For decades a marble-faced clock has hung over the pedestrian entrance to the Marshall Steam Museum. While it ran in times past as noted by the numerous signatures inside the case acknowledging the mechanism was oiled, in recent years it has frequently been the object of the statement “it is right twice a day.” As part of the museum work being done this winter, the clock was removed for restoration. We are happy to report the 100-year old Seth Thomas mechanism is currently tick-tocking away while the wooden case undergoes restoration. Look for the clock to display the correct time when the museum reopens in 2020 and don’t miss reading about the clock’s link to the Marshall family!
The clock is a Seth Thomas Marble Gallery No. 1 30-day clock. They were offered in various configurations from the late 1890s into the early 1900s for use in banks, municipal offices, corporate lobbies, and other similar institutions. The Marshall Steam Museum example comes from the National Bank of Kennett Square, PA. Most likely installed during the bank’s 1908 renovations, the clock was obtained by T. Clarence Marshall, who served as president for nine yeas and an officer for several decades.
Known commonly as Kennett Bank for many years after forming on April 25, 1881, John Marshall (Israel Marshall’s uncle) was its first president. In later years T. Elwood Marshall (Israel’s brother) was a president as well. Another of the Marshall family was involved in banking in Delaware. Which of the Marshalls was a president of a Delaware bank and what was the bank’s name? As a bonus question, who in the Marshall family (hint: it may be multiple Marshalls) has their signature on hundreds of thousands of dollars of U.S. paper money?
Banking records as far back as 1860 show Caleb Marshall as president of the Real Estate Bank of Delaware, which was located in Newport, DE. Caleb is the older brother of John Marshall (Kennett Bank President), and together they established an iron rolling mill on the Red Clay Creek in what is now known as Marshallton, DE. In late 1864, Franklin Q. Flinn was elected president of the bank as Caleb and his family were moving to Philadelphia to establish the Penn Treaty Iron Works for the manufacture of terne plate (early form of galvanized iron for which Caleb was issued patents). The $1 bill shown below, issued by the Real Estate Bank of Delaware, has Caleb Marshall’s signature as president. That is William Penn pictured and not Caleb Marshall.
Caleb’s brother John was president of National Bank of Kennett Square from its founding in 1881 until his death in 1885, when E.B. Darlington became president. Darlington remained president until T. Elwood Marshall (Israel’s brother) assumed the presidency in 1915 and remained until 1922. His nephew T. Clarence Marshall became president in 1923 and remained in that office for 9 years. On July 1, 1930, the bank merged with Kennett Trust Company (formed in 1889) to become National Bank & Trust Company of Kennett Square, which was acquired in 1882 by Meridian Bank. Additional banking industry consolidations saw Meridian acquired by Corestates Bank and then First Union National Bank. In 2001, Wachovia Bank acquired First Union, and today its all part of Wells Fargo Bank.Before the Civil War, many states issued their own currency. As a means to pay for the war, reduce counterfeiting, and eliminate differences in currency value, the U.S. federal government created a national currency under Abraham Lincoln. By creating a system of nationally chartered banks, the government would print denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1,000 bills to be issued by a “National Bank.” Every bank that changed their charter to that of a National Bank (and hence why there are so many First National Bank of…, Second National Bank of…, Third National Bank…, etc.) agreed to obey the rules for national currency. A bank was required to deposit a bond with the government for the value of government printed currency they received to place into public circulation. The government would print the name of the national bank on the currency and provide currency sheets to the requesting bank. Once each bill was hand-signed by the bank’s cashier and president, they could be hand-cut from the sheets (which is why you see the irregular borders in the images below) and issued to the bank’s customers. The system was in place from 1863 until the Great Depression in 1929, when a majority of the National Banks became insolvent. As a result, the U.S. government created our present Federal Reserve notes.


Above is an image of a $10 National Bank of Kennett Square bill issued April 26, 1921, with T. E. Marshall’s handwritten signature as president. Images of $10 and $20 National Currency bills (below) with T. Clarence Marshall’s lithograph-printed signatures show the bank’s name change to National Bank and Trust Company of Kennett Square. Over the 55-year life of the national currency program, National Bank of Kennett Square issued nearly $2.7 million in 15 different types and denominations of national currency. It is estimated that due to the higher-value denominations issued in later years, when TE and TC Marshall were presidents, that more than half the dollar value of $2.7 million total issued in National Currency by Kennett Bank displays a Marshall signature!!



We recently ran across an image that called our attention to 21st-century automotive body designs. If one examines 23 current brands of automobiles offered to the American driver, and we imagine equivalent models all painted in light gray, there’s not really a lot of diversity in basic appearance, as the image to the right attests. Images of individual vehicles for the composite image were digitally “painted” light gray as the color is not offered by all manufacturers.

If one examines the Marshall Steam Museum Stanley collection, you will note that starting with the 1916 Model 725 and continuing through to the 1924 Model 750, Stanley cars lost styling diversity that the earlier cars before 1915 possessed. As readers know, the materials and methods Stanley used were pretty common in the industry, and while there were distinctive car designs after the 1920s, automotive design was trending to manufacturers choosing a basic “look” and not making major changes to it year to year. In the 21st century, the consolidation of multiple makes under a single manufacturer means even more consistency in overall car appearance.
Stanley’s earliest cars, those sold under the Locomobile and Mobile names, had their metal frames constructed by the American Waltham Manufacturing Company, a bicycle maker. Stanley used the same wooden and eventually aluminum body manufacturer throughout a large portion of their production from the earliest all-wooden-bodied cars up until near the end of production’s aluminum-bodied cars. What was the name of that manufacturer? For extra credit, what year did Stanley begin the transition to offering aluminum bodied vehicles?
According to Kit Foster’s The Stanley Steamer: America’s Legendary Steam Car, in April 1898 the Stanley twins contracted Currier Cameron Company to construct the wooden bodies that were then sent to the Shields Carriage Company for lacquer application and finishing. Both businesses were located in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and shared common organizational roots. Locomobile assembled their cars in Watertown, which required the finished bodies to be shipped in boxcars by rail between the two cities.
In 1911 the Currier Cameron Company made the first aluminum body for the Stanley Model 85. Currier Cameron would continue to make Stanley bodies through Model 735 production, ending in 1922. With the introduction of the Model 740 in May 1922 and the revised body styles to come, Stanley moved to other body manufacturers, including Baker-Rauch & Lang!


As Tom Marshall would often advise members of the Steam Team of the late 1990s, Stanley steamers are known for displaying a myriad of conflicting symptoms, all of which need to be carefully examined in order to deduce the true cause of a steamer’s ailment. Such was the case last month when attending the Hagley Car Show. A boiler water level gauge (kidney gauge, not the 3-tube indicator style) on a condensing car displayed a near full boiler when running that dropped to less than a half-full boiler indication when the throttle was closed and the burner was not firing. To add conflicting diagnostic information to the eventual solution of the unconventional gauge indication, the pumps were definitely providing water to the boiler as the water reservoir level dropped appropriately for the distance traveled.
The pumps’ operation could be felt cycling ON and OFF under control of the boiler water automatic by the vibrations of the car’s floorboards. Steam pressure for the trip was easily being maintained in the 475 to 550 PSIG range, as it should be, and the car climbed the steeper hills of Route 82 briskly on the way to Hagley. The burner’s cycling ON and OFF was as expected. The condensing car was not leaving a water trail to indicate a leak or other issue. The vehicle’s kidney boiler water gauge, while a potential cause of the issue, seemed to perform as expected (and was ultimately ruled out as the source of the program). The error turned out to be entirely human and not mechanical. Any idea as to what was causing the erratic boiler water gauge issue?
In Tom Marshall’s teachings to the Steam Team he often talked of more rare issues that can affect a Stanley’s performance. The issue of boiler foaming and priming is rare and involves only the water on board a Stanley and not the vehicle itself. This author has experienced boiler foaming involving a Wilmington & Western Railroad locomotive that had excess boiler treatment added to the water. In that case, the problem was quickly visible in the glass boiler sight gauge as instead of the glass tube 2/3rds full of water, when the engineer opened the throttle, the glass quickly turned milky white, an indication of boiler foaming. Ignored, such a problem might quickly become dangerous for continued operation of the locomotive or steam car. In the case of a condensing Stanley, the boiler gauges are of an actual gauge construction, and unless the the steam car has been retrofitted with a glass sight gauge, a foaming issue must be recognized through other clues.Tom Marshall advocated a tablespoon of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda be added to the water tank every three or four tankfuls of water. Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, Tom’s favorite, is pure sodium carbonate (Na2CO3). Washing soda is also known as soda ash and soda crystals and is primarily used to manufacture glass, paper, rayon, soaps, detergents, and as a water softening agent. Since the start of the 20th century, boiler operators have experimented with the addition of sodium carbonate to boiler water to provide alkalinity to the water. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a treatment of washing soda was employed by land and marine boiler operators as the best means to prevent scaling and corrosion. Use of washing soda as boiler water treatment resulted in dramatically reducing boiler maintenance and associated costs. For Stanleys it does seem to “wash” the water system of impurities and keep the pumps, check valves, and other components free of mineral buildup.
Too much washing soda, however, can create a condition known as “foaming,” which leads to “priming” occurring. Inside the boiler, the heat of the fire generates steam bubbles within the water. The steam bubbles, which originate on the boiler tubes and internal boiler surfaces, float and burst when they reach the water surface, releasing their encapsulated steam. As a boiler generates steam, any impurities that are in the boiler supply water and that do not boil away with the steam will concentrate in the remaining boiler water. Likewise, having too much washing soda in the water supply causes the concentration of washing soda in the boiler to increase over time. The supply water containing washing soda boils away and leaves the boiler as steam. Replacement water making up for the steam used contains washing soda, which effectively increases the boiler’s washing soda concentration. When Stanleys return from a day’s use, boilers are blown down (cleared of all water, leaving only pure steam behind), which clears the boiler of the higher concentration of washing soda and other impurities and thus foaming and priming should not occur.
If the boiler water is not cleared of an increasing concentration of washing soda, the dissolved solids and sodium carbonate becomes more and more concentrated, which results in the steam bubbles becoming more stable. The bubbles of steam fail to burst as they reach the water surface of the boiler, and miniature steam bubbles are created throughout the boiler water, which represent the foaming condition. The bubbles actually start to form on the impurities within the water in addition to the boiler surfaces. The water in the boiler, when foaming occurs, becomes very similar to the foam on beer or what happens when a warm liter bottle of soda is violently shaken and the cap removed quickly. There comes a point (depending on boiler pressure, size, and steam load) where a substantial part of the steam space in the boiler becomes filled with miniature bubbles. The resulting foam of bubbles is carried along with the steam exiting the boiler, which flows to the steam engine. This is the condition known as “priming.” Due to the small spaces at the end of a piston’s travel in a cylinder, it doesn’t take a lot of “primed steam” to damage the engine. The boiler water turning to foam also can quickly lead to a low water condition in the boiler, which might result in boiler failure.
The boiler water level, upon reaching the Hagley Car Show, was “full” on the gauge as the boiler was intentionally filled above nominal operating level in preparation for sitting all day at Hagley. However, within 10 minutes of parking the car and extinguishing the pilot, the boiler water level gauge indicated a boiler half-full of water. The search for a large water leak uncovered nothing that might cause the quick loss of a half boiler’s worth of water. The gauge reaction pretty much pointed to the problem — high water when boiling, low to middle water level when not boiling. In diagnosing the problem, it was soon realized that this year, unlike previous years, the car has been making quite a number of short trips, all of which only used a quarter to a half of the supply tank’s capacity. However, Tom’s recommendation of the addition of washing soda has been followed religiously, and not realizing it, the concentration of washing soda in the supply water tank has been increasing over the summer months. Our foaming problem wasn’t caused by lack of boiler blow-downs but because we’ve not been running through multiple tanks of supply water on any given use of the steamer, thus allowing the concentration of washing soda to increase in the water tank supplying the boiler.
Beginning next year, we’ll start logging water tank fillings to ensure the concentration of washing soda in the supply water remains minimal.


China has taken an interesting approach to traffic congestion. In Beijing, a car buyer must first win a lottery for a license plate in order to be able to purchase a vehicle. The practice was started in 2011 as Beijing is a city of over 13 million residents, with more than half eligible to drive. They offered up 150,000 plates in 2017 but only 100,000 in 2018. Additionally, the majority of the license plates issued annually may only be applied to new electric-only vehicles. Anyone with outstanding court issues is banned from applying, as are people with other infractions on their records. In Beijing in 2018, the odds of receiving a license place in the bimonthly lottery are as low as 1 in 2,000. Beijing further restricts driving in the city, only allowing Beijing-registered vehicles during the peak driving times within the city. Beijing has set a cap of 6.3 million vehicles registered to city residents, which is expected to be met next year.
Delaware’s low digit licenses are sought after and easily command mid-6-figure prices or higher for a 2-digit number. Four-digit plates are often transferred between owners for 4-digit license plate values along with the added value of the vehicle they reside on. The State of Delaware has begun queuing up 5-digit plates and issuing them on 5-digit plate days. While some 5-digit plates may command a few dollars of added vehicle value when transferred between owners, plates that the state takes in are reissued free.
What state in the U.S. employs a lottery system for issuing their low-character-count plates?
In August and September each year, Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (MRMV) holds their annual Low Plate Lottery. Massachusetts residents with an existing insured and registered vehicle are invited to apply for a low character-count license plate. In mid-September the MRMV announces the lottery winners. Residents may enter only once, even if they have multiple vehicles registered in Massachusetts. The lottery system selects an additional 25 winners for any awarded plates that are not collected within three months of notification. Massachusetts is the only state at present using a lottery system for awarding special license plates.
Massachusetts license plates are up to seven alphanumeric characters in length. In 2019 there are 230 plates available with two, three or four characters, which are the only plates available for the lottery. The available plates will be awarded in the order the available plates are listed on the MRMV website. Winners may not request a specific plate, but if two winners choose to show up at the same time when retrieving their winning plates, they may swap them during the registration process. A winner must have no outstanding payments due the state for things such as taxes, traffic citations, E-ZPass tolls, court costs, or other legal infractions. In 2018, 201 plates were issued.


Hockessin was home to John G. Jackson, who was known in the area as a surveyor, civil engineer, astronomer, author, teacher, mill operator, mine owner, politician, and farmer. He surveyed New Castle County extensively, and his name appears in U.S. Congressional records and other scientific documents and papers for two scientific efforts he was associated with over his lifetime.
In addition to being a Delaware State Representative and having a patent for a surveying tool, what scientific activity or discovery is J.G. Jackson noted for?

Born on September 8, 1818, in what is known today as the Dixon-Jackson House, J.G. Jackson studied at the Westtown Boarding School beginning at age 14. In his 20s, he began teaching science and astronomy at Westtown. Jackson became a surveyor’s apprentice when he was 21, mastering the profession while working for the government in Ohio. By age 30 (1848) Jackson was supervising the family’s Hockessin saw mill operation, doing surveying within New Castle County, supervising the daily operations of the limestone and marble quarries on the family’s property, and overseeing construction of a new home for his family northeast of Valley and Southwood roads.

John G. Jackson became a notary public for New Castle County in 1857 at age 39. In November 1864, Jackson successfully won the election to become a State Representative for New Castle County in the 73rd Delaware General Assembly for two years (January 3, 1865 to January 1, 1867). Jackson served as Chief Engineer for the Wilmington & Western Rail Road’s construction between 1870 and 1872, and its route remains a testament to his skills as a surveyor and engineer. In 1880, at age 62, Jackson began to embrace retirement by selling the quarry business. Jackson continued his surveying activities in later years as he applied for a patent related to surveying in June 1888. Jackson was awarded Patent 392,124 on October 30, 1888, for a ‘Spirit-Level’.

Jackson was an avid astronomer, and in 1837 he worked out the calculations for the next transit of Venus (a transit is when the orbital planes of Earth and Venus are aligned such that from the daylight side of Earth one may observe Venus as a black dot moving across the sun). When Jackson made the initial calculations, only two individuals had ever observed Venus transit the sun (in 1639). One must remember that humans did not know the precise orbits (elliptical and not circular) of Venus and the Earth or their mean distances from the sun.

Jackson used his telescope, observational skills, and math knowledge to calculate current positions and then to reliably predict the future orbits of the Earth and Venus circling the sun. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the orbital planes of the two planets are different (3.8 degrees), the frequency of Earth-Venus-Sun alignment occurrence differs (105.5 years, 8 years, 121.5 years, 8 years before repeating), and the calculations are done with only a pencil and paper by kerosene lamps!

The 1874 Venus transit was not visible in North America (it was visible in eastern China, Australia, Japan, Indonesia). Jackson was rewarded for his efforts on December 6, 1882, when he was able to document, along with other noted astronomers across North America, the transit of Venus as he and others had predicted 37 years earlier! Jackson’s work is documented in multiple astronomy periodicals of the time, and his involvement is noted in Congressional records. Jackson owned a 6-inch reflecting telescope that he most likely made himself. This would have been a large telescope for a private individual as the best observatories around the world had telescopes of the size of Mt. Cuba Observatory’s 24-inch reflector in the 1880s.

J.G. Jackson is also documented as having observed “clouds” on the moon on multiple occasions. Galileo Galilei’s improvements to the telescope in the early 1600s allowed better viewing of the moon. As far back as February 1672, a “nebulous appearance” had been reported in the Mare Crisium region of the moon by Giovanni Domenico Cassini. From Cassini’s first reporting until Jackson’s time, dozens of reported sightings had occurred, with some reporting a purple color to the cloud or fog.

As part of America’s preparations for going to the moon, in 1968 NASA released a Chronological Catalog of Reported Lunar Events documenting 580 observances over nearly 300 years of cloud-like phenomena on the moon. By the early 1900s, it was well accepted that the moon did not have an atmosphere. Continued study of the moon concludes that the “clouds,” bright flashes, and other lunar phenomena are more than likely the result of out-gassing from the moon’s crust, impacts of space debris with the surface, or similar causes. Only since the Apollo flights of the 1970s have we learned the moon does have what can be considered an atmosphere (ten trillion times thinner than Earth composed of atoms of sodium, potassium, helium, argon, ammonia, methane, and carbon dioxide).


An alternate to silica-based glass is acrylic glass. Technically known as Poly-Methyl-MethAcrylate (PMMA), we commonly refer to the material generically as plexiglass. Developed by Rohn & Haas Company commercially in 1933, their Plexiglas product was trademarked in Germany as the world’s first clear acrylic material. Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. (ICI) registered the product in the UK at about the same time as “Perspex.” In the U.S., E.I. du Pont trademarked Lucite as their acrylic glass product offering. Other companies have trademarked names such as R-Cast, Optix, and Cyrolite.

In 1939, for the World’s Fair, the car below was featured having its exterior body panels fabricated from Rohm & Haas Plexiglas. It was advertised as the first “transparent car” in America. Who was the manufacturer of the automobile pictured, and which major automotive manufacturer showcased the vehicle during the fair?


Often called the PlexiPontiac, or the Pontiac Ghost Car, it is a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six. It was built as a collaboration between General Motors, Pontiac, and Rohm & Haas for the GM “Futurama” exhibit and was part of the “Highways & Horizons” display. Built on a 120-inch wheelbase, Pontiac four-door Touring Sedan framework and chassis, the metal structural components were copper plated while the car’s accent hardware was chrome plated. Black rubber moldings were changed to white rubber as were the tires, for contrast. The engine used was a 222.7-cubic-inch L-head six-cylinder that generated 85 brake horsepower for the three-speed manual transmission.

Costing $25,000 to build, the odometer displays only about 100 miles of driving! After being one of the must-see highlights at the World’s Fair, the car toured the U.S. before becoming a feature attraction at the Smithsonian Institute for a number of years. Upon leaving the Smithsonian in 1947, it was displayed in several Pennsylvania dealerships. It was purchased in the early 1970s by a private owner, who had it restored. Sold to another private owner in the late 1970s, it was again sold to a private owner in the 1980s. In July 2011, it was auctioned by RM Auctions for $308,000.

A second car was built after the Ghost Pontiac on the Pontiac Torpedo Eight chassis for the Golden Gate Exposition. It too toured the country, but its status is unknown.


The rare item pictured has been awarded a National Register of Historic Places listing. It is located on the border between Delaware and Maryland in Delmar but originally found use in northern Delaware as well as 25 miles away in Hurlock, Maryland. After serving some of its life in Cape Charles, Virginia, it has been returned to Delaware. What is the pictured item called, and how was it used?

The item pictured is a railroad Highball Signal dating from the earliest railroads that operated on the DelMarVa Peninsula. From the Delmar Highball Signal’s National Register Listing;

The term highball, meaning a fast train, or permission for a train to proceed at full speed, derives from this type of signal. A highball signal was a white sphere mounted on a pole next to the railroad tracks. If the track was clear ahead, the signal attendant would raise the ball to the top of the pole by means of a pulley. If the track was not clear, he would lower the ball so that it would not be visible to the engineer of an oncoming train; hence, the term highball came to be synonymous with a clear right-of-way. Positioned as shown in the image, at the midpoint of the pole, the signal indicated the engineer was to proceed ahead slowly with caution.

Highball signals were frequently mounted near stations or at section boundaries. The design of highball signals varied among the railroads; some were equipped with a black ball that would replace the white one when the track was not clear. Some signals, like the one at Delmar, were provided with a box into which the ball was lowered when the track was not clear. Some railroads constructed the ball with glass windows such that it included a kerosene font and burner and could be lit at night for better visibility. Other types of signal, notably the semaphore and the three-light electrical signal, eventually replaced the highball. The highball at Delmar is a steel sphere mounted on a wooden post, which is raised and lowered by of a chain hoist. It is no longer used to direct railroad traffic, but is maintained as a public exhibition in a park near the railroad.

The highball signal at Delmar is one of the last survivors of a type of traffic control that was in use before the advent of modern semaphore signals. The origin of the highball is unknown, but it probably was invented during the railroad expansion period of the 1840’s. As a signal, it is quite primitive, since it can convey only one piece of information: whether the track is clear or not. Modern signaling devices can transmit a variety of data to the engineer of an oncoming train. The last highball signal on a class 1 railroad in America was in operation at the interchange point between the Pennsylvania and Reading railroads near Wilmington Delaware, a few years ago; the highball was used at that point because the electronic control systems of the two railroads ended short of the interchange track and manual signaling was necessary.

The Delmar highball signal was originally in service at New Castle, Delaware, and then at Hurlock, Maryland. It was displayed for a time at Cape Charles, Virginia, and then was moved to Delmar, Delaware for display during the town’s centennial in 1959. It is maintained as a permanent exhibit by the town of Delmar, Delaware.


As the “rail road” was developing in the mid-1800s, it was inevitable an accident would occur. The Providence and Worcester Rail Road has the unfortunate distinction of recording the nation’s first head-on train accident near Pawtucket, Rhode Island. There were no engineer-operated braking systems on the cars, with only brakemen to manually turn a large wheel to apply brakes to each individual car. Electricity remained a novel laboratory experiment and use of kerosene lanterns to illuminate colored glass signals had not been thought of. Rails worked loose to derail trains, and the violent bouncing of wooden coaches heated by coal- or wood-fired potbelly stoves within often burst into flames. In severe accidents, cars might “telescope” where they folded into each other, similar to the spy glasses of the era. Chances of surviving a railroad accident were indeed minimal in America until the 1900s.
While a railroad accident was perhaps the top fear for passengers, the threat of a train being held up and the passengers robbed grew as more people used rail travel and the railroads transported goods and materials of greater value in their cars. In what year was the first railroad robbery committed?

The books of the late 1800s and the movies of the mid-1900s have tended to embellish the typical train robbery of the the late 1800s. Riding alongside a moving train and jumping aboard was a dangerous proposition. It was far easier for robbers to buy a ticket and board as a paying passenger to gain access to a train to be robbed. A few robbers could take over a train and bring it to a stop at a prearranged location where other gang members could board and not only relieve passengers of their gold jewelry and other valuables but dynamite safes in baggage or box cars.

The first train robbery in America most often cited to have taken place occurred on October 6, 1866. An Ohio & Mississippi Railroad train headed eastbound near Seymour, Indiana, was robbed by a gang of thieves led by the Reno brothers. Donning masks and displaying guns, they took control of the Adams Express Company car. After taking the keys to the local valuables safe and emptying it, they tossed the “thru passage” safes off the car for later opening. They signaled the engineer to stop the train, got off, and escaped into the night.
According to records with the Smithsonian Institution, the first railroad robbery occurred in January 1866. An unattended Adams Express car with safes containing over a half-million dollars of assorted valuables were emptied of their contents as the train traveled from New York City to Boston. The first movie to depict a train robbery was a 12-minute short silent film produced by the Edison Studios called The Great Train Robbery, written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter. The original film has been preserved by the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” piece of American cultural history.
Waukee, Iowa, has erected a monument to “the first train robbery in the west.” The Jesse James Gang robbed a Rock Island Railroad train on July 21, 1873, by pulling up the spikes holding the rails to the ties. When the engine lost its footing on the loose rail, it flipped on its side, killing the engineer and injuring the fireman. As their first attempt at a train robbery, it netted the gang $2,000 cash in the safe and passenger valuables and currency.


This past summer, as part of the Eastern Invitational Steam Car Tour, tour participants had the opportunity to visit the Antique Ice Tool Museum in West Chester, PA. The old barn, now converted into a museum, is full of artifacts of the 1800s, when natural ice was harvested from local creeks and ponds and stored over the summer months for consumption and for keeping food cold. Ice harvesting of America’s ponds and lakes became one of the nation’s biggest export incomes during the late 1800s, when more than two million tons of ice were harvested annually. When ammonia refrigeration plants began making year-round ice at the very end of the 19th century, more than 20 million tons of natural-formed ice were being harvested or produced commercially.

If one researches outdoor temperatures in the late 1800s, you will find weeks of below-freezing temperatures occurred during winter months in our area. This was more than sufficient “cold” to freeze the Red Clay Creek to a sufficient thickness that it could be harvested for ice. In February 1887, the Delaware General Assembly authorized the formation of the Greenbank Ice Company of Marshallton, DE, for the harvesting of ice on the Red Clay Creek. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is documented by the Evening Journal as harvesting 12-inch thick pond ice held behind the Greenbank Mill’s dam on January 14, 1893. On January 8, 1900, the Evening Journal documented that 6- to 8-inch thick ice was being harvested from the large lake at Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. The Mitchell family harvested ice in winter months for storage in the ice house alongside the farmhouse and behind the creamery, which could be used for keeping milk cold. No doubt the Marshalls harvested ice for storage from the tranquil waters behind their mill dams before the age of refrigeration.

Does anyone still harvest ice naturally in the U.S., and if your answer is “yes,” where is it done?


Natural ice is routinely harvested in Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin as well as Ontario, Canada, at least in 2019. The 190-year-old Maine ice harvest is performed by the Thompson Ice House Harvesting Museum. Around 7 tons of ice is harvested in mid-February and stored until the July ice cream social, where the ice is used to make ice cream and for snow cones.

The best known and perhaps largest natural ice harvest for keeping foods cold occurs annually at Squam Lake near Holderness, New Hampshire. Once a commercial ice operation first operated in 1897, today the ice is harvested using more modern methods for use by the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps, a resort community open only during the summer months. Roughly 3,600 ice blocks weighing 120 to 150 pounds (roughly 16″ x 19″ by the ice’s thickness somewhere between 12″ and 15″) are harvested in mid-January to mid-March each year for storage in one of two ice houses. The ice is used during the summer months to fill the “ice boxes” located in each of the cottages on the resort property. For more information visit their website.


George Kromer, the railroad fireman who created the distinctive railroad cap design, and his wife, Ida, used their success with engineer caps to expand into other garments. At the time, washing machines didn’t have the ability to “spin dry,” and as electricity wasn’t available across the U.S., many washing machines, if one could afford them, used a hit-n-miss gasoline engine for power. These early electric or gasoline-powered machines washed the clothes, but to remove the water they had to be “wrung dry.” As this didn’t remove all the water, machines had a set of powered rolling pin-type wooden cylinders that clothes could be pushed through to further remove the water. These “wringer-manglers” were constantly breaking buttons. George Kromer patented (Patent 1,695,592) an alternative to the button: Kromer’s “Garmet Fastener” had a tab that slipped through a square buttonhole-type opening to secure two flaps of clothing to be held together. As the fastener was all made of soft materials, wringer type washers didn’t ruin the Kromer Fastener as it did the buttons of the day.

Kromer, in later years and still living in Wisconsin, became annoyed at his automobile sliding about during the winter months on Wisconsin’s snowy road surfaces. He invented an “Anti-Skid Attachment” for the automobile. How did it work?


Kromer recognized that using either just the foot brake or a combination of foot brake and hand brake would often send a vehicle sliding along the icy road surface in any direction without the ability to steer or stop the vehicle.

Kromer’s patented (Patent 2,608,274) invention attached a pivotable U-shaped steel frame to a car’s rear axle. At the end of the U-arms were mounted either steel cylinders or flat plates, both of which had spikes, studs, grooves, or similar ice-gripping means. In the case of the cylinders, a ring gear was attached to the brake drum so that it engaged a gear on the spiked steel cylinder such that the cylinder rotated in reverse of the wheel’s rotation. The hand-brake lever was reconfigured to activate the U-frame to lower it to the road surface instead of applying the parking brake.

When a snow- or ice-packed slippery road was encountered, the mechanism could be activated from the parking brake handle. Coming to a stop, the driver would use the parking brake handle to lower the mechanism into contact with the icy road surface. If the spiked shoe was used, the gripping of the spikes on the shoe would bring the vehicle to a stop and hold it stopped along with light application of the foot brake. For units installed with the steel cylinder, when engaged with the hand brake, the steel cylinder would rotate in reverse of the wheel as it contacted the road surface to “dig in” to help stop the vehicle.