In 1851, American author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “These railroads—could but the whistle be made musical, and the rumble and the jar got rid of—are positively the greatest blessing that the ages have wrought out for us. They give us wings; they annihilate the toil and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize travel!”
The newest technology in the country roared on steel tracks, carrying all kinds of freight and passengers who likely felt thrills to horrors along their often-raucous ride.
People who saw, heard, or traveled on a locomotive probably thought as Nathaniel Hawthorne did about not only “the great blessing” of a locomotive back in 1851, but also “…the rumble and jar….”
Among them was the D.B. Harrington. From the Times Herald,
Feb. 3, 1879, “Locomotive No. 1, of the P.H.& N.W., is named the D.B. Harrington. It is a very neat piece of machinery.”
Today, many of the folks who have seen the restored D.B. Harrington in its new home at Port Huron’s Wrigley Hall
may agree with Hawthorne and the newspaper correspondent. The D.B. Harrington is a neat piece of machinery that has come home to a welcome resting place in Port Huron.
Built in Pittsburgh
The D.B. Harrington’s story begins in 1866 with a partnership between Henry Kirke Porter and John Y. Smith. The two men create a small machine shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to both build and repair industrial equipment. According to PacificNG.org, this partnership became the largest manufacturer of small industrial locomotives, H.K. Porter & Co., Inc. with over 8,000 locomotives built between 1866 and 1950.
Distinguished by a smaller gauge width of 750 mm, in 1871, the narrow-gauge movement came to America. Compared to normal gauges measuring 1435 mm, the narrow gauge gave a number of advantages such as enabling tighter curves to be taken, especially in valleys and in generally difficult terrain.
The Smith & Porter company was uniquely positioned to take advantage of this new market in railroad building. When Smith left in 1871, Porter formed a new partnership with Arthur W. Bell and the company became known as Porter, Bell & Co.
Porter, Bell & Co. immediately expanded the product range for the new narrow-gauge market to include light passenger and freight. In all, Porter, Bell, & Co. would build 223 locomotives for use on common carrier roads. The locomotive that would come to be known as the D.B. Harrington was one of hundreds and not unique, but a survivor.
Earliest known shot of the D.B. Harrington. Believed to have been taken around 1880 in front of the Port Huron Depot of the Port Huron & Northwestern at 2nd and Court Streets which was later destroyed by a fire in 1912.
Comes to the Thumb
Built in 1878, the D.B. Harrington was used by the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad in lumber camps in Michigan’s Thumb and is credited with opening up the tree-filled Thumb.
For many large and small cities in Huron and Sanilac counties, the D.B. was their first look at the new technology of its day: trains.
When prominent citizen Daniel B. "D.B." Harrington died on July 7, 1878, he left a legacy of giving to the community, including the name of the town where he lived and the family homestead on Military Street in Port Huron.
But that wasn’t all. According to Helen Endlich’s “A Story of Port Huron,” D.B. was a surveyor, incorporator of the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad, and donator of $75,000 to build the “beautiful Opera House and block.”
D.B. also helped organize the First National and Savings Bank, spoke the Chippewa language fluently, was a member of the state legislature, and published Port Huron’s first newspaper, the Lake Huron Observer.
Additionally, D.B. loved trees, their planting and culture. Endlich writes, “He also took great interest in securing and planting trees along the highway at Gratiot Center, where he planted a village three or four years since, even going so far as to hire men to plant trees in front of their own lots.”
With such a legacy, the new locomotive in Port Huron was named after D.B. Harrington.
From 1883 to 1923, the Harrington hauled logs for several companies until transferred to the Glen Haven Canning Co. and was used as a stationary boiler.
When the boiler gave out in 1933, the locomotive was loaned to Traverse City where it was displayed in Cinch Park until 1965. The owner at the time, David Day, then sold the Harrington to Cedar Point in Ohio where it was on display until 1974 before being placed in storage.
In 1981, the engine found its way back to Michigan after being acquired by the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, but it was never displayed. In 1990, the Henry Ford Museum transferred the title to Port Huron Museums and in 1992, the D.B. Harrington came to rest in an empty greenhouse behind the museum.
A team who worked on restoring the D.B. Harrington pose for a photo with the locomotive.
Restoration and preservation
Veronica Campbell, Executive Director of Port Huron Museums,
said that the locomotive sat in the museum’s greenhouse for 20 years before being moved in April 2018 to a new place of storage: the automotive shop area at St. Clair County Community College
St. Clair County Community College welding student Gabby Lulis poses for a photo with the bell holder for the D.B. Harrington.
Welding professor Joe McFalda and some of his students helped bring the Harrington back from neglect.
“Basically, we built parts that were needed,” McFalda says. “Dozens of parts, brackets, braces, and so on, and handed them to T.J. Gaffney for installation.”
In addition to building needed parts, McFalda and his students built the tracks needed to move the locomotive.
“We welded steel plates together, then welded the track to the plates and then put on cross pieces to make about a 100-foot track,” McFalda says. “Now that track will be made into anvils for students in the welding program.”
After roughly three years in the college’s welding area, the D.B. Harington made its grand move on Feb. 9, 2023, to Wrigley Hall in downtown Port Huron.
Once at Wrigley Hall, the wooden cab and final lettering on the Harrington’s tender, as well as the stovepipe-like jacketing around the boiler of the locomotive and the wooden running boards and triangular cowcatcher, all were attached, providing the finishing touches to the 145-year-old locomotive.
It takes a village
Andrew Kercher, Community Engagement Manager for Port Huron Museums, praised the community and the collaborative effort to restore the museum’s iconic locomotive.
“I think one of the things that really stood out to us today was how many people it took to make this happen,” he says. “Sometimes at the museum, it’s a one- or two-person job or something like that. And this really involves so many different members of the community.”
In addition to Port Huron Museums and the team at SC4, several community members and local organizations have been steadfast supporters of the locomotive's restoration. Among them, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County has provided multiple grants over the years while local developer Larry Jones worked to support the efforts of relocating the D.B. Harrington to Wrigley Hall.
Kercher also praised Port Huron historian, T.J. Gaffney, who served as project manager for the restoration.
“It really took the whole community, and that’s why so many people felt good about it — that group effort,” Kercher says. “It’s nice to have something completed. Every day people walk by the Wrigley Center and see the D.B., and that makes it all worthwhile.”
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