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CHAPTER XXXIV

FIRST LOCOMOTIVE IN NEW YORK

 

This locomotive, the "De Witt Clinton," stood upon the track already fired up, and with a train of some five or six passenger-coaches attached to it. These passenger-coaches were of the old-fashioned stage coach pattern, with a driver's seat or box upon either end outside. They had hitherto been used upon the road for passengers, and drawn by horse-power. At this early day when the road was just built, passengers took a car at the foot of the inclined plane in Albany, and were drawn up by a stationary engine to the top of the hill where the regular track commenced. Horses were then hitched to the cars and proceeded to the other end of the road, where another inclined plane, not then built, but soon after completed, with a stationary engine, lowered the cars into Schenectady. (Both these planes are now removed.) On arriving at the top of the plane at Albany on this memorable occasion, the engine and train were seen standing upon the track. The peculiar appearance of the machine and train (the first ever seen by the author) arrested his attention, and he at once resolved to make a sketch of the singular-looking affair and its equally singular-looking appendages. Drawing from his pocket a letter just received of a few lines only, written upon a whole sheet of paper (no envelopes were used at that day), and substituting his hat for a desk, he commenced his sketch of the unique machine standing before him. Meantime the excursionists were entering the cars, and the author had taken a hasty, rough drawing of the machine, the tender, the individual standing on the platform of the machine as its engineer, and the shape of the first passenger-coach, when a tin horn was sounded and the word was given, "All aboard," by Mr. John T. Clark, the master of transportation, he acted as conductor on that memorable occasion. No such officer as a conductor had been required upon a railroad before locomotives and long trains of cars were adopted. Before this event, in place of conductors, the drivers of the single-horse cars collected the tickets or fare, as omnibus-drivers do at the present time.

On this occasion, the two first cars, or coaches, as they were then called, and the third also, were just as the two are represented in our sketch. The remainder of the cars on the train were surmounted with seats made of rough plank to accommodate the vast crowd of anxious expectants assembled to witness the experiment and participate in this first ride on a railroad train drawn by a locomotive. The cars were crowded inside and outside; not an available position was unoccupied. Two persons stood ready for every place where one could be accommodated, and the train started on its route, leaving hundreds of the disappointed standing around.

As there were no coverings or awnings to protect the deck-passengers upon the tops of the cars from the sun, the smoke, and the sparks, and as it was in the hot season of the year, the combustible nature of their garments, summer coats, straw hats, and umbrellas, soon became apparent, and a ludicrous scene was enacted among the outside excursionists before the train had run the first two miles.

The author was an inside passenger on that ever memorable occasion. We say memorable, for it was one never to be forgotten. It was on the 9th day of August, 1831, when what was represented and known to be the first American locomotive ever run upon a railroad in the State of New York. Thus the sketch in our work, representing a locomotive, tender, and two passenger-cars attached, is, as we before stated, a truthful representation of one of the first railroad trains in America, and the very first run in the State of New York, and followed soon after the last successful locomotive experiments by Mr. Peter Cooper on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the advent of the first American-built locomotives for actual service upon the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad, in South Carolina. It was the third locomotive built in America for actual service. This engine was named the "De Witt Clinton," and is thus described by Mr. David Matthew, in his letter to the author in 1859:

"American engine No. 3 was called the 'De Witt Clinton.' It was contracted for by John B. Jervis, Esq., at the West Point Foundry, and was commenced by me to fit up in April, 1831, soon after the engines 'Best Friend' and 'West Point ' were completed and forwarded to Charleston.

"I left New York with the 'De Witt' on the 28th of June, 1831, and had steam on to commence running in one week from that time. The 'De Witt' had two cylinders five and a half inches in diameter and sixteen inches' stroke; four wheels, all drivers, four and a half feet diameter, with all the spokes turned and finished. The spokes were wrought-iron, hubs cast-iron, and the wheels tired with wrought-iron, inside crank and outside connecting-rods to connect all four wheels; a tubular boiler with drop furnace, two fire-doors, one above the other; copper tubes two and a half inches in diameter and about six feet long; cylinders on an incline, and the pumps worked vertically by bell-crank. This engine weighed about three and a half tons without water, and would run thirty miles an hour with three to five cars on a level, with anthracite coal, and was the first engine run in the State of New York on a railroad."

On this first excursion, on the 9th day of August, 183l, as no such officer as a conductor had been required upon the road, where hitherto no connected train of cars had been run, but where each driver officiated as collector of fares, Mr. John T. Clark, as the first passenger railroad conductor in the North, stepping from platform to platform outside the cars, collected the tickets which had been sold at hotels and other places through the city. When he finished his tour, he mounted upon the tender attached to the engine, and, sitting upon the little buggy-seat, as represented in our sketch, he gave the signal with a tin horn, and the train started on its way. But how shall we describe that start, my readers? It was not that quiet, imperceptible motion which characterizes the first impulsive movements of the passenger engines of the present day. Not so. There came a sudden jerk, that bounded the sitters from their places, to the great detriment of their high-top fashionable beavers, from the close proximity to the roofs of the cars. This first jerk being over, the engine proceeded on its route with considerable velocity for those times, when compared with stage-coaches, until it arrived at a water-station, when it suddenly brought up with jerk No. 2, to the further amusement of some of the excursionists. Mr. Clark retained his elevated seat, thanking his stars for its close proximity to the tall smoke-pipe of the machine, in allowing the smoke and sparks to pass over his head. At the water-station a short stop was made, and a successful experiment tried, to remedy the unpleasant jerks. A plan was soon hit upon and put into execution. The three links in the couplings of the cars were stretched to their utmost tension, a rail, from a fence in the neighborhood, was placed between each pair of cars and made fast by means of the packing-yarn for the cylinders, a bountiful supply being on hand (as the present brass-ring substitute had not then been invented). This arrangement improved the order of things, and it was found to answer the purpose, when the signal was again given, and the engine started.

In a short time the engine (after frightening the horses attached to all sorts of vehicles filled with the people from the surrounding country, or congregated all along at every available position near the road, to get a view of the singular-looking machine and its long train of cars; after causing thus innumerable capsizes and smash-ups of the vehicles and the tumbling of the spectators in every direction to the right and left) arrived at the head of the inclined plane at Schenectady, amid the cheers and welcomes of thousands, assembled to witness the arrival of the iron horse and its living freight.

After some time passed in the ancient city of Schenectady, and ample refreshments had been afforded, the word was given by conductor Clark to prepare for the return. The excursionists resumed their seats, and in due time, without any accident or delay, the train arrived at the point from which it had first started, the head of the inclined plane at Albany. The passengers were pleased with the adventures of the day, and no rueful countenances were to be seen, excepting occasionally when one encountered in his walks in the city a former driver of the horse cars, who saw that the grave had that day been dug, and the end of horse-power was at hand.

After the return to Albany, the author made a clean copy from his rough sketch of the engine "De Witt Clinton," and also the likeness of the engineer of the day, Mr. David Matthew, who controlled its movements on this memorable first occasion. As the tin horn sounded the signal for starting, just as the author had sketched the shape of the first of the passenger-cars in the train, he supplied the place of passengers with the likeness of several of the old citizens of Albany. Hence the appearance of Mr. Thurlow Weed, ex-Governor Yates, and others, as named in the article from the Boston Advertiser. This original picture, as we have before stated, was presented to the Connecticut Historical Society by the author. It has since been photographed by J. L. Howard & Company, of Hartford, and from this photograph the copy in lithograph by Sage & Son was taken; but the engine is there erroneously called an English machine, the "John Bull," and John Hampson, an Englishman, is said to have been the engineer. A second copy of this sketch, calculated to mislead the public, has just been circulated by a firm in Boston, called the Antique Publishing Company, to Haverhill Street, and copyrighted in l870. This picture, like the one by Sage & Son, is taken from the same photograph of the author's original sketch in the Hartford Institute, and in its history, like the other, purports to be a likeness of the English locomotive "John Bull," and an Englishman, John Hampson, the engineer. In this volume we shall furnish the evidence to show that the original picture in the Connecticut Historical Society Rooms was a true representation of the American locomotive " De Witt Clinton," the third American locomotive built for actual service, and the first American-built locomotive run in the State of New York; Sage & Son, and the Boston Antique Publishing Company, to the contrary notwithstanding.


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