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working alternately like those of a horse!* But the engine never got beyond the experimental state, for, in one of its trials, it unhappily blew up and killed several of the bystanders. These, and other similar contrivances with the same object, projected about the same time, show that invention was actively at work, and that many minds were now anxiously labouring to solve the important problem of locomotive traction upon railways.
But the difficulties contended with by these early inventors, and the step-by-step progress which they made, will probably be best illustrated by the experiments conducted by Mr. Blackett, of Wylam, whose persevering efforts in some measure paved the way for the labours of George Stephenson, who, shortly after him, took up the question of steam locomotion, and brought it to a successful issue.
The Wylam waggon-way is one of the oldest in the north of England. Down to the year 1807 it was formed of wooden spars or rails, laid down between the colliery at Wylamwhere old Robert Stephenson had worked - and the village of Lemington, some four miles down the Tyne, where the coals were loaded in keels or barges, and joated down the river past Newcastle, thence to be shipped for the London market. Each chaldron waggon was originally drawn by one horse, with a man to each horse and waggon. The rate at which the journey was performed was so slow that only two journeys were performed by each man and horse in one day, and three on the day following, the driver being allowed 7d. for each journey. This primitive waggon-way passed, as before stated, close in front of the cottage in which George Stephenson was born; and one of the earliest sights which met his infant eyes was this wooden tram-road worked by horses.
* A description of Mr. Brunton's locomotive is given by Dr. Lardner in his
Mr. Blackett was the first colliery owner in the North who took an interest in the locomotive engine. He went so far as to order one direct from Trevithick to work his waggonway, about the year 1811. The engine came down to Newcastle; but for some reason or other, perhaps because of the imperfect construction of the waggon-way as compared with the weight of the engine, it was never put upon the road. Mr. Blackett eventually sold it to a Mr. Winfield, of Gateshead, by whom it was employed for many years in blowing the cupola of his iron-foundry.
Mr. Blackett had taken up the wooden road in 1808, and laid down a “plate-way” of cast-iron- a single line, with sidings. The waggons continued to be drawn by horses; but the new iron road proved so much smoother than the former wooden one, that one horse instead of drawing one chaldron waggon, was now enabled to draw two. Still determined to make the experiment of working his plate-way by locomotive power, Mr. Blackett, in 1812, ordered another engine, after Trevithick’s patent, which had yet two years to run. He also resolved to employ the rack-rail and toothed drivingwheel, like Blenkinsop's, and he had the road altered accordingly. The locomotive was constructed by Thomas Waters, of Gateshead, who executed the work for Trevithick on commission. This engine was of the most awkward construction imaginable. It had a single cylinder six inches in diameter, with a fly-wheel working at one side to carry the cranks over the dead points. The boiler was of cast-iron. Jonathan Foster, the Wylam engine-wright, who superintended its construction, described the machine to the writer as having “ lots of pumps, cog-wheels, and plugs, requiring constant attention while at work.” The weight of the whole was about six tons. When completed, it was conveyed to Wylam
BLACKETT'S LOCOMOTIVE EXPERIMENTS. 79
on a waggon, and there mounted upon the wooden frame supported by four pairs of wheels, which had previously been constructed for it. A barrel of water, placed on a rude frame supported by other two pairs of wheels, served as a tender. After a great deal of labour, the cumbrous and unsightly machine was got upon the road. But the engine would not move an inch! When the machinery was set in motion, Jonathan Foster says, “ She flew all to pieces, and it was the biggest wonder i' the world that we were not all blewn up.” The useless engine was taken off the road and sold; and Mr. Blackett's efforts were thus far in vain.
He was still, however, desirous of testing the practicability of employing locomotive power in railway traction, and he determined upon making yet another trial. Accordingly, he proceeded to build another engine under his own and Jonathan Foster's immediate inspection, in the Wylam workshops. The new engine had a single eight-inch cylinder, was fitted with a fly-wheel, the driving-wheel on one side being cogged, in order to enable it to travel in the rack-rail. This engine proved more successful than its predecessors. Although it was clumsy and unsightly, it was found capable of dragging eight or nine loaded waggons down to the shipping-place at Lemington. Its weight was, however, too great for the road, and the cast-iron plates were constantly breaking
Although this new locomotive was considered by Mr. Blackett to be an improvement upon horse traction, its working was by no means satisfactory. It crept along at a snail's pace, sometimes taking six hours to travel the five miles down to the loading place. It was also very apt to get off the rack-rail, and then it stuck. On these occasions, the horses had to be sent out to drag on the waggons as before. The engine itself, constructed by incompetent workmen often
the horses were sent out to drag it back to the shop. Indeed, it became so cranky, that the horses were very frequently sent out following the engine, to be in readiness to draw it along when it gave up; and at length the workmen declared it to be “a perfect plague."
Mr. Blackett did not obtain any credit amongst his neighbours for these expensive experiments. Many laughed at his machines, regarding them only in the light of costly crotchets,
— frequently quoting the proverb of “ a fool and his money." Others regarded them as absurd innovations on the established method of hauling coal; and pronounced that they would “never answer.” To some, indeed, they were the cause of considerable apprehension and alarm.
A story is still current at Wylam, of a stranger who was proceeding one dark evening down the High Street Road, as the “Puffing Billy” (so called after William Hedley, Mr. Blackett's viewer, a highly ingenious person) was seen advancing, puffing and snorting its painful and laborious way up from Newburn. The stranger had never heard of the new engine, and was almost frightened out of his senses at its approach. An uncouth monster it must have looked, coming flaming on in the dark, working its piston up and down like a huge arm, snorting out loud blasts of steam from either nostril, and throwing out smoke and fire as it panted along. No wonder that the stranger rushed terrified through the hedge, fled across the fields, and called out to the first person he met, that he had just encountered a “ terrible deevil on the High Street Road.”
Notwithstanding the comparative failure of his locomotive thus far, Mr. Blackett persevered with his experiments. About 1813, he took out a patent in the name of William IIedley, his viewer, for a frame on four wheels on which to mount the locomotive engine. One of the first experiments which he made with this frame was, to test the adheCHAP. VIII.] MR. BLACKETT'S LOCOMOTIVE EXPERIMENTS. 81
sion of the smooth wheels of a carriage, properly weighted, upon the smooth rails of the road. Six men were placed upon the frame, which was fitted up with windlasses attached by gearing to the several wheels. When the men were set to work the windlasses, Mr. Blackett found that the adhesion of the wheels on the smooth rails was sufficient to enable them to propel the machine without slipping. Having then found the proportion which the power bore to the weight, he demonstrated by successive experiments that the weight of the engine would of itselfproduce sufficient adhesion to enable it to drag after it, on a smooth tramroad, the requisite number of waggons in all kinds of weather. Thus was the fallacy which had heretofore prevailed on this subject completely dissipated, and it was satisfactorily proved that rack-rails, toothed-wheels, endless chains, and legs, were alike unnecessary for the efficient traction of loaded waggons upon a moderately level road.
As may readily be imagined, the jets of steam from the piston, blowing off into the air at high pressure while the engine was in motion, caused considerable annoyance to horses passing along the Wylam road, at that time a public highway. The nuisance was felt to be almost intolerable, and a neighbouring gentleman threatened to have it put down. To diminish the nuisance as much as possible, Mr. Blackett gave orders that so soon as any horse, or vehicle drawn by horses, came in sight, the locomotive was to be stopped, and the frightful blast of the engine thus suspended until the passing animals had got out of sight. Much interruption was caused to the working of the railway by this measure; and it excited considerable dissatisfaction amongst the workmen. The following plan was adopted to abate the nuisance: a reservoir was provided immediately behind the chimney, into which the waste steam was thrown after it