In 1932 Popular Mechanics Magazine held a contest. Contestants were to construct a scale model of the DeWitt Clinton steam engine, its tender and three passenger coaches. The scale of the model was to be one half inch to one foot. The engine would fit in the palm of a hand. The prize was $1000 and a week in New York City via New York Central Railroad's Twentieth Century Limited.
Lowry Sexton, my great grandfather, began to construct his model that year, 1932. However, he did not proceed according the Popular Mechanics multi-part article. Instead, Lowry obtained construction blue prints of the actual DeWitt Clinton engine and proceeded to create, to scale, an exact working duplicate, perfect in every detail.
The engine, just the engine, was finally completed in 1952, 20 years after it was begun. A front page headline of The Dalles Optimist, his local newspaper, proclaimed "Lowry Sexton Completes Exact Model Of DeWitt Clinton, Early Engine."
The tender and three coaches where added over the next decade.
The rivets, nuts, threaded bolts, valves, pumps, pistons and all the works of the engine are faithfully reproduced in exacting detail, precisely to scale, in solid brass. The engine includes no cast parts. At a little less than six inches long, it is fully functional.
The engine is plated with silver. Lowry hoped it would turn black over time. Not wanting to disfigure American coins, Lowry used Canadian coins in his electro-plating process. The engine never did turn black however (the actual DeWitt Clinton engine was black).
The engine has been run under steam on only one occasion as far as is known. Lowry's son, my grandfather Everett Sexton, said his father built a fire in the firebox and built up pressure in the tiny boiler. Although it leaked terribly, the engine, with a nudge, could move down its track under its own power. And, of course its whistle blew.
The heads of the rivets are made from especially small straight pins. The bolts were made with a home-made lathe. Later in the project, my Grandfather's (Everett Sexton) watchmakers' lathe was use. I still occationally use this same lathe today in my own watchmaking work.
The entire model, engine, tender and three coaches, is about three feet long. It rests on a track with a gage of 2 and 3/8s inches.
The level of detail of the coaches is also remarkable. All moving parts are functional. The interiors feature leather upholstery in a diamond tuck and roll pattern with brass buttons. These were done much later than the engine. I was told my Great Grandfather's eyesight was failing as he completed the work.
Lowry was disappointed with his model because it didn't function better. It's tiny valves leaked steam and water and it could not pull its load. He never entered the Popular Mechanics contest, of course, since the engine alone took 20 years to complete. But I'm sure his working DeWitt Clinton engine would have done well.
Lowry Sexton, my Great Grandfather, died in The Dalles, Oregon June 5th 1965. He was 85 years old. Unfortunately I never knew him, but he was very important to his son (my Grandfather), and to my father.
The Real DeWitt Clinton Engine
The actual DeWitt Clinton engine was constructed at West Point New York in 1831. It was the first train to run in New York state, and only the third in the nation. A surviving engine stands at the Henry Ford Museum in Detriot.
The engine is named for DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) who served in the New York State Legislature, in the U.S. Senate, as Mayor of New York City and as Governor of New York State. He lost the race for President of the United States to James Madison in 1812. He has been referred to as the "Father of the Erie Canal" which he had advocated.
Since this web page has been up, which is several years, I have been contacted by four people that also have one of these DeWitt Clinton models in their family. How many might there be out there?