Majesty of Big Steam: Thunder on the Mountain Trains, Boats & Planes | 20 January 2016 Share article facebook twitter google pinterest One of the most iconic technologies of the 19th century is the mighty steam engine. Picture the steam engine locomotive–a giant metal beast that barreled down railways, leaving a thick black cloud of smoke in its wake. As it disappeared, the faint sound of chugging and whistling echoed over the trees. Perhaps most spectacular element to the use of the steam engine, was the physics behind it. Check out the following excerpt from Brian Solomon’s The Majesty of Big Steam for a look at the thrilling early graded operations. Thunder on the Mountain One man’s problem is another man’s opportunity. Such was the case in steam railroading. The laws of physics constrain railroad operation over mountain grades. The limitations of adhesion (friction) between wheel and rail was (and remains)a great complication to railroad operation. In steam railroad-ing the most dramatic applications of power were on heavy grades, where the largest locomotives would labor fore and aft under clouds of their own exhaust on tonnage trains. But while graded operation was the perpetual thorn in the side of the operating department, the thunder on the mountain thrilled onlookers, and skilled photographers sought out the most difficult operations to make their most dramatic images of engines at work. The earliest railroad builders in nineteenth-century Britain didn’t understand adhesion, so there was a popular misconception that iron wheels on iron rails would slip uncontrollably on a grade. As a result many early railways were built with low-grade, “water-level” profiles.In America this philosophy resulted in excessively sinuous routes, where lines curved to avoid climbing wherever possible. The construction of inclined planes was a compromise for extremely steep ascents where trains were hauled with cables powered by stationary engines. Pennsylvania’s famed “Main Line of Public Works,” which linked Philadelphia and Pittsburgh through a network of canals and railways, was one of the most extreme applications of inclined planes. While low-grade construction was possible on a large scale in Britain, American engineers faced far more difficult terrain and smaller construction budgets. By the late 1830s, American engineers were aiming to construct mountain railroads, previously deemed impossible by naysayers, canal proponents, and others. In the 1830s, George Washington Whistler surveyed a route west from Worcester, Massachusetts, toward Albany, New York. Massachusetts’s Western Rail Road, the state-sponsored extension of the key Boston & Worcester line, faced a succession of grades, the steepest considered at the time without the aid of inclined planes. Western Maryland Challenger 1208 works westbound ton-nage on neatly trimmed track at Mount Savage, Maryland, on the grade from Cumberland to Deal. Donald W. Furler Canadian Pacific 2317 was among the star performers at the Steamtown National Historic Site based in Scranton, Pennsylvania. On September 14, 1991, it leads an excursion working toward Moscow, Pennsylvania.George W. Kowanski Whistler engineered his line to high standards. He wasn’t content with the slipshod construction characteristics of some of the early American railways, instead insisting on the best possible grade by using cuts and fills. Immediately after leaving Worcester, Whistler’s line climbed over the relatively steep Charlton Summit and reached the wide Connecticut River at Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1839. But the most difficult section of the railroad to build and operate was its eastern ascent of the Berkshires, where Whistler engineered a sinuous 1.67 percent grade (meaning a climb of 1.67 feet for every 100 traveled) that required a series of large stone arch bridges and deep rock cuts excavated with black powder and steam shovels. In 1867, Western and B&W merged to become the Boston& Albany, and in 1900 this was leased by New York Central System. Whistler’s railway was so well engineered that most of his original alignment survives on the present CSX mainline in New England. Only a few short segments were relocated in the steam era. Yet, since the Berkshire grade opened to traffic in 1841, it has required special breeds of motive power. Whistler attempted to solve the problem of graded operation by ordering a novel fleet of the world’s first eight-coupled locomotives from his friend Ross Winans of Baltimore. This view shows the pushers at the back of the same freight led by Delaware & Hudson Challenger 1534.Donald W. Furle In a stupendous show of power, Delaware & Hudson Challenger 1534 leads northward symbol freight WM-3 at Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Three sets of locomotives were workingat the back. Donald W. Furler Winans’s 0-8-0 was designed with small wheels to deliver high tractive effort at slow speeds while distributing the weight over four axles. The engines were enormous for their day,weighing in at 22½ tons. By any measure, these were strange machines. Unlike most of the later American locomotives, these were not descendants of Stephenson’s Rocket and didn’t resemble typical steam locomotives. Instead the design had its origins in machines derived from marine practice by Phineas Davis and Peter Cooper. Seven were built in total, and eventually became known colloquially as “mud diggers” and “crabs”because of their peculiar motion. They were not successful, but they demonstrated the special requirements for locomotives in graded territory.In the 1920s, Boston & Albany’s Berkshire grades were the proving ground for Lima’s first Superpower, an extraordinary locomotive concept that began with the 2-8-4 wheel arrangement. In honor of the grade, the 2-8-4 was coined the Berkshire type (featured in Chapter 3) Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Relive the romance and power of the steam locomotive era, the product of a century of continuous research and development. In the United States, the final decades of steam power were characterized by very large and capable locomotives. Beginning in the 1920s with Alco’s three-cylinder types and Lima’s “Super Power” concept, steam locomotive design crossed new thresholds of power and efficiency. A host of new wheel arrangements combined with innovative technology and new materials to create a final generation of refinement. Lima’s Berkshire of 1925 demonstrated the value of the four-wheel radial trailing truck in its ability to support a firebox large enough to supply high power and fast running. Within a few years the 2-10-4 Texas, 4-6-4 Hudson, and 4-8-4 Northern had led the way, and by the late 1920s, large modern articulated types were taking shape. The Majesty of Big Steam is full of these late-era locomotives, the last generation of steam power before the diesels took over. Dramatic photos show Berkshires, Hudsons, and Northerns at work, as well as massive articulateds at their finest. Witness New York Central’s Great Steel Fleetbeing whisked along behind some of the most refined American-designed engines. See Southern Pacific’s cab-forward oil burners crest the California Sierra, and Baltimore & Ohio’s EM-1 war babies lift tonnage over the Appalachian mountains. Norfolk & Western continued to refine 4-8-4s and articulated types, even as the rest of America was buying diesels, and ran these well-oiled machines longer than any other line. Don’t miss a single one! Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.