Here comes the big “John B” locomotive

Here comes the big “John B” locomotive rolling down the track and attracting hundreds to every depot along the way. They’re there to get a close look at the new, powerful engine, one of the largest in the country at 31 tons.

The mail train from Schenectady now is drawn westward by the “John B,” named in honor of Utica’s John Butterfield. On both sides of the engine appears a good likeness of Butterfield and his name. Why Butterfield? Well, why not?

In 1857, he opened the west with his overland stagecoaches that were the first to carry mail from the Mississippi River to the West Coast in fewer than 25 days. He had signed a contract with the U.S. Post Office to deliver mail on regular runs to California. Many said it could not be done.

Butterfield built dozens of stations along the 2,800-mile route, equipped them with fast, fresh horses and hired the best stagecoach drivers in the country. His first stage between St. Louis and San Francisco completed the trip in 24 days, 18 hours.

Butterfield became known as the country’s “Mr. Transportation.” He also built and operated hotels and two years ago was elected mayor of Utica. In 1862, he opened a trolley line along Genesee Street from Broad Street to New Hartford. Utica thus became the only the fifth city in the country with trolley service – after New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Later, Butterfield, Henry Wells and William Fargo were among the founders of a company that evolved into American Express. His son, Daniel, was a major general in the Civil War and co-composer of the bugle call, “Taps.” (John Butterfield is buried in Utica’s Forest Hill Cemetery.)

This Week in History is researched and written by Frank Tomaino.

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