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This Day in Norwood History-January 24, 1947-Discover of Old “Highball Lantern” Throws Light On Career Of Master Carbuilder Elias E. Pratt

The light of an old “highball lantern” has recently been thrown on the career of an almost-forgotten railroad official of Norwood, Mass, who died in 1913 He was Elias E. Pratt, master car-builder in the New York & New England R R. shops at Norwood and later Superintendent of Building and Bridges, operating from New Haven, Conn. Here he invented the famous “Pratt car ’ which old-timers will remember was a vast improvement over the car it displaced in freight work.

The lantern in very good condition. turned up in the rubbish of the old Pratt barn as the latter’s grandson, William G Upham. of Norwood was cleaning it out in preparation for a sale. There is no question as to Ms pedigree. Stamped on its glass globe and metal appears “NY & N H.” Mr. Pratt s home on Linden street was within a couple of stone-throws of the car shops and one can easily picture the ‘Super” in the days when Norwood s streets were lighted by kerosene lamps, creeping homeward late at night with his trusty “highball” No. reader, the highball was in his hand and not in his stomach “The Super” was temperance—definitely if you are curious to see this relic of a by-gone golden age in the New Havens history, you will find it in the Day House headquarters of the Norwood Historical Society.

If you shake It, you can still hear, after 59 years, the slop of the gill of lard-oil in its reservoir Anyway Eddie R. Fulton of Eliot street. Norwood and purchasing agent of the New Haven railroad says the thick stuff is lard-oil which hasn’t been used in these parts since grandpa was a pup.

Elias Pratt was born in the present town of Norwell, Mass., then South Scituate, according to grandson Bill Upham. Like most of the lads in that wave-swept town, he did his bit as a ship-builder and learned the elements of carpentry Then came the Civil War. in which he enlisted and fought to the victorious end.

IIAD RAILROAD ITCH

Back home, ne started with the NY&KE.R.R -in Boston Here he became the friend of a man who later was his patron and made Mr. Pratt his yellow-haired boy He was Charles B. Clark, then chief clerk of the NY & N E. and in after-years one of the great and progressive presidents of the New Haven R.R. in the days when Pratt first knew Mr. Clark. Mahlon R Perry, of G6 Walpole street, Norwood, was Charles Clark’s office boy Mr. Perry rose to be a trusted and valued executive of the Plimpton Press Interests. Norwood He also worked at the car shop’s offices.

For some reason, Mr. Pratt decided he would like to go into business for himself. He did not buy one of the many streaks of rust which were on the railroad market at that time. He did purchase, with his son, Edward Pratt, the old cloth factory on Carpet Shop Hill, Norwood. But Elias had that railroad itch which every railroad man knows, and when his friend Clark, who was rising as an executive in Norwood’s pet railroad, the New England, offered him a job as Master Car Builder in the road’s recently built shop in Norwood He accepted For years he bossed the car building and repairing department here and made a fine record.

It was so good, that Clark, now president of the New Haven R R and burdened with many problems in building and straightening the kinks in the consolidated system, invited Mr. Pratt to come down to New Haven and gel busy in a much more important position than he had in Norwood President Clark created a new job for his old buddy as Superintendent of Buildings and Bridges.

They took over the New Haven shops of the Northampton railroad which the New Haven had recently acquired and in these shops were framed and cut all the new towers and depots which the New Haven R R. sadly lacked at that time It was probably one of the first big ready-cut building projects in New England and under Mr. Pratt s management, it went over big.

The ready-cut timbers and all the bricks, with every sort of needed equipment for a lower or depot, were shipped to the site selected Then a special construction train and crew of many sorts of artisans went to the spot and did the job. The train included comfortable sleeping, eating and living quarters for the crew Some erections required many weeks to comfortable sleeping, eating and living quarters for the crew Some erections required many weeks to complete This train covered all of lower New England and Cape Cod

It was during this period that Pratt invented the Pratt car. He noticed one day near his New Haven office, how easily some men were looting on of the old type of freight cars. So he set about inventing one they couldn’t loot Ask some old highballcr about this. It is too technical for this writer Anyway. Pratt’s ear become standard equipment. He also owned other patents.

Another job which President Clark asked Mr. Pratt to do was to appraise the Old Colony R.R which he did to the Boss’s satisfaction Mr. Pratt stayed with the road through President Mellon’s era Then Mr. Pratt’s health began to fail and lie resgined to return to Norwood where he passed away in 1913.

Another Norwood man who did an outstanding job in this New Haven adventure was David W Hunter who also lived on Linden street. He was an able executive under Mr. Pratt and was a top-notch woodworker and mechanic in his own right. When the Old Colony road was then taken over they had a lot of ancient freight cars for sale. President Clark asked Mr. Pratt if they were any good. The latter assured his chief that they could be repaired O.K. So the actual job, after the cars were bought for a song from the OC., was turned over to Mr. Hunter who, it is understood, had suggested the purchase in the first place. The repaired cars rolled for years and, for all this reporter

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