Trains Across the Continent: North American Railroad History

Trains Across the Continent: North American Railroad History

by Rudolph Daniels

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253214119
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 01/28/2001
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

Rudolph Daniels is Assistant Dean and Department Chair of Railroad Operations Technology at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City. He was born in Trenton, N.J. and studied the oboe with some of the world's leading performers. He graduated from St. Francis College, Loretto, PA. He went on to Penn State University studying Russian/Soviet foreign policy, history, and Russian language and literature. He received his Ph.D. in 1971, and later developed his dissertation into a book: V. N. Tatishchev: Guardian of the Petrine Revolution. Daniels taught Russian studies at various colleges in Dubuque, Iowa before moving to W. Germany in 1974, where he taught English and French. Over the course of 22 years, he became Dept. Chair of History and Poli Sci and also taught woodwinds and music lit. classes. In 1996, he became Dept. Chair of the Behavioral Sciences at WITCC, where he began teaching courses in Railroad Operations Technology. Trains across the Continent was developed as a textbook for his classes at WITCC.

Read an Excerpt

Trains Across the Continent

North American Railroad History

By Rudolph Daniels

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2000 Rudolph Daniels
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-33762-7


The First Railroads and the Industrial Revolution

Railroads were the natural outgrowth of a historical movement called the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution, in simplest terms, was the beginning of using machines to make things formerly made by hand. The movement began in England sometime near the end of the 1600s through the next century. The first machines were used to weave wool and then cotton. Later, the iron industry was mechanized. In short, the Industrial Revolution began the use of labor-saving devices to make goods more efficiently.

The Industrial Revolution changed the economic landscape very quickly. It ended one handicraft trade after another. In the time it took an individual to make the cloth for one coat by hand, one machine could make thousands. This increase of production called for acquiring more resources to make a larger quantity of goods, and the larger quantity of goods demanded a larger market than the local population for their sale.

This process brought forth other changes. Since machines were located in one place, people had to move near the factory to seek employment. Therefore, England experienced a rapid growth in towns and cities. In other words, people left farms and relocated to urban areas to work for wages. With this growth in population, cities and towns took on an economic life of their own rather than their former roles as just administrative centers or markets for local agricultural products.

— The First Factories —

The building of factories and purchasing of machines demanded a new class of people who were willing to invest, perhaps gamble, on an industry. Some would invest their own savings or obtain loans from banks in the hope that their factory would turn a profit and make them rich. Just as quickly, financial institutions were willing to back some "risk takers" for a return through interest rates. At the same time, these banks took on a new role as clearinghouses for business transactions. As the more fortunate gained wealth on their original investment, they would often invest again by expanding their share in the business or by starting new ones. Thereby, shares of stock were sold in the various businesses. This was the beginning of the modern corporation: People owned a part of a business and reaped profits according to the shares they held in the enterprise.

A growing market was available for the increased amount of goods, especially clothing, produced by machines. By the early 1700s, the many plagues that had passed throughout Europe for centuries ended. There was also a series of good harvests throughout the 1700s which meant that there was a better supply of food. Such labor-saving devices as Tull's Drill helped plant crops and increased farm production. These changes in the agricultural economy encouraged many to migrate to cities to seek employment.

As the Industrial Revolution continued, newer and larger machines were able to increase production. Some people began to specialize in constructing and improving equipment. Although much was based on the "trial and error" method, it was the beginning of industrial engineering, or the application of science to make machines. They soon learned that the more iron used in the machine, the more durable it was.

England had sufficient sources of iron ore and coal to meet the needs of its early industry. At the same time, coal was an efficient fuel for heating and cooking in the homes of its growing cities. In order to meet demands, coal and iron mines needed a way to remove the water which accumulated in the shafts. Many mines in the 1700s used a crude version of the steam engine attached to a pump to remove the water. These engines were the only means, next to humans, of providing the on-site power that was needed over a long period of time.

— The Steam Engine —

By the mid-1700s the Scottish inventor, James Watt, improved on these early devices. Watt's design forced the steam to push the piston in both directions and exhaust on the opposite sides of the cylinder on the return stroke. He also attached the cranking arm to a "fly wheel" to steady the engine and to provide a consistent rhythm. Watt's engine was used to remove water from mines which in turn provided greater quantities of iron ore and coal.

Soon after, Watt's steam engine was applied to move machinery in factories. Formerly, factories had to be located near rapidly moving water to turn a wheel which, attached to gears, moved the machinery. They were always subject to droughts and floods. The steam engine provided more consistent movement and made it possible for a factory to be built anywhere — not necessarily next to a river. At the same time, the steam engine was more powerful, which meant even more machinery could be added in the factory.

— The Transportation Revolution —

An increase of production demanded the expansion of the market area, or the places where goods could be sold. Moreover, towns began to specialize in the manufacturing of one product or style of a particular product. People from one part of England wanted or desired products produced in another part of the country. While roads already existed, it was not cost effective to cart large quantities of a product or bulk materials such as coal and iron ore from mine to factory. A series of canals were dug linking cities with mines and/or other places of production. Large numbers of men, called "navvies," were employed for these projects. While canals were most efficient in carrying goods, they needed to be dredged from time to time and they were susceptible to low water levels and freezing. Moreover, canals were limited to relatively level terrain. England needed a better means to move commodities — and people — from one place to another. The solution was wheels on rails powered by the steam engine.

— How a Steam Engine Works —

The steam engine as designed by James Watt is a fairly simple device. Water is heated in a boiler to 100 degrees centigrade. The water at that temperature turns into steam. Steam is very expansive, and it needs a larger area. By confining steam to a relatively small area, it builds up a tremendous amount of pressure.

The steam is then released in controlled amounts into a pipe which opens into a cylinder. The cylinder contains a piston which can be pushed back and forth by the pressure of the entering steam. As the steam pushes the piston in one direction, an open valve behind it closes. When the piston reaches its greatest extension, steam enters again and pushes the piston in the opposite direction. The back valve then closes and the forward valve opens. When the piston reaches its greatest length, steam enters again to continuously repeat the motion.

The piston has an extending rod which is attached to a wheel. The wheel steadies the back and forth motion of the piston and provides power to machinery and, of course, steam locomotives. Boilers and pistons or locomotives had to undergo some changes from those that powered stationary machinery. These adaptations helped increase both power and energy savings.

Boiler explosions are always a danger with steam engines. It is possible that the boiler has built up so much steam pressure that it literally blows apart. The more common danger occurs when the water level drops below the topmost part of the area containing the fire (fire box). The metal then becomes extremely hot and weakens. The steam rushes downward into the fire exploding and literally propelling the whole boiler forward. Therefore, engineers must be always on guard to keep the boiler adequately filled with water.

— The First Rails —

Wheels on or in some type of runner had been used in European mine shafts since the late Middle Ages; i.e., from the 1200s onward. The shafts were usually cramped for space and in many cases had an incline toward the entrance. The ore or coal was quite heavy, and the use of conventional wagons would form ruts. The miners learned that by placing the wagon wheels on or in a runner helped overcome resistance and kept the wagons from jerking from side to side. In other words, they were easier and safer to pull. This practice was well established in England by the 1700s. The rails were often extended beyond the mine entrance to loading areas at that time. It was a short leap from the use of railed carts in mines to trains on the surface and the steam railroad.

— The First Trains —

The first railcars were pulled by horses or other types of draft animals as they had been in the mines. While inventors in many places in Europe attempted to build some kind of contraption powered by steam, the first successful ones were in England.

Credit goes to Richard Trevithick of Cornwall. Around 1800, Trevithick attached a Watt design steam engine to a wagon. While it moved the wagon successfully, it became apparent that it was too awkward to be used on roads and streets. In 1804, he connected his engine to a four-car train. With runners guiding the wheels, his device became much easier to operate, and it was able to move more easily and even increased in speed. At one time, he used his steam tram or wheels-on-rails device to pull five wagonloads of iron ore for a total of ten tons and carried seventy men in its trailing carts. It is reported that Trevithick's first steam train achieved a speed of five miles per hour.

Trevithick continued to improve on his design. He was able to increase the pressure of the steam, and he set the cylinders in a horizontal rather than in a vertical position. He then used the exhaust steam from the cylinders to help draft the fire. Trevithick thereby created the general principle of steam locomotives which remained in use for over a century. This drafting mechanism created the chugging sound which is characteristic of moving steam locomotives. The new design increased both the efficiency and power of his engine.

In 1808, Trevithick constructed a circular track in London to demonstrate his new invention. According to some accounts, his train went ten miles per hour, and he named his engine Catch-Me-Who-Can. While his engine went faster than most people could run on foot, it tended to derail too easily. Proper ways to stabilize the wheels had yet to be developed.

John Blenkinsop used cogs to give both traction and stability to his "steam wagon" in 1812. While this idea provided the best traction and greater balance on a rail, its ride proved to be choppy at best. Even so, Blenkinsop's idea is still used by "cog railways" where the incline is too steep for regular traction.

Other inventors tried applying steam to pull railcars at this time. One notable example was William Hedley. In 1813, Hedley used his Puffing Billy steam engine to pull freight in what would be called a "regular service" on a tram line. While Hedley's device contained nothing new from an engineering standpoint, he did promise a practical application of steam to move cars consistently on rails. Nevertheless, it was George Stephenson who developed the steam locomotive as we know it today.

Stephenson built a number of successful steam wagons. His first attempt, the Blucher, gave him the reputation and experience to be recognized as a master builder. When a railroad was constructed between the cities of Stockton and Darlington, Stephenson was asked to equip it with both locomotives and wagons. When the Stockton and Darlington Railway was opened for public business in 1825, both people and goods were pulled by Stephenson's steam wagon, the Locomotion. Of course, this is the origin of the term "locomotive" which we still use today.

Other railway companies quickly began to form. In 1828, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway wanted to use steam exclusively for all of its hauling. They offered a contest for the design of the most dependable and fastest locomotive. George Stephenson entered the race with his locomotive, Rocket. His new engine had a multiple tube boiler which produced steam more quickly. Moreover, the Liverpool and Manchester used iron fish-bellied rails. These runners were more stable and could carry heavier weights. They had a wide bottom with a crown on top. Stephenson's Rocket won the race, and the age of steam was securely founded. Stephenson also planned the placing of road beds in England and designed a type of running gear which remained the prototype until the end of the century. Just as important, there were American observers at the Liverpool and Manchester race. They quickly realized the possibilities of both railroads and the steam locomotive for their new country. The observers were also present at Rainhill where all forms of rail motive power were tested.

The English answered their economic needs by constructing their railways between cities or from mines to wharves on the coasts. They linked industries and towns which were already in existence and where markets had already been established. The use of steam locomotives was encouraged, because there was a shortage of horses due to the long war with Napoleon in the early 1800s. Horses were used for cavalry and to pull cannon and military supplies. Given the limited power of the earliest locomotives, railways sacrificed the shortest route for one with the least incline and the most gradual curves. The English also settled the problem of track gauges or the distance between the two rails.

— Early Track Gauge —

The setting of the rails at 4 feet 8 ½ inches became common during the first decades of railroading in England. As far as can be determined, it was the axle length or wheel width of the Roman chariots in England. It was a comfortable distance for hitching two horses to pull a carriage or wagon. Since the first wagons and carriages on the railways were converted from existing road vehicles, the spacing was convenient and natural. Another explanation is that England's most prominent locomotive builder, George Stephenson, tested his engines on a 4 foot 8 ½ inch colliery track. In 1846, Parliament passed a law establishing 4 foot 8 ½ inches as the standard gauge. This measurement became common in most of Europe and eventually Canada and the United States by the late nineteenth century.

Railroads quickly spread throughout Europe. In 1827, France constructed tracks between St-Etienne and Andrezieux. It started using steam in 1832. In the German states, a railroad was constructed between the cities of Nuremberg and Furth. Russia had a horse-drawn railroad in 1836, but any major construction did not occur until the 1840s. The English soon invested in rails in Canada, beginning with the Grand Trunk Railway.


Lions, Thumbs, and Best Friends

Even before studying the Stockton and Darlington Railway, Americans were not totally unfamiliar with moving things by rail. Boston and Philadelphia had horse-drawn trams. During the 1790s, carts on runners were used to move dirt from Beacon Hill to build the Massachusetts capitol in Boston. In order to build a monument to commemorate the battle of Bunker Hill, Gridley Bryant constructed a railway to carry granite block from a quarry near Quincy, Massachusetts. Bryant developed the prototypes of switches and sidings as well as wagons which had eight instead of four wheels. The extra wheels added stability and distributed the weight of the heavy granite more easily. Bryant's "Granite Railway" was chartered in 1826.

The Province of Quebec's earliest railway was constructed in 1830 to build a fortress. It used a stationary steam engine to pull granite blocks up an incline.

There were theoretical developments that preceded the English. As early as 1755, Oliver Evans envisioned a railroad pulled by the new Watt-type steam engine. Later, John Stevens constructed a steam engine in his backyard in Hoboken, New Jersey. Stevens used his train for recreational purposes only. He did, however, apply to the state of New Jersey to build a completely functional railroad. He never followed through on the venture.

— The Stourbridge Lion —

Real developments in America occurred after the "Rainhill Trials" in October 1828, where different forms of propulsion competed against each other. Horatio Allen of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company as well as Johnathan Knight, Maj. George W. Whistler, Ross Winans, and George Brown, later of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, observed the early steam experiments. Each observer would play an important role in U.S. railroad development. Allen was so impressed by the English steam locomotives that he ordered one for the canal company from the firm of Foster and Rastrick of Stourbridge. The locomotive, known as the Stourbridge Lion, weighed over seven tons. When Allen tried to operate it over the company's eleven-mile track near Carbondale, Pennsylvania, it was too heavy and actually sank a trestle into the soft ground. After a second trial which also proved unsuccessful, Allen had to give up, and the Lion was placed in storage. More important, however, Allen understood that a steam railway would permit the canal company to transport goods even during the winter months. He later took his expertise to the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad, which was starting to undergo construction.


Excerpted from Trains Across the Continent by Rudolph Daniels. Copyright © 2000 Rudolph Daniels. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

For the new edition:

Section 1. The Beginnings - Historical Survey
Chapter 1. The Industrial Revolution and the First Railroads
Chapter 2. Lions, Thumbs and Best Friends

Section 2. Railroad Fever - Historical Survey
Chapter 3. Run on to Goshen
Chapter 4. North vs. South: The First Railroad War

Section 3. The Glory Years - Historical Survey
Chapter 5. Harnessing the Elephant
Chapter 6. The Work Has Been Done Well in Every Way
Chapter 7. The Pullman Company
Chapter 8. Glory Years Technology
Chapter 9. Railroad Financing
Chapter 10. Perfecting the Network
Chapter 11. Locomotive Evolution and the Creation of a Railroad Culture
Chapter 12. Government Intervention

Section 4. The Golden Years - Historical Survey
Chapter 13. "The Public Be Blessed... "
Chapter 14. The Lifeline of the Nation

Section 5. Modern Times - Historical Survey
Chapter 15. Twilight of the Railroad Era
Chapter 16. Trains Today
Chapter 17. Conclusion

A. Chronological Table
B. Railroad Historical Slang Terms
C. "The Armchair Conductor": Railroad Movies

Available on VHS
D. Reporting Marks and Railroad Companies Recognized by the AAR


Maps (to be revised):
U.S. Civil War
U.S. Resources
1886 Railroads
1918 Canadian National Predecessors
1935 Railroads
Current Major Railroads

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan B. Hanna

Trains Across the Continent truly is a comprehensive account of how railroads helped shpae and are continuing to shape the history of North America.

Donald D. Snoddy

Quickly and concisely Dr. Daniels leads you through the maze of building, merging, and a myriad of other details necessary to understand modern railroading.

Dean Bruce

The best current railroad history available . . . everything you need to know . . . both educational and enjoyable reading.

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Trains Across the Continent: North American Railroad History 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
vpfluke on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This would be a good addition to any railroad library. Although a little choppy, it is a good survey of the history of railroading in North America.