Table of Contents

  1. Shallow Canals & Deep Forests: eary life
  2. An Usettling Novelty: Peru and Indianapolis Rail Road
  3. Tunneling Beyond Credulity: Fort Wayne & Southern RR
  4. The Occasional Sourdough: a first strike in South Park and a strikeout with buffalo
  5. Moonshine Narrow Gauge: papering over "the fever"
  6. The Holman Locomotive
  7. sources; equipment data; related odds & ends

Revisions / additions log:
6-22-2021: new
7-5-2021: revised text, all pages + added graphic to Part 2
2-11-2023: 1904 Atlantic City RR employee timetable PDF added
xxxxxxxxxxxto Part 7

4-4-2023: homage to W. J. Holman, All-American Crook; our
xxxxxxxxxxxschlocky tribute to W.J.


Should you be a railfan or Steam Punk aficionado, you likely have already encountered a likeness of William Jennings Holman's ponderous, three story "locomotive" somewhere on the Web. The Holman Locomotive is hard to miss. For myself, I have been aware of his oddity - actually an appliance for steam locomotives, not the whole ball of wax - since I acquired a Topps collectors' card depicting it more than 60 years ago.

My infatuation with Holman's machine lacked any depth until I began studying the circumstances surrounding the creation of what I consider to be the hands-down greatest piece of railroad satire to ever see print, a goofy 1897 drawing that appeared in a railway trade magazine of "Gilderfluke's Perfected Locomotive", helpfully accompanied by a hilarious collection of technical specifications. I giggled over this witty image for years without making any connection to Holman, but once I understood that Gilderfluke was a direct shot over his Locomotive's cow catcher, I felt compelled to sort out why this fellow's activities had spurred such an industrious hoot of derision.

The task turned out to be a little intimidating, for Holman surely should be a poster boy for the Dunning Kruger effect, which essentially expands upon what Charles Darwin was thinking when he said, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." Holman, though a reasonably intelligent guy, was in many ways as clueless as they came. But that was his power, for had he not been ignorant of some basic laws of physics, he never would have produced the Holman Locomotive; proposed to build a railroad tunnel under the Ohio River; figured that buffalo could be herded to market. I wonder, as an amateur writer who advanced no further in schooling than an undergrad history degree, have I fallen into the same trap? Here I am, penning a biography with no particular training in this sort of thing, nor in human psychology for that matter - unless I count my self-graded "A" in Psych 1A back in the 60's, about the last time that I seriously studied English grammar, or consulted Strunk and Turabian about elements of style. What gives me solace is my suspicion that there is a little Holman in all of us. No matter how intellectually gifted some of us are, we are all shaped by unfounded assumptions about the breadth and depth of our personal knowledge. Indeed, I am not certain that we could function in our daily lives without these chunks of chutzpah spanning the gaps in our proficiency. For Holman, this was both a blessing and a curse, since his ignorance invariably caused his wilder endeavors to fail. But at least he possessed the confidence to try, which is about all that I can say for myself with any certainty.

There is a certain beauty involved in publishing history on the Internet, where nothing is etched in stone. History is merely someone's figment of the past, an interpretation of what happened based upon what is known at the moment, and in that respect, history is never static. As new data emerge, one's mental history can accommodate it in rapid fashion, but traditional hardcopy revisions necessarily lag, or never happen. Now, through the magic of technology, historical updates of the past can be published at will. To quote Flounder in Animal House, "Oh boy, is this great!"

Otherwise, who knows, maybe the prototype model for the Holman Locomotive Speeding Truck is still rusting away in somebody's shed. Now there's a thought!

E.O. Gibson,
June 22, 2021

I must express a huge thank you to Jeff Moore for volunteering to proof read this monograph. It is much better for it. Western railfans will recognize Jeff as the author of many well-researched and written logging/lumber railroad books.