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Ponemah Mills 1386
1894 General Electric
by Edward J. Paprocki, October 2000
amended by William E. Wood, April 2001
Engine #1386, the "Black Maria" (pronounced "Mariah"), was the first double truck direct-electric steeple cab freight locomotive ever produced by General Electric Company.
In 1893, the General Electric Company, itself only a year old, had completed it's first electric locomotive, which was a small, slow speed, four wheeled machine that was intended for switching service. It was deemed a success and the company accepted an order to build a second locomotive, to be larger, faster and suitable for regular railway freight service. The contract was with Cayadutta Electric Railway Company of Gloversville, NY, for the price of $14,500. After the contract was signed and the locomotive was being built, Cayadutta elected to buy two larger locomotives, but requested a release from the original contract (which it received). The locomotive was sold the following year in 1895 to the Taftville Cotton Mill (later renamed Ponemah Mills) in Taftville CT.
The mill owned one and a half miles of railroad plus sidings, which connected to the Norwich & Worcester, under lease to the New York & New England Railroad from 1895 to 1898. The line was used to bring freight into and out of the mill, as well as several small factories along the way. Being a progressive company, the mill was one of the earliest to use electric power. With the Norwich electric street railway near by, it seemed natural to have an electric locomotive and railway.
The locomotive was described in ELECTRICAL WORLD of September 8, 1894, as being a thirty-five ton, 500 volt D.C. machine with four motors designed to perform the ordinary work of a steam locomotive of similar capacity, where excess speeds are not requisite, up to thirty miles per hour. It has a pair of independent trucks, each having four wheels. Each pair of wheels is driven by it's own specially designed motor of the single reduction spur gear type, mounted upon the axle as in ordinary street car practice.
The cab rests on the trucks in a manner somewhat similar to that in which the ordinary passenger car is mounted, an ample margin for wear and strength being provided. The cab itself is constructed of sheet iron and windows in it are arranged as to give an almost unobstructed view from on position in all directions. The design of the cab was to give plenty of available floor space without making the top of the cab long enough to obstruct the sight. The form of the cab also makes a symmetrically shaped locomotive, which would become known as the "Steeple Cab" type locomotive - with hundreds built in the years to come.
The electrical equipment comprises, besides the motors, a series-parallel controller, control resistors, circuit breakers, and an air compressor, which provides the air for the brakes and whistle. In addition, there are the bell, headlights, and sand boxes. It's overall dimensions are 24 ft. long over draw bar, 11 ft. 2in. high, and 7ft. 4 in. wide. Wheels are 40 inches in diameter, with a single truck wheelbase of 6 feet. The draw bar pull was stated to be 14,000 pounds. The motor resistors, circuit breakers, and air compressor and its tank are all mounted inside the cab. The single brake cylinder is centrally mounted underneath.
The locomotive was originally supplied with a large wooden pilot on each end, draw bar couplers, two large headlights, a forty-pound brass bell, and whistle. It also had two trolley poles. In later years, the pilots were replaced with footboards, and knuckle couplers were added. The two headlights and one of the trolley poles were removed sometime during its seventy years of service at the mill. Those were the only changes the locomotive saw on it's outside. The nickname "Black Maria", was given to the locomotive by the property owners of Taftville, whose front yards it rode through for many a year.
The locomotive went into service in May 1895. It was in "trouble free" service for many years, with only major renovation being to update the motors in 1911. The change was due to a revision in the Mill's power supply. Its last trip hauling freight was August 3, 1964, bring a load of starch to the mill. Its last operation under power was August 11, 1964, when it drove itself onto a flatbed trailer for a trip to the "American Museum of Electricity" in Niskayuna, NY.
Engine #1386 rode the highways of Connecticut into New York and was off-loaded at the G.S.A. depot in Scotia, NY, near the General Electric Facility in Schenectady, NY (the "Electric City"). It stayed within the confines of the G.E. property from October 1964 until October 19, 1965. On October 19, 1965, with the help of the New York Central Alco switcher, the locomotive was moved from the G.S.A., along the freight sidings of Schenectady and up into Niskayuna. The locomotive was parked, along with two interurban cars from the Chicago, North Shore, and Milwaukee Railroad (numbers 162 and 710), on a section of track of the NYC Troy-Schenectady branch where the American Museum of Electricity had secured property. The Museum had acquired several acres of land and right-of-way along the Mohawk River in an area known to this day as "Lock-7". The plan was to develop a "working" museum with a loop track and erect storage and maintenance facilities at the site.
Unfortunately, the plans for the museum did not come to fruition. The locomotive sat on the siding, along with the two interurban cars, for six years. In the spring of 1971, several of the locomotive's "guardians" discovered that it and the interurban cars had been vandalized for copper. Several sections of copper bus bar and the compressor drive motor had been removed, in addition to a section of the locomotive's brass handrail and it's original whistle.
It was decided by the American Museum of Electricity to dispose of the equipment. The locomotive was offered as a donation to the Connecticut Electric Railway Association, in view of the fact that they had been found to have sort of a prior claim to it. The Association had approached the Ponemah Mills about acquiring the locomotive well before the American Museum of Electricity, and they had received a verbal commitment from the Mill's former management. The Mill's later management in New York City was unaware of that agreement.
With the help of Joseph D. Thompson, the Connecticut Electric Railway received the donation of Engine #1386, and for $400.00, purchased the Ponemah Mill's line material and Locomotive "C" (now renumbered S-193). The line material and Locomotive "C" were donated to the American Museum of Electricity by Ponemah Mills when they closed their electric train service in 1964.
On October 21, 1971, Engine #1386 was lifted off the siding tracks and onto a flatbed truck by the donated services of the Albany Crane Co. (courtesy of Robert White, a National Railway Historic Society member). With great care and many eyes watching, the locomotive rode down similar roads it was on six years prior, and arrived at the Connecticut Electric Railway's property the same day.
| Controls: K35-HH
Motors: 4 - LWP 20
Brakes: Train air K14F
Mr. Ben Anthony of the "Museum of Erie GE History", in Erie, PA for an article he supplied entitled "Archetype of Steeple Cabs, The Ponemah Mills Electric Locomotive" by Joseph D. Thompson. The article appeared in the National Railway Historical Society Bulletin number 6 in 1965.
Mr. William F. Heim for his photographs and copies of correspondences with GE in regards to Engine #1386.
Street Railway Journal - May 1895 article on "Power Source & Engine".
Trains Magazine - Volume 19, October 1959 - pages 24 & 25 "Meet The Black Maria" by B. Thomas Walsh, and Volume 26, February 1966 - page 10 picture "Move To Niskayuna, NY".
The N.R.H.S. bulletin, Volume 37, number 15 - page 17 picture "Loading The Black Maria Off The Siding At Niskayuna, NY For Trip To C.E.R".
Special thank you to Mr. William E. Wood, VP New England Region of the National Railway Historical Society, for sharing his archives, photographs, and history notes on Engine #1386.
Lastly, a major thank you to Mr. Joseph D. Thompson for being the primary "Guardian and Savior" of Engine #1386. Mr. Thompson work hard to protect, save and bring the locomotive to the Connecticut Electric Railway Association's Museum in Connecticut
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