The B&O Railroad Museum announced today that it has acquired at auction the locomotive “York” from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Acquisition of this 1926 replica of the 1831 B&O Railroad Locomotive “York” completes the Museum’s collection of the three working replicas of early B&O locomotives built by the B&O’s own Mt. Clare Shops in Baltimore for “The Fair of the Iron Horse”. The Fair was the two-week long extravaganza held at Halethorpe, Maryland in the fall of 1927 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the B&O Railroad. As America’s First Railroad, the B&O’s Centenary celebrated not only the history of the B&O, but the transformational effect of railroads on the history of America. The Fair attracted over a million people from all over the world to Baltimore. Locomotives both historic and modern from other railroads from as far away as England were on site to help with the celebration.
The B&O was not only the nation’s first long distance commercial railroad – it was also the railroad most devoted to preserving the key artifacts of its history. While the original York had long been lost by 1927, enough of its “descendants” were still around to make possible a highly authentic replica. The “York” will shortly rejoin the other two replicas built in 1927 for the Fair – Peter Cooper’s “Tom Thumb” (original 1830) and “Lafayette” (original 1837) – in the Museum’s spectacular Roundhouse on West Pratt Street.
Courtney B. Wilson, the Museum’s Executive Director, remarked; “…this acquisition repatriates an important locomotive to Baltimore. The “York” represented an important technological step in early railroad motive power development with features that would define how steam engines were built into the 1950’s. We are delighted to now be able to showcase this important step in locomotive evolution to our visitors.”
In 1831 the B&O Railroad planned a locomotive competition similar to the Liverpool & Manchester’s famous Rainhill trials of 1829 in England. Five locomotives were entered in the competition, held between January and June of that year. The winning locomotive was the “York,” named for York, Pennsylvania where the locomotive was constructed. It was the work of Phineas Davis (1795-1835), a watch-maker and early steam advocate, and built with the help of his partner Morris J. Garner (sometimes spelled Gartner).
Significantly, “York” was a four-wheel, vertical boiler locomotive with a short wheel base similar to Cooper’s “Tom Thumb.” It featured a pair of vertical cylinders that drove vertical main rods that connected to horizontal side rods, which powered the wheels. Designed to burn anthracite coal, the “York” was deemed most successful of the five locomotives in the competition and after some alterations entered service on the B&O where it hauled passenger trains on the line from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now Ellicott City), Maryland. In July 1831, it was reported to have hauled a five car train with 150 passengers on board. It was capable of hauling 15 tons at 15 mph on level track, and could reach speeds of 30 mph, truly impressive statistics for the period.
After its performance at the “Fair of the Iron Horse,” the locomotive was sent to Chicago to participate in the Century of Progress fair held in 1933 and 1934. Afterwards, B&O Railroad officials donated the replica to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry for its permanent collection. In 1966, it was loaned for display in York, Pennsylvania, where it resided until 1976, when it was then loaned to the B&O Railroad Museum (then operated by the Chessie System) as part of Baltimore & Ohio’s 150th anniversary displays in 1977. Although Chessie System officials and the Museum coveted the replica and hoped to keep it on long term loan, in 1980 it was returned to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry to be part of a railroad-themed exhibition.
The B&O Railroad Museum will develop plans to incorporate “York” into its permanent exhibition “Roads to Rails” which interprets the birth and early development of railroading in the Western Hemisphere. Museum officials are working to have the locomotive transported from Chicago to Baltimore over the next thirty to sixty days. www.borail.org
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