Today’s installment concludes The First Railroad,
our selection from The Life of George Stephenson by Samuel Smiles published in 1857.
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Previously in The First Railroad.
Time: October, 1829
Place: Rainhill, England
Neither the Novelty nor the Sanspareil was ready for trial until the 10th, on the morning of which day an advertisement appeared saying that the former engine was to be tried on that day, when it would perform more work than any engine on the ground. The weight of the carriages attached to it was only about seven tons. The engine passed the first post in good style; but, in returning, the pipe from the forcing-pump burst and put an end to the trial. The pipe was repaired, and the engine made several trips by itself, in which it was said to have gone at the rate of twenty-four to twenty-eight miles an hour.
The Sanspareil was not ready until the 13th; and when its boiler and tender were filled with water, it was found to weigh four hundredweight beyond the weight specified in the published conditions as the limit of four-wheeled engines; nevertheless, the judges allowed it to run on the same footing as the other engines, to enable them to ascertain whether its merits entitled it to favorable consideration. It traveled at the average speed of about fourteen miles an hour, with its load attached ; but at the eighth trip the cold-water pump got wrong and the engine could proceed no farther.
It was determined to award the premium to the successful engine on the following day, the 14th, on which occasion there was an unusual assemblage of spectators. The owners of the Novelty pleaded for another trial, and it was conceded. But again it broke down. Then Mr. Hackworth requested the opportunity for making another trial of his Sanspareil. But the judges had now had enough of failures, and they declined, on the ground that not only was the engine above the stipulated weight, but that it was constructed on a plan which they could not recommend for adoption by the directors of the company. One of the principal practical objections to this locomotive was the enormous quantity of coke consumed or wasted by it — about six hundred ninety-two pounds an hour when traveling — caused by the sharpness of the steam-blast in the chimney, which blew a large proportion of the burning coke into the air.
The Perseverance of Mr. Burstall was found unable to move at more than six miles an hour, and it was withdrawn from the contest at an early period. The Rocket was thus the only engine that had performed, and more than performed, all the stipulated conditions, and it was declared to be entitled to the prize of five hundred pounds, which was awarded to the Messrs. Stephenson and Booth accordingly. And further to show that the engine had been working quite within its powers, George Stephenson ordered it to be brought upon the ground and detached from all encumbrances, when, in making two trips, it was found to travel at the astonishing rate of thirty-five miles an hour.
The Rocket had thus eclipsed the performances of all loco motive-engines that had yet been constructed, and outstripped even the sanguine expectations of its constructors. It satisfactorily answered the report of Messrs. Walker and Rastrick, and established the efficiency of the locomotive for working the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and, indeed, all future rail ways.
The Rocket showed that a new power had been born into the world, full of activity and strength, with boundless capability of work. It was the simple but admirable contrivance of the steam- blast, and its combination with the multitubular boiler, that at once gave locomotion a vigorous life and secured the triumph of the railway system. As has been well observed, this wonderful ability to increase and multiply its powers of performance with the emergency that demands them has made this giant engine the noblest creation of human wit, the very lion among machines. The success of the Rainhill experiment, as judged by the public, may be inferred from the fact that the shares of the company immediately rose 10 per cent., and nothing further was heard of the proposed twenty-one fixed engines, engine-houses, ropes, etc. All this cumbersome apparatus was thenceforward effectually disposed of.
Very different now was the tone of those directors who had distinguished themselves by the persistency of their opposition to George Stephenson’s plans. Coolness gave way to eulogy, and hostility to unbounded offers of friendship, after the manner of many men who run to the help of the strong. Deeply though the engineer had felt aggrieved by the conduct exhibited toward him during this eventful struggle by some from whom forbearance was to have been expected, he never entertained toward them in after-life any angry feelings; on the contrary, he for gave all. The directors afterward passed unanimous resolutions eulogizing “the great skill and unwearied energy” of their engineer.
When heavier and more powerful engines were brought upon the road, the old Rocket, regarded as a thing of no value, was sold in 1837. It was purchased by Mr. Thompson, of Kirk- house, the lessee of the Earl of Carlisle’s coal and lime works, near Carlisle. He worked the engine on the Midgeholme Rail way five or six years, during which it hauled coal from the pits to the town. There was wonderful vitality in the old engine, as the following circumstance proves : When the great contest for the representation of East Cumberland took place, and Sir James Graham was superseded by Major Aglionby, the Rocket was employed to convey the Alston express with the state of the poll from Midgeholme to Kirkhouse. On that occasion the engine was driven by Mr. Mark Thompson, and it ran the distance of upward of four miles in four and a half minutes, thus reaching a speed of nearly sixty miles an hour. But again it was superseded by heavier engines; for it only weighed about four tons, whereas the new engines were at least three times that weight. The Rocket was consequently laid up in ordinary in the yard at Kirkhouse, whence it was transferred to the Museum of Patents at Kensington.
This ends our series of passages on The First Railroad by Samuel Smiles from his book The Life of George Stephenson published in 1857. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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