First Railroad Passenger Train In Parkersburg
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For Early Parkersburg History and Old Pictures
The very first railroad passenger train into Parkersburg arrived over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on May 1, 1857,
from Grafton, making the 104 miles in about 14 hours, a distance which today's trains well cover in about three. A few years before, in 1851, a railroad was projected and planned, and a charter issued for it by the state of Virginia
under the name of the Northestern Railroad.
However, this road was not completed until 1858, and by that time, the Northwestern Railroad had become part of the B&O, according to the history of Miss Kate Harris, a- one-time resident of the city. On that May day came a wood burner, and the tracks over which it ran were of soft iron. the Bessemer process of steel not yet having been invented then. Made in England, these iron rails were about half the weight of today's rails, and had wooden blocks about three feet long as joint splicers.
The rails wore rapidly as a result of the softness of the iron and, after seeing some service, long slivers called snakeheads b e c a m e detached from the wearing surface, making wonderful curiosities for little boys lucky enough to have them. Passenger coaches of this first train were made of wood which was light in weight, short in length, and heated in winter by means of wood burning stoves, which did little more than generate carbon monoxide. Lighted with candles or oil lamps, these coaches made as fine a fire hazard as anyone could imagine, without the added handicap of traveling under their own self produced canopy of live sparks, smoke and hot ashes.
The locomotive that pulled the first train into Parkersburg was reportedly an old "camelback" designed and built by Ross Winans and put into service by the B & O in June, 1848. It was described as being "quite elegant", with red driving wheels, enameled boiler casings, and gleaming brass everywhere possible on the handles, the sand box, the steam chests and around the tall, funnel shaped smoke stack. Jesse Pierce was a young man who lived to a ripe old age. He was the driver of this first train into the city and, according to Miss Harris, Pierce never tired of telling of the wonder and admiration of the crowd and fearful awe which the Iron Horse inspired in those who watched its arrival.
Pie r c e apparently enjoyed showing off the monster, and ran it forth several times for the gratification of the spectators The railroad station at that time was at the Point, so many proudly watched from a safe distance away on the Little Kanawha River Bridge. One other account says that Abe Pfifer of this city was the engineer on the first train, his brother the fireman, and Ed O'Donnell of Greenwood, Doddridge County, the conductor. The chief concern was that the trains would run. Safety features hadn't come yet, and air brakes weren't even thought of, so the engineer had to rely on trainmen, called brakemen, to set the brakes by hand upon a whistle signal.
Cars were coupled with simple links of chains. Because the Coaches were of different heights, the cuplings were of different sizes for each railroad so that it often became necessary to offset, or bent, links. The last were termed "goosenecks." As crude as the old 1867 train might seem to us today, the railroads made gigantic strikes in the approximately 20 years. since the historic trip from Albany to Schenectady in 1831. Parkersburg's first train was monumental improvement over the call car, for instance, which was an open carriage on railroad wheels, with a sail mounted in the center of it, which the B&O tried out and abandoned since it couldn't tack with the wind.
The B&O also experimented with the Flying Dutchman, a railroad car designed by C. Dentmole, who had received prize of $500 for his idea. The idea was finally discarded, however. The Flying Dutchman was large, open railroad carriage with power furnished by a horse in the center of it on a treadmill geared to the axles, was successful. The passengers rode on benches built in a square around the center compartment, containing the horse. It is record that one horse could pull 20 pasengers 20 miles per hour. By comparison, the old "camelback" of 1857 was truly great innovation.
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