Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Neglected Railway Centenary
A Neglected Railway Centenary
From The Advance Advocate, published by The International Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Detroit, Mich., October 1, 1913 No. 10 VOL. XXII
We have been busy of late in celebrating the memory of many events of importance in the world’s history, from the birth of great men to the development of great industries. Curiously enough, we seem to have overlooked one event, whose centenary occurs this year, and which was surely second to none in its influence on the development of our civilization. Just one hundred years ago, we are reminded by Railway and Locomotive Engineering (New York, August), the first locomotive to do regular train-hauling was set at work, and we might very properly, therefore, have celebrated in 1913 the centenary of the steam locomotive—if we had not forgotten all about it. Is it possible that the recent development of electric traction has caused us to think of steam as a back number? Nobody dreams now of celebrating the invention of the ox-cart, or even of the buggy. Have we come to think of steam-traction also as old-fashioned before it is respectably of age? Says a writer in the paper named above:
“The invention of the locomotive engine, whose successful operation first imparted vitality to railway enterprise, can scarcely be said to belong to one nation, certainly not to one man. The elements which made the locomotive a successful machine have been devised and applied by a great many different inventors and mechanics. The idea of applying steam to the propulsion of land-carriages was discussed in dilettante fashion by the philosophers who flourished so vaingloriously toward the end of the French monarchy. Some small fruit came from much wordy seed, for about the year 1770 an officer of the French army, named Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, built a steam-carriage intended for military purposes. The engine used high-pressure steam and had two cylinders receiving steam from a small boiler about the size of a kitchen chaldron. The machine worked and moved about three miles an hour. His invention was the first automobile. The apparatus is preserved in a Paris museum.
“Following details of attempts to construct a land transportation steam-engine, we find that in 1784 William Murdock, an assistant to Boulton & Watt, the engine-builders, made a working model of a road-engine and ran it about the country roads in England. The development of the high-pressure, high-speed engine was largely due to the labors of Oliver Evans, the well-known American inventor. In 1804 Evans built a dredging scow weighing about two tons, which he mounted on wheels and propelled through the streets of Philadelphia by the power of its own steam engine. While many crude attempts were made from Cugnot’s time on to apply steam propulsion to road vehicles, the first attempt to put into operation a steam-driven vehicle which was designed to run on rails was made by Richard Trevithick in 1803. An engine was constructed to do work in this line, and it pulled some cars, but was too complex for regular work and was abandoned after a few trials.
“For the next ten years after Trevithick’s experiment there was considerable effort made to produce a locomotive that would work satisfactorily. Trevithick’s engine was exceedingly slippery, due to the power being too great for the weight available for adhesion. This led to inventions intended to prevent the slipping of the driving wheels, and much ingenious labor was wasted in overcoming this imaginary defect.
* * *
“There were in the employ of Christopher Blackett, principal owner of the Wylam colliery, in the north of England, two workmen much above the common mechanics, who took a keen interest in mechanical traction. One was William Hedley, superintendent (viewer was his title), a man who studied scientific problems, and the other was Timothy Hackworth, foreman blacksmith. Hedley superintended a series of experiments to prove the extent of traction of wheels turning on a smooth rail, and found that the ordinary weight carried by a locomotive would prevent slipping. He then designed a locomotive, which was built by Hackworth in the blacksmith shop. That engine was put to work in 1812 and hauled coal cars as far as its capacity went, but it proved deficient in boiler. This was remedied in a second engine which Hedley had constructed in 1813. That locomotive was called the ‘Puffing Billy’ and is now preserved in the South Kensington museum in London.
“The ‘Puffing Billy’ was the beginning of a grasshopper type of locomotive, which, under a variety of modifications, became largely used until, in 1829, the directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway offered a prize of £500 for a locomotive which would meet certain requirements. The ‘Rocket,’ built by Robert Stephenson, won that prize and introduced a new form of locomotive, whose principal novelty was a multitubular boiler and cylinders set at an angle, connecting with a single pair of driving wheels.
“The success of the ‘Rocket’ turned the attention of locomotive designers to the simplified form of engine, but before that time hundreds of grasshopper locomotives were at work, the coal hauling connected with most collieries having been done by engines of that character, so it is fair to say that Hedley’s locomotive led to the introduction of steam power upon railways. George Stephenson, who was superintendent of a large colliery, copied one of Hedley’s locomotives and began building similar engines, but they never proved so successful as those turned out by Hedley.
“George Stephenson became chief engineer of the Stockton & Darlington railway, the first line opened for general traffic, which gave him prominence in the railway world and afterward led to his appointment to a similar position on the Liverpool & Manchester railway, now a part of the London & Northwestern railway system. He was a strong-minded, positive man and a warm advocate of locomotives at a time when such engines were far from being popular. On that account he came to be called the Father of the Locomotive, although he never invented a single thing that became a permanent attachment to the locomotive. The ‘Rocket’ engine, for whose construction he received much credit, was built by his son, Robert, the most important improvement, the multitubular boiler, having been the invention of Secretary Booth, of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company.
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Through the construction of railroads a vast wilderness on the American continent has been changed from gloomy, untrodden forests, dismal swamps, and pathless prairies into the abode of high civilization. The invention of the locomotive engine brought about this magnificent change, so it seems highly commendable that the people of North America should join in a great celebration of the centenary of the locomotive.”
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.