The Antelope Mile-a-minute Train

antelope2This black and white photograph listed is a 20th century photo mounted on stiff paper that is disintegrating.  The image appears to be original probably created for the article that appeared in the Lawrence Evening Tribune in 1948.  Other materials pertinent to the alleged event: clippings, articles, and a coloring book are included in the collection.

The first article written about this train was in The Essex Institute’s Historical Collections October 1932.  The article is titled: “Reminiscences of Charles B. George of Haverhill, and old-time conductor on the Boston and Maine Railroad”.  In this article it is apparently Charles Minot’s idea to run a train from Boston to Lawrence, 26 miles in 26 minutes, on a train built to order at Hinkley and Drury of Boston.  It had single drivers, 6-feet in diameter and was named “Antelope” in anticipation of its speed.

Mr. Minot chose a Mr. Pemberton, considered the best engineer at the time, to make the run.  The track was scanned to spike down all the switches.  The stations were warned to see there were no obstructions on the track.  All trains were sidetracked and another engine was sent ahead to see that all was in order.  Let’s remember the telegraph was not invented yet.  Representatives of the Boston papers were offered accommodation on the only car attached to the engine.  The train departed from Haymarket to cheers and the waving of hats.  The engineer opened the throttle and Minot standing to the side saluted the crowd.  The Antelope roared into the distance and the engine performed perfectly in every way.  It was a bouncy trip since track-laying was still somewhat imperfect.  Halfway to Lawrence Minot looked at his watch and saw that it had taken them 14 minutes as he yelled for Pemberton to give her more speed.  When Minot sighted Lawrence he again looked at his watch and smiled.  When he met with the great crowd awaiting him he was to affirm that the Antelope had achieved a mile-a-minute.  Now that is a lot of small details!

The next time this event is written about is 1935 in Boston and the Boston Legend by Lucius Beebe.  He tells essentially the same story except he says the engine was made in England.  This story also contributes the addition of pale reporters downing quaffs of Old Tannery Dew, town drunkard in Reading gets all excited, Cyrus Wakefield jumps up and down in South Reading, Minot loses his hat, and the steam chest overheats.  The roadbed of the B&M was badly damaged and needed repair before another train would do the Lawrence-Boston trip.

The Antelope made its next appearance in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune June 26, 1948.  There is a cute artistic rendering (20th century not 19th) of the train, but the article follows its earlier texts providing us with little more to authenticate the event.  There is never any mention of the day or the season of the mile-a-minute train.

A later article comes out in the B & M Bulletin Winter 1981/82.  It is written by Walter E. Lenk.  Mr. Lenk paraphrases some of the other articles, but adds more details about the train itself.  He provides a list of sources including contemporary (1840s) accounts from railroad corporations such as annual reports and committee reports.  But again he includes no contemporary news reporting.

The Lawrence Courier and the Vanguard are the 2 newspapers that the library owns.  These have been searched for the year 1848.  Not a mention of any kind of the Antelope or the mile-a-minute event.  Research on Charles Minot who had been superintendent of the Boston and Maine from 1842 to 1850 reveals that Mr. Minot died a bachelor in Somerville in 1866.  He left his not insignificant fortune to his alma mater, Harvard.  His obituary said nothing about his railroad moment of fame.  There is no mention of this in the contemporary Boston papers.

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