The directors determined to offer a prize of five hundred pounds for the best locomotive-engine which on a certain day should be produced on the railway.
Continuing The First Railroad,
our selection from The Life of George Stephenson by Samuel Smiles published in 1857. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The First Railroad.
Time: October, 1829
Place: Rainhill, England
He urged his views upon the directors in all ways, in season, and, as some of them thought, out of season. He pointed out the greater convenience of locomotive power for the purposes of a public highway, likening it to a series of short unconnected chains, any one of which could be removed and another substituted without interruption to the traffic; whereas the fixed-engine system might be regarded in the light of a continuous chain extending between the two termini, the failure of any link of which would derange the whole. But the fixed-engine party were very strong at the board, and, led by Mr. Cropper, they urged the propriety of forthwith adopting the report of Messrs. Walker and Rastrick. Mr. Sandars and Mr. William Rathbone, on the other hand, desired that a fair trial should be given to the locomotive; and they with reason objected to the expenditure of the large capital necessary to construct the proposed engine-houses, with their fixed engines, ropes, and machinery, until they had tested the powers of the locomotive as recommended by their own engineer.
George Stephenson continued to urge upon them that the locomotive was still capable of great improvements, if proper inducements were held out to inventors and machinists to make them; and he pledged himself that, if time were given him, he would construct an engine that should satisfy their requirements, and prove itself capable of working heavy loads along the rail way with speed, regularity, and safety. At length, influenced by his persistent earnestness not less than by his arguments, the directors, at the suggestion of Mr. Harrison, determined to offer a prize of five hundred pounds for the best locomotive-engine which on a certain day should be produced on the railway, and perform certain specified conditions in the most satisfactory manner. The conditions were these:
- The engine must effectually consume its own smoke.
- The engine, if of six tons’ weight, must be able to draw after it, day by day, twenty tons’ weight (including the tender and water-tank) at ten miles an hour, with a pressure of steam on the boiler not exceeding fifty pounds to the square inch.
- The boiler must have two safety-valves, neither of which must be fastened down, and one of them be completely out of the control of the engineman.
- The engine and boiler must be supported on springs, and rest on six wheels, the height of the whole not exceeding fifteen feet to the top of the chimney.
- The engine, with water, must not weigh more than six tons; but an engine of less weight would be preferred on its drawing a proportionate load behind it; if of only four and a half tons, then it might be put on only four wheels. The company to be at liberty to test the boiler, etc., by a pressure of one hundred fifty pounds to the square inch.
- A mercurial gauge must be affixed to the machine, showing the steam pressure above forty-five pounds per square inch.
- The engine must be delivered, complete and ready for trial, at the Liverpool end of the railway, not later than October 1, 1829.
- The price of the engine must not exceed five hundred fifty pounds.
Many persons of influence declared the conditions published by the directors of the railway chimerical in the extreme. One gentleman of some eminence in Liverpool, Mr. P. Ewart, who afterward filled the office of government inspector of post-office steam-packets, declared that only a parcel of charlatans would ever have issued such a set of conditions; that it had been proved to be impossible to make a locomotive-engine go at ten miles an hour; but if it ever was done, he would undertake to eat a stewed engine- wheel for his breakfast!
The requirements of the directors as to speed were certainly not excessive. Perhaps they had in mind the animadversions of the Quarterly Reviewer on the absurdity of travelling at a greater velocity than ten miles an hour, and also the remarks published by Mr. Nicholas Wood, whom they selected to be one of the judges of the competition, in conjunction with Mr. Rastrick, of Stourbridge, and Mr. Kennedy, of Manchester.
It was now felt that the fate of railways in a great measure depended upon the issue of this appeal to the mechanical genius of England. When the advertisement of the prize for the best locomotive was published, scientific men began more particularly to direct their attention to the new power which was thus struggling into existence. In the mean time public opinion on the subject of railway working remained suspended, and the development of the undertaking was watched with intense interest.
During the progress of this important controversy with reference to the kind of power to be employed in working the railway, George Stephenson was in constant communication with his son Robert, who made frequent visits to Liverpool for the purpose of assisting his father in the preparation of his reports to the board on the subject. Mr. Swanwick remembers the vivid interest of the evening discussions which then took place between father and son as to the best mode of increasing the powers and perfecting the mechanism of the locomotive. He wondered at their quick perception and rapid judgment on each other’s suggestions; at the mechanical difficulties which they anticipated and provided for in the practical arrangement of the machine; and he speaks of these evenings as most interesting displays of two actively ingenious and able minds stimulating each other to feats of mechanical invention, by which it was ordained that the locomotive-engine should become what it now is. These discussions became more frequent and still more interesting after the public prize had been offered for the best locomotive by the directors of the railway, and the working plans of the engine which they proposed to construct had to be settled.
One of the most important considerations in the new engine was the arrangement of the boiler and the extension of its heating surface to enable steam enough to be raised rapidly and continuously for the purpose of maintaining high rates of speed.
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