January 31, 2016

Smith and Perkins Locomotive and Car Works


I am working on laying out the Virginia Locomotive and Car Works (VL&CW), also known as Smith and Perkins. The Railroad Gazette article in the link below gives a description of some of the engines that they produced.

Railroad Gazette article on Smith and Perkins Engines


There is sufficient information  in that article to build a model of a one of their locomotives. However, at this time I am focused more on their physical plant that existed in Alexandria in 1855.  And herein lies the problem. The information I have is incomplete and has discrepancies that are hard to reconcile.

Professor Caroline Quenzel, a librarian and professor of Mary Washington College of the UVA system, wrote in 1954 a detailed description of the factory in an article in the Virginia Historical Society Journal. She based her article largely on period era information reported in the Alexandria Gazette. She writes,

Locomotive manufacturing on the scale carried on by Smith and Perkins could not be confined to cramped quarters. In 1854 their locomotive plant on Wolfe Street covered 51,500 square feet of ground and fronted 177 feet on the Potomac River. The principal machine shop was a three-story building 130 x 35 feet. On the first floor were three tracks for setting up engines. 
The same floor housed the tool shop with its facing and other lathes, drilling machines, bolt cutting machines, a slotting machine, and large planer and boring machine for ''turning" car wheels.
The second floor contained the office, drafting room, and an 81 x 35
machine shop. The third floor was used for another machine shop and as a pattern loft. The "fitting up and finishing shop" on the site of the old foundry was 81 x 60 feet. Two locomotive engines could be "fitted up" at one time upon its tracks.
 
The 100 x 36-foot blacksmith shop had 15 fires and one of "Nasmytherspowerful steam" hammers. The boiler shop was 100 x 40, and the four-track car shop 150 x 40. The plant had circular and upright saws, tools for punching and shearing iron, and the equipment required for planing, mortising, and tenoning wood. The 100 x 60-foot foundry on Wilkes Street held two furnaces for melting pig iron and a 27-horsepower engine for driving the fan. In 1854 it produced two and a half to four tons of castings daily, but it was capable of a maximum production of &om ten to twelve tons.
The plant consumed annually 1 ,200 tons of Cumberland coal, 250 tons of anthracite, 900 to 1 ,200 tons of pig iron, and 650 tons of bar and boiler iron. It employed approximately 225 workers. The general superintendent was Thomas Denmead, who had been superintendent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shops at Martinsburg. 
This description implies a facility with five structures with a sixth on Wilkes Street, one block away.  They are:


  1. Principal machine shop  - 130 by 35 feet  3 story with three tracks for erecting engines.
  2. Fitting up and finishing shop - 81 by 60 feet with two tracks. 
  3. Blacksmith Shop - 100 by 36 with 15 fires and a Nasmyther steam hammer.
  4. Boiler shop - 100 by 40 feet.
  5. Car Shop - 150 by 40 with four tracks.
  6. A Nasmyther Hammer in 1856
  7. Foundry - 100 by 60 feet  with two furnaces on Wilkes Street.
Bird's Eye View during the War
Close up of the Quarter Master's map
I have not found any good drawings of the VL&CW facility in 1855. The two drawings I do have date from the Civil War, from 3-8 years after the works closed down. These are the  Bird's Eye View and the Quartermaster map.  It is interesting that the Bird's Eye View and the QM map do somewhat agree in depicting the buildings on Wolfe Street. 

The QM map gives dimensions of the buildings that they used in the war. It shows three interconnected buildings and  a few smaller buildings used for Contraband quarters. Note that the QM map does not show buildings that Army did not use during the war. 

So it is possible there were other structures present that the draftsman left out. More importantly, the QM map shows one railroad siding, while the Bird's Eye shows none. Quentzal describes three buildings with tracks for erecting cars and locos. 


The early 19th century drawing of the Harlan and Hollingsworth works gives some  clues. Note how the car works building on the right shows two tracks entering the end of a long wooden building. But,  note that a single siding runs parallel to the machine shop and no tracks enter the shop. Workers are using push carts and wooden wagons to move boilers and other objects around. Some people are working in the open air on boiler parts.

The second view showing  Schenectady Locomotive Works depicts similar activity. I suspect it wasn't until locomotives became too heavy to move around on carts and trolleys that the factories started building the engines directly on the rails. 

Harlan and Hollingsworth works in the mid 19th century


I assume that similar construction procedures were used at Virginia Locomotive and Car Works. I think that the erecting tracks were not connected to the railroad directly. Once the engines were assembled, they used carts to move the finished products to the departure tracks. 

There is a photo of the foundry on Wilkes Street as the building survived until late in the 20th century. 

The attached drawing shows my best guess at mapping the buildings described in Quentzel's article to the QM map using a lot of educated guess work. Everything is drawn to scale. The large yellow box shows an area of 51,500 square feet if one side of the box is 177 feet.

 There was no way to reasonably connect tracks to the Old Foundry to the siding shown on the QM map without 30 ft or less radius curves (see curve A). That would equate to a 2.26 inch radius in N scale. That is impossibly tight. So I suspect the erecting tracks were not directly connected to the Wolfe Street Siding. 
I replicated the car works from H&H to the VL&CW facility. I made it a separate building as there was no way the five buildings Quentzel describes would fit in the outline of the buildings on the QM map.

I have a photo of a large blacksmith shop in Washington DC. It is a wood building. If such a building was in Alexandria, it is possible it did not survive for ten years after closing.
Blacksmith shop in Washington DC during the Civil War.

If anyone has any additional information, I would love to see it.







1 comment:

  1. Maybe John Nehrich at the RPI club (New England, Berkshire and Western) knows something?

    ReplyDelete