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Engineers and Mechanics Encyclopedia 1839: Railways: Jonathan Woodhouse

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These remarks have been elicited from us by the perusal of the specification of a patented invention by Jonathan Woodhouse, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, thirty-three years ago, which unfortunately deprives many of our more modern projectors of their claims to originality.

Considering that railroads were quite in their infancy at the period of Mr. Woodhouse's propositions, they strike us as remarkably judicious, both in arrangement and detail; and from their perfect originality, they are well deserving of a conspicuous station in the history of railroads, though hitherto unnoticed by writers on the subject.

The specification is entitled "a new method of forming a cast-iron rail or plate, which may be used in making iron railroads, or drags for the working and running of waggons, drays, and other carriages, on public and other roads; and also a new method of fixing, fastening, and securing such cast-iron rail or plate on such roads: dated February 28, 1803."

The following is the description.-

"The rail or plate is made of cast-iron, and the upper part or surface thereof is concave; the width of which rail or plate may be increased or diminished as may best suit the size of the wheels of the carriages that may be worked upon the particular roads where the rails or plates are used. The method of fixing, fastening, and securing the iron rails or plates, is to place them on bearings, at convenient distances, which are to be fixed firm and solid in the earth, and to fasten the rails or plates to such bearings with wrought-iron screws, or cutter bolts.

"The bearings for the rails or plates may be made of timber, stone, or cast-iron, or wood-piles; and if the rails or plates are properly fixed to such bearings with wrought-iron screws or cutter bolts, and the road is made even with the surface of the external or outer edges of the rails or plates, either with stone, gravel, or wood, or any other road materials, the rails or plates will be immovable, and the wheels of the carriages used thereon will pass over the same with facility; and by reasons of the concave form and manner of fixing of the said rails or plates, no shock which they can receive (except some wilful force is maliciously used) can injure or break them.

"These rails or plates may be used on private as well as on public or other roads, with a great advantage, where a multiplicity of business is to be carried on; and by reason of such the concave form, and manner of fixing them, they admit of the wheels of carriages to get upon or from them, with facility in any direction; and the wheels working on those rails will move with great smoothness and ease. The annexed drawings show the cast-iron rails or plates, and the methods of fixing, fastening, and securing them, of which the following are the explanations."

Fig. 1, a-a-a-a, show four pieces of the plates or rails laid down in two lines, with their concave surfaces upwards.

Fig. 2 shows the elevation or end view of the plates or rails, their sectional form, and how they are fixed to the bearings b-b by means of screw bolts or cutter bolts.

Fig. 3 is added, to show more distinctly on a larger scale, the transverse form of the concave hollow plates or rails.

Fig. 4 shows the side views of the rails a-a, with their bearings b-b, under them; the same being shown in a position at right angles in Figs. 2, 7, 9, and 11.

Fig. 5 exhibits a plan or section of the base or underside of the rails; the recesses c-c, in the feet of the rails, being made to receive the wrought-iron screws or cutter bolts, which serve the double purpose of preserving and securing the rails in a direct line with each other, and of firmly securing them on their respective bearings; d-d show the stays cast between the sides of the rails or plates, which brace them together at their bottom edges.

Fig. 6 shows the diced or chequered rail. These, it is proposed, may also be laid in sheets, and where roads meet or cross each other, to prevent the feet of the horses from slipping, and will therefore be more particularly useful in such roads as have a declivity or descent. Fig. 7 exhibits an end elevation of the same.

The subjoined sketch, Fig. 8, shows a plan, and Fig. 9 a section of the mode of applying the invention to a street or road paved with stone.

Figs. 10 and 11 show in like manner, by a plan and section, the application of the invention to a street or road made of gravel, broken stone, or other road materials; but with the view of keeping the rail or plate as free from gravel as possible, a course of stones is laid on each side of the rail.

In some remarks made by the inventor "on the advantages of concave iron-roads," he observes, that with two horses the mail coaches might be conveyed eight miles per hour, as easy as the present mails are conveyed six miles per hour with four horses; the correctness of which seems unquestionable. One of the leading objects of Mr. Woodhouse appears to have been to avoid the frequent necessity, great expense, and inconvenience of making deep cuttings and embankments, in order to conduct canals into towns, which he proposed to connect by the application of these concave rails to ordinary roads.

Our London readers will not fail to remark, that the cast-iron gutters now laid on each side of most of our public streets are similarly constructed to Mr. Woodhouse's concave rails; and although they are now so modified as to adapt them as water conduits, it may often be observed that the London carmen purposely avail themselves of them as a railway, to ease their horses when heavily burthened, which it evidently does considerably, although the advantage is gained only upon one side of the carriage. The smoothness of surface which these rails or gutters acquire by the traffic over them, might cause the wheels of a steam carriage (or such as carry their own motive force within) to slip a little; but when the carriage is drawn, as by a horse, the wheels cannot shy round, and the smoothness then becomes an advantage.

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