The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (C&NW) celebrated its 100th birthday in 1948. To commemorate its centenary, the railroad hoisted its oldest engine, “Pioneer”, and a coach and baggage car onto flat cars and took them on a fifty-eight city tour, which included Boone.
The “Pioneer” train rolled into Boone on May 9, 1948. The following day Boone residents crowded the Green Street railroad crossing to see the old locomotive and accompanying exhibits. The Boone newspaper reported on display, among old telephones, typewriters and railroad memorabilia and pictures, was “a cannon, made to shoot a three-inch ball” and fired by Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850s “to attract attention of the public to his political speeches.”
The “Pioneer” is the oldest locomotive built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia still in existence. Sources differ about when it was built. One claim says it was constructed in 1837 for the Utica and Schenectady Railroad and named the “Alert.” Another says that it was built as engine #184 in 1843 for the Tonawanda Railroad of New York and was called the “Batavia.” Both sources agree that it was a 4-2-0 type engine.
In 1848, it was purchased for $3,800 by the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, parent railroad of the C&NW, as the company’s first locomotive and renamed the “Pioneer”. It made its first run out of Chicago on October 25, 1848, to haul lead ore between Chicago and Galena. In 1850, the locomotive was lent to the Aurora Branch Railroad, later the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, but it was back with the Galena & Chicago Union when that railroad was purchased by C&NW on June 2, 1864.
The “Pioneer” was retired in 1874. Around 1880, a railroad buff saw the old engine rusting away among weeds and convinced the railroad to preserve it. Restoration began in 1883 and the locomotive became an ambassador of railroad history. Over the years, it was exhibited at fairs and museums throughout the United States, including the 1883 National Railway Exposition and the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where it ran once again under its own steam. Between 1894 and 1904 it was housed at Chicago’s Field Museum. After 1904 it was displayed for a time in Martinsburg, West Virginia, by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Back in Chicago for the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. After the fair, it did a thirteen year stint at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The engine currently is on display at the Chicago History Museum.
In 1948, the locomotive was restored again for use in the movie “Song of the Pioneer,” which commemorated C&NW’s 100th anniversary. The 22 minute film can be viewed online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp-sflgz5Cs.