When the Rocket was finished, it was placed upon the Killingworth Railway for the purpose of experiment.
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
The principal circumstances connected with the construction of the Rocket, as described by Robert Stephenson to the author, may be briefly stated. The tubular principle was adopted in a more complete manner than had yet been attempted. Twenty- five copper tubes, each three inches in diameter, extended from one end of the boiler to the other, the heated air passing through them on its way to the chimney; the tubes being surrounded by the water of the boiler, it will be obvious that a large extension of the heating-surface was thus effectually secured. The principal difficulty was in fitting the copper tubes in the boiler-ends so as to prevent leakage. They were manufactured by a Newcastle coppersmith, and soldered to brass screws which were screwed into the boiler-ends, standing out in great knobs. When the tubes were thus fitted and the boiler was filled with water, hydraulic pressure was applied; but the water squirted out at every joint, and the factory floor was soon flooded.
Robert went home in despair; and in the first moment of grief he wrote to his father that the whole thing was a failure. By return of post came a letter from his father telling him that despair was not to be thought of — that he must try again; and he suggested a mode of overcoming the difficulty, which his son had already anticipated and proceeded to adopt. It was to bore clean holes in the boiler-ends, fit in the smooth copper tubes as tightly as possible, solder up, and then raise the steam. This plan succeeded perfectly, the expansion of the copper tubes completely filling up all interstices and producing a perfectly water-tight boiler fully capable of withstanding extreme external pressure.
The mode of employing the steam-blast for the purpose of increasing the draught in the chimney was also the subject of numerous experiments. When the engine was first tried, it was thought that the blast in the chimney was not sufficiently strong for the purpose of keeping up the intensity of the fire in the furnace, so as to produce high-pressure steam with the required velocity. The expedient was therefore adopted of hammering the copper tubes at the point at which they entered the chimney, whereby the blast was considerably sharpened; and on a further trial it was found that the draught was increased to such an ex tent as to enable abundance of steam to be raised. The rationale of the blast may be simply explained by referring to the effect of contracting the pipe of a water-hose, by which the force of the jet of water is proportionately increased; widen the nozzle of the pipe, and the jet is in like manner diminished. So is it with the steam-blast in the chimney of the locomotive.
But doubts were expressed whether the greater draught obtained by the contraction of the blast-pipe was not counterbalanced in some degree by the negative pressure upon the piston. Hence a series of experiments was made with pipes of different diameters, and their efficiency was tested by the amount of vacuum that was produced in the smoke-box. The degree of rare faction was determined by a glass tube fixed to the bottom of the smoke-box, and descending into a bucket of water, the tube being open at both ends. As the rarefaction took place, the water would of course rise in the tube, and the height to which it rose above the surface of the water in the bucket was made the measure of the amount of rarefaction. These experiments proved that a considerable increase of draught was obtained by the con traction of the orifice; accordingly, the two blast-pipes opening from the cylinders into either side of the Rocket’s chimney, and turned up within it, were contracted slightly below the area of the steam-ports; and before the engine left the factory, the water rose in the glass tube three inches above the water in the bucket.
The other arrangements of the Rocket were briefly these: The boiler was cylindrical, with flat ends, six feet in length and three feet four inches in diameter. The upper half of the boiler was used as a reservoir for the steam, the lower half being filled with water. Through the lower part the copper tubes extended, being open to the fire-box at one end and to the chimney at the other. The fire-box, or furnace, two feet wide and three feet high, was attached immediately behind the boiler, and was also surrounded with water. The cylinders of the engine were placed on each side of the boiler, in an oblique position, one end being nearly level with the top of the boiler at its after end, and the other pointing toward the centre of the foremost or driving pair of wheels, with which the connection was directly made from the piston-rod to a pin on the outside of the wheel. The engine, together with its load of water, weighed only four tons and a quarter; and it was supported on four wheels, not coupled. The tender was four-wheeled, and similar in shape to a wagon, the foremost part holding the fuel, and the hind part a water cask.
When the Rocket was finished, it was placed upon the Killingworth Railway for the purpose of experiment. The new boiler arrangement was found perfectly successful. The steam was raised rapidly and continuously and in a quantity which then appeared marvelous. The same evening Robert dispatched a letter to his father at Liverpool, informing him, to his great joy, that the Rocket was “all right,” and would be in complete work- dig trim by the day of trial. The engine was shortly afterward sent by wagon to Carlisle, and thence shipped for Liverpool.
The time so much longed for by George Stephenson had now arrived, when the merits of the passenger locomotive were about to be put to the test. He had fought the battle for it until now almost single-handed. Engrossed by his daily labors and anxieties, and harassed by difficulties and discouragements which would have crushed the spirit of a less resolute man, he had held firmly to his purpose through good and through evil report. The hostility which he experienced from some of the directors op posed to the adoption of the locomotive was the circumstance that caused him the greatest grief of all ; for where he had looked for encouragement he found only carping and opposition. But his pluck never failed him ; and now the Rocket was upon the ground to prove, to use his own words, “whether he was a man of his word or not.”
Great interest was felt at Liverpool, as well as throughout the country, in the approaching competition. Engineers, scientific men, and mechanics arrived from all quarters to witness the novel display of mechanical ingenuity on which such great results depended. The public generally were no indifferent spectators either. The populations of Liverpool, Manchester, and the adjacent towns felt that the successful issue of the experiment would confer upon them individual benefits and local advantages almost incalculable, while populations at a distance waited for the result with almost equal interest.
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