Ariel and Post Boy

More puzzling to me is their choice to repeat and amplify the bogus idea of the devastating fire.  In a photo caption, they knot together two unrelated things, stating, “Hicksville’s first station and roundhouse burned up and two DeWitt Clinton engines, the Ariel and the Postboy, [sic] collided.”  Let’s untangle this confusion, which hints that in the mayhem of a great Hicksville conflagration, the LIRR’s original two engines collided.

There was a collision between the two locomotives, which achieved notoriety only because it was a novel event.  Before it happened, the public did not realize that the flame-spewing engines of the day might ever crash (the phrase “train wreck” had not yet earned its blood-soaked meaning).  In fact, the mishap was minor: one locomotive suffered a broken crankshaft, which soon was replaced.  The most important outcome of the incident was the realization that the railroad should keep some spare engines on hand.

Ziel and Foster’s book Steel Rails to the Sunrise includes a complete historical roster of LIRR locomotives, which helps us put the famous collision into insignificant perspective.  Ariel was first put into service in 1835 and was not retired until twenty years later.  Post Boy entered service in 1836, and it went on to serve the railroad much longer, probably being relegated to less demanding roles as the years passed.  It was not retired until 1881.  Neither locomotive’s career was seriously affected by their now-famous minor collision.  Why did the Evers append the gratuitous mention of a fender-bender to the rumor of a supposedly calamitous fire at Hicksville?

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