Monday, January 02, 2017

Another piece of America --- scrapped

Back in September of 2015, I wrote about the great scrap metal drive of 1942 --- part of the World War II defense effort --- that claimed Chariton's two Civil War-era bronze cannon as well as artillery pieces that once flanked the entrance to Yocom Park.

Another footnote to Lucas County history --- this mighty locomotive --- also fell victim to a World War II scrap drive, but in Ames, where "Old Ironsides" had been displayed since 1907 on the Iowa State University campus. The photo is from the Lucas County Historical Society collection.


The vintage locomotive had belonged to Chariton's Smith H. Mallory, whose companies were major players in the building of America's rail network across Iowa, then Kansas and finally in Colorado and other western and southwestern states from 1867 until the 1890s, when he retired, more or less, to his mansion, Ilion. It probably was the major component of the "railroad grading" outfit listed with a value of $1,000 on the 1903 inventory of his estate.

Mallory's heirs, wife Annie and daughter Jessie Mallory Thayer, faced a considerable challenge in disposing of what was in effect a giant iron white elephant. But then Jessie was able to interest faculty of the engineering department at what then was the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in the beast. She had it transported to the Ames campus and installed near the engineering building where a corrugated iron shed was constructed to protect it.

Here's how the Iowa State College "Bulletin" of May, 1907, acknowledged the gift: "The estate of S.H. Mallory, of Chariton, Iowa, has presented a narrow gauge locomotive, one of the first in service on the mountain roads of Colorado. The valve mechanism is of the Waelschert type and the drivers and leading wheels are on a truck with the cylinders entirely separate from the boilers. The engine is a very interesting machine and will be the nucleus for a museum of railroad engineering."


Any interest that may have existed in developing a museum of railroad engineering waned, however, and by 1916 the locomotive's shed had vanished and it was sitting unprotected from the elements as a curiosity on the Ames campus. During that year, money was allocated to do some restoration work on it and that attracted the interest of The Des Moines Sunday Register, which featured the old iron horse in an article published during early December. The article then was duly reprinted under the headline, "Oldest Locomotive in Iowa," as follows in The Chariton Herald-Patriot of Dec. 26, 1916:

Sunday's issue of the Des Moines Register contained the following interesting article from Ames:

"In contrast with the modern type of locomotive engines, there now stands back of one of the engineering buildings at Iowa State College "Old Ironsides," reputed to be probably the first locomotive to cross the state of Iowa. If things other than human beings could talk, this remnant of the early type of engineering construction could unfold many interesting chapters of railroad building and pioneering in Iowa.

"Since 'Old Ironsides' became the property of the college it has been the subject of considerable interest for hundreds of curious freshmen as well as visitors to the college grounds. Since it has been on the campus the old locomotive has been in the open exposed to the elements, setting on its three-foot narrow gauge track, with never a belch of smoke puffing from its enormous funnel stack, nor even so much as a ray of light peering out from its huge oil-burning headlight. With students the old engine has become commonplace and unattended, save for its occasional use as the background for snapshots.

"But the relic is to be reclaimed and given a place in the college hall of fame, which is rightly deserved by the initial 'good injun.' The state board of education recently set aside $600 for the repair and overhauling of 'Old Ironsides' that it may be preserved for the future generations to look upon as the early type of railroad motor power.

"The engine is so old that even college authorities have no exact record as to its date of christening. Mrs. Jessie Mallory Thayer, of Chariton, Iowa, is the donor of the locomotive. For a time the engine was owned by Mrs. Thayer's father, S.H. Mallory, a pioneer railroad builder in Iowa. Upon the death of Mr. Mallory the engine passed out of service. After its days of usefulness were over, and the engine was leaning toward the dump heap, Mrs. Thayer conceived the idea of donating the veteran rail horse to the department of mechanical engineering at Iowa State College as a relic for educational purposes.

"Under the direction of Prof. W.H. Meeker of the mechanical engineering department, 'Old Ironsides' will be thoroughly renovated. The cabin and other wooden parts about its construction will be replaced, as will many of the metal portions. New glass will be refitted in its window-appearing headlight. The engine will be mounted on a two-foot mound, and with new rails for it to rest upon.

"From the records which are available the veteran locomotive probably was last used upon the Burlington system at Red Oak, Iowa. Castings which yet remain on the forward trucks indicate that once the engine was the property of the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf railroad, while other castings show the mark of Denver and Southern Park railroad. Initials on the front tender read Denver and Rio Grand railroad.

"The placement of most every part of the mechanism is contrary to the modern type of construction. In addition to having a narrow gauge, it has a side valve motion, while the drive wheels and cylinders are on a truck separate from the boiler. For 'Old Ironsides, when it was in its prime, six to eight loaded cars constituted a heavy pull on a moderate grade, while the monster locomotives of today make an easy task of drawing from fifty to sixty loaded cars."


The United States entered World War I during April of 1917, three months after The Register article was published, then republished, and there's no way of knowing if the projected restoration ever was carried out. If it were, interest waned again during the post-war and Depression years. By the early 1940s, "Old Ironsides" probably was among the biggest and perhaps least-lamented candidates for war effort recycling on the ISU campus.

It's highly unlikely that this was one of the earliest locomotives to cross Iowa --- the trans-Iowa rail lines all were standard gauge, not narrow.

Most likely, the Mallory companies acquired the locomotive when it began to build narrow-gauge lines in the West and elsewhere, including Illinois. But it's unlikely now that we'll ever know for sure. 

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