Mississippi locomotive. Photos courtesy Bonhams.
Each October, Bonhams conducts a sale in conjunction with the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia. It’s an auction that exists solely for selling preserved, unrestored cars, some of them pristine, some needing a ton of work. This year, there’s a new twist: Bonhams will offer four pieces of railroad rolling stock (plus a replica of a K4S locomotive cab), all from the collection of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
Leading the offerings is the British-built steam locomotive Mississippi, believed to have been built in 1834 by London’s Braithwaite and Ericson. How it was delivered to the deep South remains a matter of conjecture, but the locomotive is thought to have entered service in 1837. That makes it among the oldest locomotives in the United States, and it’s further thought to be the first self-propelled rail engine of any kind used in the South.
During the Civil War, the Mississippi was used to supply Confederate troops during the Union’s siege of Vicksburg. Captured by the Union Army, the locomotive was then pressed into service for the North, but its post-war years become a bit hazy. Circa 1880, the Mississippi was restored by J.A. Hoskins, who reportedly used it to haul gravel, and in 1891, it became the property of the Illinois Central Railroad. Restored by its new owners, the locomotive was displayed at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and for the next four decades made somewhat regular public appearances. In 1938, the Mississippi became part of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s permanent collection, and in 1965 the historic locomotive was once again restored by former owners Illinois Central.
Replica of the 1825 John Stevens “steam wagon,” built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1928.
Next is a replica of the 1825 “steam wagon” John Stevens, constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1928 as a way to promote both its own history and that of early railroading in the United States. Stevens’s namesake creation was built as a proof of concept to demonstrate the merits of steam propulsion for railways, and its initial track was a half-mile circle located in the inventor’s Hoboken, New Jersey back yard. The John Stevens replica, like the original, uses a rack system with a center gear for propulsion instead of relying upon the friction between wheels and rails. Its wheels are also flangeless, with the locomotive held in place on the rails by vertical roller guides positioned behind each wheel.
Replica of the 1831 York locomotive, built by the B&O Railroad in 1927.
Another early locomotive offering is a replica of the York, a coal burner first built by Phineas Davis in 1831 and used by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Named for the Pennsylvania city where it was constructed, the original York was entered into a locomotive competition patterned on a similar trial held in Britain. Of the five steam engines entered in the six-month trial, the York proved to be the clear winner, and with minor modifications entered service with the B&O Railroad in July of 1831. Capable of hauling up to 15 tons of passengers and cargo (on a flat track) at a speed of 15 MPH, the York was said to have a top speed of 30 MPH under the right conditions. The replica on offer was constructed in 1927 by the B&O in preparation for its “Fair of the Iron Horse,” an event that honored 100 years of railroading in America.
Replica of an 1859 Chicago City Railway horsecar, constructed circa 1929.
Other early railroad-related items to be offered by Bonhams include a replica of an 1859 horse-drawn transit car that once operated in Chicago, and a model of a K4S steam locomotive cab built for the 1933-’34 Century of Progress Fair in Chicago. Because of their size and weight, none of the locomotives or rail cars will actually be present in Philadelphia, and special arrangements must be made in advance to inspect (and take possession of) the lots offered.
The “Preserving the Automobile” auction takes place at the Simeone Museum on Monday, October 5. To learn more, or to schedule a preview of the items, visit Bonhams.com.