Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Celebration Station! Skip Novak

Day 5 

Steam Powered Rocket Standard
By Skip Novak

In 1829, there was a locomotive competition held in Rainhill, England. Each locomotive had to pass certain tests to advance to the next round of trials. Five locomotives entered the competition but only three qualified for the final round. They were the Rocket, the Sans Pareil and the Novelty. This last test was a race which required each locomotive to pull a 19.6-ton load 15 miles. Since there was no 15-mile piece of straight track in England at that time, the sponsors of the race, Liverpool & Manchester Railway, had five railroad tracks laid at a length of 1.5 miles each, and required the competitors to go up and down the track ten times.

The Novelty, built by the engineering firm Braithwaite & Ericsson kept breaking down during the race. The Sans Pareil, built by Timothy Hackworth developed a leak in the boiler and was unable to finish the race.  The Rocket, built by Robert Stephenson, was the clear winner by being the only locomotive to finish the race.

Mr. Stephenson had come up with a sound design for his locomotive. Inside his boiler he had placed 25 copper tubes so that they would spread the heat of the fire and make the water heat quicker. The bare ends of the copper tubes were placed through the chimney of the locomotive so that the steam blast would help draw on the fire and force the fuel to burn hotter.

The boiler was mounted on a wrought iron frame which had been welded together with steel springs on each wheel. He then mounted two cylinders on each side of the boiler at an angle of 35 degrees. The end of each cylinder was connected to the front drive wheels.  This new design worked so well that afterwards all steam locomotives were based on the Rocket.

The distance between the rails is called “gauge”.  When railroads first started there was no set gauge for the rails. Many railroad companies would actually have to have a crane lift their rolling stock and their locomotive engines onto different “bogies” (wheels) so that they could ship their cargo over rails of a different gauge. There was another solution to this problem. They could pay the company whose rails they would be traveling on to transfer the cargo to a railcar that fit their rails.

Great Britain was the first country to go to a Standard Gauge. There were two main rail systems in Great Britain. One of them worked on the Stephenson Interest (Standard Gauge), i.e. Four feet eight and one-half inches, which Robert Stephenson had used on his locomotive “The Rocket” and the other ran on what is called “Broad Gauge”. The broad gauge rail had seven feet between the rails. The locomotive company which ran on the broad gauge was called the Great Western Railway and was the largest railway company in Great Britain. There were a lot of advantages to the broad gauge system. Two of the advantages were the locomotives could pull more loads and were less susceptible to derailment and crashes. In spite of these advantages, there was more standard gauge track in the country, which made it easier for any railway company to switch down to the standard gauge in the 1850’s. By 1892, all tracks in Great Britain were four feet eight and one-half inches between the rails.

In America the switch to Standardization was a bit different and less formal. Since anyone could build a locomotive and lay his own track, there were plenty of short lines that were privately owned with different widths between the tracks. The Transcontinental Railroad brought about the switch to standard gauge in America.

The Union Pacific Railroad wanted to use the standard four feet eight and one-half inches while the Central Pacific Railway wanted to use a five foot gauge. With the backing of the Federal Government the Union Pacific won the disagreement with the choice of standard gauge. When the decision was made to make the Transcontinental Railroad standard gauge, less than fifty percent of the railways in America were using standard gauge.

But not all countries have the same gauge or even a standard gauge track system. In some countries it is not uncommon to see railroad tracks with three or four or even five sets of rails laid down on the ties. Most of the time the geography of a country dictates the gauge of rail which will be used; for example; some paths that cut through mountains are only wide enough to accommodate a two and a half foot gauge track. In other parts of the world, like India, there are four different gauges used.

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Help low income kids get the smile they deserve! 


Skip Novak is a Polack from Green Bay, Wisconsin and now lives in Southeastern Virginia. He spent four years serving in the United States Navy on board the USS Austin and now gets paid to play with toy trains. When he is not working, he enjoys riding bikes with his daughter and spending time on his front porch smoking cigars and trying to write. Occasionally he ventures out into the world to visit with friends and family only to come back a richer and wiser person for the experience. As of this writing he has two short stories published, the first "Cindy's Condition" in the anthology "Death Be Not Proud" edited by Thomas A. Erb and "Merry Christmas Bitch" in the anthology "Christmas in Hell". With any luck and a bit of black magic, there may be more short tales of terror and woe in the future.

You can find him on the web at: Aloysiousthoughts.blogspot.com
Twitter: @SkipNovak 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/skip.novak

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