I have just spent a week in Warsaw, celebrating a friend’s birthday by exploring the craft beer scene there. On Sunday, three of us went to the Stacja Muzeum, located in the old main railway station. One room is full of the most exquisite models of all sorts—it would have been nice to have some information about the modelmakers—and two of those models are of unusual monorails, both of which existed.
One of these is of the Boynton Bicycle Railroad, described thus:
Prior to 1880, Eben Moody Boynton had a few patents relating to saw teeth and tool handles. His first railway-related patent came in August 1880, relating to “that class of railways in which the motive power is applied to a large central driving-wheel”. His system involved a wooden framework erected around existing tracks, to support his rolling stock. This would, he claimed, “without in any way interfering with the travel or ordinary trains, and in means for forcing the main driving-wheel to its rail to enable the locomotive to ascend steep grades.”
Only part of the patent is available online, with only figures 9 and 10. They show a large wheel using only one of two rails on a regular track, with two angled wheels to one side which run along a rail attached to a wooden framework. This patent was quickly followed by another for a “Railway System”
In this version, the rails are V-shaped, and the wheels shaped to accommodate this. After this, a few more saw-related patents follow, then he’s silent for a bit, before returning with a patent for a jetty. Then, in 1887, he returns to his railway idea and patents something that’s beginning to look like the model.
And then a version which dispensed with the giant wheel:
At this time, Boynton commissions a firm in Portland, Maine, to build him a prototype, and incorporates the Boynton Company. The first criticisms of the system appear in the press, too. Some are constructive, one engineer suggesting that the view from the cab could be improved. Others felt the whole thing would destroy the line on which it ran because of its sheer size. A test line was promised by spring 1889 and then, in an unusual turn of events, the date is brought forward to February. His saw business, and the associated patents are sold.
On February 2nd 1889, the Boston Globe reports that the Boynton Bicycle Railroad ran on a track at Portland the previous day, witnessed by “about a thousand persons”.
“There was some slight delay, and then the new engine glided out of the engine house of the company, and turned the curve in fine style. The upper wheels scarcely touched the overhead rail, and at times stood still, so even was the working of the engine and so perfectly was it balanced…
“The locomotive presented a curious sight standing on its three wheels all in line upon a single track. The main wheel, which corresponds to the principal wheel on a bicycle, is 8 feet [2.4m] in diameter, and the other two, which are simply followers to support the weight of the rear end, have diameters of about 2 feet [60cm]. The whole apparatus is a ponderous affair, about 45 feet [13.7m] in length and standing 15 feet [4.5m] high. In general appearance it resembles very much an ordinary locomotive, with smokestack, boiler, and cab for the engineer and fireman, the same as any other locomotive engine. The overhead track kept the machine steady upon the track below. Three hundred feet [91m] were built for the first trial. The locomotive was painted, and the cab bore in large letters the mane, “Cycle No. 1, Boynton Bicycle Railway.”(Boston Daily Globe, 2 Feb 1889, p. 8)
The trial lasted about an hour, on a short track, but the results satisfied Boynton, who promptly ordered four double-decker passenger carriages for the locomotive, which seems to be the one modelled by the artisan at the museum.
The tests continued, and during the autumn of 1889 a test passenger service was operated between Gravesend and Coney Island, Brooklyn, a distance of 1.5 miles. The locomotive arrived in New York on August 23rd after a brutal journey from Maine on a train truck not suited to the job (New York Times, 26 August 1889, p. 5), and was eventually put into service on October 12th, running two return trips along the line. The experiments continued, and the following summer a proper service was operated. This advertisement appeared in various papers in July 1890
The patents kept coming throughout this time. This one is for a multi level version that can switch between different directions. And another covers the equipment required to make an electric bicycle railroad, and then, the electric locomotive itself. Then, a full electric system, now elevated.
Systems are proposed in New York, between Seattle and Tacoma, Winnipeg, and Boston. None of them are built, though the news reports suggest the Coney Island line was still running, at least for prospective customers, in 1895. The Boston system shows a very retrofuturistic “Needle Car”.
Boynton continues to refine the system, patenting an improved electrical current collector in 1894, and a lighter motor in early 1896, but the next patent relating to the bicycle railroad is in the name Wiliam H. Boynton, secretary to the Company, and presumably some relation. The design is a tilting version for better cornering.
William Boynton next patents an “improved truck“, and this is the last patent I can find relating to the Boynton Bicycle Railroad. The disastrous Pelham Park and City Island Railway is clearly the same system, but the Boyntons don’t seem to have had anything to do with it.
Eben Moody Boynton died in 1927 at the age of 87.
Here are some more pictures of the model in Warsaw: