We are including the reprint of the first article written by Teresa Livers of the Ashland Gazette in its entirety with grateful acknowledgement.
Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series of about the Arnold family.
” GREENWOOD – There is something about young men raised in the Ashland area. They aspire to be great and go on to do phenomenal things.
Ashland can proudly boast the accomplishments of several of her native sons; astronaut, atomic physicist, top executive of a major philanthropic organization.
Now, after digging deep into Ashland’s roots, the community can also lay claim to one of the top electrical engineers in the United States, Bion J. Arnold.
Arnold, the oldest son of Joseph and Geraldine Reynolds Arnold’s 12 children, was born in Casnovia, Mich. in 1861.
At age 4, his family homesteaded a farm four miles south of Ashland. Today, the George Mink III family resides on the land.
Arnold was educated in the Ashland public schools and later at the University of Nebraska
and Hillsdale College in Michigan where he received a bachelor of science degree.
Three years later, in 1884, he earned a masters in electrical engineering and, again in 1897,
received the degree of electrical engineer from the University of Nebraska.
Based on genealogical information gathered by Arnold descendents, Bion was described as a “precocious boy”
and he was enthralled with mechanical things. Writings by the late Ashland historian, Alice Graham, said Bion often had to be drug home
from the blacksmith shop by his father so he could get his chores done.
At age 14, he’d built a small steam engine from scrap metal. Though crude in appearance, it worked
By age 15, Bion spent his summers running threshing machines on farms and became skilled in handling machinery.
Between the ages of 15 and 17, he built the first bicycle in Nebraska.
Graham’s works indicated that he had only a small photograph from a magazine ad in which to model the cycle from; he had never actually seen a real one.
At 18, he’d built a fully operational steam engine locomotive and all before graduating high school.
Biographic information from the IEEE Global History Network indicates that fame first came to Bion in 1983
after he designed and built the Intramural Elevated Railway at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago, Ill.
This was the first commercial installation of the third rail on a large scale and led to Arnold’s career as a consulting engineer for steam and electric railways.
Some of Arnold’s other accomplishments include the development of the electrification of the Grand Central Terminal in New York
and development of the subway system of New York, a feat that took five years and over 60 million dollars.
Information obtained from Graham’s research also credits Arnold with inventing the undercarriage that allowed streetcars to use
electricity as power as well as development of a switch enabling electric trolley cars to reverse direction at the end of the line.
In her writings, Graham noted that his work in electrically powered mass transit
with helping make possible the commuter society we know today.
Arnold’s list of accomplishments is extensive. Descendents of his family have said he was very intelligent
and was even a friend of Thomas Edison.
Though Arnold spent most of his adult life in Chicago and New York consulting on engineering affairs,
he won “international fame as an electrician” as published in a biography written by John B. O’Hara.
The citizens of Ashland, the town where Arnold grew up, also recognized the talents possessed by one of their own.
Well before he achieved international fame in the engineering world, the B.J. Arnold Triangle located at the junction of Highway 6 and Silver Street was created in his honor.
It was a grassy triangle enclosed by the highway and a “Y” intersection.
A memorial to one of Ashland’s most famous graduates, it was landscaped and
dedicated with the permission of the State Highway Department in 1934.
The June 28, 1934 issue of The Ashland Gazette contained a letter of thanks from Arnold on the front page.
Excerpts of the letter follow: “…
“The establishment of this Triangle was complete news to me and I am writing to express my sincere thanks to you and my other Ashland friends who established and contributed toward the improvement of the Triangle.
It is very gratifying to be so kindly remembered and I appreciate it very much.
…With best regards and assuring you that the next time I come West I shall stop off and see the Triangle and my friends…”
The “B.J. Arnold Triangle” was destroyed when Highway 6 was widened and resurfaced in 1991.
Though his place in the history of electrical engineering is assured, he is largely forgotten in Ashland, his hometown.