Monday, April 02, 2012

Railroad Pioneers, 1: The Hudson Valley


So much attention is paid historically to the Hudson as an artery of commerce and travel we often forget the Hudson Valley was the birthplace of the American railroad.
The thriving sloop and steamboat traffic on the river had one significant disadvantage: It came to a halt in the winter when the river froze.
The power of steam was first demonstrated in England, where steam-driven pumps had long kept British coal mines free of water. And in 1803 Richard Trevithick had built and demonstrated the first locomotive on the tracks of a tramway in southern Wales.
Several railroad pioneers played key roles in bringing steam locomotives to the Hudson Valley early in the nineteenth century. The first was Col. John Stevens, a visionary engineer and inventor, and a distinguished veteran of the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Stevens’s “Steam Wagon”
In 1812, Stevens published a pamphlet with a ponderous title, Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Railways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation.
This first-published American work on railroads predicted locomotives could be built that would reach speeds of 50 miles per hour and perhaps even twice that speed. According to Stevens, rail transportation costs would one day be cheaper than those of canals.
Stevens was no stranger to steam propulsion. He had already built two successful steamboats: the Phoenix in 1809  successfully ventured out on the open ocean, and the Juliana in 1811, a steam ferry for the New York to Hoboken run.
In 1815, Stevens obtained from the New Jersey legislature a charter to build a steam railroad from New Brunswick to Trenton. Unfortunately, he was a better engineer than salesman. At a time when U.S. policy was to invest a growing government surplus in canal-building projects, Stevens could not raise the necessary capital for a rail line.
When Stevens learned in 1825 that a 26-mile-long railroad had been built between Stockton and Darlington in England, he became convinced of the soundness of his idea. On his estate in Hoboken--now the site of the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology--he constructed a 630-foot circular track. Over this he ran an experimental one-cylinder steam engine that powered a cog wheel meshing with a centered toothed rail. The two wooden running rails were covered with strap-iron.
Stevens's engine, called by him a "Steam Wagon," traveled over the track at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. Its vertical boiler's pressure reached an astonishing 500 pounds per square inch.
His railroad idea was a case of bad timing. At that moment some 500 cannon, spaced within earshot of one another, were poised to relay news from Buffalo to New York City that the Erie Canal had been completed.

The Delaware and Hudson Canal
During the country's canal-building mania, promoters conceived the Delaware and Hudson Canal to link the Hudson with the Delaware River.
The impetus for this venture was New York City's desire to replace wood as a source of fuel with anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite burned cleaner and cost half as much as wood. The problem lay in getting the shiny black chunks over the Catskills to the Hudson River.
The company was set up on March 8, 1825, with Philip Hone as president, Benjamin Wright, builder of the Erie Canal, as chief engineer, and John B. Jervis as his assistant. Jervis had begun his career as an axman clearing brush for surveying parties on the Erie Canal but quickly assumed more responsibility. He would succeed Wright as chief engineer of the Delaware and Hudson two years later.
On July 13, 1825, citizens of Ulster, Orange and Sullivan counties met at the summit of the watershed along what is today Route 209, between Ellenville and Wurtsboro. With enthusiastic songs, prayers and speeches, canal digging began. Canal company president Hone was the featured speaker. Later that year, after being appointed Mayor of New York City, he resigned as president under the pressure of mayoral duties.
After some three years of labor by 2,500 workmen, the canal was completed. To conserve scarce capital, it terminated at Dyberry Forks in Pennsylvania, seven miles short of the originally planned terminus. The mines still lay 16 miles to the west, behind the formidable barrier called Mt. Moosic. Jervis devised an ingenious system of inclined planes to bring the loaded coal cars over the mountain.
The community that sprang up at the canal terminus took its name, Honesdale, from Philip Hone, who in April of 1823, with several investors from Orange and Sullivan counties, had formed the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
When novelist Washington Irving visited the burgeoning settlement, he suggested that it be named Honesdale to honor his friend. In return, Hone playfully gave the name Irving Cliff to a steep ledge of rocks overlooking the town.
. By the time the canal was completed, the company's funds were nearly exhausted. The directors sought aid from New York State. Its canal-friendly legislature granted the Delaware and Hudson a loan of a half million dollars, taking a mortgage on the canal right of way and voting the company the privilege of borrowing $300,000 elsewhere.
A rail line was surveyed from Carbondale, the town that had sprung up around the mines, to the canal terminus. Like other industrial "railroads," the initial plan called for the use of horses as motive power on level sections of the line.
Coal from mines near Carbondale moved by rail to Honesdale, where it was transferred to barges for the 108-mile journey to the Hudson. In October 1828, the first barge, carrying only ten tons of coal--the channel still needed deepening--began its trip to Kingston. Here it was loaded aboard sloops and transported to New York City.
A New York newspaper reported on December 10, "The sloop Toleration arrived this day from Kingston with a cargo of coal, the first fruits of the Delaware and Hudson Canal." The D and H was a financial success from the start.

The Stourbridge Lion
Farsighted John Jervis was convinced that a locomotive would be better than horses or mules for hauling coal to the canal. In the fall of 1828 he persuaded the directors to send 26-year-old Horatio Allen, a company engineer, to England to inspect and purchase locomotives.
Allen visited Robert Stephenson and Co., in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England and found a four-coupled locomotive, The Pride of Newcastle. Allen purchased it on the spot, asking only that its name be changed to America before being shipped.
At Foster, Rastrick and Co., engine builders in Stourbridge, Allen ordered three locomotives: The Stourbridge Lion and two others to be named Delaware and Hudson.
Shipped from London in November, the America arrived in New York on January 15, 1829. Perplexingly, its name then disappears from company records.
The Stourbridge Lion arrived in New York City on May 13, 1829, aboard the ship John Jay. It had cost the canal company $3,663.30.
A nine-horsepower machine capable of hauling 60 tons at a speed of five miles per hour, it ran on four flanged wheels of oak fitted with heavy wrought iron rims. A picture of a lion’s head had been painted on the front of the boiler.
The Stourbridge Lion was offloaded at the West Point Foundry’s wharf on the Hudson River at the foot of Beach Street in New York City. According to the Morning Courier and New York Inquirer of June 12, 1829, it was set up on blocks and tested by Horatio Allen.
The newspaper reported that it had a horizontal boiler 16-1/2 feet long and two cylinders of three-foot stroke, with the power applied to the wheels about 12 inches from the center.
Having passed Allen’s tests, the locomotive was lashed to the deck of the packet Congress on July 16, and brought up the Hudson to Rondout Creek and then through the canal to Honesdale, arriving on August 5.
The big worry was that the warped and cracked hemlock stringers topped by strap-iron rails would not hold up, nor would a 30-foot trestle support the seven-ton locomotive.
"The impression was very general,” Horatio Allen would later recall, "that the iron monster would either break down the road or that it would leave the track at the curve and plunge into the creek."
"Preferring, if we did go down, to go down handsomely and without any evidence of timidity," Allen opened the throttle. On August 8, 1829, history was made. The Stourbridge Lion became the first full-sized locomotive to successfully run on rails in the U.S. Although he didn't know it, Allen had inadvertently become the first American locomotive engineer.
The fact that all mention of the America, the first locomotive purchased from the Stephensons, had disappeared from company records long puzzled railroad historians. Only recently the truth was discovered. After having been brought to Honesdale, the America blew up while being tested on July 26, 1829. Then as now, stock companies like the Delaware and Hudson tended to conceal unfavorable news that might cause a plunge in stock prices.
Despite Allen’s successful demonstration, the directors of the canal company were afraid to use the new contraption. If the test run had showed anything, it was that the sharper curves and rougher roadbeds in the U.S. were too much for the rigid frames of British locomotives. Horses and mules would pull the heavily laden coal cars from the mines to Honesdale until the canal closed 70 years later.
 The historic engine was allowed to rust away in a shed alongside the track. Parts of the original, including the boiler, were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution and are now on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Ohio.
       A century after Horatio Allen's short-lived demonstration of steam power, the Delaware and  Hudson Railroad, the canal’s successor, constructed an exact replica of the Stourbridge Lion in its Colonie, N.Y., shops and exhibited it at the Chicago Century of Progress
Exposition in 1933.
Today that same Stourbridge Lion is on display at the Wayne County Historical Society's museum in the D and H’s former office building in Honesdale. Quite properly, this attractive little Pennsylvania town calls itself "the birthplace of the American railroad."

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Comments: Post a Comment | Postscripts Homepage

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?