Home  

CHAPTER VIII

STEPHENSON'S ENGINE

 

IT was now that Mr. Stephenson, about twenty years of age, set about the construction of his first locomotive. As we before stated, the want of good and skillful workmen was a great drawback. None of the magnificent and ingenious machinery of the present day to be seen in our machine-shops had been invented. At that early period every part of the engine had to be made by hand, and hammered into shape as a horseshoe was; and John Thorswall, the colliery blacksmith, was his chief workman; and with all these disadvantages and difficulties to contend with, Mr. Stephenson persevered and finally completed his first locomotive.

It will no doubt be interesting to our mechanical readers to have a full description of Mr. Stephenson's first effort. The boiler was cylindrical, eight feet long and thirty-four inches in diameter, with an internal flue tube twenty inches wide passing through the boiler. The engine had two vertical cylinders of eight inches in diameter and two feet stroke, let into the boiler, working the propelling gear, with cross-heads and connecting rods; the power of the two cylinders was continued by means of spur-wheels, which communicated the motive power to the wheels supporting the engine upon the rails. The adoption of the spur-gear was the chief peculiarity of this new engine; it worked upon what is termed the second motion. The chimney was of wrought-iron, around which was a chamber extending back to the feed-pumps, for the purpose of heating the water previous to its injection into the boiler. The engine had no springs, was mounted on a wooden frame upon four wheels. In order, however, to equalize the jolts and shocks which such an engine would encounter, the water-barrel, which served as a tender, was fused at the end of a lever and weighted, the other end being connected with the frame of the carriage. The wheels of this locomotive were all smooth, and it was the first engine so constructed. After ten months' labor, this locomotive was completed and put upon the Cillingwood Railway on the 25th July, 1814, and tried. On an ascending grade of one in four hundred and fifty feet, this engine succeeded in drawing after it eight loaded wagons of thirty tons' weight, at about four miles an hour, and was the most successful working engine that had ever been constructed up to this period. It was called "Blusher." Although successful, this improvement over horse-power was not sufficient to justify the abandonment of the latter. The great trouble with this new machine was the inability of keeping up steam sufficient to answer its demands; and this experiment, like all its predecessors, might have been set aside as a practical failure, had not Mr. Stephenson hit upon (accidentally) the invention or discovery of the steam-blast. The puffing and noise occasioned by the escapement of the steam from the steam-pipe into the open air, after it had performed its duty in the cylinder, frightened the horses upon the common roads hard by and near the vicinity of the crossings, and occasioned much complaint to the authorities. Mr. Stephenson was warned by the police to abate the nuisance, or be subject to a prosecution. To remedy the evil he hit upon the plan of discharging the surplus steam into the smoke-stack, which produced a vacuum, and the draught in his furnace became so perfect, that double the quantity of steam was generated, and the power of his engine increased to double its former capacity. This was a triumph, and encouraged the inventor to further experiments. Seeing all the defects of his first engine, and the wonderful effects of the steam-blast in facilitating the combustion of the fuel used in generating steam, Mr. Stephenson set about constructing his second engine, the patent dated February 28, 1815.

This second locomotive we will describe, as we think it will prove interesting to our readers, especially so to our engine-drivers or engineers and our locomotive-machinists.

Like the first, this engine had two vertical cylinders, communicating directly with each pair of the fore-wheels which supported the engine, by means of a cross-head and a pair of connecting-rods. It was soon seen that the direct action from the cylinder to the wheels upon such uneven roads would not answer with the rigidity of the machinery, particularly the stiff connecting-rods communicating from the wheels to the piston-heads. To obviate this difficulty, Mr. Stephenson invented and applied the ball-and-socket joint upon his connecting rods, where they were attached to the pistons, and crank-pins upon the crank-axles.

Many other experiments were tried and as quickly abandoned in England by this accomplished engineer, whose name and reputation were as well known in America as they were in England. These experiments tended in a great measure to prevent our own countrymen subsequently from falling into the same errors and mistakes that would be found in the pathway of the early developments of this wonder of science and mechanics, the locomotive.

We will not believe but that a description, step by step—from the first experiments by Trevithick, in 1804, on the Merthyr-Tydvil Railway, in South Wales, when his machine drew after it several wagons containing ten tons of bar-iron at the rate of five miles an hour, to the experiments of Stephenson, with his far-famed Rocket—will prove interesting to the machinists and engineers among our readers, and we will continue our accounts until we come to the date of our own experiments in America.

It will be remembered by our readers that in the Blucher the motion was continued by the spur-wheel system, and its place was supplied by inserting into the axle two cranks at right angles to each other, and this method answered extremely well; but even here Mr. Stephenson found obstacles, in the difficulty, at that early day, of forging cranks of sufficient strength and accuracy to answer the purpose, and stand the jars and jolts occasioned by the rough roads, and he tried a substitute for the requisite object. This new arrangement was a chain which rolled over indented wheels on the center of each axle, and so arranged that the two pair of wheels were effectually coupled and made to keep pace with each other. This did well for a while, but the chains soon proved troublesome, and were abandoned for the new plan of connecting the front and hind wheels together by rods outside of the wheels, instead of rods and cranks inside, as at first. This method completely answered the purpose, and is in use at the present day.

Although many other improvements were afterward suggested to the fertile mind of Mr. Stephenson, and introduced in the machinery of the locomotive Blucher, yet, as a mechanical construction, it may be considered as the type of the present successful locomotive system.

Mr. Stephenson was now left alone in locomotive experiments and improvements: all the other experimentalists before him quitted the field of that kind of enterprise, and all their works in the shape of machines were thrown away and entirely abandoned.

Railways, as we have before stated, had been in successful operation for many years, in the transportation of coal and mineral ores from the mines to the places of shipment. The idea had never been suggested to the mind of any one, or had never, at least, been advocated, to use them for general purposes of traffic, or, as at the present time, for the transportation of goods, wares, merchandise, produce, or for the transportation of passengers from one city to another, until about the year 1800, as we before stated, by a Mr. Thomas, who introduced the subject before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle, and a few years after by a Mr. Edgeworth, and even then no other power was thought or dreamed of but the horse-power then in use upon all the tram-roads (as the railroads were called in all the mining regions throughout England and wherever else they were used), and which had by this time become general, and was looked upon as one of the essential necessaries for such enterprises. But the use of steam-power had not entered the minds of the warmest advocates of railroads for general purposes, as at the present day.

It was not until 1820 that the first suggestion of using the locomotive (imperfect as it then was) in the place of horse-power, was advocated by one Thomas Gray, who devoted much of his time and money in publishing articles and pamphlets upon the subject. He pointed out the importance of such a road between Liverpool and Manchester and other important points, all of which have since been carried out. He was so energetic and pertinacious in his efforts to impress it upon the minds of the people, and so untiring in his labors, that many pronounced him a bore, and those who knew him declared that he was cracked or deranged—just as, nearly two hundred years before, poor Solomon de Cause was shut up in a mad house for advocating his discovery of a great power in the steam of boiling water.

While Mr. Gray was advocating the adoption of railways for general transportation purposes, George Stephenson was planning locomotives to run upon them.


Table of Contents | Antebellum Page | Site Contents

Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery