Monday, July 10, 2017

A Curiosity

           “A railroad velocipede, the first ever seen here, will be brought here from Weldon (Halifax Co., NC) tonight.”[1]  After the curiosity arrived in Raleigh, the News & Observer further commented on it: “It is in charge of Mr. Doyle, linesman. He made the run from Raleigh to Cary in twenty-five minutes. The odd looking machine attracted much attention there, as well as at the depot here. It is now at Merry Oaks[2] but will be brought here in a day or two.”[3]
The History of the Velocipede
            “After a long work week, George Sheffield didn't really want to walk home. But it was the 1870s, and trains didn't run on the weekend when he needed to make the 10-mile commute from his job in Three Rivers, Michigan to home in Burr Oak. So he walked, but as he did he pondered how to make the trip easier.
            “The answer came in his invention of a ‘velocipede’ or three-wheeled, hand-powered vehicle made for travel on train tracks. Without the railroad company's knowledge, Sheffield began driving his velocipede between work and home.
            ‘One night while driving, he discovered a broken rail and alerted railroad officials in time to save a train from derailing. His unique mode of transportation, now known to the officials, piqued their interest and they requested he build several more.
            “The velocipede proved useful for track inspection and maintenance and in 1879 Sheffield patented it.”[4]

The velocipede was propelled by the rider who pulled the handle back and forth.

A Tale of a Velocipede Journey
            “Capt. Wm. Clarkson, the veteran conductor of the Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta Railroad, found himself in charge of his train at Statesville (Iredell Co., NC), last Saturday night, and desiring to spend Sunday with his family in Charlotte (Mecklenburg Co., NC), he decided to mount the railroad velocipede and run down. “His friends remonstrated with him and tried to persuade him from undertaking the journey, but he insisted upon it, and taking his seat on the three wheeled concern, took a firm grip on the crank and waved the boys adieu. The distance before him was 44 miles and he calculated on making it in six hours. At the expiration of eight hours he made the depot here a few minutes before the 1:15 A.M. train came in.
            “It was noticed that his lantern was smashed all to pieces and the skin was torn from the palms of his hands in pieces as large as gun wads. The Captain did not like to talk about it at first, but by and by let it all out to the boys and told them of his hardships. The velocipede jumped the track once and shot him down a fifteen foot embankment, landing him in the briars and breaking his lantern.
            “(Back on the track,) he soon pegged out entirely, the skin commenced pending from his hands and he was about to founder, when he met an able bodied darkey, who accepted his offer of 50 cents to get on the thing and pull him to Charlotte.
            “Captain Clarkson rode back to Statesville, but he didn’t ride the velocipede. He took the cars and went via Salisbury. To a man who is not practiced in the art, riding one of those velocipedes is like standing at a pump and working the handle all day, and Captain Clarkson says he believes that if he had his choice, he would take the pump next time.”[5]

[1]News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 24 Mar 1883
[2] Small community in Chatham Co., NC, long inactive
[3] News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 31 Mar 1883
[5] The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC) 1 May 1883

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