Life and work
John J. Coit worked initially as a master machinist at the Johnson Machine Works but could not continue in this profession because he became physically handicapped. He built and operated several miniature railways in succession:
- Seaside Park Railway
- Long Beach and Asbury Park Railway
- Eastlake Park Scenic Railway
- Venice Miniature Railway
His oilfired steam locomotive No 1903 with a total length of 5.80 meters (19 ft 0 in) from tip of pilot to end of tank couple and a height of 1,295 millimetres (51 in) from the top of rail to the top of stack was of the 2-6-0 type Mogul. The locomotive had some technical innovations, such as a valve control without eccentrics, which was easy to adjust and to maintain. The locomotive had also automatic couplings and a bespoke oil burner, for which Coit filed a patent.
From July 1908 he worked as a locomotive engineer on the main line of the Panama railroad, while the Panama Canal was being built. He was employed by the Atlantic Division, and his residence in the Canal Zone was at Culebra.
Coit died in an accident in the morning of 21 September 1910 at the age of 35, when the locomotive No 500, with which he pulled a work train, derailed on the main line of the Panama Canal Railway from Gatún to Culebra after colliding with a cow. The locomotive derailed approximately 60 m (197 feet) in front of bridge No 47 near Mamei and tipped over onto the adjacent track, which ran towards the south. Coit died immediately at the scene of the accident and his West Indian fireman was seriously injured. The tipped-over locomotive was removed from the tracks to allow other trains to pass.
As Coit was not married, his sister, C.J. Stanton, 418 Solano Avenue, Los Angeles, was the next of kin. His miniature railway locomotive was later used by the Urbita Lake Railway and is still being used on the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad.
- Trolley-pole controller. US 879034 A. 20 October 1906.
- Air-brake mechanism. US 850564 A. 15 November 1906.
- Peter Panacy: Venice Miniature Railway. A Brief History and Its Influence on the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad.
- Arthur W. Line: Model Railways – XIX. – Eastlake Park Scenic Railway, Los Angeles, California. The Model Engineer and Electrician, 23 April 1908. Pages 395, 396, 397, 398 and 399.
- The Canal Record, Ancón, Panama, 21 September 1910, Page 3.
- Ed Kelley: Venice Miniature Railway. Railway Preservation News.