Date for RPC's story

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Aug 1 16:42:05 EDT 2017

O.K., Abram. This is your lucky day (or mine) because I just found (after months of searching) what I think is the date for the R.P.C. story I shared about engines starting fires. And the story just gets better. As you may know, Petersburg, VA, was a major center for manufacturing trunks with a number of factories based there. In one place I read that the factories used almost as much wood and the rest of the community did in building new homes.

On Saturday, 13 Feb 1892, the Richmond Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia reported a fire at Romaine Bros. trunk factory in Blandford, a suburb of Petersburg, Virginia. There was only one fire plug in that part of the city and it was woefully inadequate to the task at hand. The factory and several other buildings were a total loss.

About six weeks later, on Thursday, 24 March 1892, the same paper reports that the Romaine Bros. have filed a suit against the Norfolk and Western, claiming sparks from one of their engines started the fire.

The trial began the third week in May of that year and on Saturday, 21 May 1892 the newspaper reported on the first several days of proceedings. The plaintiff claimed that Norfolk and Western's

shifter-engine No. 51 had shot sparks into the air and one found its way into the eaves of the factory and started the fire. The article also says the Norfolk and Western went to great expense to build "a full-size, half-section of the front portion of the engine, showing the fire-box, the spark-arrester, the blow-pipes, the flues, the exhaust-pipes, the smoke stack, etc." They say it took half-a-dozen men to get it into the courtroom. [I personally don't see how it would fit even if it were a half-section. I think it must have been made to scale.] The article goes on to say the N&W did bring in the actual "heavy steam pipes and fire-arrester of engine No. 51." The reporter estimated that the jury would get the case for deliberation no sooner than the end of the following week and possibly later.

I have not yet found a follow-up to the article to see the outcome of the suit to see if it matches with R.P.C.'s story. That is why I am only 90% sure this is the event he described. It was also pointed out that there were other suits lined up behind this one, from the owners of the other buildings lost in the same fire and the outcome of this trial would affect those later trials. I'm going to keep searching until I find the results of this trial.

Peter R. R. Getz


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