The Locomotive "Lightning"
of the Syracuse & Utica Railroad
Illustration is from Pictorial History of the Locomotive
compiled by William Wright.
Published by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company, 1899.
Many accounts of this locomotive have mistakenly said the locomotive
"Lightning" was built for the Utica & Schenectady Railroad
when, in fact, it was constructed for the Syracuse & Utica Railroad
by Norris Locomotive Works of Schenectady in 1849. It was constructed
and placed on the S.& U. within a short time after the railroad had
been relaid with iron rail, replacing the old strap rail that had initially
been laid a decade before.
Her fastest record was 16 miles and 88 feet in 13 minutes and 21 seconds
hauling 8 eight-wheel cars. What was unique about this locomotive was
that all of the wheels were solid forgings, the first of their kind ever
made in America. The engine weighed 20 tons. Unfortunately, the engine
was not a success and was scrapped within two years of its construction.
Simply put, it would not pull increasingly heavy loads and was difficult
One of the engine's first trial trips occurred on Jan. 28, 1850, when
it left Utica with six freight cars. It sped to Oneida, a distance of
27 miles, in 32 minutes, and to Syracuse, a distance of 53 miles, in an
hour and 10 minutes. It stopped at Oneida for seven minutes to "wood
up." It might have traveled even faster, if not for the fact that
this run was made in a severe snow storm.
Her record-breaking run was made on Jan. 31, 1850. She left Utica with
a train of six eight-wheel passenger cars, in a strong head-wind, and
made it to Syracuse in just 66 minutes, including fuel stops, making the
actual running time 54 minutes. At the time it was considered a world's
The Syracuse Daily Star of Feb. 1, 1850, gives details of the
"Her cylinders are 16 inches diameter, 22 inches stroke, placed
horizontal, midway of the cylindrical part of the boiler. One pair of
driving wheels, 7 feet in diameter are placed immediately under the
fire door. In front of the fire box are placed a pair of bearing wheels,
4 feet in diameter. The boiler is supported in front by four wheels
of 3½ feet in diameter, in a truck. The eccentrics are placed
on the outside of the wheels, attached to the crank wheel. Her valves
are worked direct, without the intervention of a rock arm.
"She uses her steam expansively for 1-8 to 7-8 of the stroke
of the piston, always preserving the same lead as when working at full
stroke. Great care has been taken to prevent the condensation of steam
before it enters, and while doing its duty, and in the cylinder. The
wheels were manufactured by the Messrs. Norris of solid wrought iron;
the spokes, hub and rim, all in one solid mass. She was built at Norris
Locomotive Works, Schenectady, by Edward S. Norris, after a plan furnished
by Septimus Norris. Her power, as a daily duty, is 600 passengers, 60
miles per hour.
"Her boiler contains 116 tubes, 2 inches diameter, 10 feet 3 inches
long; fire box outside; measures 5 feet by 3½ feet; water spaced
all around 3 inches. The boiler stands 5 feet 4 inches above the surface
of the rail. She has a beautiful brass lever-clock—a new plan
for ascertaining the height of water in the boiler, shown in a glass
tube; also a small hand lantern; an odometer attached to the wheel for
registering the number of revolutions of the driving wheels; also a
contrivance for adjusting any desired transfer of weight from the driving
wheels to the bearing wheels.
"Her beauty of construction is altogether superior to any thing
of the kind ever seen in this country. The character of the workmanship
is undoubtedly grand and accurate to mathematical nicety. The architectural
design throughout is faultless. The tender and tank is also a specimen
of beauty of design and good workmanship, resting upon 6 wheels, and
the tank surmounted by a handsome railing.
"The cost of this machine, we understand, is $15,800, which is
certainly a low price for such a machine. If $20,000 had been the cost,
the Syracuse railroad would economize in using such machines. We hope
before long to see her partner here, 'The Thunder.'
"The Messrs. Norris have the best and most complete shop in the
country, having it replete with the most approved tools and machinery,
the best of which are of their own manufacture. They employ from 200
to 300 men, and have now 210 men at work—certainly a great benefit
to Schenectady, as all the money paid them, some $7,000 on the 1st of
each month, goes into the pockets of the merchants. If Syracuse had
such an establishment, we should soon feel the benefit, as real estate
in Schenectady has advanced 75 percent since the opening of these splendid
works. We think that Syracusans could better and more substantially
show their appreciation of the talent and energies of the Messrs. Norris.
Let's have them here."