Although Stourbridge was not a major railway centre during the railway age, it did manage to produce two locomotives of historical significance.|
In the UK, the better-known one is probably the Agenoria - not least because it still survives after nearly two centuries. It was built in 1829 by Foster Rastrick & Company in Stourbridge for service on the Earl of Dudley's Shutt End Colliery Railway in Kingswinford, Staffordshire. It weighed 11 tons, had four coupled wheels of 4ft 0.75 inches diameter and two cylinders of 8.5 inches diameter by 36 inches stroke.
On its first outing, it reportedly carried 360 people in 8 trucks at a speed of 7.5 mph, which would have been 45 people to a truck, though some may have been children. Even so, we might guess at an average weight of 12 stone (168 lbs.) or about 27 tons in addition to the vehicles themselves. In common with many early locomotives, the Agenoria had two pivotted beams high over the boiler, with an assortment of rods connected to the coupling rods on the wheels. As these moved vigorously during motion, people living along the line reputedly nicknamed the locomotive The Grasshopper.
In Britain the Agenoria was outdated almost as soon as it was built, for 1829 was also the year that George Stephenson's Rocket appeared, and it was this locomotive - especially when modified a short while afterwards - that virtually set the pattern for the rest of the steam age. Nevertheless, the Agenoria continued working for some 35 years until about 1864. It became part of the Science Museum's collection, and was on show for many years in the museum in South Kensington, London. Later still, it went on loan to the old York Railway Museum, just to the south of York station. Following the opening of the National Railway Museum in the roundhouse just to the north of the station, it was moved there, where it remains today.
The Stourbridge Lion
But it was Agenoria's close-sister locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion, built a little earlier in 1828, that made the real historical mark, even though it was barely used at all. The reason for this apparent contradiction was that the Americans were very interested in railway developments in Britain - seeing them as a way to open up their country. And the Rainhill Trials gave an added reason for coming.
Although the Trials were purely a competition for a contract to supply engines to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, they offered a first-class opportunity to compare the new technology in action as well as visiting the various manufacturers, so they attracted engineers from around the world. Among them was Horatio Allen, assistant engineer of the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Railroad. While on his visit to Britain, the company’s chief engineer, John B. Jervis, had instructed him to contract for three locomotives suitable for hauling coal from the mines to the D&H’s canal barges, and in 1828, some time prior to the trials, he was able to report that orders had been placed for three locomotives from Foster Rastrick, plus a fourth from Stephenson's works.
Arrival in New York
The Stourbridge Lion was one of the three Rastrick locomotives ordered, and it arrived in New York aboard the John Jay with two other locomotives in May 1829, being landed at the wharf of the West Point Foundery works, foot of Beach Street, New York City, for final erection. Mr David Matthew was in charge of the men employed to fit up the locomotive, and writing on December 6 1869, he recollected (supported by his records) that:
"The 'Stourbridge Lion' was a four-wheeled engine, with all four wheels connected by pins in the wheels. The boiler was a round cylindrical one; no drop part for the furnace, and the smokebox had a well-painted lion's head on it. The cylinders were vertical, placed at the back and each side of the furnace, with grasshopper beams and connecting-rods from them to the crankpins in the wheels. The back wheels and the side-rods between them and the front wheels; the outer ends of the beams were supported by a pair of radius rods which formed the parallel motion."
[As with Agenoria, the grasshopper impression came through immediately and seems to have become a standard description of that layout of rods and beams.]
"The locomotive was blocked up in our yard, and steam put to it from our works, and it became the object of curiosity to thousands who visited the works from day to day, to see the curious fretter 'go through the motions only, as there was no road for it about the premises.' "
Among those who visited was Bliss Blackman, who put this note in her own private journal, abstracted from the Morning Courier and New York Inquirer, June 12, 1829:
"We yesterday attended the first exhibition of a locomotive-engine, called The Lion, imported by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, to be used upon their railway. On Wednesday, the engine, just imported, was tried, and gave such general satisfaction, that the present exhibition was unanimously attended by gentlemen of science and particular intelligence. The engine was put up in Mr. Kimball's manufactory, by Horatio Allen, Esq., who went to England to purchase it for the company, and it gives us great satisfaction to say that the most important improvements which have lately been made in the construction of these engines originated with him. It is of nine horse power, having a boiler sixteen and a half feet long, with two cylinders, each of three-feet stroke. It is calculated to propel from sixty to eighty tons, at five miles per hour. The power is applied to each wheel at about twelve inches from the center, and the adhesive power of the wheel, arising from the weight of the engine, will give locomotion to the whole structure."
One of the company’s concerns was whether the locomotive would steam successfully on Lackawaxen coal (the coal the D&H was itself mining) and there was a great deal of commercial pleasure in discovering that the coal was entirely up to the job – and should therefore fuel other locomotives in the future.
Onward to the Delaware and Hudson at Honesdale
The locomotive was then supposed to go forward in time to help celebrate the opening of the new railroad itself on 4th July 1829. But completion of the line was late, so the locomotive stayed on in New York until about 1st July before being shipped up the North River to Rondout for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. From there it went via canal to Carbondale and the actual trial at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The Dundaff Republican’s issue of July 23, 1829 announced its arrival from New York:
"The boats begin to arrive with the traveling-engines and railroad machinery; all is bustle and business. The engine intended for this end of the road is a plain, stout work of immense height, weighing about seven tons, and will travel four miles per hour, with a train of thirty to thirty-six carriages, loaded with two tons of coal each; the engine is called the Stourbridge Lion, its boiler being built something in shape of that animal, and painted accordingly. Now imagine to yourself the appearance of that animal, the body at least twelve feet in length and five in diameter, traveling at the rate of four or five miles per hour, together with a host of young ones in train, and you will have some idea of the scene before us."
[The seven tons weight is an interesting point, given that Agenoria was 11 tons. But this might be down to weighing "dry" (i.e. without coal and water) and without the four-wheel tender necessary for carrying the coal.]
Testing the Locomotive
John Torry, a resident of Honesdale, provided his own reminiscences plus memories of other witnesses on the day (passed through a letter dated March 28th 1870) to say:
"The ‘Stourbridge Lion’ was elevated, by the use of a temporary inclined plane, to the level of the railroad, and put in running order, and placed upon the rails; and everything thus got in readiness for the trial. On Saturday, August 8, 1829, the fire was kindled and steam raised, and, under the management of Mr. Horatio Allen, the 'wonderful machine' was found capable of moving, to the great joy of the crowd of excited spectators.
"After running it back and forth on the portion of the road between the canal basin and the high railroad-bridge across the west branch of the Lackawaxen, Mr. Allen started it, with no person accompanying him, and without any car being attached, and ran it with good speed around the curve and across the bridge, and up the railroad about one and a half mile, to where the railroad was crossed by a common road-bridge, placed too low to admit of the passage of the locomotive under it. Here he reversed the engine and ran it back to the place of starting, greeted by the shouting cheers of the people and the booming of cannon."
The Driver’s Account
Mr Allen had his own recollections and left us with a fuller account:
"The circumstances which led to my being left alone on the engine were these: The road had been built in the summer, the structure was of hemlock-timber, and the rails, of large dimensions, notched on to caps placed far apart. The timber had cracked and warped, from exposure to the sun. After about five hundred feet of straight line, the road crossed the Lackawaxen Creek on a trestle-work about thirty feet high, and with a curve of three hundred and fifty or four hundred feet radius. The impression was very general 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. Any reply to apprehension was, that it was too late to consider the probability of such occurrences; that there was no other course but to have the trial made of the strange animal which had been brought here at such great expense, but that it was not necessary that more than one should be involved in its fate; that I would take the first ride alone, and that the time would come when I should look back to this incident with great interest.
"As I placed my hand on the throttle-valve handle I was undecided whether I would move slowly or with a fair degree of speed; but believing that the road would prove safe, and preferring, if we did go down, to go down handsomely and without any evidence of timidity, I started with considerable velocity, passed the curve over the creek safely, and was soon out of hearing of the cheers of the large assembledge present. At the end of two or of three miles, I reversed the valves and returned without accident to the place of starting, having thus made the first railroad trip by locomotive on the Western Hemisphere."
The cannon referred to had been procured especially for the occasion (possibly by the local newspaper), with the intention of siting it on the top of the local high peak and firing it to add joyful emphasis to the proceedings. On the day, however, it caused tragedy. Mr Alva Adams, a mechanic who was assisting in firing the cannon, had his arm so badly shattered that amputation was necessary.
Mr Torry added that "After repeating the trial a few times, the 'Stourbridge Lion' was removed from the track and left standing by the side of the railroad, with no covering, but a temporary roof, until the approach of winter.
"These experiments demonstrated that the manner of construction of the railroad was not sufficiently firm and substantial for a locomotive-road, the rails being of hemlock-timber, six inches thick by twelve inches deep, keyed (or wedged) into gains cut in cross-ties of hemlock-timber, placed ten feet apart, with a flat bar of iron fastened by screws upon the top of the rail, the gauge (or width) of track being four feet three inches. They also demonstrated that the plan of construction of the locomotive was not such as to afford a probability of its being successfully used for the purpose designed, with any such changes in the road as were then deemed reasonable.
"The failure of success was a great disappointment, not only to the directors and stockholders of the company, but also to the community, who were interested in the prosperity of the county.
"While thus standing by the side of the railroad, it was an object of great dread to timid children who were obliged to pass by it; and many, now residing in Honesdale, remember the care they were accustomed to take, when children, to avoid passing near the fierce-looking 'lion'. In November, 1829, it was focused in with rough boards, as it thus stood beside the railroad, though some of the boards on the sides were soon displaced, to give opportunity for the curious to examine it more readily. It remained where thus housed some fourteen or fifteen years, until so many of its parts were detached or broken, that it was entirely disabled and considered worthless as a locomotive; when the boiler was removed to Carbondale, and used with a stationary engine in one of the company's shops, and the wheels, axles, and loose parts, were sold for old iron. Some of the loose parts are still kept as mementos of the first locomotive run upon a railroad in America. The boiler is now in use in Carbondale."
John Torry is certainly right about the boarding up – his own family provided the materials. The housing was to protect it while it was held for sale - but without success. He is also right that the locomotive was gradually dismembered and didn’t somehow find a hiding place in New England (despite rumours to that effect). Mr Dilton Yarrington, who was a blacksmith in the company's shops at Carbondale confirmed it with this note:
"I worked up some of the fragments of it in the shop in 1849... The boiler is now in use here in Carbondale, in a foundry, where it has been in use for twenty years past, and is still considered reliable. The iron plates composing it are full half an inch thick."
As to the Stourbridge Lion being a failure, however, the real truth was that the sharper curves and rougher construction of American railroads proved unsuitable to more rigid European chassis that expected smoother curves and better quality trackbeds. It wasn't a failure, it was a mismatch of equipment. Mr W.H. Brown, in his history of early American railroads offered a fairer perspective:
"Although this engine proved to be impracticable under the circumstances, it was caused by no defect in its construction, or the principle involved, nor from a lack of power and ability to perform all the duties that might have been required; but from this cause alone, that the road had not been built to sustain such a weight as it was called upon to bear when this new instrument of power was placed upon it. The road had been constructed for horsepower alone, as all other roads were in this country at that early period, and for a long time after, even in England. No idea of a locomotive had then been conceived in this country."
Furthermore, the experience led to the development of 2-wheel leading pony trucks, and then of 4-wheel bogies to help steer American-built locomotives safely through their less-forgiving trackwork - practices that eventually came back to Europe.
But one point that does puzzle - though it may be entirely correct - is the reference to the track gauge being 4ft 3in. If right, it means that the Stourbridge Lion may not have been quite so identical to Agenoria, which ran on 4ft 8.5in gauge. Gauging more tightly could have brought the wheels too close to the boiler diameter; if so the possibilities are that (a) the wheel diameters were slightly less than Agenoria's 4ft 0.75in to maintain clearance, or (b) the boiler was lifted a few inches instead. The lack of contemporary comment on either of these possibilities suggests that they either didn't happen, or that the change made was too trifling and normal for those early years for anyone to make subsequent reference to it.