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CHAPTER XXXII

HORATIO ALLEN'S LETTER

 

WE will now close our history of the first and second American-built locomotives, by giving in this place Horatio Allen's communication to the author on several points of interest, to which we have alluded in the preceding pages. Mr. Allen's letter is as follows:

NEW YORK March 1, 1869. MR. WILLIAM H. BROWN

DEAR SIR: YOU ask me for some incidents in the early history of railroads and locomotives in this country, of which I have personal knowledge.

Being one of the first of American engineers who gave attention to the subject, at the time when the indications were that a new era in intercommunication was about to open, and having visited England to obtain the information that existed at that time, and having given special attention to what was to be, and proved to be, the vital element of the new era—the locomotive—I, of necessity, was a party to many events of interest at this day. It has always been my intention to place on record some of the earlier incidents; but the postponement to a more convenient time, which the business engagements of life have led to, will leave this intention unfulfilled.

At your request, and, as you say, it may be of some value to you personally, I will briefly refer to one or two events of the character of that contained in the quotation sent me. The quotation is from remarks made by me at the opening of the New York and Erie Railroad in 1852.

It is often and, perhaps, generally thought that the railroad system was imported full grown. Such is not the fact, and it would greatly interest many Americans to have presented the part that was taken in this country in the development of this great instrumentality of modern times. I have not the time to present it, but I will refer to one or two events. One was the running of the first locomotive on a railroad on this continent. Herewith I send the remarks made by me at the opening of the New York and Erie Railroad, to which I will only add, that the locomotive was built under my directions in England, set up and run as described in 1829.

The first decision in the world to build a railroad expressly for locomotive-power, for general freight and passenger business, was in this country, and at a period of time which gives especial interest to that decision. In the year 1829, it was my duty, as chief engineer of the South Carolina Railroad, to report to the directors as to the plan of construction of that work, in length one hundred and thirty-five miles.

At that time, the question of motive power was in the following position: In England, the Liverpool and Manchester company had referred the question of motive-power to a commission of two engineers of great eminence, James Walker, of London, and John W. Rastrick, of Stone Bridge. These gentlemen, after a thorough examination of the whole subject, united in an elaborate report, accompanied by maps, etc., showing how the system recommended was to be carried out, and that system was a series of stationary engines, placed one to three miles apart, which, through long ropes, were to draw the trains from one engine to the other.

On this side the water, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company had sixteen miles in operation by horse-power. By correspondence with the gentlemen who had the beginning of that great enterprise in hand, I was informed that they were advised by English engineers, consulted on the subject, to build their road for horse-power.

At this time, and with this intimation before me, I made my report to the directors of the South Carolina Railroad Company. In that report I made such comparison between horse-power and locomotive-power as the information at the time enabled me to make. I presented my conclusion that the comparison was in favor of locomotive-power, and I based my recommendation, that the road should be built for locomotive-power, essentially on the ground that there was no reason to believe that the breed of horses would be materially improved, but that the present breed of locomotives was to furnish a power of which no one knew its limit, and which would far exceed its present performances. At the meeting where this report was submitted, the directors, before they left their seats, passed the resolution unanimously that the South Carolina Railroad should be built solely for locomotive-power.

To one other circumstance in connection with the same road I will refer. I had early come to the conclusion that to make the locomotive the instrument that would be required, it must furnish more power in one instrument and one engineer; that it was plain that the materials, and that, too, of the road which carried the locomotive, limited the weight to rest under each wheel, and that, as more power required more weight, there must, of necessity, be more wheels, and that, if more wheels are required, power must be made in reference to curves and change of grade. In reports made in 1830-'31, I set forth the combinations by which such provision could be made. At that time the locomotives in England were all on four wheels, and it was maintained by a strong English influence that it was not for us, in America, to depart from English usage. The subject was matter of discussion for a winter. I took the position (English usage to the contrary notwithstanding) that no long road for general passenger and freight purposes could maintain itself without the use of eight-wheel locomotives, and that probably ten-wheel locomotives would also be found desirable. Experience has amply sustained my position. My efforts were successful, and in 1831 the first eight-wheel locomotives were built on my plans and under my direction. The combinations by which provision was made for curves and changes of grade are substantially those so generally used on eight-wheel locomotives and eight-wheel passenger-cars.

It is of some interest that their introduction, without patent, was in a great degree the means of saving the railroad companies and the public from charges for their use.

"It is with difficulty that I have found time to put on paper, in this brief way, this reply to your inquiries.

Yours respectfully,
HORATIO ALLEN.


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