The ground on which the engines were to be tried was a level piece of railroad, about two miles in length.
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
On the day appointed for the great competition of locomotives at Rainhill the following engines were entered for the prize: (1) Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson’s* Novelty. (2) Timothy Hackworth’s Sanspareil. (3) Messrs. R. Stephenson and Company’s Rocket. (4) Burstall’s Perseverance. Another engine was entered by Mr. Brandreth, of Liverpool — the Cycloped — weighing three tons, worked by a horse in a frame, but it could not be admitted to the competition. These four were the only ones exhibited, out of a considerable number of engines constructed in different parts of the country in anticipation of this contest, many of which could not be satisfactorily completed by the day of trial.
[* John Ericsson (born in Sweden, 1803), who later came to the United States (1839) and, among other noted works, constructed the turreted ironclad Monitor (1862). — Ed.]
The ground on which the engines were to be tried was a level piece of railroad, about two miles in length. Each was required to make twenty trips, or equal to a journey of seventy miles, in the course of the day, and the average rate of traveling was to be not under ten miles an hour. It was determined that, to avoid confusion, each engine should be tried separately and on different days. The day fixed for the competition was October 1, 1829, but, to allow sufficient time to get the locomotives into good working order, the directors extended it to the 6th. On the morning of the 6th the ground at Rainhill presented a lively appearance, and there was as much excitement as if the St. Leger were about to be run. Many thousand spectators looked on, among whom were some of the first engineers and mechanicians of the day. A stand was provided for the ladies; the “beauty and fashion” of the neighborhood were present, and the side of the railroad was lined with carriages of all descriptions.
It was quite characteristic of the Stephensons that, although their engine did not stand first on the list for trial, it was the first that was ready, and it was accordingly ordered out by the judges for an experimental trip. Yet the Rocket was by no means the favorite with either the judges or the spectators. Nicholas Wood has since declared that the majority of the judges were strongly predisposed in favor of the Novelty (Ericsson’s), and that ” nine- tenths, if not ten-tenths, of the persons present were against the Rocket because of its appearance.” Nearly every person favored some other engine, so that there was nothing for the Rocket but the practical test. The first trip made by it was quite successful. It ran about twelve miles, without interruption, in about fifty-three minutes.
The Novelty was next called out. It was a light engine, very compact in appearance, carrying the water and fuel upon the same wheels as the engine. The weight of the whole was only three tons and one hundredweight. A peculiarity of this engine was that the air was driven or forced through the fire by means of bellows. The day being now far advanced, and some dispute having arisen as to the method of assigning the proper load for the Novelty, no particular experiment was made further than that the engine traversed the line by way of exhibition, occasion ally moving at the rate of twenty-four miles an hour. The Sanspareil, constructed by Timothy Hackworth, was next exhibited, but no particular experiment was made with it on this day. This engine differed but little in its construction from the locomotive last supplied by the Stephensons to the Stockton and Darlington Railway, of which Mr. Hackworth was the locomotive foreman.
The contest was postponed until the following day; but, before the judges arrived on the ground, the bellows for creating the blast in the Novelty gave way, and it was found incapable of going through its performance. A defect was also detected in the boiler of the Sanspareil, and some further time was allowed to get it repaired. The large number of spectators who had assembled to witness the contest were greatly disappointed at this postponement; but, to lessen it, Stephenson again brought out the Rocket, and, attaching to it a coach containing thirty per sons, he ran them along the line at the rate of twenty-four to thirty miles an hour, much to their gratification and amazement. Before separating, the judges ordered the engine to be in readiness by eight o’clock on the following morning, to go through its definitive trial according to the prescribed conditions.
On the morning of October 8th the Rocket was again ready for the contest. The engine was taken to the extremity of the stage, the fire-box was filled with coke, the fire lighted, and the steam raised until it lifted the safety-valve loaded to a pressure of fifty pounds to the square inch. This proceeding occupied fifty- seven minutes. The engine then started on its journey, dragging after it about thirteen tons’ weight in wagons, and made the first ten trips backward and forward along the two miles of road, running the thirty-five miles, including stoppages, in an hour and forty-eight minutes. The second ten trips were in like manner performed in two hours and three minutes. The maximum velocity attained during the trial trip was twenty-nine miles an hour, or about three times the speed that one of the judges of the competition had declared to be the limit of possibility.
The average speed at which the whole of the journeys were performed was fifteen miles an hour, or five miles beyond the rate specified in the conditions published by the company. The entire performance excited the greatest astonishment among the assembled spectators; the directors felt confident that their enterprise was now on the eve of success; and George Stephenson rejoiced to think that, in spite of all false prophets and fickle counselors, the locomotive system was now safe. When the Rocket, having performed all the conditions of the contest, arrived at the grand-stand at the close of its day’s successful run, Mr. Cropper, one of the directors favorable to the fixed engine system, lifted up his hands and exclaimed, “Now has George Stephenson at last delivered himself.”
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