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no more was thought about it. He continued, however, to make frequent visits to the engine, to see “how she was getting on.” From the bank-head where he worked his brake he could see the chimney smoking at the High Pit; and as the workmen were passing to and from their work, he would call out and inquire “if they had gotten to the bottom yet?” And the reply was always to the same effect, the pumping made no progress, and the workmen were still “ drowned out.” One Saturday afternoon he went over to the High Pit to examine the engine more carefully than he had yet done. He had been turning the subject over in his mind; and after a long examination, he seemed to satisfy himself as to the cause of the failure. Kit Heppel, who was a sinker at the pit, said to him: “Weel, George, what do you mak’ o' her? Do you think you could do anything to improve her ?” “Man,” said George in reply, “I could alter her and make her draw: in a week's time from this I could send you to the bottom.” Forthwith Heppel reported this conversation to Ralph Dodds, the head viewer; and Dodds, being now quite in despair, and hopeless of succeeding with the engine, determined to give George's skill a trial. George had already acquired the character of a very clever and ingenious workman; and at the worst he could only fail, as the rest had done. In the evening Mr. Dodds went towards Stephenson's cottage in search of him. He met him on the road, dressed in his Sunday's suit, about to proceed to “the preaching ” in the Methodist Chapel, which he at that time attended. “Well, George,” said Mr. Dodds, accosting him, “they tell me you think you can put the engine at the High Pit to rights.” “Yes, sir,” said George, “I think I could.” “If that's the case, I'll give you a fair trial, and you must set to work immediately. We are clean drowned out, and cannot
cHAP. v1.] CURES THE PUMPING-HOUSE. 45
get a step further. The engineers hereabouts are all bet; and if you really succeed in accomplishing what they cannot do, you may depend upon it I will make you a man for life.” It is said that George, the same evening, borrowed the “howdie horse ** and rode over to Duke's Hall, near Walbottle, where his old friend Hawthorn, the engineer to the Duke of Northumberland, then resided, and consulted him as to the improvements which he proposed to make in the pumping-engine. And next morning, Sunday though it was (for the work must be commenced forthwith), Stephenson entered upon his labours. The only condition that he made, before setting to work, was that he should select his own workmen. There was, as he knew, a good deal of jealousy amongst the “regular” men that a colliery brakesman should pretend to know more about their engine than they themselves did, and attempt to remedy defects which the most skilled men of their craft, including the engineer of the colliery, had failed to do. But George made the condition a sine quá non. “The workmen,” said he, “must either be all Whigs or all Tories.” There was no help for it, so Dodds ordered the old hands to stand aside. The men grumbled, but gave way; and then George and his party went in. The engine was taken entirely to pieces. The injection cap, being considered too small, was enlarged to nearly double its former size, the opening being increased to about twice the area. The cylinder having been found too long, was packed at the bottom with pieces of timber; these and other alterations were necessarily performed in a rough way, but, as the result proved, on true principles. The repairs occupied about four days, and by the following Wednesday the engine was carefully put together again and set to work. It was kept pumping all Thursday, and by the Friday afternoon the pit was cleared of water, and the workmen were “sent to the bottom,” as Stephenson had promised. The alterations thus effected in the engine and in the pumping apparatus proved completely successful, and Stephenson's skill as a pump-curer became the marvel of the neighbourhood. Mr. Dodds was particularly gratified with the manner in which the job had been done, and he made Stephenson a present of ten pounds, which, though very inadequate when compared with the value of the work performed, was accepted by him with gratitude. He was proud of the gift as the first marked recognition of his skill as a workman; and he used afterwards to say that it was the biggest sum of money he had up to that time earned in one lump. Ralph Dodds, however, did more than this. He appointed Stephenson engineman at the High Pit, at good wages, during the time the pit was sinking, — the job lasting for about a year; and he also kept him in mind for further advancement. Stephenson's skill as an engine-doctor soon became noised abroad, and he was called upon to prescribe remedies for all the old, wheezy, and ineffective pumping machines in the neighbourhood. In this capacity he soon left the “regular.” men far behind, though they in their turn were very much disposed to treat the Killingworth brakesman as no better than a quack. Nevertheless, his practice was really founded upon a close study of the principles of mechanics, and on an intimate practical acquaintance with the details of the pumping-engine. * Another of his smaller achievements in the same line is still told by the people of the district. While passing to and from his work at the High Pit, he observed that the workmen in the quarry at the corner of the road leading to Long Benton, were considerably interrupted by the accumulation of water. A windmill was put up for the purpose of driving
* One of the pit horses generally employed in cases of emergency in bringing the midwife to the rescue.
char. vi.] CURES THE PUMPING-ENGINE. 47
a pumping apparatus, but it failed to draw the water. Stephenson was asked what they were to do in order to clear the quarry. He said “he would set up for them an engine no bigger than a kail-pot, that would clear them out in a week.” And he did so. A little engine was speedily erected by him, and by its means the quarry was pumped dry in the course of a few days. Thus his local celebrity very soon became considerable.
WHILE thus daily engaged in the curing and working of pumping-engines, George Stephenson continued diligently to employ his evenings in self-improvement. When not occupied in cleaning clocks and watches, he was busy contriving models of steam-engines and pumping-engines, or attempting to master the mysteries of perpetual motion (which he had not yet given up), or endeavouring to embody in a tangible shape the mechanical inventions which he found described in the odd volumes on mechanics which came in his way. Many of those evenings were spent in the society of John Wigham, whose father occupied the Glebe farm at Benton, close at hand. John was a good penman and a good arithmetician, and Stephenson frequented his society chiefly for the purpose of improving himself in these points. Under Andrew Robertson, he had never thoroughly mastered the Rule of Three, and it was only when Wigham took him in hand that he made any decided progress towards the higher branches of arithmetic. He generally took his slate with him to the Wighams’ cottage, when he had his sums set, that he might work them out while tending the engine on the following day. When too busy with other work to be able to call upon Wigham in person, he sent the slate by a fellowworkman to have the former sums corrected and new ones set. So much patient perseverance could not but eventually succeed; and by dint of practice and study, Stephenson was enabled successively to master the various rules of arithmetic.