The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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The Reuben Wells Locomotive

Reuben Wells locomotive

Most every railroad had a locomotive that became part of railroad folklore. The B & O had its Tom Thumb and there was the Casey Jones and the Wabash Cannonball, to name a few. On the Madison line, the hero of the iron rails was the Reuben Wells. After the consolidation of the Madison & Jeffersonville lines, Reuben Wells, the master mechanic of the Jeffersonville shop, determined that the problem of the steep incline at Madison had to be solved. Wells believed that a properly located center of gravity and enough weight to assure adhesion to the track would enable his engine to climb the grade. He set about to design and over see the construction of his namesake, “The Reuben Wells”.

Reuben Wells, himself, made the following report to the board of directors of the JM & I railroad:

“A new tank locomotive named the Reuben Wells, for working the inclined plane at Madison without the use of the cast-iron rack and pinion as heretofore used, was built and completed in the shops of the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad at Jeffersonville in July, 1868, since which time the engine has been in constant service, doing the work there in a satisfactory manner.”

Here’s how The Madison Daily Courier proclaimed the day on July 18, 1868:

THE NEW LOCOMOTIVE.—-The new locomotive engine Reuben Wells, built at the company’s shops in Jeffersonville, for use on the inclined plane, arrived on Thursday and was put in service yesterday morning. She is large and powerful, weighing seventy tons or 140,000 pounds. Yesterday morning she pulled the passenger, mail, baggage and express cars up the hill in the remarkably short time of nine minutes. (The time usually occupied by the old mode of cogs was from twenty-five to thirty minutes). On Thursday, a train of nineteen freight cars was brought from North Madison to this city without the use of a break. She is a perfect success as regards power and speed for the purposes for which she was built, but too heavy for the track, which, in our judgment will necessitate the building of a new track. She is named after the builder, Reuben Wells, master mechanic of the shops in Jeffersonville. Josh. McCauley, for many years engineer of the “Brough” has charge of her now.

It was an impressive machine. Here are the statistics of the engine as described by Reuben Wells:

Cylinders 20 inch diameter and 24 inch stroke
Driving Wheels 5 pair with 44 inch diameter
Boiler 56 inch diameter, 7/16 outer shell
Boiler Tubes 201 two inch tubes, each 12 feet long
Firebox 5-feet 3-inches long by 5-feet 3-inches deep by
4-feet wide on the top and 3-feet wide on the bottom
Heating Surface 116 square feet in box; 1,262 square feet in boiler
Water Capacity 1,800 gal. in 2 tanks on either side of locomotive
Weight of Locomotive 56 tons in working order

Wells continued: “With the experience had in working this engine on the plane under all conditions of the rail, and in all kinds of weather through the fall and winter, I am satisfied that the plane can be worked as safely with engines obtaining their adhesion from the rails only as by the method heretofore used. The time required to ascend the plane with a full load is one-half less, and with passenger trains about one-third less, than that required by engines using the rack and pinion, while the cost for repairs will be greatly reduced. The entire cost of the engine when completed, including cost of patterns, was $18,345.30.”

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