Boilermaker Special

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The former official mascot of Purdue : The Boilermaker Special V (1993-2011)

The Boilermaker Special is the official mascot of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. It resembles a Victorian-era railroad locomotive and is built on a truck chassis. It is operated and maintained by the student members of the Purdue Reamer Club.

Inspiration for the Boilermaker Special[edit]

Purdue University is a land-grant university (or Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) university) created through the Morrill Act of 1862. In the 1890s, Purdue became a leader in the research of railway technology. For many years Purdue operated the "Schenectady No. 1", and later the "Schenectady No. 2", on a dynamometer in an engineering laboratory on the West Lafayette campus. These were 4-4-0 type steam locomotives manufactured by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Schenectady was a classic Victorian-era design similar in construction to the Western and Atlantic Railroad No. 3 (see The General (locomotive) on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History). Purdue even operated its own railroad to connect the campus powerplant to a main rail line. In the 1930s the dynamometer was decommissioned and the Schenectady No. 2 was retired as the railroad industry in the United States converted from steam to diesel-electric locomotives.

Creation of the Mascot[edit]

For many years Purdue did not have a mascot. In 1939, Purdue student Israel Selkowitz suggested the school adopt an official mascot to represent Purdue's engineering heritage. He originally proposed a "mechanical man". After much debate, it was decided to build a locomotive on an automobile chassis. This choice allowed the mascot to build on Purdue's engineering and railroading heritage, as well as represent the school's nickname "Boilermakers" in a meaningful way.

The "Boilermaker" nickname came about during the early years of Purdue football. There had been rumors the university enrolled burly boilermakers from the Monon Railroad shops in Lafayette, Indiana as students/football players to help beef up the scrawny football team. When a railroad operated an extra train independent of the scheduled timetable, it was known as a "special". Thus, the trains which carried Purdue's sporting teams and their fans to other cities for athletic contests were known as "Boilermaker Specials". It was a perfect match.

Financial and moral support for the first Boilermaker Special was provided by key members of the Purdue University graduating class of 1907, and members of the Purdue Reamer Club from the graduating classes of 1940 and 1941.

Boilermaker Special I[edit]

The Boilermaker Special I was introduced in 1940. The locomotive body was constructed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works and installed on a 1939 "Champion" automobile chassis donated by the Studebaker Corporation (South Bend, Indiana). The chassis had a 6-cylinder in-line gasoline engine and a three-speed manual transmission. The gearshift was on the steering column.

The cab contained a single bench seat for the driver and one passenger. Although the coal tender area was not designed for passengers, two passengers could sit on top the wheel fenders. The cab had two sheetmetal doors, one on each side, each of which had a window. Although the cab had a windshield, the back only had a window opening with no glass. This meant the wind and weather would enter the cab from the back.

The bell and the whistle on the boiler are believed to have been donated by the Monon Railroad shops in Lafayette. The whistle used exhaust from the engine as its source of compressed gas. Although the cab had marker lights, the only driving light was the single 'cyclops' light mounted high on the front of the boiler. Due to the high placement of the single headlight and a minimal number of other exterior lights, Boilermaker Special I was not driven at night for safety reasons. In honor of the Purdue students and alumni who contributed to the project, the numbers "074041" were later installed in the sides of the headlight.

Boilermaker Special II[edit]

In 1953, the Boilermaker Special II was created by installing the original Baldwin body from the Boilermaker Special I on an International Harvester truck chassis. A matching trailer was added during the 1950s to increase the passenger seating capacity. The trailer remained in use until the early 1990s.

After the Boilermaker Special III was introduced, the Boilermaker Special II was scrapped in a Lafayette IN salvage yard. This was personally witnessed by Reamer Club member Roger Brunstrum so that no one could later claim they owned the mascot.

Boilermaker Special III[edit]

In 1960, the Boilermaker Special III was introduced. It was built in Detroit by the General Motors Corporation on a 2-ton GMC school bus chassis. It was powered by a 6-cylinder gasoline engine connected to a two-speed manual transmission. A single rear axle with dual wheels and a manual-shift, two-speed differential rounded out the drive train.

The cab and tender were constructed of plywood with facings of sheet steel on each side. Forward of the cab, the body was heavy sheet steel and steel plate. The brass bell originally installed on Boilermaker Specials I and II was installed on the boiler. A new headlight was installed at the front of the boiler. It featured a small 12-volt bulb reflected by a large parabolic mirror. It was so bright it could only be used during parades. A locomotive air horn was installed on the top left side of the cab. When the horn was sounded, the Boilermaker Special III could be heard from miles away. To complete the locomotive theme, "steam" could be sprayed from the smokestack. The steam was actually carbon dioxide released by the driver from a cylinder within the cab and plumbed to a nozzle just below the top of the smokestack.

The cab had two seats for the driver and a safety passenger. It had a heater which attempted to keep the cab somewhat comfortable during Indiana's cold winters. In addition to a safety-glass windshield and windshield wipers, the cab also had sliding side windows. The only portal to the cab was a lockable sliding door which led from the back of the cab to the coal tender area.

The chassis and body had a complete 12-volt, negative ground electrical system. A full set of lights were installed, including a concealed 4-beam headlight system, brake, back-up, marker, instrument, and interior lights. With all these features, the Boilermaker Special III was capable of driving on most improved roads, day or night, in all weather conditions.

The tender area had two long bench seats along each side with enough space for 14 passengers. The seating surfaces were hinged to allow items to be stored within the benches. Two 20-gallon gasoline tanks were at the back of the tender under the seats. The overall weight of the vehicle was 8,600 pounds (3,800 kg).

The original drive train had to move over 9,000 pounds of vehicle and passengers (or more if the 1957 trailer was towed). Since the chassis was not equipped with power steering, the Boilermaker Special III was under-powered and difficult to drive. In the 1970s, the drive train was replaced with a carbureted General Motors/Chevrolet 350 cubic inch V-8 with a power steering pump and a three-speed automatic transmission. A hydraulic steering-assist cylinder was added to the original steering mechanism. The two-speed differential from 1960 was retained, although it was locked in the "high" range and the shift linkage removed. With a pair of "cherry-bomb" glass-pack mufflers on a dual exhaust, the Boilermaker Special III had significantly more power and sounded like a hot rod when at wide-open throttle. After the drive train was replaced, the Boilermaker Special was capable of driving on highways at the posted speed limit for extended periods.

In the 1980s the Reamer Club acquired a single-flute steam whistle and installed it on the top of the boiler just forward of the bell. The whistle used the same source of compressed air as the horn on the top of the cab.

The Boilermaker Special III represented the university for 33 years and traveled more than 110,000 miles (177,000 km). After the Boilermaker Special V was dedicated in 1993, the Boilermaker Special III was dismantled in a Lafayette salvage yard. The salvage process was photographed and documented by the Purdue Reamer Club so that no one could later claim they owned the Boilermaker Special III.

Boilermaker Special IV[edit]

In 1979, a small version of the Boilermaker Special was introduced. The Boilermaker Special IV, or "X-tra Special" as it became known, was built on an E-Z-GO electric golf cart chassis. This allowed the mascot to be displayed at indoor functions or on softer surfaces (i.e. a turf athletic field) where its massive, diesel-powered big brother could never go.

Boilermaker Special V[edit]

Boilermaker Special V was introduced on September 25, 1993. It was built on a Navistar Low-Profile 4600 chassis and powered by a non-turbocharged V-8 diesel engine. The Navistar chassis was donated by the Navistar International Corporation (formerly International Harvester). The body was primarily constructed of aluminum which was donated by ALCOA, which has an aluminum processing factory in Lafayette, Indiana. The aluminum body was fabricated and installed on the chassis by the Wabash National Corporation, also of Lafayette, Indiana.

The brass bell from Boilermaker Special I and the brass whistle from Boilermaker Special III were installed on the boiler. A five-chime freight train horn from a Norfolk Southern locomotive was installed on the body. The coal tender was large enough to seat up to 14 passengers. The Special was able to "kneel", which allowed children and the elderly easier access to the coal tender. Despite the extensive use of aluminum in the body, the Boilermaker Special V weighed 10,800 pounds (4,900 kg).

The Purdue University Mini Mascot, The Boilermaker X-tra Special VI

Boilermaker Special VI[edit]

In 1996 the Boilermaker Special IV was replaced by Boilermaker Special VI.

Boilermaker Special VII[edit]

In 2011, the Boilermaker Special V underwent a significant overhaul with the help of the Wabash National corporation. With over 200,000 miles, it was in need of a new engine, transmission and chassis. In June 2011, the university confirmed the overhauled mascot would indeed be branded as Boilermaker Special VII, which is reflected by the number "7" displayed on the front of the train's boiler. The new design was made by Reamer Alumna Beth (Smart) Miller (F'06). The body was changed slightly to adjust to the new parts, as well as a slight change in the painting design. New whistles and bells were also installed, while retaining the original brass bell from Boilermaker Special I. Much to the delight of many Reamer Club Alumni, the Special is outfitted with modern LED lighting on both its running boards as well as its cyclops. Boilermaker Special VII was presented to the university on September 3, 2011 at halftime of the Middle Tennessee State-Purdue football game. It was dedicated on October 1, 2011 at a luncheon which preceded the Notre Dame-Purdue football game.

Remnants of Previous Boilermaker Specials[edit]

Only a few small pieces of Boilermaker Specials I, II, III, and IV remain in existence. The majority of their bodies and chassis were scrapped when they were replaced, primarily to prevent any person from later claiming they owned what once was the Boilermaker Special.

The brass bell from the Boilermaker Special I is the same bell that was used on Boilermaker Specials II, III, and V. It is currently installed on Boilermaker Special VII. Pieces of sheetmetal from the Boilermaker Special I body containing the words "Purdue" and "Boilermaker Special" were saved when the body of Boilermaker II was scrapped in 1960 and remained on display in the Boilermaker Special garage for many years. The cyclops headlight from Boilermaker Special I was saved by the Reamer Club after it was removed from Boilermaker Special II in 1960. It was installed on the Boilermaker Special IV in 1979. This headlight was not used on the Boilermaker Special VI and has again been archived.

Some parts of Boilermaker Special III were saved before it was scrapped. The locomotive headlight's parabolic reflector and trim were installed in a new headlight box and placed at the front of Boilermaker Special V. The single-flute steam whistle, which was installed in the 1980s, was transferred to the Boilermaker Special V as well. Sheetmetal bearing the words "Purdue" and "Boilermaker Special" were saved and have been archived. Finally, a heavy brass plaque, which was installed inside the cab above the windshield to commemorate the 1960 dedication of the Boilermaker Special III, was removed and archived.

Operation and maintenance[edit]

Although it is owned by Purdue University and the State of Indiana, the Boilermaker Special has been operated, maintained, and funded by the men and women of the Purdue Reamer Club since the mascot's introduction in 1940. The club's membership consists entirely of independent Purdue students (those who are not members of a fraternity or sorority) who represent a wide cross-section of the student body. Within the Reamer Club, a Boilermaker Special Chairperson and a separate X-tra Special Chairperson are elected each semester to oversee the operation and maintenance of the mascots. Only men and women of the Reamer Club may serve as Pilots (engineers) or Safety Pilots (firemen) for the mascots after passing a rigorous training period. The Boilermaker Special is frequently seen around the main campus, at athletic contests, and at local community events where it is used to promote the university. From May through August, it can also be seen around the state of Indiana in various parades and festivals. It spreads school spirit by blowing its train whistle and horn. It also has an external sound system that plays family-friendly music. The members of the Purdue Reamer Club travel with the train to nearly every football game, including bowl games. During the football season, caps bearing the logos of defeated opponents are attached to the Boilermaker Special's cow-catcher.

See also[edit]

Purdue Pete - The mascot of the Purdue University Athletic Department

Similar vehicular mascots at other universities:

References[edit]


External links[edit]