|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD
© SEPTEMBER 1965
TRACTION ENGINES AS LOCOMOTIVES
(1) A HYBRID FROM THE U. S. A.
JOHN P. MULLET
It was in the course of a period of correspondence with F. Hal Higgins of Oakland, California, some years ago, that he sent me this photograph of a most unusual traction engine type locomotive that has intrigued me ever since and about which he wrote as follows:
"This old timer now in the Angels Camp Museum has puzzled old steam fans for years as they scanned it for nameplates to pin date and manufacturer on. It has recently been gathered into a local museum with a local "director" in charge. He sent me this information on its pedigree which I seriously challenge until someone shows me proof. ‘Boiler made in Scotland by the Babcock Wilson Co., a wood burner carrying 180 lbs. of steam; it was built as a traction engine by what is now the J.I. Case Co., and was first used for many years in mining operations near Placerville, California. Purchased later by N.E. & J.A. McKay, it was brought down the mountain to Angels Camp and out to the McKay sawmill. Here it was changed to a logging locomotive at the mill blacksmith‘s shop, casting being made at the D.D. Demerest Co. at Altaville. Here JENNEY, as she was called, competed against the oxen whose drivers violently criticised and cussed her. Last worked in 1904.’"
Mr Higgins concludes by saying, "I can’t find any Scottish firm named Babcock & Wilson, though there was a steam engine exhibited in New York in 1870 by Babcock & Wilcox".
Unfortunately we have only this one photograph to help us, but examination of the traction engine shows its tender to be of typical British appearance. The driving wheels are most curious and give the impression of being original traction wheels with the strakes removed and flanges riveted or sweated on in place of them, the spokes apparently being braced with wood! There also appears to be part of the old compensating gear behind the driving wheel and it is possible that the latter has been moved in a bit (perhaps to suit the gauge?) as the curious flywheel is outside the driving wheel instead of inside as is usual. It also appears to retain its steering gear! Personally I cannot but feel doubtful as to the Babcock & Wilcox origin for the boiler. Unfortunately we cannot see the cylinder, but I do not think there is much doubt that it is just out of view behind the dome. Now in American practice it was usual to have an independent dome feeding to a cylinder mounted alongside the boiler and driving to a pin-crank on the end of the crankshaft (a so-called side-crank engine), which was unlike the British practice of a cylinder mounted on top of the boiler and driving to the centre of the crankshaft. Somehow the J.I. Case origin would on the face of it seem nearer the truth. Finally, in view of the boiler construction that is visible, the figure of 180 lbs. given as the pressure seems rather high. Perhaps 80 lbs. might be nearer the mark.
Whether or not there is anything British in this curious old hybrid, it is certainly a most interesting engine, and I should very much like to discover its true history.