Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

112 THE HETTON RAILWAY. Chap. VII.

by which the working of the line was interrupted, and accordingly horses were again employed as before. There seemed, indeed, to be so small a prospect of introducing the locomotive into general use, that Mr. Stephenson,—perhaps feeling the capabilities within him,—again recurred to his old idea of emigrating to the United States. Before becoming a sleeping partner in a small foundry at Forth Banks, in Newcastle, managed by Mr. John Burrell, he had thrown out the suggestion that it would be a good speculation for them to emigrate to North America, and introduce steamboats upon the great inland lakes. The first steamers were then plying upon the Tyne before his eyes; and he saw in them the germ of a great revolution in navigation. It occurred to him that North America presented the finest field on which to try their wonderful powers. He was an engineer, and Mr. Burrell was an ironfounder; and between them, he thought they could strike out a path to success in the mighty West. Fortunately, this remained a mere speculation so far as Mr. Stephenson was concerned; and it was left to others to do what he had dreamt of achieving. After all his patient waiting, his skill, industry, and perseverance were at length about to bear fruit.

In 1819, the owners of the Hetton Colliery, in the county of Durham, determined to have their waggon-way altered to a locomotive railroad. The result of the working of the Killingworth Eailway had been so satisfactory, that they resolved to adopt the same system. One reason why an experiment so long continued and so successful as that at Killingworth should have been so slow in producing results, perhaps was, that to lay down a railway and furnish it with locomotives, or fixed engines where necessary, required a very large capital, beyond the means of ordinary coal-owners; whilst the small amount of interest felt in railways by the general public, and the supposed impracticability of working them to a profit, as yet prevented the ordinary capitalists from venturing their money in the promotion of such undertakings. The Hetton Coal Company was, however, possessed of adequate means; and the local reputation of the Chap. VII. THE HETTON RAILWAY. 113

Killingworth engine-wright pointed him out as the man best calculated to lay out their line and superintend their works. They accordingly invited him to act as the engineer of the proposed railway. Being in the service of the Killingworth Company, Mr. Stephenson felt it necessary to obtain their permission to enter upon this new work. This was at once granted. The best feeling existed between him and his employers; and they regarded it as a compliment that their colliery engineer should be selected for a work so important as the laying down of the Hetton Eailway, which was to be the longest locomotive line that had, up to that time, been constructed in the neighbourhood. Mr. Stephenson accepted the appointment, his brother Eobert acting as resident engineer, and personally superintending the execution of the works.

The Hetton Eailway extended from the Hetton Colliery, situated about two miles south of Houghton-le-Spring, in the county of Durham, to the shipping-place on the banks of the Wear, near Sunderland. Its length was about eight miles; and in its course it crossed Warden Law, one of the highest hills in the district. The character of the country forbade the construction of a flat line, or one of comparatively easy gradients, except by the expenditure of a much larger capital than was placed at Mr. Stephenson's command. Heavy works could not be executed: it was, therefore, necessary to form the line with but little deviation from the natural conformation of the district which it traversed, and also to adapt the mechanical methods employed for the working of the railway to the character of the gradients, which in some places were necessarily heavy.

Although Mr. Stephenson had, with every step made towards its increased utility, become more and more identified with the success of the locomotive engine, he did not allow his enthusiasm to carry him away into costly mistakes. He carefully drew the line between the cases in which the locomotive could be usefully employed, and those in which stationary engines were calculated to be more economical. This led him, as in the instance of the

I

114 EDUCATION OF HIS SOX. Chap. VII.

Hetton Eailway, to execute lines through, and over rough countries, where gradients within the powers of the locomotive engine of that day could not he secured, employing in their stead stationary engines where locomotives were not practicable. In the present case, this course was adopted by him most successfully. On the original Hetton line, there were five self-acting inclines,—the full waggons drawing the empty ones up,—and two inclines worked by fixed reciprocating engines of sixty-horse power each. The locomotive travelling engine, or "the iron horse," as the people of the neighbourhood then styled it, did the rest. On the day of the opening of the Hetton Eailway, the 18th of November, 1822, crowds of spectators assembled from all parts to witness the first operations of this ingenious and powerful machinery, which was entirely successful. On that day five of Stephenson's locomotives were at work upon the railway, under the direction of his brother Kobert; and the first shipment of coal was then made by the Hetton Company, at their new staiths on the Wear. The speed at which the locomotives travelled was about four miles an hour, and each engine dragged after it a train of seventeen waggons, weighing about sixty-four tons.

While thus advancing step by step,^attending to the business of the Killingworth Colliery, and also assisting in the formation of railways beyond the boundaries of his own immediate district,—he was carefully watching over the education of his son. We have already seen that he was put to school at Newcastle, after which, on leaving it, he was put apprentice to Mr. Nicholas Wood, the head viewer at Killingworth, to learn the business of the colliery; and he served in this capacity for about three years, thus becoming familiar with all the departments of underground works. The occupation was not unattended with peril, as the following incident will show. Though the Geordy lamp was now in general use in the Killingworth pits, and the workmen were bound, under a penalty of half-acrown, not to use a naked candle, yet it was difficult to Chap. VII. NARROW ESCAPE. 115

enforce the rule, and even the masters themselves occasionally broke it. One day, Mr. Nicholas Wood, the head viewer, accompanied by Eobert Stephenson and Moodie, the under viewer, was proceeding along one of the galleries, Wood with a naked candle in his hand, and Eobert following him with a lamp. They came to a place where a fall of stones from the roof had taken place, and Nicholas Wood, who was first, proceeded to clamber over the stones, holding high the naked candle. He had reached nearly the summit of the heap, when the fire-damp, which had accumulated in the hollow of the roof, exploded, and instantly the whole party were blown down, and the lights extinguished. They were a mile from the shaft, and quite in the dark. There was a rush of the workpeople from all quarters towards the shaft, for it was feared that the fire might extend to more dangerous parts of*the pit, where, if the gas had exploded, every soul in the mine must inevitably have perished. Eobert Stephenson and Moodie, on the first impulse, ran back at full speed along the dark gallery leading to the shaft, coming into collision, on their way, with the hind quarters of a horse stunned by the explosion. When they had gone half-way, Moodie halted, and bethought him of Nicholas Wood. "Stop, laddie!" said he to Eobert, "stop; we maun gang back, and seek the maister." So they retraced their steps. Happily no further explosion had taken place. They found the master lying on the heap of stones, stunned and bruised, with his hands severely burnt. They led him back out of the pit; and he afterwards took care never to venture into the dangerous parts of the mine without the protection of a Geordy lamp.

The time that Eobert spent at Killingworth as under viewer was of advantage both to his father and himself. The evenings were generally devoted to reading and study, the two from this time working together as friends and co-labourers. One who used to drop in at the cottage of an evening, well remembers the animated and eager discussions which on some occasions took place, more 116 SENDS HIS SON TO COLLEGE. Chap. VII.

especially with reference to the then comparatively unknown powers of the locomotive engine, daily at work on the waggon way. The son was even more enthusiastic than the father on this subject. Eobert would suggest alterations and improvements in this, that, and the other detail of the machine. His father, on the contrary, would offer every possible objection, defending the existing arrangements,—proud, nevertheless, of his son's suggestions, and often warmed and excited by his brilliant anticipations of the ultimate triumph of the locomotive.

These discussions probably had considerable influence in inducing Mr. Stephenson to take the next important step in the education of his son. Although Eobert, who was only nineteen years of age, was doing well, and was certain at the expiration of his apprenticeship to rise to a higher position, his father was not satisfied with the amount of instruction which ho had as yet given him. Eemembering the disadvantages under which he had laboured in consequence of his ignorance of practical chemistry during his investigations connected with the safety-lamp, more especially with reference to the properties of gas, as well as in the course of his experiments in connexion with the improvement of the locomotive engine, he desired to furnish his son with as complete a scientific culture as his means would afford. He was also of opinion that a proper training in technical science was almost indispensable to success in the higher walks of the engineer's profession; and, aware that he himself could not now devote the requisite time and attention to its study, he determined to give to his son that kind and degree of education which he so much desired for himself. He would thus, he knew, secure a hearty and generous co-worker in the elaboration of the great ideas now looming grandly before him, and with their united practical and scientific knowledge he probably felt that they would be equal to any enterprise.

He accordingly took Eobert from his labours as under viewer in the West Moor Pit, and, in the year 1820, sent him to the Edinburgh University, there being then no

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »