Tracking the William Crooks: An Archival Adventure

Last Friday evening the news program Almanac, TPT’s signature show, offered its weekly Index File challenge – the traditional sign-off Minnesota history question.   As it happened, this particular Friday I was writing about archives, a lay person’s tribute to the lasting contribution of archivists who preserve and facilitate access to the record of humankind.  October is, after all, American Archives Month.

Though the work of archivists is generally structured to meet the scholarly needs of serious researchers, it is a great boon to Almanac viewers who begin their quest for the answer to the Index Question with to realize the usefulness of a structured search strategy.

The question last week had to do with the final resting place of the William Crooks, the historic steam locomotive that played a role in the state’s and nation’s history.  Without leaving the comfort of my cluttered home office it took about thirty seconds to locate the mighty iron horse at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.  The William Crooks has rested in state there since 1975.

Having located the William Crooks – and because I was thinking archives – I started to think about what else the archives might tell me about the locomotive.

My first discovery told me about William Crooks, the man for whom thelegendary locomotive was named.  Crooks, the man, was the Colonel of the Minnesota Volunteers’ Sixth Regiment during the Civil War.  Returning to civilian life Crooks was later Chief Mechanical Engineer for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroads.

Wikipedia provided more information about William Crooks, the locomotive, information gleaned from archives and from literature based on the archival record of the engineering marvel of its time.    The steam locomotive, the first to operate in Minnesota, was built in 1861 for the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad, a system that eventually evolved into the Great Northern Railway in 1890.  The steam engine weighed in at 55,400 pounds with boiler pressure of 110 psi.  Though the William Crooks was retired in 1897 when the engineering was deemed obsolete. James J. Hill intervened and had the engine rehabbed to pull his private train.

Beginning in 1924 the locomotive went on an exhibition tour. Among other sites the William Crooks participated in the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927.  At the 1939 New York World’s Fair the venerable locomotive made an appearance in the Railroads on Parade Program.  The program from that event speaks to the preeminence of the railroad in the era:

Into every corner of our social and economic existence, the railroad is tightly interwove.  It is the backbone of the country, no, even more, it is the veritable lifeblood in its 250,000 miles of steel veins, it flows to every far corner of a far-flung land, it binds in its living, throbbing embrace city and town and village, the open country, the first, the mine, the forge, the factory, and the sea.  It is indeed the nation’s lifeblood, the great arm not only of its industry, but of its military defense.  If it were to die, then the nation would die.  (http://www.1939nyworldsfair.com/worlds_fair/wf_tour/zone-6/Railroads_on_Parade.htm)

A search for the visual record of the William Crooks led me immediately to Minnesota Reflections Collection of images.  There I found photos of the train, contributed to the collection by the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

Along the way I found a great poster featuring the Will Crooks.   And there are lots of William Crooks postcards on e-Bay.  http://www.ebay.com/bhp/william-crooks

I also found a delightful replica of the William Crooks on a YouTube posted on Choo Choo Bob’s Train of the Day.  The down-sized train chugs along a 12-inch wide track in Ham Lake. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=choo+choo+bob+train+of+the+day+william+crooks&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Then I found what may be my pick of the search, an article about the William Crooks, published in the Minneapolis Tribune on March 17, 1937.  It was written by Ruth Thompson, local historian and librarian, who, upon her retirement from the Minneapolis Public Library, published a treasure trove of articles published in the Tribune from January 1, 1945-October 9, 1950.  Her snippets of Minnesota lore are all carefully preserved by the archivists at the James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library at the Minneapolis Central Library. (http://www.hclib.org/pub/search/specialcollections/personalarchives.cfm?EAD=Thompson.%20Ruth)

Getting back to the question as posed:  Eventually the William Crooks settled down in St. Paul where it was completely rebuilt at Great Northern’s Dale Street Shops.  The Great Northern transferred ownership to the Minnesota Historical Society which hosted a display of the mighty engine at the Saint Paul Union Depot until the Depot closed – actually went on sabbatical —  in 1971.  In 1975 the William Crooks was moved to the grand new Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth where it reigns supreme to this day.

In sum, my brief Friday evening exercise was not a scholarly effort to plumb the literature pertaining to the venerable William Crooks, the man, or the locomotive that bears his name.  Instead, my intent was to celebrate American Archives Month by sharing a simple archival experience.  It is both fun and enlightening to look beyond the document or the photo to see the hand of the archivists in the preservation of the record.  Some human being, probably an archivist by profession, had to identify collect, organize and preserve those fragments of the re cord, the photos, the programs, the timetable, the stories.

Each of the digital records I could easily access from my armchair has two stories to tell – one is the story of William Crooks, the man and the locomotive; the other is the story of how that record survived and made its way to my desktop.   Though technology vastly expands the availability of the record, it has taken the work of many to get the words, the image and the story to the researcher – or to anyone in quest of a ready answer to the Index File question.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s