Harvey Springstead was arguably the best known locomotive engineer to both passenger and employees of the New York Division of the Erie Railroad. Moving to our town in 1890 he was not only a respected engineer but also a community leader along with his wife Mary.
Born in Jersey City, on July 22, 1856. Harvey attended school until 12 years of age, when, “having acquired a good common-school education”, he worked at different occupations including conductor on the Jersey City & Bergen Street Car Line. In January 1872 he was hired by the Erie as a fireman, a more arduous but better paying position. In June 1886 his efforts were rewarded by promotion to engineer, and for a while he pulled the throttle on freight engines running on the New York Division based in Goshen NY. In 1904, engine 970 was assigned to him, operating in passenger service between Waldwick, Suffern and Jersey City.
He built a two-story residence that today is the dentist office on Franklin Turnpike at the corner of Lincoln Place. As evidence of Mr. Springstead's popularity and worth as a citizen is the number of offices to which he was elected by the voters of Waldwick. For five years he was a township committeeman, two years as township treasurer and finally elected to the office of special tax collector. He only left public office when railroad employees were forbidden to participate as elected officials by union rules.
He operated this locomotive for 21 years and only had two failures. Shortly after starting his passenger duty Supt. R.S. Parsons inaugurated the Order of the Red Spot for good performance and good appearance of engines in commuter service. Harvey Springstead was the first engineer to be honored with the Red Spot painted on the number plate on the front of the engine. In 1910, once again he was first to have his name was placed on the cab of the locomotive in recognition of the personal interest which he took in the appearance and operation of the locomotive, and held this distinction until his retirement. He was also made Foreman of the Road, effectively managing all the engineers in the division.
These accolades are no doubt the result of his near compulsive care of his equipment as related in this story.
"Harvey Springstead usually spent his entire day during his lay-over at Jersey City watching over and working on his engine, and the 970 was polished from the brass hand holds on the pilot to the tank, and the interior of the cab was kept as clean as a whistle. Strict orders were in effect that during the night and on Sundays when this engine did not work it was not to be used for any emergency. It never was, except on one occasion during a heavy congestion of freight movement when the famous 'Mosquito Fleet' was moving all the cars on Sunday. (The 'Mosquito Fleet' consisted of local passenger and some freight engines coupled in pairs to move freight trains.) One of the engines became disabled at Waldwick and there being no other engine available Engine 970 was coupled to the freight train to run to Port Jervis. Although she got back to Waldwick for Monday morning, there was much explanation demanded for the violation of instructions.”
This incident resulted in the parking of his engine each night on a siding just across the yard from this tower that ends at the Franklin Turnpike so he could keep an eye on the engine from his home.
His public recognition came from his friendly demeanor and caring treatment of passengers and young rail fans. In the winter of 1917, various newspapers in New York published photographs of Engineer Springstead and engine 970 and complimented him on the success with which he operated a passenger train from Waldwick to Jersey City during a severe snow storm
Want to know more about Harvey?
In April 2005 Trains Magazine ran the article "Erie's To Notch Engineer" by Curtis Springstead, great great grandson of Harvey Springstead, that provides a biographical summary of the famous engineer. Numerous photos and references help tell the story.
Thanks to Trains Magazine for allowing us to share this with you.