Derby Street Railway Derby

Dave's Electric Railroads

Built in:1888 by Pullman
Out-of-service/Retired:? (1889)
Type of car:locomotive (extremely early box cab)
Current Owner:Branford Electric Railway Association(East Haven, Connecticut)

Car History by Jeff Hakner & Frank Hicks

Derby Street Railway Derby
Among the most historically significant pieces of preserved railway equipment is this locomotive. It is the oldest surviving North American electric locomotive to have been used commercially (there are older experimental or demonstrator locomotives in existence). In the 1880's several different inventors produced prototype electric railway systems; though Frank Sprague's became the universally accepted type, a major rival was Charles Van Depoele. Van Depoele's design was to place a single motor on the car platform and connect it using chain drive. Several early electric railway were equipped thusly before the merits of Sprague's system of axle-mounted motors became obvious. This locomotive, nicknamed the "Derby," was built in 1887 for the Derby Horse Railroad, which despite its name, was from the start an electric trolley line. It was later known as the Derby Street Railway. Van Depoele, who was deploying a trolley line in Jamaica, NY at the time, was chosen as the engineer. Part of the business plan of the Derby line was to haul freight. The Derby locomotive was ordered from Pullman and equipped by Van Depoele with a single 75hp motor. It was not referred to as a locomotive; the lettering proclaimed it the "Electric Line Motor".

During the construction of the line, a competing railroad reinforced a bridge under which the line passed. The ulterior motive of this act was to block the trolley line from reaching the waterfront and bypassing the railroad's freight business. Thus, the Derby Locomotive's roof had to be lowered and the trolley pole supported by a collapsible tower.

The Derby St. Ry. began hauling freight in July 1888 but discontinued this service in October 1889, giving the Derby locomotive a service life of just one year. Sometime between 1900 and 1906 it was put on display in Pine Rock Grove, a park owned by Connecticut Railway & Lighting, which had acquired DSR in 1900. In 1914 the heavily vandalized locomotive was moved to the shops of the Connecticut Company (which had acquired CR&L) and put into protective storage, having gained the affections of master mechanic Charles Rufus Harte. In 1928 it was transferred to the New Haven RR, which cosmetically restored the "Derby" and spent the next twenty years trotting it out for display at fairs and various special occasions. In 1950 the Danbury Fair bought the "Derby" for $250 and displayed it annually until it was acquired by BERA. Between 1982 and 1987 the locomotive was completely restored by BERA and made operational, complete with its totally rebuilt Van Depoele motor.

Ownership History:Derby Street Railway #Derby 1888-1900 / Connecticut Railway & Lighting #Derby 1900-? / 1st preserved by Pine Rock Grove ?-1914 / later preserved by Connecticut Company 1914-1928 / Branford Electric Railway Association(East Haven, Connecticut) 1982-present

Facts and Figures

Status:displayed operableGauge:4'8.5"
Construction:woodRoof type:AREnded:DE
#Seats:n/a#Wheels/Conf.:4 (B)Total HP:75
Trucks:Pullman #5 PedestalBrakes:HandCompressor:n/a
Motors:Van Depoele (1)Voltage (if not 600DC)


Lettered "Ansonia Derby & Birmingham"; originally had Van Depoele control; later preserved by New York New Haven & Hartford (1928-1950); later preserved by Great Danbury Fair (1950-1982); thought to be first electric car preserved in North America