehension was, that it was too late to consider the probability of such occurrences; that there was no other course but to have the trial made of the strange animal which had been brought here at such great expense, but that it was not necessary that more than one should be involved in its fate; that I would take the first ride alone, and that the time would come when I should look back to this incident with great interest. As I placed my hand on the throttle-valve handle I was undecided whether I would move slowly or with a fair degree of speed; but believing that the road would prove safe, and preferring, if we did go down, to go down handsomely and without any evidence of timidity, I started with considerable velocity, passed the curve over the creek safely, and was soon out of hearing of the cheers of the large assemblage present. At the end of two or of three miles, I reversed the valves and returned without accident to the place of starting, having thus made the first railroad trip by locomotive on the Western Hemisphere."

Our readers are doubtless now satisfied that to the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company is justly due the credit of having introduced and run upon their railroad the first locomotive that made a revolution with its driving-wheel upon the American Continent. And although this engine proved to be impracticable under the circumstances, it was caused by no defect in its construction, or the principle involved, nor from a lack of power and ability to perform all the duties that might have been required; but from this cause alone, that the road had not been built to sustain such a weight as it was called upon to bear when this new instrument of power was placed upon it. The road had been constructed for horsepower alone, as all other roads were in this country at that early period, and for a long time after, even in England. No idea of a locomotive had then been conceived in this country. Nevertheless, these machines were the forerunners of a mighty race of iron monsters, which only two years after were to be seen traversing every section of the country, even stretching their course from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

We will now leave the "Stourbridge Lion " where we last heard of it, by the roadside, snugly stowed away in a shed, constructed of hemlock-boards, purchased from Jason Torry, Esq., as it appears from the copy of the original entry in his books, in November, 1829, and pursue our history a few years later, by recording events which soon after followed the advent of the Lion.


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