The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2005

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The Locomotive "Lightning"

of the Syracuse & Utica Railroad


Richard Palmer

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 to maintain.

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 speed record.

The Syracuse Daily Star of Feb. 1, 1850, gives details of the locomotive:

"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."

© 2005, Richard Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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