Times Past, Pausing to Remember


engine Railroads didn't spring out of someone's genius all at once. They evolved over a long period of time, beginning as early as the middle of the sixteenth century in Europe. These were primitive tramways, or wagonways, consisting of wooden rails over which horse-drawn wagons or carts might be moved with greater ease than over dirt roads. The dirt paths which were most common turned to mud in wet weather and rock-hard ruts at other times. To prevent wear and to provide a smoother running surface, strips of iron were later fastened on the tops of the wooden rails.

The first all iron rails were cast in 1767 by the Colebrookdale Iron Works in England. These rails were about three feet long and were flanged to keep the wagon wheels on the track. Many years later, the flange was transferred to the wheels.

Inventors went to work on the problem of harnessing steam power, and names associated with this effort were Thomas Newcomen, James Watt, William Murdock, Richard Trevithick. In 1814, George Stevenson of England built a steam locomotive, the Blucher, which actually drew a train of eight loaded cars at the weight of 30 tons at a speed of 4 miles per hour. By 1825 Stevenson had improved his locomotive,and in 1829 built the Rocket, the first really successful steam locomotive. Ever since, he has been honored as the father of the steam locomotive.

In 1828 the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company of Pennsylvania decided to build a railroad and sent a young engineer named Horatio Allen to England to buy locomotives. He brought back three. The first and only one of these that was used was the Stourbridge Lion.

Stourbridge Lion
Stourbridge Lion

The Lion made its trial run in 1829 with Allen as engineer. Allen opened the throttle, and in a cloud of dust and hissing steam, moved down the track at the amazing speed of ten miles an hour! But the 6 ton Lion proved too heavy for the flimsy track, and, after running a few miles under Allen's direction, it was removed from the rails. Like the Titanic, its "maiden voyage" was its only journey, but unlike that unlucky ship, the Stourbridge Lion was considered a monumental triumph.

Still, people of that era didn't always recognize and respect objects with historical value, and the locomotive was used for a time as a stationary power engine. It was cannibalized, losing parts which were thought useful somewhere else. Many years later, what was left of the Lion was placed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it is today. It was the first full-size locomotive ever to run on a regular railroad in America.