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Railroads America - The Stourbridge Lion And Tom Thumb

( Originally Published 1927 )



IT was a locomotive built on George Stephenson's plan that inaugurated the new era in American transportation. Horatio Allen went to England and, having studied the "Rocket" and others of Stephenson's engines, tried to get the inventor to construct three locomotives for him. Stephenson was too busy to fill this order, but four locomotives were built according to his specifications by Foster Raswick and Company, of Stourbridge. The first of these arrived in New York in May, 1829. It was of what was called the "grasshopper" make from its mass of exterior valves and joints ; and because it had a picture of a lion's head painted in bright red on the front of the boiler it was dubbed the "Stourbridge Lion."

Landed in New York, the locomotive was placed on exhibition and all the townspeople flocked to view the strange creature. Then it was packed on board a steamboat and conveyed to Rondoubt, and thence shipped by canal to Honesdale, Pennsylvania. There Allen placed the "Lion" on the railway which had been constructed over a mountain to Carbondale, seventeen miles from Honesdale. To witness the trial trip on the ninth of August many farmers had assembled from miles around, and to add to the demonstration an old Queen Anne cannon had been brought from New York.

The track for the locomotive was built of hemlock stringers on which bars of iron had been spiked, and as it had been laid in summer the unseasoned rails had become considerably warped and twisted. The railway crossed the Lackawaxen Creek on a hemlock trestle, one hundred feet high, and as the locomotive weighed seven tons instead of three tons, as the stipulations called for, many people urged the engineer not to try to cross the bridge.

Allen would not be deterred, however. His answer was to invite some of the spectators to ride with him; but none of the crowd accepted the invitation. Then he ran the engine up and down the coal dock several times, pulled the throttle-valve open, shouted a good-bye to the throng, and dashed away around a curve and over the trestle at a rate of ten miles an hour. After running some miles he returned safely to the welcoming cheers of the crowd, the waving of flags and the booming of cannon.

The "Stourbridge Lion" proved itself as a successful locomotive, but the wooden rails were unsatisfactory for the use of the engine and as the canal company could not afford to buy iron rails the locomotive was housed in a shed and later dismantled.

The scene next shifts to Baltimore. The people there were deciding in 1826 that they must do something to regain the trade they had lost through the Erie Canal and the roads of Pennsylvania and came to the determination to build some kind of a railroad through the Potomac Valley and over the Alleghanies to the Ohio River. The first section of this road, consisting of a double track extending thirteen miles to Ellicott's Mills, was opened in 1830. The question then was: What motive-power should be used on the road? Various schemes were tried. Evan Thomas constructed a car with sails, which would run when the wind was in the right quarter. A horse-power car was tried, but on one occasion, when a party of inspection was aboard, the car ran into a cow and the passengers were pitched out into a ditch. Peter Parley, writing of this period in Maryland, says : "The people are building what is called a rail-road. This consists of iron bars laid down along the ground and made fast, so that carriages with small wheels may run upon them with facility. In this way one horse will be able to draw as much as ten horses on a common road. A part of the railroad is already done, and if you choose to take a ride upon it you can do so. You enter a car something like a stage, and then you will be drawn along by two horses at a speed of twelve miles an hour."

At this point Peter Cooper, the famous merchant and philanthropist, comes into the story. He afterwards gave in the Boston Herald for July 9, 1882, this graphic and picturesque account of his first rail-road venture:

"It is now about fifty-five years since I was drawn into a speculation in Baltimore. Two men there, whom I knew slightly, came up and asked me to join them in buying a tract of three thousand acres of land within the city limits. It included the shore for three miles, and the new Baltimore and Ohio railroad was going to run through it. The road was chartered, and a little of it was graded. Its cars were to be drawn by horses; nobody thought of the possibility of steam. I consulted my friend Gideon Lee, .. . and he advised me that it was a good scheme. He said the land was worth five hundred thousand dollars, whether the road was ever finished or not. So I went to Baltimore, saw the land, and agreed to take one-third, and paid my money, twenty thousand dollars.

"They drew on me every little while for taxes, etc., and when, at the end of a year, I went down again, I found out that neither of my partners had paid a cent on the purchase, and that I had been sending down money to pay their board ! The Baltimore and Ohio railroad had got some wooden rails laid, and thinking it might amount to something, I bought my swindling partners out, paying one of them ten thousand dollars. I thought it would pay, for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad had run its tracks down to Ellicott's Mills, thirteen miles, and had laid `quakehead' rails, as they called them, strap rails, you know, and had put on horses. Then they began to talk about the English experiments with loco-motives. But there was a short turn of one hundred and fifty feet radius around Point of Rocks, and the news came from England that Stephenson said that no locomotive could draw a train on any curve shorter than a nine hundred foot radius. The horse-car didn't pay and the road stopped. The directors had a bad fit of the blues. I had naturally a knack at contriving, and I told the directors that I believed I could knock together a locomotive that would get the train around Point of Rocks. I found that my speculation was a loss unless I could make the road a `go.'

"So I came back to New York and got a little bit of an engine, about one horse-power (it had a three and a half inch cylinder, and fourteen inch stroke), and carried it back to Baltimore. I got some boiler iron and made a boiler, about as big as an ordinary washboiler, and then how to connect the boiler with the engine I didn't know... .

"I had not only learned coach-making and wood carving, but I had an iron-foundry and had some manual skill in working in it. But I couldn't find any iron pipes. The fact is that there were none for sale in this country. So I took two muskets and broke off the wood part, and used the barrels for tubing to the boiler, laying one on one side and the other on the other. I went into a coach-maker's shop and made this locomotive, which I called the `Tom Thumb,' be-cause it was so insignificant. I didn't intend it for actual service, but only to show the directors what could be done. I meant to show two things : first, that short turns could be made; and, secondly, that I could get rotary motion without the use of a crank. I effected both of these things very nicely. I changed the movement from a reciprocating to a rotary motion. I got steam up one Saturday night; the president of the road and two or three gentlemen were standing by, and we got on the truck and went out two or three miles. All were very much delighted, for it opened new possibilities for the road. I put the locomotive up for the night in a shed. All were invited to a ride Monday—a ride to Ellicott's Mills. Monday morning, what was my grief and chagrin to find that some scamp had been there, and chopped off all the copper from the engine and carried it away —doubtless to sell to some junk dealer. The copper pipes that conveyed the steam to the piston were gone. It took me a week or more to repair it. Then (on Monday it was) we started—six on the engine and thirty-six on the car. It was a great occasion, but it didn't seem so important then as it does now. We went up an average grade of eighteen feet to the mile, and made the passage (thirteen miles) to Ellicott's Mills in an hour and twelve minutes. We came back in fifty-seven minutes. Ross Winans, the president of the road, and the editor of the Baltimore Gazette, made an estimate of the passengers carried and the coal and water used, and reported that we did better than any English road did for four years after that. The result of that experiment was that the bonds of the road were sold at once, and the road was a success."

The "Tom Thumb" behaved gallantly. Peter Cooper had built the first American locomotive and had demonstrated that it could run at a speed of fifteen miles an hour round curves of a short radius and ascend grades with comparative ease. The loco-motive weighed about a ton, the wheels were two and a half feet in diameter, and the smoke-stack was de-scribed as looking "like an aggravated putty-blower." The fuel used was anthracite coal. The tubes in the upper part of the boiler were arranged on a similar pattern to the multitubular system that was being worked out at the same time in England by George Stephenson. In addition to this multitubular invention Peter Cooper had also invented a steam-blast apparatus, independently of Stephen-son's, which consisted of a sort of bellows, which was worked by a belt that ran over a drum and was geared with the car-wheels.

Soon after the "Tom Thumb" had made its successful trial run the stagecoach proprietors, Stockton and Stokes, of Baltimore, thinking that the new locomotive menaced their business, since people might prefer to travel in steam-drawn carriages rather than in horse-drawn coaches,—resolved to show what horses could do in competition with the locomotive. When they heard that the engine was on the track with a load of passengers they attached one of their best horses to a car filled with riders placed on the second track and met the "Tom Thumb" on its return journey at a point called the Relay House. The horse-train challenged the steam-train to a race, and Peter Cooper, who was driving his locomotive, accepted the challenge. Amid shouts and cries of defiance from the two sets of passengers the race began. The horse set the pace, springing away at the word "go," and won a lead of a quarter of a mile while the "Tom Thumb" was getting up steam. Then the locomotive began to gain, caught up with its rival, and the two raced neck-and-neck. The driver plied his whip and the horse, a splendid steed, pulled his load for some distance nose-to-nose with the locomotive. Steam forged ahead, however, and the "Tom Thumb's" passengers gave a great cheer as their rivals fell behind. The driver was about to give up the race when, of a sudden, something happened to the locomotive. The leather band that turned the pulley that moved the blower slipped from the drum and the engine lost momentum. Cooper tried to replace the band on the wheel, but only succeeded in injuring his hands. The horse went ahead and gained such a lead that, although Cooper was finally able to repair his engine, the horse-train came in the winner over the "Tom Thumb."

This accident somewhat discouraged the promoters of the steam-railway and until 1831 horses were used on this road.

The first regular passenger railway in America to employ steam-locomotives was the Charleston and Hamburg, of South Carolina, which was chartered in 1827. On this line the first locomotive built for actual service—an engine called the "Best Friend"—was running in December, 1830.

Steam-roads were winning their way, and now at Albany, New York, the Mohawk and Hudson Company was to make a notable demonstration of the success of the new method of transportation in the trial trip of their engine, the "De Witt Clinton."



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