Autobiography of William Crooks

William Crooks was the first chief engineer of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (the original predecessor of the Great Northern). That railroad’s locomotive number 1 was named for him, and this “autobiography” is of the locomotive, not the engineer. It is written in the first person–or, rather, first machine–and was published by the Great Northern in 1929.

Click image to download a 7.0-MB PDF of this booklet.

The booklet is undated, but it mentions (but includes no photos of) “new” locomotive 2550, a Great Northern S-1 4-8-4 that was built in 1929. Since it doesn’t mention even “newer” locomotive 2775, Great Northern S-2 4-8-4 built in 1930, the booklet must have been published, or at least written, before 1930.

Originally built in 1861, locomotive no. 1 was retired in 1897, but then restored to its former glory in 1908 in commemoration of James J. Hill’s 70th birthday. After that, the Great Northern sent the locomotive along with two wooden passenger cars of similar vintage to rail fairs and on publicity tours. The Crooks and its two cars now reside in the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.

Click image for a larger view.

Recently, going through some old family photo albums, I came upon this photo of my mother standing by the William Crooks with someone who is probably the locomotive’s engineer or fireman. She looks to be about 6 years old at the time, which would make the date 1932. She thought the photo was taken near her childhood home in Foreman, North Dakota. But Foreman was served only by the Soo Line, so her family must have traveled to another town to see this antique locomotive.


Autobiography of William Crooks — 1 Comment

  1. Florid but wonderful writing. Thanks to this brochure, I now know more about that engine than I ever did before. As far as I’m concerned, the William Crooks belongs back in the St. Paul Union Depot. But that’s only because I’m provincial: I first and last saw the William Crooks there. One of these days, I’ll have to make the trek to Duluth and see it again.

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