Little Bits of History

September 15

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2017

1958: A Central Railroad of New Jersey (CRRNJ)  train derails. The CRRNJ built the Newark Bay Bridge to replace an older track built in 1901 which itself replaced a wooden bridge built in 1864. The bridge was opened in 1926 and had a pair of lifts which raised to permit ships to sail underneath. The longer of the two spans was 299 feet and the shorter was 211 feet. Vertical clearance went from 135 feet  when opened to 35 feet when closed and able to support rail traffic. Each span was independent and many safety features were built into the construction.

Safety measures included a set of markers before the bridge. Three signals (the first three-quarters of a mile before the bridge, the second a quarter mile, and a third 500 feet before the draw bridge, were part of this system. Also included was an automatic derailing device fifty feet past the last signal or 450 feet before the gaping span. The raised spans had to both be lowered and locked electronically before the signals and derail device could be cleared. Also, all the devices had to be in their most restrictive mode prior to one or both of the spans being raised.

During this day’s commute, all the signals were flashing in their restrictive modes as the span was raised. Despite this, commuter train #3314 did not stop at the signals. It was derailed by the final safety measure, but that was designed to knock the wheels off the track and stop an already slowing train. The train was moving at too great a speed for the final safety feature to be of any use. There wasn’t enough time for the train to grind to a halt before the two diesel locomotives pulling the train, along with the first two coaches of passengers plunged into the Newark Bay and sank, killing 48. A third coach was snagged by its rear truck and hung for two hours before it also fell into the Bay.

Three different entities investigated the wreck. All found that no “dead man’s control” was in use and was the primary cause of the accident. Since the crew were killed in the accident, they were unable to explain their actions and/or inactions. The 63 year old conductor was found to have heart disease but he died of drowning and so it was not thought to be the immediate problem. The 42 year old fireman was found to be healthy and there was no explanation as to why he could not or did not stop the train. Although the locomotives were raised, their brakes were found to be in working order. They were refurbished and put back into service without further incident. The supposed cause of the accident was thought to be the incapacitation of the engineer and without a dead man’s control and the fireman’s inaction, the train plunged into the waters. CRRNJ went out of business in 1976 when filing for bankruptcy for the third time. The bridge closed in 1980 and was dismantled in 1988.

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer. – Corrie Ten Boom

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

People’s lives are in the care of the railways when they get on a train. The railways should remember that. – Nina Bawden




Picking Up Steam

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2015
John Bull

John Bull

September 15, 1831: John Bull takes to the tracks. The steam locomotive was built in Newcastle, England by Robert Stephenson and Company for the Camden and Amboy Railroad (C&A), the first railroad built in New Jersey. Shipping a steam locomotive brought its own problems and it was dismantled and shipped overseas in crates. Once in America, C&A engineer Isaac Dripps rebuilt it to the best of his ability. There were no instructions included with the shipment. It ran for the first time on this date. Robert Stevens was president of the C&A at the time and repaid some political debts by hosting trips on the short test tracks owned by the company. Included were members of the New Jersey legislature, local dignitaries, and Napoleon’s nephew Prince Murat. His wife, Catherine Willis Gray, hurried aboard the train so she could be the first woman to ride a steam locomotive in America.

After these demonstration trips, the locomotive was put in storage until construction on the tracks was completed. Horse-drawn cars were used to help build the first set of tracks which was finished in 1833. C&A used both numbers and an official name for their early locomotives and this was number 1 and named Stevens after their president. While that was the official name, common usage dubbed the engine John Bull, a reference to the cartoon depiction of England named John Bull. In 1836, John Bull and two coaches were shipped by canal to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and became the first locomotive to operate there, as well.

There were modifications made to the engine over time. The tracks in the US were of poorer quality than those in England and the 0-4-0 construction was inadequate to the task, causing frequent derailments. The C&A’s engineers added a leading truck with an unpowered axle which helped to steer the locomotive around curves and helped with the problem. John Bull became a 4-2-0 engine. He was retired in 1866. C&A was merged into different railways over time and in 1876, with the country celebrating its 100th birthday, John Bull was seen as a great display. Modifications were made for the event and then the owners continued to display the engine. In 1885, John Bull was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution.

John Bull was refurbished and remained on display for 80 years at the East Hall of the Arts and Industries building. It would be transported for display outside the building for momentous events. In 1893 it traveled to the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. In 1927, it went to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad celebration in Maryland. While the Smithsonian recognized the historicity of the artifact, they did not have the funds to refurbish it and so John Bull languished for decades. As his 150th birthday approached, they decided to give the engine some help. They got the engine running and in 1981, John Bull became the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world.

A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time. – Alfred Wiggam

The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell. – Andrew Carnegie

What we hope ever to do with ease we may learn first to do with diligence. – Samuel Johnson

The best tunes are played on the oldest fiddles. – Sigmund Z. Engel

Also on this day: I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti was born.
What is That? – In 1916, tanks were first used in battle.
Railroads – In 1830, inter-city passenger rail travel began.
Life in a Vacuum – In 1947, RCA released a new vacuum tube.
Doom Bar – In 1816, the HMS Whiting ran aground.

Doom Bar

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2014
HMS Whiting type of ship

HMS Whiting type of ship

September 15, 1816: HMS Whiting runs aground. The ship was built in 1811 by Thomas Kemp as a Baltimore pilot schooner and launched on December 11. At the time, she was named Arrow. On May 8, 1812, she was captured by the British navy under Orders in Council for trading with the French. The Americans felt the British had no reason to interfere with their trading agreements. Arrow was returning from Bordeaux fully loaded with brandy, champagne, silk, and other goods when overtaken by the 38-gun frigate, HMS Andromache who seized the ship and her cargo. One month later, the Orders in Council were repealed and on June 18, 1812, the US declared war on England. The British kept the ship and refitted her for their purposes.

Whiting was used to capture several ships during the War and one of them was another laden ship from Bordeaux, carrying the same types of goods. The Whiting was also one of ten ships involved in the Battle of Fort Peter which took place after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent but before the Senate had ratified it. On this day, the ship was closer to home with Lieutenant John Jackson in command. Now sailing from Plymouth around Land’s End to the Irish Sea, she was to find smugglers. She encountered a gale and so Jackson took the ship into the harbor at Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall. The wind dropped as she came around a point and the ship ran aground on the Doom Bar.

During the next high tide, Jackson attempted to float the ship off the sandbar, but it was taking on water and the project was abandoned. Over the next few days, the crew was taken ashore. A court martial board reprimanded Jackson for having attempted to enter the harbor without a pilot as well as failing to lighten the load before trying to float the ship off the bar. Jackson lost a year’s seniority. Five crew members had taken the opportunity to desert. Three were caught and punished with 50 lashes. The ship was sold but nothing happened. Today, there has been some interest in finding the wreckage, even with shifting sands a promising locality has been found but nothing has yet come of it.

Doom Bar is a moving sandbar at the mouth of the estuary of the River Camel where it meets the Celtic Sea on the north coast of Cornwall. It is a permanent sandbank and is composed mainly of marine sand continually being carried up from the seabed. It has been a known danger to shipping. When ships were powered by sail, they lost power and the ability to steer as they rounded the point and often were grounded. There have been over 600 beachings, capsizes, and wrecks documented on this sandbank since the beginning of the 1800s. Pilots would wait at Stepper Point and offer assistance to ships in need. According to local legend, the Doom Bar was created by the Mermaid of Padstow as a dying curse after being shot.

To reach a port we must set sail – / Sail, not tie at anchor / Sail, not drift. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

You can’t believe how bleeding scary the sea is! There’s, like, whales and storms and shit! They don’t bloody tell you that! – Libba Bray

I can’t control the wind but I can adjust the sail. – Ricky Skaggs

Keep your hand on the helm. – Matthew Goldman

Also on this day: I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti is born.
What is That? – In 1916, tanks were first used in battle.
Railroads – In 1830, inter-city passenger rail travel began.
Life in a Vacuum – In 1947, RCA released a new vacuum tube.

What is That?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2013
Mark 1 tank

Mark 1 tank

September 15, 1916: Tanks are used in battle for the first time during the Somme Offensive. The objective of the action was for Allied troops to push back German occupied troops along the Somme River in the north of France. The offensive lasted from July 1 to November 18 with the British/French allied forces suffering 620,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing, or captured) and the German Empire suffering 450,000. The Allies lost 782 aircraft and 100 tanks, as well. A secondary objective was to draw German troops from the Battle of Verdun where British troops suffered 57,470 casualties in a single day, a record British loss.

The Somme front covered 12 miles. The bloody battles had raged for 2.5 months and there was still no breakthrough. The British brought in their secret weapon, shipped in crates, to hide them. Tanks. Their top speed was 2 mph which is slower than infantry can move. They were designed to break through barbed wire barriers and other obstacles. They were impervious to rifle shot and machine guns but susceptible to artillery fire. And to mechanical failure. There were 49 tanks available for this first attack. Only 32 were able to start the charge and only 21 actually entered the action.

Even when rolling slowly, the new technology encountered difficulties. Tanks were mired in ditches and shell holes. Regardless, the day showed small advances in the line and the tank became part of the standard warfare equipment. Improvement and innovation in the design permitted the behemoths to move more quickly and weaponry placed in a turret above the carriage eventually allowed for 360⁰ rotation.

Compared to other advances in warfare technology, the tank was a whiz kid. It took less than three years to go from non-existent to included in battle plans. It replaced cavalry attacks, bringing artillery to the front lines while offering better protection to the combatants. While this first foray was not truly successful, by November 20, 1917 tanks were proving invaluable to the war effort when 400 tanks penetrated almost 6 miles along a 7 miles front. Today’s tanks are sleek, quick (40 mph) and with an exterior consisting of an “active protection system” included.

“War is the science of destruction.” – John Abbott

“The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick

“I’ll tell you what war is about: you’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting.” – General Curtis LeMay

“Diplomats are just as essential in starting a war as soldiers are in finishing it.” – Will Rogers

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Tanks are defined as tracked, armored fighting vehicles designed for front line combat. Although designed to break the balance of power in trench warfare, they have become a staple of the military around the world. Developed independently by both Britain and France, they were not the first to envision such a military marvel. Both Leonardo da Vinci and H G Wells had ideas that were essentially early tanks. Leonardo’s version contained cannons while Wells’s were described in The Land Ironclads which was published in 1903. Neither of these vehicles used what is one of the distinct features of tanks today, the caterpillar tracks. These were added to help the heavy machines navigate in uneven terrain. Tanks were useful in the Great War and so they were greatly modified before the beginning of World War II where they played a very large role.

Also on this day: I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti is born.
Railroads – In 1830, inter-city passenger rail travel began.
Life in a Vacuum – In 1947, RCA released a new vacuum tube.

Life in a Vacuum

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2012


September 15, 1947: The 12AX7 is released. Also called ECC83, it was a miniature dual triode vacuum tube with a high voltage gain. In the foregoing definition, the “triode” part means there were three active electrodes and the “vacuum tube” part is a tube or device that controls or regulates the flow of an electric current through a vacuum. RCA developed the tube in Harrison, New Jersey in 1947 under the development number A-4522. The device was to be a replacement for the a family of dual-triode amplifier tubes then used in audio applications. The small tube measured 2.2 inches in height and only 0.8 inches in diameter. It is still in use today in low level audio amplification applications.

RCA Corporation was founded as Radio Corporation of America in 1919. In 1914, Europe erupted into war and soon the entire world seemed to be involved. During World War I, instant communication was essential and radio was useful in this regard. The Germans lost their submarine communications cable which was the only telegraph at the time. In order to communicate between allies in the Americas, long distance radio was needed. In the US, the government took charge of patents owned by major companies in order to work on radio communication development. On April 8, 1919, navy personnel met with General Electric Corporation to ask them to stop selling radio components overseas. The navy and GE created an American-owned company and created a radio monopoly. That company was Radio Corporation of America.

After the war, radio towers confiscated during the fighting were returned to the original owners. GE continued to use RCA as its retail arm for selling radios and later Westinghouse also used RCA for marketing their radios. In 1929, RCA purchased Victor Talking Machine Co. and entered the phonograph market. They sold their first electronic turntable in 1930, which was also the year they broke away from GE. RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and developed the US’s first television test pattern.

By 1941, RCA Laboratories worked on many different audio and visual projects. In their Princeton, New Jersey lab they created color TV, the electron microscope, optoelectronic emitting devices, LCD displays, videocassette recorders and many more interesting items. They went out of business in 1986 and the RCA trademark is currently owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA. The trademark is used by Sony Music Entertainment and Technicolor, which licenses the name to other companies such as Audiovox and TCL Corporation.

Radio is a bag of mediocrity where little men with carbon minds wallow in sluice of their own making. – Fred Allen

It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on. – Marilyn Monroe

Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance – the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest. – Emily Greene Balch

Radio allowed people to act with their hearts and minds. – Dick York

Also on this day:

I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti is born.
What is That? – In 1916, tanks were first used in battle.
Railroads – In 1830, inter-city passenger rail travel began.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2011

Opening day of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

September 15, 1830: The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) opens. This line was the first inter-city passenger service with all trains running on a timetable. The trains were hauled for the majority of the distance by steam locomotives. As the name implies, the 4 foot 8.5 inch gauge track ran between Liverpool and Manchester. The goal was to transport raw materials and finished goods between the Port at Liverpool and the mills located in and around Manchester.

Much of the textile raw materials were shipped to the Port of Liverpool and east Lancashire. These has to be transported to the mills located near the Pennines, a low mountain range separating East and West England. Because of the geography, water and then steam power was readily available to power the mills which could then produce the finished cloth, which then had to be transported out for sale. There were already some waterways in use to transport the goods between the port and the mills. There was support for a railway at both cities, but landowners between them were less enthusiastic.

Joseph Sanders of Liverpool and John Kennedy of Manchester both wanted a line to help with shipping product. William James, a land surveyor and speculator, advocated for a national network of rail lines. He had seen the wisdom of this system with the development of colliery lines in northern England. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company was founded on May 24, 1823 with Henry Booth as secretary and treasurer. Many of the merchants in both cities were involved. A bill presented to Parliament in 1825 was rejected, but passed the next year. The company was funded by 308 shareholders holding 4,233 shares with the Marquess of Stafford holding 1,000 of them.

The 35 mile line was a feat of engineering skill. The 2,250 yard Wapping Tunnel was beneath Liverpool near the docks. It was the first tunnel bored under a city. The tracks then cut through 2 miles and up 70 feet through Olive Mount. There was a nine arch viaduct spanning the Sankey Brook valley. There was also the 4.75 miles crossing of Chat Moss. Unable to drain the bog, wooden structures were sunk into the bog to make a sturdy foundation. Even today, the tracks float on these hurdles constructed so long ago. There were 64 bridges and viaducts needed to span the miles. In 1845, the L&MR was absorbed into the Grand Junction Railway and the next year into the London and North Western Railway. It is still in use today.

A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.” – Freeman Dyson

“Architecture begins where engineering ends.” – Walter Gropius

“Nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station.” – Ada Louise Huxtable

“While no one railroad can completely duplicate another line, two or more may compete at particular points.” – John Moody

Also on this day:
I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti is born.
What is That? – In 1916, tanks were first used in battle.

I Feel the Need for Speed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2010

1910 Bugatti

September 15, 1881: Ettore Bugatti is born into an artistic family in Milan, Italy. His father was a furniture and jewelry designer in the Art Nouveau style while his younger brother was a sculptor. Ettore designed cars. Fast cars. Racing cars.

Before he founded his own automobile manufacturing company, Ettore designed engines and chassis for others. Although Italian by birth, Bugatti opened his eponymous car company in 1910 in Mosheim in the Alsace region – now part of France. Bugatti designed the engines and chassis of some of the world’s finest racing cars as well as sleek street machines. His car was the first ever to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

During World War I, Bugatti developed many airplane engine concepts for France. In 1921 at the Voiturettes Grand Prix race in Brescia, Bugatti’s cars took first, second, third, and fourth place. In 1927, Bugatti built the “Royale” which was the most expensive automobile of all time. He sold three. His son was killed in 1939 at the age of 30 while testing a Type 57 race car. This disaster along with the onset of World War II caused the company’s decline.

By the end of the war, Bugatti was out of business. The company has been resurrected twice since that time. In the mid-1950s, Roland Bugatti, Ettore’s son, tried to resurrect the company but even with help from Ferrari’s designer Gioacchino Colombo, the effort was futile. In 1998, the Volkswagen Concern purchased the Bugatti trademark rights. The cars are sleek, beautiful, fast, and expensive. You can buy one for around €1,160,000.

“The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.” – Dudley Moore

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” – Albert Einstein

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.” – Unknown

“Walking isn’t a lost art – one must, by some means, get to the garage.” – Evan Esar

Also on this day, in 1916 tanks were first used in battle.

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