TOWED BY RAIL.
St. Nicholas MagazineNovember,
BY J. S. BUNNELL.
track! I want to tell the ST. NICHOLAS readers of a decided novelty
I came across the other day, in that young giant of a city, San
Francisco. Turning a corner, I saw high on the steep hillfor
many of these San Francisco streets are steep hillstwo car-loads
of gay people, gliding rapidly forward without sign or trace of
either locomotive, dummy-engine, or horse. Onward and upward went
the little train, stopping itself now and then, and starting again,
apparently with the greatest ease. No smoke was to be seen, no
steam hissed and puffed, no clank of machinery was heard. No confusion
of any kind. The motive power, like some of the greatest forces
in nature, was hidden. What was it that pulled this pair of city
cars along so easily? You shall hear.
In the middle of the track, running its entire length, we find
a continuous opening or slit, about as wide as a man's finger,
into which fits a flat iron bar, projecting from the under side
of the leading car; while below this opening, and down under the
track, continually runs a thick wire cable or rope, in a space
about large enough for a small boy to crawl in. The slit in the
middle of the track is clearly seen in the picture below, which
gives a view of a portion of the road lying between two hills.
Our artist was, standing upon one hill, looking toward the summit
of the other: the road descending to the valley. The long cable
is made to run easily on small pulleyssay, ten feet apartby
a powerful steam-engine located about midway on the route; and
this cable always is running down one track, and up the other,
into the engine-house, over and around ponderous iron wheels,
which keep it in motion.
Whenever a car is to be started, the driver has simply to move
a large lever, in the middle of it, shaped like a railroad switch,
and the lower end of this lever, beneath the slit in the track,
grapples the running-cable, like a vise or jaw, and away move
levers, cars, driver, passengers and all.
You can see the driver in these pictures standing at his post.
No one is allowed to speak to him, for he must be constantly on
the alert, ready for action.
Just imagine, a long rope extending down the street, trailing
along behind a team of horses, on a winter's day; and suppose
you wanted a ride on your sled, what more natural than that you
should grasp tight hold of this rope, and take a tow, as the sailors
say, gliding along with it at your pleasure; and when you choose
to stop, you would need but to relax your hold, and your sled
would be free immediately.
Now, by this time you should have exactly the idea of the wire-cable
railroad, for in this case the wire-cable is the rope and the
cars are the sled. Night and day, the endless cable, coated with
tar, gliding like a long black snake, runs in and out of the grim
engine-house on the hill, upon its long journey, while cars all
along the track are continually grappling it and letting go. Think
of the twelve thousand people carried over the road daily by this
unseen giant power working beneath the ground !
We can start from a crowded street of the city, down town,
and in three minutes and a half be carried to the top of a high
hill, many blocks away,a hill three hundred feet above the
water, half as high again as a tall church spire.
It is the wonder of everybody. The country people gaze, astonished,
at the mysterious-looking car, and even the indifferent Chinamen
are fairly puzzled over it. They gather in groups, with open mouths
and peering eyes, trying to make out the strange proceeding. In
China they would immediately suppose it to be witchcraft, as they
did recently in the case of a steam railroad which some foreigners
had built,only twelve miles or so. All their troubles, ills
and droughts, were attributed to it, and the people and government
tore up the track. The screaming locomotive was an evil spirit.
But to return to our road. The huge engine doing all this work
is driven as fast as ninety revolutions a minute by the steam
furnished from two large boilers, and is rated as a two hundred
and fifty horse-power engine. That you may know something of what
that power is, let us imagine two hundred and fifty stout horses,
in teams of two, standing in the street; we will allow ten feet
for a team, which will make our line one thousand two hundred
and fifty feet long. Get your slate and see if it would not. That
is very near one quarter of a mile in length, and you can judge
how far down your street the line would reach. If these horses
should all start pulling at a given signal, think of the power
they would exert!
Something would snap, wouldn't it?
Well, you may imagine three times as many horses, for a so-called
two hundred and fifty horsepower engine can do the work of about
seven hundred and fifty horses in the course of eighteen working
hours. It is a great satisfaction, when riding in the car, to
know that poor animals are not pulling and panting and straining
heart and lungs to carry us up over the high hills. On one of
the hilly railroads of this city many horses used to die of heart
disease, so great was the strain upon the willing animals. Now
a few tons of coal, and man's ingenuity, do all the work, and
thoroughly well they do it.
The huge wheels at the engine-house, already alluded to, are
eight feet in diameter, and there are about thirty of them in
all, rolling, rumbling, with a grinding din, suggesting the grim
prison-house of some mighty spirit, bound, and faithfully serving
little man. As the cable comes running swiftly in, it twists,
turns, and circles around eight of these wheels, and before going
out, takes as many more turns about another set of wheels. This
is to prevent the cable from slipping; for the strain on it of
many cars with their loads coming up the hill is immense.
All this complicated
machinery is located in a dark, gloomy-looking pit; twenty-five
feet deep, under the street, arched over beneath the pavement
with brick. Here is located an arrangement for keeping the cable
taut at all times. It is a car heavily loaded with five tons of
iron, and placed upon a steep, sloping track; a horizontal wheel
lies upon this car, and around this wheel the wire cable runs,thus
acting as a heavy pulley, taking up the slack rope. The diagram
on above illustrates this.
At each end of the road there is one of these pits with just
such a steadying car in it, as well as two in the central pit;
for the engine-house is not far from midway of the road.
The length of the entire line is over a mile and a half, running
cast and west on California street, called by the street boys
"Nob Hill," because it has so many elegant residences
This is not
the only beautiful street in San Francisco. In nearly all of the
new parts of the city, elegant residences abound-spacious mansions
and tasteful street cottages, all with projecting bay windows
and flowery entrances. The business streets, too, with their fine
shops and stately warehouses, give an air of enterprise and activity
that fully accounts for the net-work of city railroads stretching
in every direction. Even the most wretched part of the city, the
Chinese quarter, has its railroadone of the old style, however,
and not in the least suggestive of the airy, mysterious cars which
we have been considering.
Now let us hear about the cable. It is one inch and a quarter
in diameter, say, the size of a baby's wrist, composed of small
steel wires, about the size of grandmother's steel knitting-needle,
all twisted into strands and these into one large rope. That makes
a very strong tow-line, doesn't it? But tough as this is, it has
stretched fully sixteen feet by the weight of the cars, and has
had to be shortened and re-spliced by skillful men, just as sailors
splice a rope; all the separate strands loosened and deftly tucked
away again, so that the strain will be shared equally by all.
A cable like this is estimated to last six months, then it must
he replaced by a new one. This is a very knowing cable. If any
wire strand should break, it would, by a very ingenious device,
which I shall not attempt to explain, telegraph its own disorder
to head-quarters, and there ring an alarm-bell, which would insure
its immediate repair.
Every two days the cable must be freshly coated with tar, to
prevent its being too much worn by the grasping and biting of
the iron jaws, as the car-driver takes hold or lets go.
Wire cables are very generally used nowadays in many ways.
Elevators are run by them, vessels are partly rigged with them;
they are used for machinery in place of belting, for tow-lines
and by tug-boats; and for many purposes they are both cheaper
and better than hemp rope.
Money was lavishly spent in laying the roadbed. The projectors,
being wealthy men, members of the Central Pacific Railroad Company,
took pride in building something that would prove a model road,
and they succeeded. First, a trench was dug, three feet and a
half deep and the same in width, then large pieces of railroad
iron, bent in the shape of a V were inserted in it, about
ten feet apart, upon the top of which were riveted and bolted
the rails,the small T rail, such as is in common
use by all the steam roads. These, bear in mind, were all riveted
together, arranged, and leveled, and supported by temporary timbers,
in exactly the places that they afterward were to occupy. Then
the whole trench was filled to the top (excepting the space left
for the cable to run in) with concrete and cement. This, hardening,
the entire mile and a half of road became one long, continued
block of stone, over three feet in diameter, lying in its earthy
bed as solid as the "eternal hills," holding in its
stony grasp the ties, braces and rails. Such a road, they claim,
can never spread, never sag nor sink, and scarcely ever will need
repairs, save as the rails wear out, and are replaced. So much
for doing a thing thoroughly and well at once, though the first
cost be great-in this instance, nearly eight hundred thousand
The cars are models of beauty and comfort. A blue cadet-cap
is worn by the employees, and though no talking is allowed with
the driver, a smiling conductor makes up for this loss by standing
ready to answer questions at the rate, I should say from a brief
observation, of about ten thousand a day, more or less.
One feature of the sitting accommodations is that of a low
rail, about an inch high, dividing each seat from the next, just
high enough to make it uncomfortable to sit upon; gently hinting
to those inclined to crowd their fellows that a seat was intended
for one only. The cars are built so low that the feet of passengers
are but twelve inches above the street they are traveling, thus
giving that charm one experiences when sailing in a low skiff,
close to the water, but which is lost on the high deck of a steamboat.
The illustration above is made from an instantaneous photograph
of the so-called dummy and passenger cars, coming down the grade
at full speed. The dummy is a light, picturesque, open car, arranged
with outside seats, and is generally preferred by passengers to
the close car.
As we ride along, a daintily gloved finger hails the driver,
from the sidewalk, and our car comes instantly and quietly to
a stand-still, while the gentle maiden mounts the low step and
comfortably seats herself; then, at the bell-signal from the conductor,
the sturdy driver grasps his lever, clamps down his iron brace
grappling the cable, and again we are off, with far less jar and
jerk than we receive in a horse-car. Over the hills we go, through
a fine broad street, views all about, of shining bay, busy city,
and flower-clad mountain, past beautiful private residences kept
with a neatness and care peculiar to the front yards of the San
Franciscans. Callas bloom luxuriantly among palm-trees, and showy
flowers in the gardens regale the eye the year round; and in the
summer season the traveler fills his lungs with an air, the purest
possible, coming fresh and bracing from the sparkling ocean, laden
with the perfume of acres of blue and yellow wild Lupin.
This style of railroad is becoming very popular in San Francisco,
where there are already three such lines in successful operation;
and others are projected.
Among the oddities here in the car line, is the "balloon
car," a picture of which is given with driver and mule attachment.
These little "band-boxes on wheels" are intended for
turning quickly on their trucks, at the end of a route, without
changing the position of the wheels, the driver keeping his seat.
A bolt is withdrawn, enabling the mules to pull the upper part
of the car entirely around, in readiness for a return trip; the
waiting passengers jump in, and off it starts, a fat, lumbering
little thing, in jerky contrast to its elegant rivals so delightfully
towed by rail.
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