If you had been standing at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Gooding Streets in Lockport in the late 1830s, and looked down over the Niagara Escarpment to Lowertown, you would have witnessed a remarkable battle between gravity and a curious little machine that belched smoke, sparked and hissed with escaping steam. This little wonder of its time was no larger than a modern hot water tank, mounted on four spoked wheels and went by the name “locomotive.” The scallywags about town dubbed it the “tea kettle on wheels,” but at that moment in time, it represented the most modern advancement in applying steam engineering to locomotion.
Behind this smoking mechanical horse rode two cars that resembled stagecoaches of the day. The cars lurched and jerked and passengers desperately clung to the sides of the cars and wondered why they had not walked or taken a regular carriage to Niagara Falls which was their intended final destination.
Such was the rather perilous start of the old Lockport and Niagara Falls Strap Railroad. The midget machine had the daunting task of starting its route in Lowertown at the Erie Canal packet boat wharf and then lifting itself, its cars and their passengers about 110 feet in less than a mile. (A feat that would not be attempted by even today’s locomotives.) If you had looked close you would have seen that a brick was tied to the steam safety valve until the mini-mite reached the top of the escarpment.
In the decades that followed, Stephen Sult, one of the early foremen of the railroad tells the story that the railroad crew felt that they made pretty good time on their 24 mile Lockport to Niagara Falls trek. But a certain Mrs. Storrs of Lockport took exception to that claim and said she could walk to the Falls faster if the train would give her a one- hour head start. Well, the challenge was accepted and Mrs. Storrs set out to prove her case. The train folks were kind of surprised when they got to the Cataract City to see Mrs. Storrs waiting on the hotel steps as cool as a cucumber.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094