Railroading in the 19th century more often than not was a family affair. Generation after generation, fathers and sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, too, would follow each other into railroad service. One such family was the Minshulls. As Richard Palmer researched the fate of Master Mechanic John Minshull, he discovered that Minshull's father Edward was also employed by the Midland in the important position of foreman of the Oswego car shop and John's brother Phillip was a mechanic in Middletown. Oswego was home to the main shops of the Oswego Midland, no doubt due to the influence of president Dewitt C. Littlejohn. Both John and Edward worked in these buildings, which are believed to be the original Midland shops.
The Minshull name is inextricably linked to the steam inspection car which John Minshull was riding when he lept to his death. This tale has been widely known since Dr. Helmer's O&W was first published. Little did any of us know that, over thirty years later, Dick Palmer's research would illuminate new chapters in Midland history.
Edward Minshull was Master Mechanic in the Oswego shops as far back as 1875. From an account of a mysterious inquisition in the Oswego Palladium Times, it seems as if misuse of corporate assets was a problem on the Midland over one hundred twenty-five years ago. Despite Dick's research in the Oswego papers, he has yet to find any further details on this situation.
G. Stevens, General Manager of the Midland Railroad, as a wind
up to his tour of inspection, held a court in Oswego in the waiting
room of the depot, for the trial of John Minshull, Master Mechanic
of the road, the charge being the misappropriation of material
and labor; the labor as alleged having been expended in the construction
of a house in Oswego for the father of the Master Mechanic, and
at his instigation. Some thirty witnesses were examined and able
counsel appeared on both sides. The judge,
"a most noble one", reserved his decision. The end is not yet.
References to the car from which John Minshull made his fatal jump have listed it as Inspection Car 3. The unanswered question is, was there a 1 and a 2? Gleaning any mention of the Midland from old newspapers has confirmed that indeed, there were at least three steam powered inspection cars. What follows are newspaper accounts of the Minshulls, of the special inspection car, but mostly the tragic events of August 12, 1879. Dick Palmer keeps searching microfilm and yellowed pages for Midland tidbits and we may have more to add to this saga as his sleuthing carries on.
The earliest reference found so far to a steam inspection car is this June 1, 1877 newspaper account of a "steam hand car" making a test run to Bloomingburgh. Apparently the car was the cause of much excitement along the Midland, as many more accounts followed. We will let the reporters speak for themselves.
|The new steam hand car which Master Mechanic Minshull, of the Midland, has built for inspection purposes, made a trip to Bloomingburgh and back this morning. It uses hardly a shovelful of coal. It is a perfect little locomotive, with upright boiler and engine, which is several horsepower. The engine has a nine inch stroke and the cylinder a four inch bore. It will run the machine about 30 miles an hour.|
|Manager Stevens, Supt. Purdy and Master Mechanic Minshull started on a tour of inspection over the Midland today from Middletown with the steam hand car. The car can be made to run 35 miles an hour or faster, and is supplied with steam brakes by which it can be stopped almost immediately.|
A new small platform lately constructed in the Midland
Machine Shops in Middletown for the use of the bridge department
and road master, arrived in Norwich Wednesday evening, after
a successful first trip. It is a magnified copy of the common
hand car with an upright boiler and engine of small proportions
affixed to propel it instead of hand power.
A seat capable of accommodating four persons runs across
the front end affording a view for inspection of track, bridges,
and roadway. It is reported to be a mechanical success and was
built of entirely new material, with castings from patterns and
drawings all prepared at the expense of the company.
Minshull, engineered the machine until entering Norwich station, Purchasing Agent Purdy, in kids and Goodyear rain coat, sensationally assumed the throttle performing the feat of shutting off steam; the ingenious steam brake attached to the car stopped it, General manager John G. Stevens under that familiar linen hat, and inside a rubber coat, dismounted the lesser lights following. The manager, mechanic, General Road Master, and Purchasing Agent, in their rubber coats and hand bags, marched to the American Hotel.
The trip was an interesting one, 148 and seven
tenths miles on an open car, and the roadway was found to be
in excellent condition, the bridges and
|On Friday Supt.
Lanpher telegraphed to us from up the road, an invitation to
make an excursion on the new steam car constructed for his and
Supervisor Babcock's use. We were a little behind the time appointed
and awaited the return of the Chenango Union special which had
gone to North Norwich. On its return, Supt. Lanpher escorted
our Editor in chief to the post of honor - the revolving backed
seat on the front - and Mr. Babcock assisted the local to the
engineer's seat and pointed out to him the throttle.
His right hand had not forgot its cunning, and with assistance of Richard Reddin, who has charge of the mechanical portion of the car at present, we ran out north, slowly until the straight good track beyond the bridge was reached, then we skimmed along toward North Norwich, at the rate of about twenty-five miles an hour, or more, until the Supt. raised his hand in a manner suggestive of a reduction of speed and a stop.
The steam break works like a charm and brought us to a stand quickly. Then turning over the seat and facing Southward we again tried the speeding qualities of the machine to the bridge, the exhaust, the breeze and clatter over the rail joints, almost making us believe that we were running the Ulster County Express, and expected Duffield to pull the bell. The stop was made at the depot as easily and nicely as though a Westinghouse air brake was attached.
Then Master Mechanic Williams ran the car to the shops, gave us a tour through them, exhibited the finest model in New York of his new valve motion, and sent us back again by rail to East street. The car is all that it should be, mechanically, and will be of great service in the examination of the road or bridges. It can be run for a dollar a day, much less than would be required to pay men to "pump" a hand car over the road in case of a tour of inspection by officials.
While all this steam hand car excitement was going on, John Minshull was married to Miss Fannie A. Moore in Middletown on June 13, 1877.
evening last, a flat car, something larger than the ordinary
hand car, with upright boiler and diminutive engine, arrived
at the Norwich station of the Midland Railroad, from Middletown,
on its trial trip. Manager John G. Stevens, Master Mechanic Minshull,
Superintendent Purdy, and Road Master Burdick, occupied seats
upon the platform - a settee, seating four persons, being placed
across the front, while those seated in the rear of the engine
occupied boxes and tool chests.
These officials, with the exception of Superintendent
Purdy, who gave place to
Superintendent Lanpher, left on Thursday morning
for Oswego, returning to this place on Friday afternoon, when
members of the press and others availed themselves of the invitation,
and enjoyed a lively ride towards North Norwich and back.
|The steam hand car passed over this branch of the Midland on Monday last. It is a novel car, and must be very handy for the Track Inspectors to visit different sections of the road. They made the time in running from Norwich to DeRuyter in one hour and forty minutes.|
Then came the first shred of evidence that the famous Minshull inspection engine No. 3 was not the only such device. Almost as an afterthought, the reporter for the Orange County Press in Middletown tantalizes us in the last paragraph that the car referred to in the article was the second built and a third was under construction-presumably the ill-fated No. 3.
A new steam hand car which Mr. C.W. Lampher, Supt. of the northern division of the New York & Oswego Midland, has built at the Norwich shop, arrived at Middletown last night just behind the milk train. It was the car's first trip over the Middle Division, although it was taken from the shop several days ago. Mr. Lampher and bridge builder D. Lamont were the passengers, having come over the road to inspect the trestles and bridges.
The car works handsomely in every way. It has two pistons and a patent valve, and is supplied with an air brake, which will stop in twice its length, no matter how fast it is running. The little thing can run forty miles an hour, and on the northern division made it safely, nineteen miles in thirty minutes.
Coming into Middletown it made the milk train's time from Summitville, which is very fast. The car has four chairs with spring seats, and it rides like a palace coach. It was built, we understand, principally at Mr. Lampher's private expense. The work was done under the supervision of Mr. Ed Williams, Supt. of the Norwich shop, who is well known as a former engineer on the eastern end of the road.
This is the second steam car that has been built for the road. The first was constructed at Middletown by Master Mechanic Minshull, who now has a third one under way to be completed in a few weeks. The steam cars save no little "elbow grease," the wages of a gang of several workmen, and much time in the trips.
|The new steam car which was built at the Midland Railroad shops at Middletown lately made a trip to Norwich, a distance of 149 miles, at an average rate of speed of 45 miles an hour. On two favorable sections it ran 15 miles in 15 minutes. It is only 10 feet long and has a 33 inch wheel, but it is built for speed.||
It is intended for trips of inspection over the road, where an engine would otherwise have to be used. The steam car, which can be managed by one person will carry half a dozen, will thus save the work of an engine and the wages for an engineer whenever her trips are necessary.
In a 1943 issue of Railroad magazine offering a roster of O&W locomotives, the following observation was made about Inspection Car 3: "Old time O&W officials didn't like this quadrocycle built for four; contended they wanted no beefsteaks dropped in their laps. But, then, they had never heard of a meat shortage. Officially listed as Steam Inspection Car No. 3, this novel piece of equipment weighed 7,000 pounds, had 3 3/8 x 8 1/2 cylinder."
We soon found out that John Minshull was not the first to have a serious accident with a steam inspection car. John's brother Philip, who was a mechanic in Middletown, was involved in this accident just short of one year before his brother's fatal trip.
Mr. Philip H. Minshull, brother of Master Mechanic Minshull of the Midland Railroad, was quite badly hurt at this place today on the little steam car which has been mentioned in the Press as capable of running very fast and being stopped so quickly. Young Minshull is regularly employed as a machinist in the shops here, but he has charge of the steam car whenever it goes out with the officers of the road.
Yesterday he took out General Freight Agent of B.W. Thatcher and his clerk F.W. Getty, from the New York office, who had freight business to do up the road. They stopped over night at Liberty and this morning started back for Middletown. Mr. Thatcher and his clerk were anxious to reach Middletown in time to take the Erie Train No. 4 which leaves here for New York at 10:01 A.M. To do this it was necessary to make quick time, and they were running under "wild cat" orders for the station. With Mr. Thatcher and Mr. Getty on the chairs in front and young Minshull acting as engineer, the steam car behaved properly and with a little crowding toward the last, they thought they would reach here in time.
They crossed the "yard limits" of Middletown
near the round house shortly before ten o'clock, disregarding
the rule requiring trains to run slowly through the yard. The
steam car was running at the rate of thirty or forty miles an
hour when suddenly in the crooked cut near the Wickham Avenue
Depot they saw the tender of Engine 82, Ed McNiff engineer, which was backing slowly up towards the round house, having the right of the yard.
They were almost together before either could see the other. McNiff reversed his engine instantly and young Minshull applied his steam brake, but it was too late. The engine came nearly to a stand-still but the steam car could not be stopped and it struck the tender with considerable force. Mr. Thatcher and Getty jumped off before the collision and escaped comparatively unhurt, but Minshull by remaining at his post to put on the brakes was thrown forward. He received a cut over the eye, another cut under the eye, his right wrist was dislocated and his right leg was cut below the knee. He was sensible, however, and at first was able to walk, but afterwards had to be carried to his home with his brother on Liberty street. His injuries are pronounced not serious.
Mr. Getty, who jumped and fell heavier and rolled down the bank, suffered considerably by his fall. The jumping saved their lives, for the front of the steam car and the chairs in which they had been setting were fairly crushed, and drivers under the tender of the engine. They took Erie Train No. 6 at 1:10 this afternoon for New York.
The engine was not damaged except as to the brakes on the tender, but the steam car was stove in considerably. Had it been two locomotives the damage would have been far greater.
|On Wednesday afternoon last while Master Mechanic Minshull, of the New York & Oswego Midland R.R., was riding on a steam car accompanied by the Superintendent of the Southern Division, enroute for Oswego. When near East Branch a team was seen on a crossing, and a collision being imminent, Minshull attempted to jump off, and in doing so was thrown with great violence, striking upon his||
head and shoulders rendering him insensible for a time, and it is thought that he is dangerously, if not fatally injured.
His wife and a physician were telegraphed for, and arrived at East Branch about 5 P.M. and we learn at the latest report that the physician does not consider his injuries of a fatal character, but it is feared that his skull is fractured.
We last week published an account of the accident to John E. Minshull, Master Mechanic of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad at East Branch, on Wednesday last. At the time of the accident it was not thought that his injuries were of a fatal character and until near midnight, Monday, he was thought to be improving, but at near that hour he began to grow worse, and died at 4:30 Tuesday morning.
Mr. Minshull had been in the employ of the Midland since the road was built, first being employed in the Oswego shops. He then went on as a fireman
and was soon promoted to engineer; from
that he was promoted to foreman of the Middletown shops, and
some two years ago was made Master Mechanic of the entire road.
He was very popular with the men under him and universally respected
by his associates on and off the road.
Mechanic John Minshull, of the Midland
Railroad, met with a distressing accident on Wednesday of last week. While riding with others on a steam hand-car, near East Branch, a team was seen on
the crossing, and a collision appearing imminent, Minshull jumped off, striking upon his head, and rolling down a bank. He was insensible for a time, and is seriously if not fatally injured. It is believed his skull is fractured, with concussion of the brain, and on Thursday he hovered between life and death,
but his symptoms are since more favorable, and
Later. - Since the above was in type, we learn
that Mr. Minshull died at half-past four o'clock on Tuesday morning,
a sudden change for the worse
On Thursday morning at 5:20 a special train, drawn by Engine
No. 54 heavily draped in mourning, bearing in large letters the
name of "John Minshull," left this station with some
twenty-five of the Midland officials and employees on board to
attend the funeral of John Minshull at Middletown.
Many floral offerings adorned
the casket, the gift of his associates and friends. At the conclusion of the sad ceremony, the body was borne to the cemetery followed by a very large concourse of mourning friends. Among the officials and employees present were General Manager Stevens, Passenger Agent Thacher, Supts. Lanpher and Purdy, Conductors Shattuck, Coburn and Briggs, Freight Solicitor Flynn of Norwich, Car Inspector Craig, Division Operator Darbee, and a number of employees of the Norwich office. All the rolling stock and stations on the road are draped in mourning as a mark of respect to the deceased.
John Minshull, Master Mechanic of the N.Y. &
O. Midland Railroad, died Tuesday morning at half-past four o'clock
at East Branch station, from the effects of injuries which he
received in jumping from a steam car near that place on Tuesday,
Aug. 12th. On that morning, as was related in the Press,
They went on the little steam car which was built for such purposes. The car is similar in construction to an ordinary hand-car, except that it is provided with an engine and run by steam. It is capable of running from forty to sixty miles an hour, but is provided with steam brakes, and when in full motion can be brought to a stand-still in going a very few lengths. It is provided with seats for three passengers on the front of the car. Engineer Sharon was in charge of the car.
They had nearly reached East Branch, a small way station in Delaware county, seventy-two miles from Middletown, when the accident happened, about one o'clock in the afternoon. They were running along at the rate of about thirty miles an hour on a straight piece of track, when suddenly they saw a team approaching the crossing from a short turn in the highway. They were close to the crossing, and a collision seemed inevitable. The three men on the car involuntarily raised to their feet to get a better view. Messrs. Purdy and Danforth immediately settled back into their seats, having seen that they would miss the team, which the driver had reined into the bank.
The car was stopped a couple of lengths over the crossing,
and when they
A dispatch was immediately sent to Middletown to send his wife and physician by a
special train at all speed. In about two hours afterwards Dr. Burke Pillsbury and Mrs. Minshull of this village were at East Branch.
Another special train was dispatched from here the same
evening with leeches to be applied to the injured man's head
for the purpose of relieving the pressure of blood upon the brain.
There was a fracture of the skull at the base of the brain and
a severe concussion of the brain. It was a serious and a doubtful
case from the beginning. He never fully recovered his senses
after the accident. The injured man lay most of the time in a
comatose state, sleeping apparently, but waking often and complaining
of pain in his
When awake he could be aroused by a question and would make a natural answer but would soon sink back into his former condition. After the first few days it was hoped he was improving, until Sunday, when he spent a very restless day. Leeches were applied a second time, bringing relief, but it was undoubtedly the pressure of blood on the inside of the skull that caused his death. On Monday morning he appeared to be better, suffering less pain, but his physician feared this was a sign of dissolution and so it proved.
His condition remained apparently unchanged until four o'clock Tuesday morning, when he began failing rapidly, and about thirty minutes later he breathed his last.
There were with him when he died, his wife, her brother, Mr. Chauncey B. Moore, Mr. Danforth, Dr. Pillsbury, and members of Mr. Hall's family. His wife was with him constantly after her arrival there. Mr. Danforth never left him after the accident, and the doctor was with him most of the time.
John Minshull was born in England, and came to this country with his parents when he was about eight years of age. His father, Mr. Edward Minshull, now foreman of the Oswego shops of the N.Y. & O. Midland found employment in the shops at Susquehanna. (Note: Erie R.R. shops) There the son learned his father's trade of machinist beginning when he was about fourteen years of age and mastering the trade before he left. For a few years afterwards he was unsettled, working at his trade and following different pursuits.
He was in the oil regions for a time, was in Chicago for awhile, then in Cortland, afterwards in the R.R. shops at Rome, and finally settled down where his family then resided. He was employed in different manufactories there, in Ames' shops, in Kingsford's, and finally went into the Midland Railroad shops there, of which his father was then foreman. While in Oswego he became an active member of the Volunteer Fire Department, being connected with Engine, now Steamer Company No. 3.
He was connected with the Midland for about nine years. He was employed in the Oswego shops only a short time when he began running on the road, first as fireman, then as engineer under
Master Mechanic Wm. H.Griggs. He ran on the Northern Division and on the Delhi Branch, and later on the Middle Division. The last running he did on the road as engineer, was on an express freight, carrying butter and cheese between Norwich and Middletown.
In 1874 he was made foreman of the Middletown shops,
and filled the position satisfactorily for about a year. After
the road was closed up by heavy snows, in the winter of 1874-75.
and when Mr. H.M. Flint took charge
As Master Mechanic of the Midland, Mr. Minshull has had
much to do with bringing the road up to a paying basis. He brought
the rolling stock into
He was a man of remarkable energy, industry and perseverance, and he had the skill and judgment which made him the right man in the right place. He was probably one of the youngest master mechanics in this country, being under thirty years of age, and he was unusually successful. His death will be a heavy loss to the Midland Railroad, and his place will be hard to fill.
There was no man connected with the road the loss of whose services would be more generally regretted than his, and whose death would be more deeply mourned. He was regarded by all the employees of the road as a friend, and by his immediate associates as a brother.
Quick and impetuous in his speech and action, he had a warm and generous heart, and there was no service that he could do for his men or for a friend that he would not do. The proof of the sincere sorrow with which the news of his death was received by the employees of the road could plainly be seen in their faces. The news of his death was received with almost equal sorrow by the citizens of this village, as it will be all along the line and wherever he was known.
He was married on the 12th of June, 1877, to Miss Fannie, daughter of the late Ira Moore, of this town, a young lady who had been a popular teacher in the schools of this village and they were very devoted to each other. Their residence was on Liberty street, to which place his lifeless remains were carried today.
The bereavement falls with
heavy weight upon the young wife, who within the space of two years has lost her mother, her only sister, and now her husband.
The immediately family of the deceased consists of his
father, mother, five brothers and one sister. The sister has
been for some time visiting his
His body was brought to Middletown by special train at 1:45 Tuesday afternoon. The engine No. 11 and the coach No. 104 were draped in mourning.
The train was in charge of Conductor Brazee, J. Burke,
A special train over the N.Y. Midland from Oswego arrived
in town at 2 p.m. Wednesday, with the father, mother and five
younger brothers of the late John Minshull, and about twenty
employees of the road, who came here to
Rev. Dr. U. Marvin, of Troy, acting pastor, conducted the services. The employees of the Midland attended in a body and most of the officials and many of the station agents were present.
The funeral took place on Thursday afternoon 21st inst.,
So now, were there any additional cars built by the Midland? No reports beyond the infamous events near East Branch have appeared to suggest that. Were the cars used after the deadly accident? No later evidence via newspaper accounts or otherwise has come to light. Did the O&W inherit them? What was there fate? Thomas B. Girard, Chief Dispatcher in Middletown when the road closed, (born in 1890) remembered sitting in the little inspection car as a 10 year old in Middletown storage. It was probably destroyed at the turn of the century.
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