Taking Stock of William Jennings Holman and His Improbable Locomotive, Part 6

Products of an overly inventive imagination

On the whole, Holman's moonshine schemes were too modest to attract a flood of attention, and those in-the-know tended to give his odd and suspicious activities a wide berth, the net result being that he had plenty of time on his hands to devote to his lifelong passion for inventing things. His fixation over compound rails never left him, and in 1879 the Patent Office awarded him a patent for new design that in no way resembled his oddball first attempt of 1856. This time around it resembled "U" rail, which had found more favor in the industry than compound rail, but had likewise failed to catch-on generally. Compound rail itself had completely fallen out of use by the end of the Civil War because of its primary bugaboo, a propensity for its binding nuts and bolts to work loose, causing the rail to fall apart. Holman now was certain that he had engineered a solution - three-part rails that "will require no other device, appliance, or attachment to make perfectly secure rails than to place them together and spike them to the cross ties." The inconvenient fact that locking pins had to be inserted into the rail to prevent horizontal creep escaped mention until a couple of paragraphs later. Whether it actually was a technical triumph or not did not matter much. It was if he had invented a revolutionary new type of buggy whip fifteen years into Model T production, and expected automobile owners to sit up and take notice due to its technical brilliance. What he did not grasp was that the horse was still dead.

His next patent exercise gave him some relief from the ever-accruing lawsuits of the early 80's. This time, he took on as partner Micah C. White of Minneapolis, Kate's oldest brother. The pair spent three years immersed in improving the rigidity and rot-resistance of uncovered wooden truss bridges. Iron and lately, steel, bridges were now replacing wooden spans on heavy duty main lines, but the cost advantage of wooden bridges still encouraged their ubiquitous use in less demanding applications. The two men figured that they could extend bridge life with two novel variations from conventional design. To reduce mechanical wear caused by fasteners, they designed a novel locking nut and bolt arrangement that supposedly would prevent nuts from backing off. These were applied to the corners of timbers (instead of flat surfaces), which themselves were set at 45 degree angles to horizontal to enable them to readily shed moisture. Holman received a patent for the bridge in late 1883 and assigned half the rights to White. A Canadian patent followed in 1885, but no bridge is known to have been built according to their specs.


compound rail patents: 1856, left and 1879 lower right
1883 bridge / novel fastener patent, upper right;
a PDF download of all Holman patents is located HERE.

One man's flop is another's inspiration

By this time, Holman's attentions were already diverted towards something that stirred his juices considerably more than a bridge. Earlier in the decade, a misguided fellow from Detroit named Eugene Fontaine had latched onto an idea that power transmission by "friction gearing" was a much more energy-efficient form of steam locomotive propulsion than the conventional arrangement of driving wheels. Friction gearing performed the same function as toothed gears, except that the mating surfaces were smooth, rather than cogged - think of an automobile transmission equipped with smooth "gears" that relies upon the mating friction between them to transmit power. For reasons hard to fathom now, Fontaine and fellow members of the scientific fringe were convinced that friction gearing was so efficient that, in the case of locomotives, track speed could be increased without a corresponding increase in engine power output. Mainstream scientists considered this as poppycock, because it violated their traditional (extant since mid-century) conceptual framework regarding the law of conservation of energy. According to the theory - first postulated at mid-century and refined into the First Law of Thermodynamics early in the next century - the quantity of heat consumed is proportional to the work done. This was a work-a-day assumption on the railroads. Heck, any locomotive engineer could tell you that his locomotive consumed more fuel and water in a given distance as its speed rose.

One critic quipped that the Fontaine Locomotive appeared as if it had been compressed
in a collision. Otherwise, it is an early manifestation of Holman's Law (see text).
- University of Michigan Bentley Library

Fontaine was so smitten by the myth of friction gearing that, after first obtaining a patent, he set out to prove his theories in 1881 by ordering a pair of demonstration locomotives from Grant Locomotive Works. (see image) Their appearance was so peculiar that they immediately attracted a chorus of catcalls and a lot of head scratching. The friction drive consisted of two six foot wheels that received power from canted steam cylinders and transferred it to a set of much smaller single drivers which each had two rims, one which mated with the overhead wheel and the other with the rail. To make the setup even more "efficient'" he devised a manually operated lever to raise the larger wheels ever so slightly to increase "efficiency" even more by reducing friction. Some way, somehow, the intervening voodoo performed by the extra wheels was supposed to keep the power requirements from the cylinders relatively unchanged as speed increased. Expressed as an equation, his thinking is thus: energy + friction gearing = more energy. Holman's Law, we shall call it.

His experiments conducted on Canada Southern railway showed that his locomotives could perform at high speeds comparable to conventional locomotives, but the traction provided by the single sets of drivers was so anemic that the locomotives were universally pronounced to be impractical, so much so that the topic of efficiency apparently never came up. Reaction to the results was swift and merciless. The Fontaine Locomotive was now Fontaine's Folly; Fontaine's Flop; Fontaine's Freak. After the brief round of trials, the locomotives sat idle until 1884, when they were converted into normal machines.

1890-1894: Exactly who was this guy Caldwell, anyway?

Late in life, Holman commented to a reporter that he initiated his development work on a friction-geared locomotive upon moving to Minneapolis in 1885. He never mentioned Fontaine's experiments, but it is reasonable to assume that he found inspiration where most people found disaster. Once he sidestepped the hurdle of immutable science to take up the panacea of friction-gearing, the matter was settled. From then-on he labored under the premise that technical design errors sealed Fontaine's fate. The theory was sound, he was sure, and it awaited a man of higher intellect to carry it to fruition. This is pretty much what one would expect from a confidence man.

No hint that he was onto something appeared in the historical record for another five years, except that he occasionally turned up in Milwaukee hotels. If his brother-in-law was a part of Holman's initial ruminations is unknown, but he died in 1888, well before a design had surfaced in public.

In 1890, Holman's thoughts were sufficiently solidified to place them in motion, so at mid-year he began selling stock. By now he also had a partner, an ex Minneapolis furniture factory machinist named Henry J. Caldwell. Almost nothing is known about Caldwell except that his former job would have given him a working knowledge of belt and pulley gear reduction*, plus he likely had journeyman level expertise as a lathe operator. These were critical skills, because Holman was contemplating a device that was nothing more than a two-tiered set of rollers to be placed underneath a conventional steam locomotive's driving wheels. Caldwell was tailor-made to convert concepts into physical reality and while Holman proceeded to scout little old ladies' parlors and cooks' rooming houses, the task of constructing a working model of the truck fell to him.

In the meatime, the partners must have created some dandy drawings for Holman to display as he and his somewhat baffled customers sipped tea, because by summer's end, sales were going so nicely that he took their quiet little racket public with a small newspaper ad alerting potential investors that stock subscriptions were about to close for the So-Called Holman-Caldwell Roller Gearing Locomotive Association of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A second ad placed in October reported that the stock was then fully subscribed - and would subscribers please pay their latest installment promptly!

*Fun fact: The benefit of hindsight tells us that those belt drives of Caldwell's were potentially way more efficient than the roller gearing setup. So were the cog and chain drives of the era's "safety bicycles" which had recently replaced the penny farthing, whose monster direct crank front wheel forlornly begged for some sort gear reduction.

He could not see the forest for the trees, either.

(click for larger image) These 1890 "personal" documents addressed to Miss Matilda Lee of Minneapolis, one of Holman's earliest stockholders, tell us worlds about how his mind and his confidence schemes worked. One could imagine her uttering to herself in exasperation, "I can't see the forest for the trees!" when confronted with these missives. One also might judge that they were deliberate acts of obfuscation, which they probably were not. This was the way Holman's mind worked. He tended to get so caught up in hammering out details and addressing stray thoughts that he could not see the forest for the trees, either. His overall pursuits were testimony to this. For example, his Cattleman's Association scheme was so ill-advised that he seems to have said to himself, "Buffalo herding looks darn lucrative," and then immediately plunged into the minutiae of organizing the affair without further inquiring why nobody had attempted this in the past. The pressing effects of ego, and particularly greed, surely dimmed his analytics, but his innate ability to organize and prioritize his thoughts were his greatest frailty.

Matilda (or Mathilda) Lee was representative of the nearly invisible people who Holman targeted. Scant evidence suggests that she was a young cook who lived in Central Minneapolis and married a man named Johnson between 1892 and 1896. More speculatively, she was of Norwegian extraction, possibly not many years off the boat, judging by her absence from public record. We only know that she married due to her name change on later Holman documents. She likely was a border at a rooming house when Holman got ahold of her, for such places were prime sales territory for an operation that depended upon word-of mouth. Matilda, who initially only put down two dollars towards the discounted price of $25 for one share of $100 stock, was valued less as a shareholder and more as an evangelical salesperson. Holman's exhortations especially targeted women with an almost a religious fervor that allusioned to family and common purpose, wonderful sentiments made all-the-more appealing by the undercurrent of get-rich-quick.

---top - This illegible image of a blank September, 1890 stock certificate, taken from
------an 1897 Railway Age, has a signature space for "master machinist" Caldwell,
------although he referred to his role as "Master Mechanic".
---above - The only other known image of a Holman-Caldwell stock certificate is this
------one, dated 1892.

By November Caldwell had completed a miniature prototype of the truck. Holman sent out invitations to the undoubtedly anxious stockholders to "see a complete roller-geared locomotive working by steam power - a severe test and pronounced success" on the night of November 7th at what is presumed to have been a hotel ballroom located a couple of blocks from Chigago, Milwaukee & St. Paul's downtown depot. (the "General Office" was located in Holman's home across the river)

Both the St. Paul Globe and the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted the event with reports that, despite their brevity, may have struck discord between the partners. The Star Tribune wrote on November 16:


A Minneapolis Machinist's New Roller-Gearing Invention.

H.J. Caldwell has invented a new roller-gearing for a locomotive, which is intended to increase the speed of the machine fully 100 percent, by making the same number of revolutions as the wheel now commonly used by railroad companies. It is claimed for the new wrinkle that there is a less liability of derailment or a breakage in the tracks, saving at the same time 50 percent of the ordinary wear and tear on a locomotive or road bed. The Milwaukee Star[*] of Nov. 8 refers to the invention at some length refers to the invention at some length and comments upon the evident durability of the concern, as shown in the model which Mr. Caldwell has taken to the Beer City for making arrangements with factories at that place. The wheels are to be turned out at Milwaukee, but the remaining portions of the locomotive will have attention from Minneapolis. The patent is known as the Holman-Caldwell, and a stock company will likely be formed, which will erect substantial shops in Minneapolis for manufacturing the entire list of required articles, although for the present Milwaukee is to have a percentage of the trade.

* Sadly, like is so often the case, no editions survive from this Saturday-only newspaper, which only survived from 1889-1894. Save for tiny listings in an archive, or two, its memory is totally erased from history. Drat.

Throughout his relationship with Caldwell, Holman had continually credited himself as inventor, so what was going on here? Did the reporters have their wires crossed, or did the news originate with Caldwell? Was he attempting to steal credit from his partner, or had Holman actually swiped concept from him? Or had they each contributed enough to be in fact co-inventors? These are the first of a large set of unanswered questions surrounding the Holman Locomotive. Whatever the case, Caldwell dropped off the face of the earth after the stories hit the streets. The company continued on as Holman-Caldwell for another five years, with or without Caldwell.

The coffee table locomotive worked quite well enough for Holman to drop the small time local stuff in favor of a much larger audience. In early 1891, he sent out a press release for national circulation, knowing that editors had the habit of printing just about anything they were handed if they had a last-minute hole to fill. It read, in part:

The owners of what are called the Holman-Caldwell patents are having fitted up in Milwaukee a locomotive to be equipped with a new style of running gear, which its owners think will accomplish great things in railroading...

...it is claimed that the ordinary speed of a locomotive can be doubled by the use of this gearing. A stock company has been formed to exploit this invention, and as soon as possible a trial trip is to be made. It is proposed to first run the engine now being equipped from Minneapolis to Boston. Representatives of the Holman-Caldwell company have been in Milwaukee for several days looking after the construction of the trial truck and exhibiting models of the invention to railroad men.

This was quite a move up for a fellow who, six months before, filled his time collecting two-dollar down payments on stock from household help. In truth, it was Holman drawing from his well-worn playbook. The grand plans were an attempt to scare additional prey out of the bushes, nothing more. The talk of patents was a hoax. His home was still his headquarters. Smoke and mirrors.

His contrivance did not go unnoticed in the trade press, however. Locomotive Engineers' Monthly Journal proclaimed, "A new-fangled locomotive based upon some of the principles of the old Fontaine engine, with exaggerations, is about to astonish the world..." The Engineer was equally caustic:


One would think that the publicity which the experiments with the Fontaine locomotive some few years ago would be enough to deter others from trying it over again, but it seems that the lesson has been lost, for here is another of the same kind...

Better write Mr. Eugene Fontaine and ask him what he thinks about it first; he paid out a great deal of money six years ago for a similar device. It is not now in use.

After the announcement, Holman disapeared from the limelight almost completely for the next three and one-half years, although the release continued to appear verbatum in the press every so often, here-and-there. He did briefly pop up at the end of 1892, when he expanded his fundraising activities to Philadelphia. In the coming years, Philly folks became his second-favorite targets of opportunity behind his Minneapolis neighbors. His sales push included demonstrations of the pint-sized Caldwell prototype and, quite expectedly, a ramp-up of hyperbole to the press. He disclosed to Philadelphia Inquirer that he was currently engaged in organizing a corporation to "to control his [nonexistent] patent in foreign countries" and that he expected that a locomotive equipped with his trucks would make as much as 140 mph. On the downside, he still had no full-sized machine to tout, and the Inquirer called him "W.J. Coleman".

Holman's prognostications drew the notice of the most respected gentleman in railway trade journalism, Angus Sinclair, editor-in-chief of Locomotive Engineering, a monthly magazine that he had purchased earlier in the year. Sinclair had an extensive background in locomotive theory and hands-on design, which we will cover further on. His curiosity about the wild claims prompted him to attend one of Holman's demos. It did not impress. In a sarcastic take-down thinly-disguised as a letter to the editor (himself), Sinclair affected the language of a backwoodsman in precisely pointing out the basic error in Holman's Law:

One Even an old back-woodser like me can see that when ther drivin wheels revolves once ther upper trucks will turn more than once, and this is agin multiplyed in ther lower trucks, so it seems clear as mud that ther engin will travel a whole heap faster "goin at ther same speed" as they do now. I mean they will run over more ground when the drivers are runnin the same as now, and ther seems no limit to this arrangement. Ther great beauty is that (as must be perfectly clear to all) it takes no more power to run ther engine 100 turns per minute when she is up on stilts than if she was on the rail, and yet (as also must be clear) she will cover a grate deal more ground than when built on the ground floor plan as at present.

As ther loads will be no heavier and it takes no more power ter turn ther wheels at the same rate, which moves ther engin over double the ground, it shows that by simply adding this patent double geared friction truck ther speed of ther train is doubled and yet no power is consumed. Uv corse this dont seem exactly possible.

Sinclair's review might have been gentler had Holman and his men not confronted him with their intention to sell stock, not to accomodate gawkers. He summarized their endeavor as "sort of underdone like, not thoroughly baked", not as a scam. The latter would be tacked-on soon enough.

Casting a wider net brought in enough money to afford a full-size set of trucks sometime during the next three years. As things had unfolded, professional railroaders wanted no part of his crazy device, and in all liklihood, him as well. In the future, a host of differing concerns over the practicality of Holman's invention would surface, but for now and always, railroaders believed that running it at high speed was dangerous in the least, but more probably, suicidal - the darn thing would make a locomotive too top-heavy.

A crack in the railroad defenses eventually appeared, nontheless, in 1894, when nearby SOO Line management crumbled-in to what speculatively must have been some prolonged pestering by Holman and his Minneapolis associates. They agreed to a short term loan of their locomotive #6, which gave Holman the dimensions he needed to produce his truck. SOO Line's amiability was limited. Only low speed tests under close company supervision at Minneapolis's Shoreham Yard would be allowed. The experiments went well enough for SOO to allow further use of #6, but officials would have none of high speed tests.

This widely distributed photo is the only one known showing SOO Line #6 supported by the Holman-Caldwell trucks, as well as the original two story front truck arrangement. Note that the tender height has been nearly doubled to allow it to properly mate with the cab deck. Likewise, a different style Holman truck gives altitude to the lead end. The bearded old man at left is W.J. Holman, looking more like a circuit riding minster than a con man, but perhaps that was the idea. The young man next to him is believed to be one of his sons. The location is most likely is SOO's Shoreham Yard in Minneapolis.

Despite the tests' limited circumstances, Holman had his shoe inside the reluctant industry's door. By September, he had coerced Northern Pacific to allow a trial at speed, something that they later regretted. The exhibition took place on NP's "B Line" southeast of Minneapolis on September 14. News coverage related that:

The track used… is practically out of use, and is in very bad condition. It is said that Northern Pacific officials have stated that it would not be safe for an engine to go over it at forty miles per hour, but yesterday No. 6 of the Soo road… attained a speed of eighty miles an hour, and the only reason it did not make a better record was because the engineer was afraid of the track and would not let her out.

Holman's patently stupid antics petrified NP officials, who promptly dismissed him from their railroad.

Soo Line managers likely witnessed Holman's high speed antics with chagrin, but with a measure of amusement over the discomfort of their cross-town rivals. They were kind enough to forgo an immediate rescue of engine #6 in favor of allowing it to accompany Holman's creation for display at the Minnesota State Fair, no doubt under the proviso that it be a static display.

Although banned from NP, Holman had achieved his immediate goal, stimulus for stock subscriptions. Railway Review helped out by publishing a photo of #6 and Holman (see image) along with an accompanying article whose only criticism had to do with the front truck's design. The journal Industry then proceeded to call the Review to task over its flattering remarks, saying, "The editor must know it is clotted nonsense, impossible on mechanical grounds, and a freak on all other grounds." The wounded Review editor weakly responded that he "did know it was "clotted nonsense," but thought it the best way to counter the the positive statements seen in the daily press was to portray the thing as it actually appears." Yeah, you bet.

1895: The whole package

The results of the demonstrations were encouraging enough that on December 16 - after five years of claims of multiple patents - Holman applied for a bona fide patent, an Attachment for Locomotive Engines, although he was not entirely happy with its use of friction bearings on the axles. Athough the tests were brief, he could already see that friction bearings created unacceptable drag and were difficult to keep sufficiently lubricated at high speed, which could potentially cause overheating.

Happily, the machine's performance also proved encouraging to investors. By January, stock sales were going so well that Holman took a leap of faith and ordered a locomotive of his own to place atop his trucks. Baldwin Locomotive Works rolled it off the factory floor in August, 1895, with lettering on the tender reading Holman Friction - Geared Locomotive #1. Caldwell defenitely now was out of the picture.

While the loco was on order, Holman busied himself with the bearing issue. The latest thing was roller bearings, which various companies had manufactured for the last few years. With friction bearings, as the axle rotates inside the bearing, the mating surfaces slide against one-another, causing the drag and lubrication issues that vexed him. Roller bearings eliminate this by inserting multiple rollers between the axle and bearing surfaces that roll, instead of slide. Generally speaking, roller bearings generate roughly one-fifth of the friction (coefficient) of plain bearings and being sealed units, they require no additional lubrication or maintenance once installed. perhaps the best part interms of railroad applications, is that they rarely overheat.
They are so superior to plain bearings that the latter have been banned for use on railroad equipment used in interchange since the mid-1990's.

At the time, roller bearings were promising technology, but untried on railway equipment, mostly due to their prohibitive cost. To purchase sets of them for 10 axles from a manufacturer was beyond his means, but as only Holman could do, he devised a hermaphrodite alternative of his own. Rather than employing bearings consisting of dozens of small rollers, he fitted each axle end with two or three ~6"? rollers whose only functions were to keep the larger "roller-gearing" rollers properly aligned. Although no drawings or specs indicate exactly how many additional rollers he used, the educated guess is 48. But wait, there's more! He mounted each of his new rollers to rotate on a spindle, and each one of these spindles had a sleeve-type friction bearing, i.e. 48 more bearings. To summarize: Holman originally proposed to increase engine efficiency through a combination of 20 rollers and 20 friction bearings. In some way only understood by himself, this was not as efficient as the new setup of 96 assorted rollers and friction bearings. The buzz emitted from all those rollers must have been pronounced.

He did propose to make one genuine contribution to efficiency by ditching the original truck that supported the locomotive's lead wheels for a more standard lead truck design, but with 63" wheels that were the same size as #1's drivers. The effect was that the locomotive looked even less stable than before. Another hint of sanity came in #1's order, whose specs specified to "Use Holman's present pilot + Eng. Truck, keeping pilot + Eng. trk. While an interpretation might be that he was hedging his bets in case of failure, Holman was not like that. He was absolutely sure that his design would succeed and make him rich.

Bearings and rollers and wheels - On the right side of the image below is an early example of Hyatt "flexible" roller bearing of the 1890's. It used multiple short rollers layed end to end in a race, instead of only one long roller. It may have been the ideal bearing type fpr Holman, but instead he designed a hybrid of rollers mounted on sleeve bearings similar to below. His 1897 patent application, center, has fewer truck axles, but otherwise shows the arrangement of rollers mating with the axles in groups of two's and three's. The image at lower right from a 1907 Railway and Locomotive Engineering article, is the only photo of #1, while the woodcut drawing at immediate right, which circulated in Holman newspaper ads beginning in early 1897, is the only depiction of the entire locomotive yet found beyond a couple of cruder woodcuts.

Following #1's August completion,
cryptic reports surfaced suggesting that it performed some initial breaking-in at Baldwin's Philadelphia plant, after which the locomotive moved across the river to New Jersey to conduct a high speed trial on the Camden & Atlantic Railroad. Under ill-advised circumstances, #1 achieved 83 mph, prompting Camden's city fathers to ban Holman and his machine from town.

Holman #1 then sat idle and homeless because Holman's reckless reputation with his screwball creation preceeded him wherever he went. Afer two months of inaction he stumbled across a colossal stroke of luck. He found a railroad that was more desperate than he was.

South Jersey Railroad was not much, a Johnny-come-lately, half-hearted Philadelphia & Reading Railroad raid by proxy on rival Pennsylvania Railroad's Southern New Jersey summer seashore traffic. It completed its sand-ballasted line into Cape May in June 1894 and promptly went into receivership two months later, because its promoters had so thoroughly misread how empty the resort could be on either side of summer season. Southern New Jersey's once-abundant agricultural economy was then in decline, with farms being abandoned right-and-left, and another economic mainstay, the local glass industry, was withering from the effects of lower-priced foreign products. In low season, there simply was no traffic, passenger or freight. During the 1895 high season, the influx of resort traffic had outstripped its modest locomotive roster's capacity to handle it, but once the vacationers went home, the transformation was so dramatic that by October South Jersey receiver Francis I. Gowen cut manpower to one crew each for passenger and freight trains. Passenger service accordingly dropped to one round trip per day between Cape May and Camden. Yet... on November 12th, about two weeks after Gowen announced the cut in service, Holman #1 was reported as being placed on its trucks at Cape May.


The crux of the matter: These two timetables starkly show the disparity between summer and winter traffic at Cape May. During the three month high vacation season, South Jersey had trouble keeping enough locomotives serviceable to cover the heavy traffic, but during the balance of the year, the usual two round trips per day ran largely empty. The schedule at left shows the situation in February, 1896 (in 1895 it was worse - one rounder), while the July, 1898 timetable shows the flood of trains that burnished Atlantic City Railroad's track in its first summer season after taking over South Jersey's operations. - both images from The Official Guide of the Railways

No explanation of "why" it appeared accompanied #1's arrival. At that time of the year, all that Gowen could reasonably expect from the loco's presence was some free publicity and maybe a few fares from gawkers who might come down to the cape to witness a show. It was also an ace in the hole for the next summer, if it did not go to pieces in a wreck in the meantime. He may have considered the machine to be an ace in the hole to help him contend with the onslaught of traffic during the following summer. As events would later suggest, Holman's "stroke of luck" may have been purchased under the table with liberal amounts of stock.

Both parties anticipated a prompt series of trials, but a short, nasty storm put things on temporary hold until November 18, when the right of way was pronounced shipshape enough to host a 54 mile dash up to Winslow Junction trailed by five coaches. As he would in the future, Holman arranged this event as a tightly controlled public relations stunt. New York Tribune later reported were 107 "railroad men, capitalists and reporters - the invited guests of W. J. Holman". He did not countenance known critics, who were excluded from his spectaculars as they were found out. If reports are to be trusted - a caveat that by now should impress the reader as being redundant - the locomotive made a good showing, covering the distance at a 70 mph average, with one short burst hitting 80. An overly-enthusiastic Holman predicted that a Winslow - Cape May run scheduled for the following day would cover the same ground in 30 minutes

The second demonstration went poorly. Locomotive #1 developed a case of asthma, a "defective draught", that hobbled it so much that the inventor admitted the day's single speed spurt timed-in at three miles-per-hour less than the previous day's high (a less-biased account put it at below 60 mph). Holman's reputation with the industry as an amateur (at best) really showed at this point, for although his team failed to uncover the root of the problem, he none-the-less elected to put on another show at the end of the month. This one culminated prematurely after it was found that his engine could sputter along at no more than 25 mph. It was only then that somebody thought to crack open the smokebox door to find that the exhaust draught had been choked off by a pile of cinders that had collected inside a spark arrestor of new and defective design. A professional would easily have sniffed out the issue when it first occurred, but Holman kept none around. Quite perturbed and embarrassed, he loaded his locomotive onto flatcars bound for Baldwin "to have the cinder nuisance stopped".

The Bee of Earlington, Kentucky scored the event, the inventor and the sum total of his endeavors with a nonpareil expression of insight:

There are so many bad points about this machine that that some one surely must have told him that it was no good, but such inventors are usually so pig-headed that they will listen to no one, and in this case the pig headedness seems to be costing a good many thousand dollars.

At left is Holman's 1895 patent, which shows the main truck's second configuration, to which the original truck may or may not have been modified for placement under #1. A PDF download of all Holman patents is located HERE.


Despite the setback, Holman judged the trials as promising enough to ramp-up his stock sales. In January, 1896 he, his namesake son and seven others, incorporated the Holman Speeding Truck Company. Oddly, their initial announcement declined to reveal the particulars of their proposed product, suggesting an attempt at secrecy, but our old acquaintance St. Paul Daily Globe chuckled that, "The device is not such a secret in this vicinity". Indeed, it was less than a mystery out in New Jersey, too. What surely took center stage attention, though, was company's staggering $10 million capitalization - the equivalent to more than $300 million in 2020 - an amount which left many people wondering why such an enormous amount of capital was required to fund the development and marketing of a mechanism that could have been farmed out to a medium size foundry. From its onset, the 'new' business's cover was blown as merely an upscale, more ambitious version of what Holman had been doing for more than five years.

Central to the new arrangement was that, as the patent holder, Holman assigned half of the stock to himself, which in his eyes made him an instant multi-millionaire. That must have been pleasing. He expanded the company reach beyond Minneapolis and Philadelphia by establishing sales offices in New York and and Sioux City (where the comany incorporated). His agents offered $100 shares for half that, and advanced a supposition to investors that they would easily double their money and more, once the trucks gained general acceptance by the railroads. Most assuredly, this was just around the corner, and sales went well. Engineering news reported in March that:

Sales went well. Engineering news reported in March that:

Hundreds of people of moderate means in Minneapolis...are investing in the stock of the company formrd to develpo the invention, on the strength of of last summer's tests... the Holman locomotive is an example of a class of inventions which are very apt to mislead the public... Inventions which are designed to remedy defects in ordinary engineering practice that exist in the imagination never attain permant success.

In contrast to Holman's reinvigorated sales campaign, South Jersey railroad's financial difficulties had continued to intensify to such a degree that, by February, the bondholder's committee was seriously considering liquidation. In a lawsuit brought by powerhouse Pennsylvania Railroad, the court now had confirmed an earlier ruling that, as the second railroad to lay rails in the area, South Jersey would be required to replace its disputed at-grade crossings of PRR's West Jersey Railroad with overhead bridges, or otherwise yank them up and severely curtail operations. This time Philadelphia & Reading, which held the controlling interest in SJ, stepped in at the last minute with the required $19,000 funding out of fear that liquidation might result in sale to a foe, but not before South Jersey experienced a lengthy crime wave of vandalism and theft all along its line, perhaps instigated by PRR.

(click for larger image) This March 1, 1896 transitional stock certificate handled the conversion of Roller- Gearing Association stock into like shares of Speeding Truck stock. Stalwart early investor Matilda Lee (now Mrs. Johnson) recieved one on the same day. In April these were exchanged for the engraved Speeding Truck stock seen elsewhere below.

Holman Locomotive Speeding Truck Co. incorporators: W.G. Garstead, Philadelphia; H.T. Boyer, Morristown NJ; G.W. and J.W. Hemperly, Harrisburg; S.L. White, St. Paul (Secretary; Kate Holman's brother); W.G. Holman and sons W.j.Jr. and H.G. Holman, Minneapolis

(click for larger image) South Jersey Railroad (green line) could not turn a buck in the Cape May trade essentially because it duplicated West Jersey & Seashore's (blue line) older, well-established service, something that this map depicting their parallel routes between Cape May Courthouse and Cape May makes emphatically clear. The two roads sat less than fifty feet apart for nearly half the distance, a condition that demanded races in defense of company honor. We can see one of the two spots where the lines crossed just above Cape May Court House. The other crossing was off the map further north, about 4.5 miles SSW of Tuckahoe. The courts eventually forced South Jersey to build flyovers at these points where it had illegally built across Pennsylvania Railroad at grade. The full map from which this was clipped is available online at Rutgers University. It dates from 1912, by which time SJ had been folded into Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.

With the crossing issue resolved, South Jersey's board resumed plans to finish construction of a branch to Ocean City, even though its cost was expected to be about $33,000. P&R was not on board with that idea, so local residents banded together to charter their own Ocean City Railroad Company, which would be operated by South Jersey upon completion. The OCRR then let out a $33,000 construction contract to a ex State Senator Lemuel E. Miller, who subsequently tried to avoid paying his workers. In early May, after a month of this, 200 desperate and irate laborers, soon augmented by 100 Italian immigrants from another crew, seized two locomotives and set about to blockade the branch with ties, trees and large stumps. Tensions escalated further when a force of the contractor's hirelings attempted a rescue of the locomotives, but were repulsed by armed strikers. After week of semi warfare, the senator, who had remained scarce, finally relented, paid off the men, and sent them packing.

On the same day, May 6, Pennsylvania Railroad consolidated West Jersey and five others railroads into West Jersey & Seashore Railroad Company, whose territorial domination would proceed to put SJ further into the hole. Then, just as drought-induced wildfires began to lay waste to Southern New Jersey's cranberry bogs and economy, the outfit which had supplied the Ocean City project with $26,000 worth of rail began crying foul and sued Senator Miller over non-payment. Miller had bid $33,000 for the OCRR contract, a severe underbid for which he and South Jersey paid later the price. As if all of this bad juju was not enough, towards the end of the month - concurrent with the onset of summer season - a violent thunderstorm demolished the Cape May depot car shed and the general superintendent suddenly resigned in a mysterious huff.

By month's end, SJ and WJ&S were embroiled in a semi-formal speed competition, one that would continue on occasionally for decades. It was a natural-enough development for two competitors who ran within sight of each other for the eleven miles between Cape May and Cape May Courthouse, nearly half of it within 50 feet apart. As a consequence, South Jersey instituted a new fast train dubbed the Century Flyer by the winning entry in a naming contest. South Jersey officials must have figured that Holman's locomotive was an ace in the hole, but the inventor evidently was too busy signing stock certificates to be bothered with public exhibitions. It was close to two months before Holman got around to staging one.

When the trials took place at last, they were an absolute Holman PR master-stoke. A wire service reporter wrote of the first run on July 29:

The engine left the Cape May station at 2:30 P.M., pulling two ordinary passenger coaches filled with people. An express train on the West Jersey Railroad [JS's nemesis competitor] left the Cape May station at the same time.The two roads running parallel and close together for several miles, advantage was taken for an opportunity for a race. Each train rapidly increased its speed as the two came near each other and approximately side by side. But the race did not last very long, as the Holman engine quickly distanced the ordinary locomotive.

In the assumption that the engineers of both railroads were nutty enough to pull out all the stops, this incident appeared as solid testimony that the Speeing Truck was capable of ripping along at high speed without piling up into a ditch. How much fuel it consumed during such a display of elan was another matter, well hidden from prying eyes.

The reporter also alleged that, from scratch, the 11 1/2 mile run between Cape May and Cape May Courthouse consumed eleven minutes for an average speed of 60 2/3 mph. He also related that the speed indicator on the engine touched 90 mph once (another source claimed 94 11/12th mph), and spent much of the time hovering around the 70 mph mark. These figures, as almost always, came from Holman's contingent, for the reporter made no representation about riding the engine. The newsman was not completely wide-eyed, however and brought up some generally circulating skepticism surrounding Holman's claims of increased economy:

The demonstration of this fact appears to settle the question of increased speed, but there arises immediately the question as to whether this increased speed can be attained without an increase of power. If it can, there is a manifest economy in fuel, and the friction truck may been said to be a success. The test on Wednesday gave no sufficient data for solving such a problem… There is, however, to be considered a loss of power in the increased friction of the extra twenty wheels. Mr. Holman declares that if the wheels could could be made perfectly smooth and round this friction would be so slight as to be practically inappreciable...

His readers were left to themselves to wonder how all of that extra machinery - twenty bearings supporting ten axles and twenty wheels - was supposed to increase efficiency. At this point Holman still may have been in denial that this was a significant problem, or if he did understand, he was not about to broach the subject. He clearly was more concerned about reaching speeds above the century mark than addressing concerns of fuel economy. Fuel economy was not the stuff of banner headlines. Indeed, if he actually did measure fuel and water consumption during the test - not a given - he would have insured that the figures never see the light of day. They would not have been encouraging.

Later in the same day, June 29, Holman's machine reputedly equaled the 94 mph peak of the first sprint. Another round of tests followed the on the next morning, again departing from Cape May, supposedly carrying "200 people, including prominent railroad officials interested in the experiment."

This time Holman gave West Jersey a running start, according to the New York World:

The Holman locomotive with the friction-geared trucks, was given another trial this morning, when a speed of ninety miles an hour was attained. The engine drew two cars well filled with people, but evidently did not make the best speed possible. The trial was on the tracks of the South Jersey Railroad, and was really a race between it and a train on the West Jersey road, which parallels the other. Just before the 9 o'clock express started out over the West Jersey Railroad the Holman train went about a mile and a half outside of the city and waited until the West Jersey train came along. When the latter reached the new engine It was going at the rate of fifty-five miles an hour, and before the Holman engine could get well started the West Jersey train had gone a mile ahead. The Holman overtook the West Jersey train In a two mile stretch, and reached Rio Grande forty-five seconds ahead, then lowered its speed to seventy mlles an hour and went six miles further to Cape May Court House.

The engine will be tested on a long distance run some time next week. It moves along without jolting, and the faster it goes the easier it seems to move.

This was such good press that it appeared in Holman display ads early the next year.

Holman anticpated conducting long distance tests during the following week, but they never materialized, nor was loco #1 sighted for the remainder of the year. A hurricane put much of New Jersey under water in mid-October, which may have affected his plans, but Holman had already realized his current locomotive lacked the power to surpass the 100 mph barrier - forget about the 120+ mph for which he was shooting. He even admitted as much and put his mind to plotting his future camapaigns.

South Jersey RR #10 or #12, Locomotive Engineering, 12-1898

1897: "In a way, he has proceeded to out-Fontaine Fontaine."

His 1897 campaign got to an early start. In February Holman began targeting large cities with a series of impressive quarter-page+ advertisements (see image at left) featuring woodblock likenesses of the locomotive and a bold print, all-caps proclamation that "THE UNIVERSAL ADOPTION OF THE HOLMAN TRUCK IS A CERTAINTY - ALREADY ADOPTED BY SOUTH JERSEY RAILROAD". Underneath, a reproduction copy of a letter from South Jersey General Superintendent Charles A. Beach (the replacement for the mysteriously departed super of the year before) proclaimed that because the Holman consumed about one-third less coal than his own locos while proving to be easier on the track, his railroad had ordered two of their own, scheduled for May 1st delivery, only three months away. The ad flatly asserted that, "The present adoption of the Holman Truck insures its universal adoption, and best of all for people who wanted to get in on the action, the company for a limited time would be offering the $100 par stock at a trifling $25 per share with an assurance that it would pay "acceptable" dividends the first year. Holman's device had finally cracked the big time, it seemed.

Modest ads soon materialized in smaller newspaper markets, and by all accounts Holman's agents performed yeoman duty hauling in subscriptions. It all would have been perfect had not Philadelphia Enquirer, who hosted some of Holman's largest ads, ran a story in its back pages about Holman #1 being attached by the Cape May constable. Holman reportedly had eluded payment of wages to the crew that had worked for him during the 1896 trials, and the constable had caught up with him just as he was about spirit his steed out of town. The implications of the non-payment charge surely mortified Holman as a looming PR disaster, but fortunately for him he managed to obtain a page one retraction that appeared a few days later. The blowup actually involved W.L. Simmons, a Philadelphia Contractor who, in the process of scrapping the engine, had a carload of scrap attached over "a question of wages" due his workers.The revision still got it partly wrong, nevertheless. South Jersey #1, not Holman #1, was the engine being broken up.

Angus Sinclair, the journalism field's august and authoritative lead voice on all subjects railroading, had been following Holman's operation all along with mounting distaste expressd in a few stray remarks here and there. Holman had already been found out, so why waste ink on this doddering old con man? He would self destruct soon enough.

(click above for larger image)

Fun question: Which stock certificate was worth the least?

Angus Sinclair late in life - his impish nature shows through.

But this present onslaught on life savings with South Jersey's glaring complicity was an escalation that demanded a more forceful editorial approach. Sinclair was the person to do it (once he set his sights on it), as nobody in his trade approached his depth of background, or skill of the pen. Now 57 and in full carreer stride as editor of the journal Railway and Locomotive Engineering, Sinclair began his railway career as a telegrapher in his native Scotland, rose to running locomotives when he was still in high school and received his initial engineering training in the shops of the Scottish Northeastern. After a time as a marine engineer, he came to America, where he first ran locomotives on Erie Rail Road, then moved west to Iowa, where he continued as a locomotive engineer on Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern. During this time he specialized in water analysis while studying chemistry at Iowa State University, which earned him a job on the Burlington road as a combination chemist and roundhouse foreman. He took an interest in the problems of fuel economy and smoke prevention, which led him to advocate new methods which were met with skepticism at firts, but ventually became univerally accepted.

His writings for various railway and other publications turned into a full time career in 1883, when he joined the editorial staff of the American Machinist. After a few years, he purchased the journal's publishing company and began Railway and Locomotive engineering. By 1897, Sinclair was a member of nearly every leading engineering society in North America and Europe, and had authored several technical and historical tomes about locomotives. His first book passed through 26 editions.

In light of Holman's recent advances on all fronts, a reassessment of editorial policy towards him was clearly called for. Sinclair's journal reacted with dispatch:

The Latest "Fake"

There appears to have been some method in the madness of parties who got out the absurd Holman Locomotive, which is mounted upon two pairs of trucks, one above the other.

They are advertising in the Philadelphia papers that a company has been formed to sell this locomotive, the capital stock being $10,000. They offer to sell stock for $25 a share, the par value being $100. They make the claim that this sort of engine is to be the locomotive of the future, and make a great many other absurd [there it is, again] claims for it.

Since Keeley motor* stock is still quoted as being of some value, we have no doubt but what parties will be foolish enough to put money in the Holman Locomotive Speeding Truck Company.

Keeley Motor Co. - In the mid-1880's, John Ernst Worrell Keely, a former carnival barker among other worldly pursuits, claimed to have discovered a new form of power, which he variously described as "vaporic", "etheric" or "vibratory sympathy". He constructed a prototype device, the Keeley Engine, to demonstrate his theories, but steadfastly refused to reveal how it operated. Stock subscribers included John Jacob Aster IV. Even Holman could not hold a candle to Keeley's audacity. photo from Wikipedia

Sinclair could not confine his antithapy towards all things Holman to his own journal. He continued his harange in the New York Times, albeit with rehashed material from a couple of years prior. In part:

It might be supposed that the Fontaine experiment would deter others from trying the expensive blunder again; but when an amateur gets seized with a malady for designing a locomotive of an entirely new pattern he generally produces something startling as the "James Toleman' and the 'Raub Central Power' monstrosities bear witness. There is a man named Holman, who is engaged in the production of a locomotive absurdity, [and yet again] which is likely to be a more woeful failure than the Raub or Fontaine engines. In a way, he has proceeded to out-Fontaine Fontaine. The latter amateur proposed using two stories of wheels; Holman is going to use three ranges of them, and is having a locomotive built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works to put his ideas into tangible shape.

A rehash it was, but it found its mark. Holman habitually shied away from addressing attacks, but his son Harry could not hold himself back. His response is the sole example yet encountered of a Holman camp member giving an interview in direct rebuttal to a critic, so Harry's complaints are reproduced in full:

I cannot understand Mr. Sinclair's motive, but must presume that he is honest in his convictions. Fortunately, we have more than mere convictions to work on. The truck has been tested and so successfully that the road on which it was tested - the South Jersey Railroad Company - has closed contracts with us to fit two of their standard gauge engines with the device. The contract specifically agrees that the engines so fitted shall be used in their passenger traffic.*

There is no more likeness between the Holman Truck and the Fontaine engine than there is between the Fontaine and the ordinary engine. Mr. Sinclair, in his letter, says:'The inventor claims to double the capacity or power of the engine." The inventor never claimed anything of the kind. He is a practical man. He claimed that with his device speed is increased, and that the power so lost is made up in other directions because of the decreased action of the movable parts of the engine.

He claims to effect a saving by the distribution of the load to be carried. With the driving wheel as at present, in direct contact to the rail, there is a load of of from ten to twelve tons at a single point on the rail when at absolute rest. By the use of the Holman truck, the weight is distributed into three parts over a large rail area. Because of the distribution and the flexibility of the truck, danger of rail breaking and rail jumping is almost, if not entirely removed.

Mr. Holman has never claimed the discovery of a new mechanical idea. He has perfected the application of an old mechanical law used in geared and belted machinery of all kinds.

Mr. Holman patented his device on Sept. 10, 1895, and the company to operate it was incorporated in Iowa Jan. 22, 1896. Certificates attesting to these facts hang in the company's office in the Equitable Building."

Harry's was a straightforward, in-your-face callout of Sinclair, whose rather lazy, cut-and-paste mockery relied upon his personal reputation as a giant of technology, rather than any concrete science. In terms of reception by Holman's technoligically unsophisticated clients, his plain response to Sinclair's uncharacteristic (but wholly justified) nastiness was brilliant, made even more compelling by the latter's weak admonition to avoid buying stock until future tests proved the truck's value. This inferred to readers that Sinclair was a bit foggy on the concept. Furthermore, had he sent his men afield to investigate Holman, they may have uncovered the skulduggery underlying Holman's current moves, but this was not the sort of activity that trade publications undertook. Had Sinclair fully understood the extent of Holman's perfidy towards stockholders, he would have choked on his cigar.

Having two engines on the books boosted the invention's legitimacy in Holman's eyes. Since this in turn "assured" that mass production was inevitable, he was certain that he had a sufficient reason to inflate the public perception of his company's magnitude. The company would soon receive thousands of orders for his game changing device, he said, so it was imperitive that it locate manufacturing sites now. The Speeding Truck Company was now going big-time. rationale to feed to the public as justification forfor pumping up public

To keep up with the anticipated clamor for orders, Holman proclaimed that two plants would be required, one to handle the East Coast trade and the other in Minneapolis to take care of the West (which presumably stopped at the foot of the Rockies' Front Range, where the restrictive inconveniences of tight tunnel clearances and stiff grades likely prove to be a damper on the market). In an interesting bit of timing, Holman announced the "probable" purchase of the abandoned Gilbert Car Works plant at Green Island, New York while his son and Sinclair were engaged in their editorial squabbling. The news may have been his personal response to the journalist - "You're now talking to a heavyweight, buddy!" - and it came with an assurance to stockholders that he had negotiated a splendid deal at half the appraised value. At the same time, he maintained that he was "under obligation to the city of Minneapolis" to locate a facility there (on fertile ground hosting his largest group of stockholders). The company's bylaws required that the directors be given 10 days advance notice of a large transaction to allow for deliberative meetings, he disclosed, so nothing definite could be announced for awhile.

Yes, Holman was fully capable of believing that investors would buy into the farfetched proposition that the sale of two locomotives somehow absolutely guaranteed thousands of orders would follow. A few of his more ignorant marks probably did, as well, but for reasons unknown nothing more came of the matter. Maybe the Gilbert plant owners were a little surprised and put off to hear that they were selling their plant for half-price.

With the completion of the "South Jersey" engines still a ways off - Baldwin's schedule conformed to the requisites of reality, not an addled inventor's imagination - Holman had ample time to take full advantage to pursue sales generated by his waves of propaganda. As always, he assiduously avoided railroad men. In fact, he preferred to sidestep men altogether, because they were more apt to have some understanding of mechanical gadgets, a serious hindrance to sales. Besides, long experience told him that he did his best work catering to what he would have regarded as the frailties of women - appreciation of home, family, warmth, honesty and all that other nonsense. He was pretty good, not great, mind you, but pretty good at hiding his hard heart when need be.

But by now he commanded a small flock of agents who each had his own method of parting funds from people. In May, Machinery revealed that they were "again" in Philadelphia, attempting to sell stock in their "prize freak in railroad lines". Holman was there, too. In between sales, he was in an opportune position to keep in-person tabs on the locomotives' progress at Baldwin. Perhaps he offered a few insightful suggestions regarding their proper manufacture.

All dolled up in dark blue paint with silver lettering / trim and brass fiiting, South Jersey #10 poses for a Baldwin photographer in the only known extant builder's photo of a Holman Locomotive. The trucks on this loco were repurposed from Holman #1, but they appear to have modified bearings. The front truck may have also belonged to #1. Question: How did the fireman shovel coal from the subterranean tender into the altitudinous firebox?

Going for Broke

Summer season at the Jersey shore came long before the arrival of the Holman locomotives, much to the consternation of South Jersey Superintendent Beach, who knew that the proclaimed May 1st delivery date was hokum, but at the same time hoped for a timely delivery. He desperately needed those two locos to handle the crowds, but July 4th came and went sans the new locos. As in the past, the onset of summer awoke his company's heated rivalry with neighboring West Jersey, at one point igniting a brief, but "merry war" of fisticuffs when his men attempted to string telegraph lines over his foe's property. Lamentably without the Holmans, the speed contests between the two - the feature events - were not so lopsided in South Jersey's favor. Holman #1 may have been a substitute, but its Speeding Truck was undergoing modifications at Baldwin.

When South Jersey numbers 10 and 12 - painted a stately dark blue with silver lettering and brass ornamentation - belatedly made their triumphant entrance into Cape May on July 17th, the high season was already half gone. South Jersey men were VERY anxious to put them through their paces within the next few days.

Concomitant to the locomotives' arrival, a local paper's society column announced that "Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Holman of Minneapolis, have arrived to spend the summer." Holman immediately injected himself and Kate into local society and began to enjoy the good life, mingling with hot prospects and the wives of high railroad officials who were too busy to take in the ocean air. First and foremost, it was all about selling stock - Holman's bunch had made that clear to Angus Sinclair years before. Joining them were sons William and Harry and their wives, daughter Nora and her husband, Speeding Truck Treasurer Thomas E. Eastwick, and daughter Birdie, accompanied by her husband and company secretary Strella Leroy White. One of the family's favored pastimes was participating in local card tournaments, where Kate and Harry's wife managed to win prizes. The extended crime family surely was at the pinnacle of their social existence. It would have been a wonderful summer for them had not something been amiss with the locomotives.

Throughout the socializing, the locos remained backstage, missing both their their announced grand unveiling date, the subsequent rescheduling, despite repeated assurances throughout the balance of July that they would soon be unleashed. Then they vanished completely.

So, what possibly could go wrong with a locomotice so awash with spinning gizmos? Whatever it was, the South Jersey boys' roundhouse skills proved to be unequal to the task of fixing, so Holman quitely slipped the locomotives back to Philadelphia to tax the patience of the Baldwin people.

On September 4th, the pair briefly surfaced to test the effectiveness of remedial efforts, and according to old friend St. Paul Globe, they hit 120 mph during a test run. No other newspaper carried the account, which raises more than a suspicion that Holman had invented the story to assuage stockholder rumblings at home. If anything really did take place on that day, it must have indicated that the trucks still needed more work, because the locos remained at Baldwin for another five weeks. South Jersey management's hopes of showcasing the novelties to summer crowds were dashed.

While the locos received attention by their builder, Angus Sinclair - who had been nibbling at Holman's heels all summer - came out with blockbuster news that should have stopped Holman in his tracks. Holman owned the two locomotives, not South Jersey. Their misnaming was a hoax, a criminal conspiracy designed to boost stock subscriptions. Years later, Sinclair often repeated a sad personal story about how his washerwoman repeatedly asked him about how her Holman stock was doing and how he could never bear to give her an honest answer. But this was (feigned?) empathy after the fact. Rather than react with righteous outrage, Sinclair buried the news in a tiny article within an interior page with the offhand remark that stockholders might be "more apt to be mad than to be amused". The news went largely ignored. Holman never addressed the ownership issue, and the the hoax went on.

On October 14, one of the Holmans - surely #12 - headed for Cape may at last, and proved to be fit enough to haul a possibly-scheduled two car train from Winslow Junction to Cape May at a supposed average speed of 62 mph. That afternoon, the same equipment purportedly clocked in timed miles of roughly 83 and 86 mph.

Afterward, South Jersey Trainmaster Morrow waylaid a New York Tribune reporter with a claim that with heavier rail and better roadbed, the locomotive could maintain a speed 120 mph. Evidently, he was unaware of Holman's previous claim that he had done precisely that in Philadelphia. He was likewise unaware that a syndicated reporter was preparing an article for the following day that claimed the morning train had hit 120 between Cape May Courthouse and Cape May, thus "lowering by two seconds the record for a mile made in 1893 by a train on the New York Central". Certainly this was balderdash right out of Holman's mouth, perhaps even accompanied by a complementary share of stock. Holman and Morrow needed to get their stories straight. At any rate, the more authentic sounding 86 mph performance, if it was true, actually put the Holman loco on par with the 999, which revisionist historians today claim never managed to top that mark.

Another 120 mph skeptic later voiced his concerns in The Engineer. W. Barnet LeVan was a designer of eccentric locomotives and somewhat of a Holman fellow traveler on the concept of increasing speed and efficiency through reduction of friction. Instead of friction up-gearing, LeVan was one the last few proponents of the ultra-minimalist school of single driving axle locomotives, which were so lacking in traction that they could not pull a chaw off a plug of chewing tobacco. His judgement may have been biased against a device sporting such a profusion of spinning wheels, for he only allowed that the morning train upon which he rode occasionally made 70 or 75 mph, but no more, and found claims of 120 mph to be "highly doubtful".

A repeat of the morning and afternoon tests the next day produced similar, and sometimes identical, reports of stupendous results, depending upon which Holman crony was doing the talking at the moment. Some reports again claimed a top speed of 120 mph for the morning train, while others allowed only 104 mph, a 16 mph decrease in imagination.

In all, the two days of tests went well. Baldwin had mitigated the problems well enough to get #12 through two days of testing unscathed, but regardless of his hyperbolic claims to the contrary, he knew that LeVan's speed estimations were closer to the truth. Loco #12 was more powerful than #1, yet its performance was similar. The limitations imposed by South Jersey's flimsey track was responsible for part of this, he was certain, but it was also apparent that, for all of its intricate design excellence, his new truck was creating more drag than the old, simpler arrangement. His pending patent would cure that.

The day following the tests found his crew boarding up the locomotives for shipment to a railroad somewhere in the "West". Holman was clearly done with South Jersey and was otherwise riding high enough to believe that a more substantial railroad might want a look-see in the near future. In the meantime he would sell stock.

Late 1897: A Woman at the Throttle

The same day, it appears, he and Superintendent Beach each received a telegram from a newspaper publisher requesting a two day series of charters. Nobody had ever petitioned for a charter before, but what undoubtedly caught his attention was the name of the sender, Joseph Pulitzer. Today we know Pulizer as "the father of jounalism, along with other attributes that the Pulitzer Prize Committee does not want to talk about. He was also a practioner (along with arch-rival William Randolph Hearst) of the type of high sensationalism and the yellow journalism that dumped the War of 1898 in America's lap. But that was still a few months in the future. In the meantime, he was always looking for some wild new exploit that one of his so-called "girl stunt reporters" could write up for a full page splash in the Sunday section of his New York City flagship newspaper, The World. He was intrigued by Holman's speed claims, but was also aware that they remained unsubstatiated. In the past, Holman was not about to proclaim an "official" attempt at the world's record supposedly established by the 999, since that might invite tight scrutiny from people outside of his control. Pulitzer's proposal was a cure for that. He proposed that the charters be exclusively attended by his ace stunt girl, Kate Swan*. She would give a straightforward report, not partake of the investigative journalism that appeared under her married name. Better yet, she would ride the locomotive.(see box at right)

According to Swan, South Jersey's Superintendent Beach expressed some initial apprehension over another Holman outing:

For four days we we hesitated about granting permission for further speed trials. The road is used very little now. It is not in condition for such terrific speed. The rails are but 70 pounds, the roadbed sand and light. A loose rail might result in an awful accident. A dozen things might cause an accident.

Then, he gave his permission anyway. The thought of hosting the world's speed record was just too much for him to resist, unless his reluctance was contrived poppycock in the first place. If her timeline of events is accurate, Swan must have had her bags packed while Pulitzer awaited a reply, as the first special ran on the morning of October 20th, two days after Beach's OK.

The first day was nearly a washout of wind and rain
, "yet", according to McGuirk, "we covered a mile in 33 seconds [95 mph]." She continued:

October 21 arrived dry and almost windless. As with the day before, W.J., Jr., Trainmaster Morrow and regular engineer and firemen, McClain and Bretton crowded the cab. "Half Cape May" was at the platform to send off the train as it departed. Holman, Junior was in charge of the experiments, as always. "Down the road", the train stopped to pick up McGuirk (providing an intriguing topic for speculation as to why she was not allowed to board at the depot). She climbed into her accustomed catbird seat situated adjacent to McClain, while Holman, Jr., Morrow and Bretton all bailed off to ride back in the three coaches (why bail? - Topic of Intrigue, Part II) where Brakeman Clarke awaited. Apparently the train carried no other occupants who might dispute the results. The train now stood three miles from the post where a measured mile began, marked by flags. McGuirk was told that the distance between mileposts had been measured by the civil engineers who laid out the line. When McClain initiated the running start, the engine lagged for a couple of hundred yards.

..........above - Kate Swan at the throttle of Holman #12 - Buffalo Sunday Morning News, 11-28-1897

..........Preface, Table of Contents page - Depiction of Swan leaning out of cab at "110" mph that accompanied
..............her 10-24-1897 Sunday spread in The World, whose name is discreetly shown on the flag at front

*Kate Swan McGuirk

Kate Swan, who went by "Mrs. McGuirk" in her more sedate pieces, was one of the better known "girl stunt reporters" of the day, and as such was only slightly less famous than the one that started it all, Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochran), her predecessor at The World who gained fame with her 1887 series "Ten Days in a Mad House", after having herself committed to a New York City mental institution. In short order, everyone absolutely had to have their own Nellie Bly. Our acquaintance St. Paul Globe had one, Eva Gay. Swan came on board The World in the mid-90's, not long before Bly retired from reporting to run her ailing husband's Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, which produced, among other things, the barrel which was the model for the standard 55 gallon oil drum. She eventually returned to reporting after her a-bit-too-utopian management style bankrupted the company.

Swan was already well established in the business when she hired on with Pulizer. Her 1892 series of exclusive interviews for the New York Recorder with her friend, accused (and later acquitted) ax-murderer Lizzy Borden had earned her national attention. At The World, she brought girl stunt reporting to new heights of daring-do. Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Kim Todd described her antics this way: "McGuirk, in particular, must have been running on adrenaline. If… she wasn’t leaping overboard to write about rescue crews near Coney Island or seeing what it felt like to be strapped into the electric chair, she was buying opium without a prescription. Every week, a new test of nerve." That was not the half of it. Swan paddled a tandem boat in the swirling, treacherous waters of the East River's Hell Gate, rode a $3,000 Sextet bicycle with five men in-training to race the Empire State Express, dared a visit to a leper colony, dove from "The Flying Jordan's trapeze into a safety net, helped hunt down "The Wild Woman" of Dutchess County, took a turn as a trotting horse jockey, and (purportedly) became the first woman to have her heart x-rayed, among other escapades.

Coverage of the Pulitzer specials was her last big splash. She wrote a few conventional short articles and opinion pieces after that, but quickly faded into obscurity, for reasons unknown. Maybe her nerves were shot, but by then, the public was growing tired of the stunts. What was once exciting or shocking now looked silly to some, while others now viewed it as a fad, or fell in line with Pulizer competitor New York Sun in decrying the stunts as "Disgusting Developments of Sun-day Journalism". Although slightly diminished by their sensationalistic antics, Swan and her ilk have since been recognized for what they were, pioneers in the world of investigative journalism that was overwhelmingly dominated by men. Upon her death, New York Evening Journal applauded Bly as “the best reporter in America”, and her life even has been the subject of a mid 20th Century Broadway musical. Swan's should be.

- Fourth Estate: A Weekly Newspaper... 1897
"Then it began to run along" and by the time it approached the start, "The locomotive had settled down to a gait that made us feel like one long streak. There was hardly any wavering. None of the shaking and swaying that I had dreaded at first…The speed indicator gave us 110 miles per hour when we were upon the green flag. Stop watches clicked. McClain blew the whistle as we passed the flag.

And then the tension. Half a minute is not long as a lifetime goes, but, but McClain and myself, the fireman and Mr. Holman lived hours in time.

I leaned far out of the cab window. Nothing but white spots could be seen of the speeding truck wheels. They were turning so fast the revolution could not be seen. All the shaking was gone. Watch in hand, I could sit bolt upright without support. There was nothing in the world but a long steel knife ahead that vanished the instant I realized it. Woods disappeared. Everything mingled and formed one brick red tunnel.

The seconds were flying. Ah, would she make it. And then my heart stood still. It seemed as if No. 12 answered. How she did catch hold of the track and straighten out. No racehorse ever laid herself out, no arrow ever went straighter or stiffer to its finish. The red flag was not in sight, and from my watch I knew we would win. All I was conscious of [was?] the triumph. The speed indicator said 128 miles an hour. [Holman and Morrow claimed that they timed the last half mile in 27.5. seconds, 131 mph] Even as I read it I knew the red flag was passed. The whistle was blowing No. 12's victory out over all that Jersey loneliness. For another mile the victor flew along and then we slowed up. McClain and I looked at each other in sort of a dazed, speechless fashion, and nobody said a word… McClain picked up a bit of waste and and nervously rubbed the boiler before he asked how much.

Thirty-two seconds was the time for the distance… McClain's first exclamation was: "Give me a decent track and I'll make two and a half miles a minute, I know."

If Mcguirk's reporting was accurate, then this was a momentous event. But, she, like Pulitzer and Holman, had an agenda that mandated making a spectacle of besting the 999, and she was a central part of the show. The faster Holman's engine ran, the better it was for her. Essentially, her assignment was to produce a fluff piece for the Sunday section, not a serious investigative article slated for the front page. It plainly was not part of her mission to question whatever was spoon fed to her by a group of men whose record for truthfulness was rather dismal.

Given the lack of independent observers, it was a simple matter for Holman to doctor-up the outcome. The measured "mile", supposedly laid out by surveyors during South Jersey's construction, was a likely candidate for shortening - McGuirk was in no position to know the difference. At a time that virtually no locomotive had exceeded 100 mph - did a recorder designed for 128 mph even exist? McGuirk claim to have "leaned far out the cab window" at over 110 mph without negative repercussions is hard to swallow. (Note: I certainly was not foolish enough to stick my head far out the window at the comparatively glacial ~80 mph speed that I routinely operated my locomotives!)

Suspicious as all of this was, none of it disproved the possibility that Holman #12 did achieve a remarkable speed. Mcguirk's description of her sensations at high speed match my own experiences, sensory overload that I think of as the "tunnel effect". "There was nothing in the world but a long steel knife ahead that vanished the instant I realized it. Woods disappeared. Everything mingled and formed one brick red tunnel." The one time that I sat in the cab of a locomotive traveling at the sort of speeds that McGuirk claimed, it seemed as if I was watching the event through a fisheye lens, much as she described. The track merged into an apparently motionless swath of steel ahead, while on the periphery, trees merged into narrow tunnels of green that expanded at the last moment to accommodate the train's dimensions. The experience was so foreign that my mind could not process it. To me, McGuirk clearly had traveled at a speed unprecedented for her, well above her 75 mph on the B&O.

But how fast? There is no way of telling. People much smarter than me maintain that humans experience differential changes in perception of speed due to motion adaption, or as I would put it, after awhile your brain gets used to going fast, and adjusts. My brain was attuned to the jet age, not the horse-and-buggy era. One wonders, nevertheless. If the run indeed turned Engineer McClain speechless, as she claimed, it does suggest that he had entered into speed territory well beyond previous personal experience.

What speed McClain actually achieved, we shall never know. Even theorizing a reasonable top speed for an engine of #12's power would likely wind up being an educated guess due to the significant numbers of unknown specs and variables. The most telling stat may have been that Kate Swan did not lose her hat.

Holman's "world record" did not come as any surprize to Angus Sinclair, since he had heard it all before and now had Holman sized up as a bald-faced liar. What did amaze him was that late events had caused some of his fellow journalists to let down their guard. The Engineer, for example, placed a Baldwin builder's photo of South Jersey #10 front and center on the title page of its November first issue. Surrounding the photo was an article full of specifications and detailed explanations of the trucks workings & etc. that looked like it had been cooked up by Holman himself. Only as the article bled into page page two did the author, our past acquaintance W. Bartlett Le Van, - begin to express lingering doubts based upon what he witnessed during the October 14th test. He repeated his old assertion that the Holman's top speed was well under 100 mph, and attested about what we already know:

No means were provided to test the power required to overcome the friction of the added trucks, nor was there any attachment for indicating the horse power developed. The fuel used and the water evaporated was not quoted.

Levan made no mention of the locomotives' true ownership, which had to be irksom, to Sinclair, but overall the editor still seemed more amused than mad over Holman's recent successes.

The illegitimate son

Exactly who the inspired soul was that hatched Gilderfluke's Perfected Locomotive is a mystery. The original drawing of this convoluted hunk of mis-engineering may have started out as some bored Locomotive Engineering staff member's doodle, which later blossomed into the final 'perfected' product of chief illustrator, A. L. Donnel. It and its accompanying "brief description" formed a 3 1/2 page feature article that began on page three of the December issue. Its exquisite attention to implausible detail surely indicates that Gilderfluke was a grand collaboration of creative effort punctuated by uproarious laughter, the filling of spittoons and emptying of hip flasks. Angus Sinclair adopted Gilderfluke as his own.

There also was little doubt that this brilliant foolishness was a potshot aimed directly across the Speeding Truck's cowcatcher to serve notice on Holman that the jig was up. Its patent genius was evident at first glance: the multitude of wheels was pure Holman, while the giant Freak-esque drive wheel unmistakably connected Holman to Fontain's fiasco, and that liberal application of external gimcrackery dealt a crushing knock upon the inventor's love of over-design. It was an absurdity met head-on by absurdity, and it was magnificent.

Gilderfluke was a smash hit that drew accolades from all quarters of the industry. The boys over at Railroad Gazette were so tickled that in January they put out a full-page knockoff entitled "Some of the Achievements of our Countrymen in the Field of Railroad Invention", which proved to be a pretty good second fiddle. (see below)

If Sinclair's contingent found some smug satisfaction in their belief that they had finally exposed the stupidity of Holman's design, it was short-lived. As hilarious as it was, Gilderfluke was a highly esoteric inside joke that lost its meaning outside the tightly knit railroad fraternity. About all that it achieved was a reaffirmation of the industry's ongoing rejection of the machine as the work of an addled amateur outsider. Holman surely was offended, but again, his victims did not read the railroad trades.

The Original, December, 1897

Click image for a copy more suitable for thorough technical analysis - for the full article, see All Things Gilderfluke PDF .

Above we see Gilderfluke's Perfected Locomotive in all its glory, with its profuse accesories helpfully identified by number. Of note is (1) "the high-power triple X-ray electric serachlight of 9, 340 candle power", well short of today's typical 160,000+ candlepower headlights, but a darn fine jump in that direction. Another pioneering appliance included (4) an "anti-sleep-on-the-track" device whose object was to "assist...hoboes and beeves to a realizationto of their danger" by directing a stream of 212 degree "aqua pura" their way. The author understands that, "Operation Lifesaver" the profession rails' safety organization, was ready to recommend this as standard equipment until somebody pointed out the expense of bringing back steam locomotives to supply the hot water. The loco also pioneered a new or improved deflectorbolus, slipguilder, flipgang and a clever strainer to prevent bacillis from entering the carbowallop, although the updated modern specs in the Code of Federal Regulations are virtually unrecognizeable.

top right - Copy cat Railroad Gazette researched the Speeding Truck to discover that Holman plagerized an idea (wink, wink) first put forth in 1838. If anyone can figure out how this dizzying pile of whiskey barrels on sticks works, please immediatedly contact our "Technology Editor" at Wx4org@yahoo.com.

bottom right - Basking in the glow of Gilderfluke's warm reception, Railway Engineering staff figured they had a good thing going, so in early 1898 they turned their semi-literary talents towards a more pressing topic of the day. The railroad industry was then in the middle of a fierce kerfuffle over how best to replace the link and pin coupler, which had an appauling predisposition towards crushing whatever part of the human body that accidentally came in between its mating surfaces. This was very inefficient. Since wealth and fame awaited the owners of the winning design, honest entrants like Janney's knuckle coupler were joined by a host of head-scratching proposals during ensuing gold rush. Here we see Eli Gilderfluke's entry in the race. Sadly, the brief, evanescent moment of railroad humor had somehow already slipped away, and the editors were quite unaware that they were flogging a clinically dead iron horse. Today, the horse is still dead.

- Copies of the full coupler and Gazette articles can be found in the All Things Gilderfluke PDF.
causing the editors to waste their efforts in the flogging of a clinically dead iron horse. Despite Carl Falberg's best efforts at recussitation, the horse remains dead.

Resultant Fallout

A final insult, December 2019

Rather than being a product of Locomotive Engineering's A. L. Donnel, this image is a product of Photoshop, brought on by this writer's lament that the Perfected Original was not further Perfected as technology avanced. Lamentably, Holman did not survive long enough to mate Speeding Trucks with an articulated. Now that really would have been something!

January and February, 1898 were fine months for Holman.* Newspaper editors continued to rehash the October stories of his locomotive's exploits, and he now held in hand a newly-approved patent for his redesigned truck. A fresh spring sales offensive was just around the corner, and to prime the pump, he let slip to St. Paul's The Appeal that his machines "may be in use in Chicago soon." While this never happened, in late February, South Jersey Railroad - forever short of motive power - announced that the locomotives would stay put to haul express trains during the coming summer. This was way better than nothing.

Then, a few days later, creditors foreclosed upon South Jersey. Cape May business was simply too sporadic to carve up between two railroads. During its not-quite four years of existence, the company never came close to turning a profit. For a month, Holman's prospects remained in limbo as he waited for the foreclosure sale. This time around, Philadelphia & Reading was not about to stand back and allow Pennsylvania Railroad to swoop in. After placing the winning bid on March 29, P&R formed subsidiary Seacoast Railway Company to assume ownership, which it quickly leased out to another P&R subsidiary, Atlantic City Railroad. Atlantic City Railroad was no fan of Holman, having previously rebuffed his entreaties to run demonstrations. His locomotives were evicted along with South Jersey's corrupt management.

* That winter saw son Harry set out on his own to try out the business techniques that he had gleaned from his father. Following the last truck demonstration, he set out for the Black Hills in the hopes of digging up placer gold in the recesses of investor pockets. In late November, he - as president, naturally - and a group of men formed the Belle Forche Smelting and Refining Company with a capitalization of $2 million. In a St. Paul Globe ad early in 1898, the company boasted of four claims (apparently long worked-out diggings) in the vicinity of Deadwood, where it assured that at least $1.4 million worth of gold awaited uncovering. The company record is blank after that, presumably because Harry and his cohorts failed to do the math.

Whac-A-Mole and a curtain call after the show shut down

Suddenly the one railroad company on the continent that was willing to host his Speeding Trucks was gone, never mind that after three years of trying, his plan for elevating his locomotives from the sand lots of South Jersey into big league railroading was crushed. In the past, he remained resilient in these down moments, but now, at close to 80, he lacked the energy to pull himself through. By summer he went missing, dividing his time between Minneapolis, Philadelphia and perhaps elsewhere, to avoid pursuing stockholders in a game of Whac-A-Mole. Financial journals pronounced his securities as worthless. Locomotive Engineering labeled this "The End of the Holman Monstrosity", but the pundits were premature.

With the revenue stream dried up, finances soon became so tight for the Holman family that daughter Birdie, son-in-law Strella (who had returned to selling real estate) and their three young children moved in to her parents' home, already shared with her sister Nora and brother Oliver. With the two company principles responsible for signing stock certificates literally in-house, it was probably inevitable that, once the heat was off, they would return to their old game, which they did for a short time in 1901 with little success. Without the demonstrations, it was tough to drum up enthusiasm. This all must have been too much for Strella, for he soon abandoned his family, causing Birdie to divorce him in 1902.

Google Maps Street View of former W.J. Holman house today

Although now solidly in his 80's, Holman's mind remained sufficiently active for him to continue fiddling with compound rail. In May, 1903, he filed for a patent for a slightly modified version of his 1879 creation. And, he still had enough left in the tank to give his Speeding Truck a last go.

Shortly after receiving word of his ejection from South Jersey, Holman sold loco #1 to Buffalo & Susquehanna, but the exact fate of #10 and #12 and their trucks is unclear. Baldwin received a "special order" for something pertaining to them in June, 1898, which probably means that they were being readied for sale as conventional locomotives. He hung onto his original friction bearing truck (a reporter later mentioned that it had bronze sleeve bearings), however, which he brought out of mothballs in February, 1904 more than six years after the Pulitzer special.

Somehow or another, he had managed to cajole a genuine big time railroad, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg (later part of Baltimore & Ohio) into a trial run. Rather than being a publicity stunt as in the past, this one was a genuine demonstration run ostensibly put on to entice BR&P officials into a sale. Even the railroad's president had enough curiosity to show up, although it is hard to fathom his railroad's interest given its generally hill and dale profile that required mammoth, small-driver locomotives to cope with the grades. For the most part, BR&P was no racetrack.

By February's end, BR&P people had placed an unknown locomotive on top of Holman's Speeding Trucks in its DuBois, Pennsylvania shop. BR&P had no locos so small in stature that they would mate with his machine, so it is possible, even likely, that nearby Buffalo & Susquehanna allowed the former #1 to be re-united with its trucks. The tests then awaited Holman's arrival from New York City, which had been delayed because of a "slight indisposition" of his health. When he finally was fit enough to travel, he chose to go home to Minneapolis, where he died on April 9th, less than two months short of his 85th birthday. Three weeks later, the Patent Office granted him a patent for his latest compound rail permutation.

W.J.'s son Harry, who had performed all of the heavy lifting in the event, carried on. The Holman Locomotive made its farewell runs on May 24, 1904 on the 12 mile expanse between Rochester, New York and outlying Scottsville. Young Holman had no opportunity to doctor the results this time. The loco managed a 70 mph average over the distance, but but it lost 40 pounds of steam in the process due to a ride so unsteady that the fireman could not heave coal into its firebox. (Were all the previous claims of a smooth ride contrived, or was BR&P track that bad?) Afterwards, the crowd piled off to watch the Holman perform a one mile speed burst, which the BR&P men timed at 44 seconds (82 mph). As respectable as the performance was, the BR&P superintendent-in-charge was underwhelmed enough to score it as "satisfactory", a kiss of death that Harry totally misconstrued. He proclaimed there would be more tests in the future, but they never came. In the few years since the Cape May trials, steam locomotive technology had raced by while The Holman sat motionless in a siding.*

In early 1905, Sinclair's journal, ever ready to lambast Holman's foibles, reported the engine as resting "at liberty".

The demonstration was brief, but conclusive. Given an "honest" chance, the Speeding Trucks's performance did not match the hype. The miracles of friction gearing only exhibited themselves within the doctored universe of Holman, and Holman was dead.

His death went unremarked outside of the Twin Cities area, and his family surely supplied the inauthentic biographic data used to note his passing. Fittingly, only old ally St. Paul Globe covered his death as news, with a two paragraph article that name-dropped his famous cousin William S. Holman in the headline, a good indication about which of W.J.'s lifetime accomplishments was deemed the most significant. The Globe also related that "though not widely known in the city he was well known in mechanical and scientific circles," yet not even Angus Sinclair recognized his passing. The Improvement Bulletin of Minneapolis, which dealt mostly with construction and architecture, was the only professional journal to run an obituary. It read:

William Jennings Holman, well known as a civil and mechanical engineer, died in Minneapolis, April 9. Mr. Holman was born in Richmond, Ind., June 2, 1819. He turned his attention to railway construction at an early day, and had the distinction of being called the father of the first railway in Indiana, having been president and chief constructor of the Peru & Indianapolis railway, said to be the first line built in the state. Mr. Holman discovered the South Park gold fields in about 1855. The territory now embraces the rich Cripple Creek mining region. It was Mr. Holman, too, who established for the United States government the Mount Diablo meridian in California. Of late years, Mr. Holman has devoted most of his time to perfecting the Holman locomotive speeding truck. It is now in use on four locomotives belonging to an Eastern railway.

Minneapolis Journal ran the only other obit, a more perfunctory one that included photo of him as "Edward J. Holman" (at left). Whether this was a mistake , or a victim's mild attempt at getting even, we do not know. For what anybody besides his victims cared, he might as well have been Edward J. Holman. He exited life as a forgotten man, except to his equally overlooked victims, a fitting tribute to a largely wasted life. His family held the funeral at his duplex home in downtown Minneapolis, the de-facto Speeding Truck headquarters for the last decade and one-half. Its exceedingly modest dimensions presumably were sufficiently roomy to handle the mourners before they removed themselves to Lakewood Cemetery for the interment.

Philadelphia Inquirer 5-13-1905

The Father of Steampunk

From then on, Holman the man was eclipsed by Holman the locomotive, to which Sinclair's appellation stuck. It was Holman's absurdity, and nothing more through the 1950's when card collecting became so frenzied that Topps broke away from sports subjects to produce a transportation series that included a likeness of a Holman as comic relief, one would guess. The locomotive went missing until the mid-90's, when it surfaced on the Web just as steampunk took off, a suspiciously coincidental pair of developments. Could it be that The Holman Locomotive provided the inspirational spark that popularized steampunk? Regardless, I would estimate that, if Holman was with us today, he would have thought it so and proclaimed himself the Father of Steampunk without consulting the the applicable Wikipedia page.

Holman's lifelong progression of scams ultimately all went south on him, this we know, but that does not necessarily mean he deserves a summary judgement as a total failure. He did achieve a measure of success in that he never spent time in prison and managed to live comfortably (but not sumptuously) off of the proceeds of his defeats. This ranks him as a fairly adept confidence man, better than the jail birds, but a bush leaguer compared the big-timers who milked not only stock holders, but entire markets.

Had Holman not been a figurative poster boy for the Dunnning-Kruger Effect; had he not confused ignorance with brilliance, he would not have waded blindly into a subaqueous tunnel, proposed saddling up to herd buffalo, or bet one and one-half decades' worth of work on a mythical truck. Likewise, had he not been a little thick in the head, he would have perceived that most people viewed him as a crook and a bit of a whacko. As it was, Holman's industry, persistence and resilience were all balanced upon self deceit - he would prevail because he was smarter than the next guy.

Steampunk Locomotive - Artwork by Csaba Szilagyi
One has to suspicion that at some point - perhaps when he realized that his 1897 trucks created more drag than the originals - Holman may have come around to the idea that friction-gearing was a mistaken concept, but that was the beauty of being a con artist. The scam would continue as long as he could maintain the illusion of valid science well enough to keep the subscriptions rolling in. After all, to his cold heart, everything ultimately was about the money. We still do not know if he kicked small dogs, however.