Sunday, September 2, 2007

Andrew Jackson "A.J." Stevens (1833-1888) - Builder of Locomotives

[Statue and plaque photos courtesy of Dennis Evanosky; Gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno; letter and locomotive photo from Sacramento Public Library]

A.J. Stevens was born in Vermont Sep. 14, 1833. In 1869 he was hired by Leland Stanford, President of Central Pacific (parent organization of Southern Pacific) as Master Mechanic. He was responsible for many locomotive inventions until his death in 1888.

Perhaps Stevens is best remembered for having built "El Gobernador," which at the time was the largest railroad locomotive in the world. Sadly, this engine appears to have largely been a victim of impatience on the part of the railroad's president, Leland Stanford. A locomotive this size had never been constructed before and proved to be a unique engineering challenge. As soon as Stevens was able to figure out a part, Stanford would order it built and installed on the new engine, without giving any proper time for testing. Stanford also apparently kept the other members of the The Big Four (minus Mark Hopkins, who had died several years before) in the dark about the project as well.

Once, while Stanford was away, Charles Crocker came through the locomotive works on a tour of inspection and saw the partially completed El Gobernador under construction. Having not been told about the project, he angrily demanded to know what they were up to. When told by A.J. Stevens that they were attempting to build the largest engine in the world, Crocker ordered all work stopped immediately. Meanwhile, Stanford returned to find that no new work had been done on the engine and when informed of the events that transpired, Crocker's orders were reversed.

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