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Leaving George engaged in these useful pursuits, which were intermingled with scientific studies with his son, when he came home from school at Newcastle, we may take a glance at the beginnings of railways and locomotives. It is certain there were railways of a rude kind in England as early as the commencement of the eighteenth century. The rails were at first of wood, then the wood was shod with slips of iron, and lastly, they were altogether rods or bars of iron. These old railways, which were better known by the name of tramways, were devised for the transit of coals from pits, the carriages being deep wooden wagons pulled by horses. Strangely enough, there was a railway of this kind across the fields from the coal-pits of Tranent to the small seaport Cockenzie, when the battle of Prestonpans was fought on the ground in 1745-which line of rails, honoured by having been the site of Cope's cannon, still exists. Wherever there were coal or iron mines, these tramways were introduced ; nor could they fail to get into use, for a single horse could draw upon them a load that would have required twenty horses on a common highway.
The credit of inventing a carriage moved by steam is due to Richard Trevethick, a Cornish tin-miner, and a clever but somewhat eccentric person. He made a steam-carriage to run on common roads or rails in 1802, and exhibited it in the metropolis. Improving on this, he, in 1804, completed a locomotive to draw coal on the Merthyr-Tydvil Railway in South Wales. It did its work well, drawing wagons with ten tons of iron at the rate of five miles an hour ; but it was an ill-constructed machine, and having gone out of order, it was deserted by its inventor, and no more was heard of locomotives for some years. Next came the invention of Mr Blenkinsop, who planned a locomotive for coal traction, which was used on a railway from Middleton Collieries to Leeds, and could haul as many as thirty loaded wagons at a speed of three and a quarter miles an hour. What long kept the invention in this backward state was the erroneous notion, that unless the locomotive had wheels with cogs to pull against cogs in the railway, it would slip, and not get forward ; and it was not until this fanciful idea was got rid of that much good was done with locomotive power. We may conceive that for about twenty years subsequent to 1812, there were many geniuses at work contriving improved locomotives, and among these none thought more diligently or deeply than George Stephenson. After a variety of experiments, he was satisfied that there would be sufficient adhesion in the wheels to overcome any tendency to slip : teeth or cogs were accordingly dismissed. In July 1814, he was able to begin running his locomotive, called the Blucher, on the Killingworth Railway. It was still only a coal-drag, and at best a clumsy apparatus, but it hauled eight loaded wagons weighing thirty tons, at about four miles an hour. This was undoubtedly a success; the thing could be done; yet, as the cost of working was about as great as that by horses, little was gained. There must be fresh trials. As by a flash of inspiration, Stephenson saw the leading defect and the method for curing it. The furnace wanted draught, which he gave by sending the waste steam into the chimney; and at once, by increased evolution of steam, the power of the engine was doubled or tripled. In 1815, he had a new locomotive at work, combining this and some minor improvements. Still, there was much to be done to perfect the machine. The cost of working was so considerable, that locomotive power did not meet with general approval ; the fact was, that railways at this period were not so accurately finished as they now are, and smooth and easy running ought not to have been expected. It was only step by step that both rails and moving apparatus were brought to a comparatively perfect state.
At the Killingworth Colliery, Stephenson continued to plan his improvements, and also to advance in general knowledge in the society of his son, who, on leaving school in 1818, was placed as an apprentice to learn practically, underground, the business of a viewer of coal-mines; and in 1820 he went for a session of six months to the university of Edinburgh. The cost of this piece of education was £80, which the father could not well spare ; but the prize for skill in mathematics which his son brought home with him at the end of the session was thought to be ample repayment. Acquiring a knowledge of railways, Robert was appointed to proceed to Columbia, South America, to superintend some railway operations. One day, previous to setting out, he dined with his father, and a young man named Dixon was of the party. An anecdote is related to shew the strong faith which George Stephenson at this time entertained regarding railway progress. “Now, lads, said he to the two young men after dinner, ‘I will tell you that I think you will live to see the day, though I may not live so long, when railways will come to supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country--when mail-coaches will go by railway, and railways will become the great highway for the king and all his subjects. The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a working-man to travel on a railway than to walk on foot. I know there are great and almost insurmountable difficulties that will have to be encountered ; but what I have said will come to pass as sure as we live. I only wish I may live to see the day, though that I can scarcely hope for, as I know how slow all human progress is, and with what difficulty I have been able to get the locomotive adopted, notwithstanding my more than ten years' successful experiment at Killingworth.
Stephenson's attention had frequently been drawn to the deplorable destruction of life in coal-mines by the explosion of inflammable air or fire-damp. As early as 1815, he devised a safety-lamp to guard against those accidents. As it was about the same period that Dr Clanny and Sir Humphry Davy invented their respective safetylamps for the like purpose, it is not quite clear to whom the merit of the discovery should be assigned-though Stephenson's claim has been strongly insisted on. As this is not the proper place for debating the point, and, besides, as the matter is of inferior importance, we pass on to what is of real moment-Stephenson's perfecting of the locomotive ; for on that his fame properly rests. Pursuing schemes of this kind, after parting with his son, his advancement was in no small degree owing to certain services in which he was engaged on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, a concern greatly promoted by Mr Edward Pease, a man of property and intelligence in the district. The engineering of this railway was given up to Stephenson, and in some respects it became a model for railway works-the gauge of four feet eight and a half inches, which is now usually followed, having here been adopted in a regular manner in imitation of the old tramways. Already, a manufactory of engines had been set up at Newcastle, in which George Stephenson was a partner, and from this establishment three locomotives were ordered by the directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company; for in their act of parliament they had taken power to employ steam in the traction of goods and passengers.
The opening of this the first public railway took place on 27th September 1825, in presence of an immense concourse of spectators. A local newspaper records the event as follows : ‘The signal being given, the engine started off with this immense train of carriages, and such was its velocity, that in some parts the speed was frequently twelve miles an hour ; and at that time the number of passengers was counted to be 450, which, together with the coals, merchandise, and carriages, would amount to near 90 tons. The engine, with its load, arrived at Darlington, a distance of 84 miles, in 65 minutes. The six wagons loaded with coals, intended for Darlington, were then left behind ; and obtaining a fresh supply of water, and arranging the procession to accommodate a band of music and numerous passengers from Darlington, the engine set off again, and arrived at Stockton in 3 hours and 7 minutes, including stoppages, the distance being nearly 12 miles.' The drawing of about 600 passengers, as there appear to have been in the train, at the rate of four miles an hour, was thought very marvellous. A month later, a regular passenger-coach, called the Experiment, was placed on the line ; it was drawn by a horse in two hours. The haulage of coal only was effected by the locomotive. It was evident that the making of engines was still in its infancy. Stephenson, at his manufactory, continued to carry out improvements, in which he was assisted by his son, on his return from South America in 1827.
When the project of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway was before parliament in 1825, George Stephenson, in the face of no little browbeating from ignorant and interested opponents, gave good evidence respecting the practicability and safety of drawing passenger-trains with locomotives, though still speaking diffidently as to a speed of more than from fifteen to twenty miles an hour, Few things are more amusing than the real or affected incredulity of members of the legislature at this time as to railway transit, notwithstanding that the propulsion of coal-trains by locomotive power had been satisfactorily demonstrated. It is always, however, easy to find fault and to disbelieve; and the opposition which railways at first encountered, is no way singular. Stephenson's assertion during his examination before a committee of the House, that it would not be difficult to make a locomotive travel fifteen or twenty miles an hour, provoked one of the members to reply, that the engineer could only be fit for a lunatic asylum.
Parliamentary sanction once obtained, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company set to work upon their novel and important undertaking-novel, inasmuch as its scheme and magnitude exceeded all that had been previously attempted of a similar nature. Stephenson, who had already won a reputation, was appointed engineer, at £1000 a year, and a chief point determined on was, that the line should be as nearly as possible straight between the two towns. In the carrying out of this design, the series of engineering difficulties' was first encountered, the overcoming of which has called forth an amount of scientific knowledge, of invention, ingenuity, and mechanical hardihood unprecedented in the history of human labour. Hills were to be pierced or cut through, embankments raised, viaducts built, and 'four miles of watery and spongy bog, called Chat Moss, converted into a hardened road-all which was successfully effected.
The line being at length completed, the directors offered a prize of £500 for the best locomotive that could be brought forward to compete in running on a certain day. It was stipulated that the engine should consume its own smoke; be not more than six tons in weight; and be able to draw twenty tons, including tender and water-tank, at ten miles an hour; be supported on springs, and rest on six wheels ; must have two safety-valves; the pressure of steam should not exceed fifty pounds to the square inch; and the price of the engine was not to be above £550. Stephenson determined to compete, and built an engine called the Rocket for the purpose. The day of trial was the 8th of October 1829, when three engines were brought forward. Stephenson was there with his Rocket, Hackworth with the Sanspareil, and Braithwaite and Ericson with the Novelty. The test assigned was to run a distance of thirty miles at not less than ten miles an hour, backwards and forwards along a two-mile level near Rainhill, with a load three times the weight of the engine. The Novelty, after running twice along the level, was disabled by failure of the boiler-plates, and withdrawn. The Sanspareil traversed eight times at a speed of nearly fifteen miles an hour, when it was stopped by derangement of the machinery. The Rocket was the only one to stand the test and satisfy the conditions. This engine travelled over the stipulated thirty miles in two hours and seven minutes nearly, with a speed at times of twenty-nine miles an hour, and at the slowest nearly twelve; in the latter case exceeding the advertised maximum; in the former, tripling it. Here was a result! An achievement so surprising, so unexpected, as to be almost incredible. Was it not a delusion ?had it been really accomplished ?-and could it be done again?
The prize of £500 was at once awarded to the makers of the Rocket. Their engine was not only remarkable for its speed, but also for the contrivances by which that speed was attained. Most important among them was the introduction of tubes passing from end to end of the boiler, by means of which so great an additional surface was exposed to the radiant heat of the fire, that steam was generated much more rapidly, and a higher temperature maintained at a smaller expenditure of fuel than usual. The tubular boiler was indeed the grand fact of the experiment. Without tubes, steam could never have been produced with the rapidity and heat essential to quick locomotion. In more senses than one, the trial of the three locomotives in October 1829 marks an epoch. By burning coke instead of coal, the stipulated suppression of smoke was effected; the quantity consumed by the Rocket during the experiment was half a ton. The coke and water were carried in a tender attached to the engine.
On the 15th of September 1830 the railway was opened. The two great towns, with due regard to the importance of the event, made preparations for it with a spirit and liberality worthy of their wealth and enterprise. Members of the government, and distinguished individuals from various quarters, were invited to be present at the opening. On the memorable day, a train was formed of eight locomotives and twenty-eight carriages, in which were seated the eminent visitors and other persons present on the occasion, to the number of 600. The Northumbrian, one of the most powerful of the engines, took the lead, followed by the train, which, as it rolled proudly onwards, impressed all beholders with a grand idea of the energies of art, and of the power destined soon afterwards to effect the greatest of civil revolutions. At Parkfield, seventeen miles from Manchester, a halt was made to replenish the water-tanks, when the accident occurred by which Mr Huskisson lost his life, and tempered the triumph by a general sentiment of regret. The proceedings, however, though subdued, were carried out in accordance with the arrangements prescribed.
Business began the next day. The Northumbrian drew a train with 130 passengers from Liverpool to Manchester in one hour and fifty minutes; and before the close of the week, six trains daily were regularly running on the line. The surprise and excitement already created were further increased when one of the locomotives by itself travelled the thirty-one miles in less than an hour. Of the thirty