Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Engineers and Mechanics Encyclopedia 1839: Railways: William Henry James

From Graces Guide
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On the 15th of May, 1824, William Henry James (a gentleman of superior mechanical talents) of Birmingham, obtained patents for "an improved method of constructing steam carriages;" the chief peculiarity in the arrangement of which consisted in adapting separate engines to the gear of each of the propelling wheels, instead of actuating them uniformly by the same engine, whether the latter consists of one or two cylinders.

Mr. James's design was to use very small cylinders, and work them with steam of very high pressure, so as to obtain the utmost compactness, and the least weight that might be practicable. The motive of employing separate engines was that each wheel might have a motion independent of any of the other wheels, so that their powers or velocities might be varied at pleasure, which he considered to be essential in passing round curves, or turning corners of the road, because, when a carriage moves in the arc of a circle, the outer wheel moves over a greater space of ground than the inner wheel, and would consequently render it necessary for the engine connected with the outer wheel to work so much faster than the engine connected with the inner wheel.

Mr. James's mode of effecting this operation was by a very simple contrivance he caused the fore axletree to be connected with a stop-cock placed in the main pipe, through which the steam passes from the boiler to the respective engines; and this stop-cock was so constructed, that when the fore axletree stood at right angles to the perch (i. e. when the carriage was proceeding in a straight line) it admitted equal quantities of steam to each engine; but whenever the axletree stood obliquely to the perch (as in making curves) it caused the stop-cock to admit a greater quantity of steam to the engine connected with the outer wheel, so as to cause that wheel to revolve faster, and a diminished quantity to the engine connected with the inner wheel, so as to make it revolve slower, in exact proportion to the curve around which the carriage was moving.

Upon roads having steep ascents, Mr. James proposed to employ four engines, or one to each wheel, for the purpose of obtaining a greater degree of resistance upon the surface passed over: but in roads of ordinary undulations, two engines were deemed sufficient; the wheels do not require to be thrown out of gear, but in passing round curves may be kept constantly in action, so as to preserve the amount of friction upon the surface pretty uniform. In passing down a hill, however, or whenever it may be desired, a wheel may be locked or dragged, as in other carriages.

Another leading object with Mr. James was to put the whole of the machinery upon springs, to prevent the injurious consequences to the acting parts, by the concussions of a stony road, and at the same time allow of the uniform operation of the engines upon the running wheels, when passing over rugged surfaces. To this end Mr. James caused the engines and their framework to vibrate altogether upon the crank shafts as a centre; at the same time connecting these engines to the boiler and exit passages, by means of hollow axles moving in stuffing-boxes, which, together with the body of the carriage, is suspended upon springs, that are bolted to the axletrees.

Fig. 1, in the following cuts, exhibits a plan of the machinery of a carriage, as applied to the hind wheels.

Fig. 2 is a cross section, giving an end view of the boiler and the cranks, showing the manner in which the former is suspended, its mode of attachment to the body of the carriage, and the situation of the springs on which it rests: similar letters of reference apply to the corresponding parts in each of the figures. a-a is the boiler suspended to the frame b-b, above which is connected to the body of the carriage c-c, and forms its support; d-d is the axletree, the form of which is best seen in Fig. 2; it has four supports e-e-e-e; the axles of the running wheels f-f are affixed thereto, and are connected in one piece with each of the crank shafts g-g, by which one wheel is made to revolve independently of the other.

Each of these engines has two cylinders h-h, which operate by their piston rods upon the cranks; to these separate engines steam is applied from the boiler a-a, by means of the pipe k, which enters at the stop-cock l into the steam-box m; from this box the steam passes into the pipes n-n, which move steam-tight through stuffing-boxes; from thence the steam proceeds through the pipes o-o-o to the slide boxes p-p-p, the slides being worked by eccentrics q-q-q, in the crank shafts, in the usual manner, and thence to the cylinders. The exhaustion pipes r-r lead into the hollow axles n-n, before described, in which there are partitions s-s, to separate the steam from the exit passages, which pass through the said hollow axles to the boxes t-t, from which there are pipes u-u leading to the chimney v, where it is thrown off in a jet, which has the effect of increasing the draught, and of exciting combustion of the fuel. The rods x-x are attached to the fore axle of the running wheels, and also to the two handles of the cock l, so that the fore axle and the cock move simultaneously, and parallel to each other; z-z represent part of the frame-work extended, for tying the engine together by means of a bolt, and so as to allow the body of the carriage to have a slight lateral motion upon its springs, independently of the engines, by means of the hollow axles sliding longitudinally through the stuffing-boxes.

The principal arrangements in this locomotive engine are ably designed to accomplish the object in view; but the intelligent inventor (owing, we believe, to some pecuniary disappointments) was not enabled to prosecute the undertaking of building carriages until some time afterwards. In the interim, however, he was engaged in other scientific pursuits connected with locomotion, and in the construction of a boiler capable of generating steam of very high pressure, with perfect safety he also occupied himself in the application and adaptation of small high-pressure engines to the generating apparatus; and on the 5th of March following he took out a patent for a tubular boiler, which was decidedly the most effective machine of the kind that had then been invented.

It consisted of a series of annular tubes, of equal capacity and diameter, placed side by side, and bolted together, no as to form by their union a long cylindrical boiler, somewhat similar in external figure to that shown in Fig. 1, but from being made of small tubes, capable of resisting full one hundred times the pressure of an ordinary cylindrical boiler. We have only to observe that it was with boilers of that description, and a carriage slightly modified from the one just described, that Mr. James, about two years after, commenced the construction of steam carriages.

This undertaking, in its progress, promised the most favourable results, the experiments that were made demonstrating the certainty of the ultimate accomplishment of perfect success; but a failure in his pecuniary resources prevented its consummation.

Some friends of ours assisted at some experiments made with the first carriage, on the 5th of March, 1829, over a rough-gravelled road in Epping Forest, which it traversed, with fifteen passengers, at a speed varying from twelve to fifteen miles per hour. This carriage was exceedingly clumsy, having been repeatedly cut and altered, as successive changes were made in the disposition of its parts for experiment, and it weighed, including the machinery, rather more than three tons. It had two working cylinders, only 3.5 inches diameter, the power of which was applied to the hind running-wheels. The steam was supplied by two tubular boilers, of the before-mentioned kind, each being a cylindrical annulus of one-inch tubes, 4 feet 6 inches long, and 1 foot 9 inches internal diameter, wherein the fire was placed.

During the experiments, one of the tubes (which were the common gas pipes) opened in its seam, and consequently all the water of that boiler escaped, extinguished its fire, and reduced the intensity of the other, there being a communication between them. Thus circumstanced, with only one boiler in operation, the carriage returned home, at the rate of seven miles an hour, with more than twenty passengers, demonstrating thereby this remarkable fact, - that a sufficient pourer of steam can be generated in so small a boiler, as to be adequate to the propulsion of about 4.5 tons weight on the common road.

Shortly afterwards, the proprietors commenced building another carriage; but they experienced considerable difficulty and delay in getting the tubes of a suitable quality of metal, and the joints properly constructed; so that it was not until the month of November, 1829, that they brought it out for trial. An elevation of this machine is represented. As denoted by the scale of feet, it was of small size, being designed to operate as a drag to another vehicle behind. The boilers were four in number, and instead of the tubular rings being circular, they were made elliptical, with compressed sides, so as to get four of them side by side across the carriage. This was done to obtain as large a surface of metal as possible exposed to the heat of the furnace, as, by this arrangement, nearly 200 tubes, measuring upwards of 400 feet, were enclosed in a space four feet wide, three feet long, and two feet deep, including the furnaces, (which were inside the boilers) besides the flues and ash-holes.

The steam from each of the boilers was conducted into one very strong tube above, of an inch and a half in diameter, to supply the engines; each of the pipes of communication to it being provided with stop-cocks, to cut off the communication of any boiler that might become unserviceable by leakage, without affecting the pressure on the other boilers.

The power was applied through the medium of four working cylinders, which might be considered as separate engines, being fitted so as to work independently of each other, although they might more properly be considered as pairs, each pair acting upon a distinct crank, (the throws of which were at right angles to each other,) that gave motion to its respective hind wheel, on the principle described at page 454. These cylinders were only a foot long, three inches and a half outside, and two inches and a quarter diameter; the pistons were metallic, and made a nine-inch stroke. The cylinders were posited vertically, and vibrated upon trunnions, through which were made the induction and eduction passages, covered by conical valves, forming au external shell to the trunnions, close to their bearings in the plummer boxes.

These engines were arranged at a, in a row across the carriage. The steam, after working the engines, passed through two copper tanks, which heated the water therein to such a temperature above boiling as to melt the soft solder externally upon the vessels, and rendered it necessary to substitute hard solder; the steam was carried then to the chimney-funnel to escape. At c is a door, which space across the carriage, and also that at d, were for the use of the man who attended to the furnaces and boilers, besides being used as a receptacle for fuel: at the sides, roof, and bottom of this room were plate-iron shutters, to afford constant draughts of air, that the heat might not be insupportable.

The engineer sat on the hind seat p, and at e, over the engines, was a sheet-iron flap, like the lid of a box, and at f sliding-doors, enabling the engineer to keep his eye upon the working parts, and, by his spanner, and other tools, to rectify, if required, any slight defect that might take place; his situation likewise permitting him to give directions to the furnace-man, and to hold communication with the guide, who sits on the box g.

At h is the steering apparatus, consisting of an external case, containing a vertical shaft, at whose upper end is fixed a bevelled pinion, which is acted upon by a small bevelled wheel, fixed into the axis of the double-handled winch i-i. By turning these handles, therefore, the shaft is caused to revolve, and to give motion to a gear at the lower extremity, which acts upon a toothed sector l, attached to the fore axle-tree, and thereby turns the fore wheels into the required positions. The lower gear, which is contained in a box k, is adapted to increase the force with a reduced motion, in that the guide, who is able to turn the handles i-i quickly, operates with great energy upon the toothed sector, and to overcome with facility the most prominent of ordinary obstacles in the road. This guiding action being administered by a multiplying power, through the complex medium of toothed wheels, was found to be far more effectual and convenient than when a long lever of a more simple form was used; besides, that the latter was somewhat dangerous to the guide, who was rendered liable to receive severe blows by the motion of the long handle, when the wheels happened to be turned aside by the opposition of stones laying in the road.

At m is a lamp, not only useful for lighting the road before the carriage, but serving also (as the prow of a vessel to a mariner) to steer by. The chimney-funnel was made double, the space between the external case n and the internal smoke flue o being for a current of our to prevent the otherwise unpleasant radiation of heat laterally. The fuel preferred was a mixture of coke and wood charcoal, which produced a great heat, and gave but little black smoke. The motion was communicated to the separate axles of the hind wheels by spur gear of two velocities, changeable at pleasure, as the state of the road, or other circumstances, might require; this gear was enclosed in boxes, shown at h, and the whole machine was placed upon springs, except the guiding apparatus, which was purposely arranged otherwise, as exhibited in the engraving.

This carriage was only taken out of the yard (where it was built) three times: on one of these occasions the writer accompanied it three miles, which it performed in twelve minutes; after which a joint of the induction pipe failed, through which the steam escaped into the air instead of entering the cylinders; this accident, of course, soon brought the carriage to a stop.

Every person who witnessed this experiment was perfectly convinced of the feasibility of the scheme, and that nothing was wanting but a little more experience in discovering and remedying the weak points, which practice alone could effect. The patentee was not, however, afforded the opportunity of obviating the defects he had discovered in sonic parts of his arrangements, from the want of that support which other men of less talent, but more assuming conduct, easily obtained in abundance. One of these defects consisted in crowding the engines and machinery into too small a space, which, while it rendered accurate fitting and repairs difficult, occasioned some parts to be brought into violent collision by the vibrations of the carriage over a stony road.

Another great defect (which was about to be altered) consisted in the iron ring or tire of the wheels being only one inch and a half wide; in consequence of which, the wheels sank into the ground at least twice the depth of others, having tires of double the width: an acclivity was thus constantly formed before the wheels, which they had either to ascend, or to crush down, causing, in either case, a considerable waste of power. Much ground, it may be observed, that will resist compression entirely from a broad wheel, and allow the carriage to roll over it easily, will give way under a narrow wheel, and so raise up a constant opposition to its own progress. The chief disadvantages of broad tired wheels consist in their superior weight, and their greater liability to encounter loose stones lying on the road. The narrower a wheel is the better, provided it does not leave an impression on the road; but as wheels should be made to suit all the various conditions of the road on which the carriage has to travel, a medium between the extremes should be chosen, which is probably about three inches width of tire to every half ton that a wheel has to bear.

It may be further noticed, that in every experiment made with this carriage, those parts which exhibited a defective action could always be traced to an evident cause; and although the remedy was also rendered obvious, it could not always be carried into effect without considerable delay and expense, which, to the capitalist who is ignorant of mechanical combination, was naturally discouraging. It will, however, be generally found, that those individuals who have had the must experience in undertakings of this kind, have never discovered, in the obstacles that have hitherto presented themselves, any thing of an insuperable nature, as to its ultimate success.


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To enable locomotive carriages to ascend steeper inclined planes than had heretofore been considered practicable, and likewise to enable the carriages and trains to wind round curves in the road, without the severe friction and straining to which they had been previously subjected, was the object of a patent granted on the 5th, of March, 1825, to William Henry James, of Birmingham, whose common road locomotive is described in the preceding pages.

This invention has not, we believe, been carried into effect on the great scale; but we have been credibly informed, that the most satisfactory proofs have been afforded of the ability to effect this, by repeated trials on a railroad more than a hundred feet in length, laid down for the purpose of experiment, on which it was found that a train of carriages would (with the patentee's machinery,) ascend inclined planes three inches in the yard, which is equal to 440 feet in the mile. This important advantage is gained by applying the power to the axletrees of the wheels of the several carriages in the train, by means of the rotation of a long horizontal rod (or series of connected rods), actuated by bevel gear under each carriage.

An ingenious plan has also been proposed by Mr. James for enabling the carriages on a railway to pass around turns or curves in the road, without additional friction. For this purpose; the horizontal rotatory shafts, which cause each pair of wheels in the train to revolve, and propel the carriages forward, are connected together by a novel kind of universal joint, which communicates the rotatory motion to each successive carriage, even if so placed on the curves of the roads, that the sides of one carriage shall present to the side of the next an angle of thirty degrees. To cause the carriage wheels to run round the curves of the railway, without the usual destructive rubbing of their surfaces, the rails in those parts are made with several ribs or elevations, and the wheels of the carriages are consequently formed to correspond with those ribs, by their peripheries being grooved in like manner; and that a wheel, in effect, possesses as many diameters as there are variations in the surface of its periphery, by which means it may be made to travel faster or slower, as may be desired.

The engravings will render these plans intelligible to the reader. a is the boiler of a steam-engine; b the engine with two cylinders, the alternating motion of the piston in which gives rotation to the crank c. above; the rods e-e, attached to the same, being also fixed to the crank of the horizontal shaft f-f-f (which passes under the carriages), causes that to revolve with a similar speed, to the crank of the engine. Two square boxes, g-g, are fixed under each carriage; through these the axletrees of each pair of wheels pass; the rotatory shaft f passes also through the boxes above the axletrees, and at right angles with them; each of the boxes g-g contain a double-bevelled horizontal wheel, which presents a circle of cogs in its upper as well as its lower side, and turns upon cross bearings: now the shaft f carrying upon it a vertical bevelled pinion in each box, takes into the upper circle of teeth of the horizontal wheel, while the under circle of the teeth of the same actuate a bevelled pinion on the axletree underneath, consequently compelling the wheels to revolve; and the power being thus applied to every pair of wheels simultaneously, sufficient resistance is obtained, on a smooth surface, to ascend inclined planes of considerable elevation.

u-u-u-u are the universal joints, which communicate rotatory motion when the carriages are not in a straight line; these, and other moving parts are distinctly shown in Fig. 2, which is upon a larger scale. F-f is the rotatory shaft; g-g the two boxes, with the front plates moved, to show the gear inside; h-h the bevelled pinions upon the shaft in each box; i-i the horizontal double-bevelled wheels. The front box g, under the carriage, is fixed immovably to a solid block of wood, k; the other box is fitted to a plate l, turning on a central point, which passes through another plate m above, the latter-being secured to the floor of the carriage by hinge-joints, n-n. the construction of the universal joints u-u is also more clearly shown in this figure.

We have now to describe the contrivances by which the patentee proposes to obviate the destructive effects of the rubbing or sliding of the inner wheels of carriages in making curves or turns in a round. If the wheels on one side of a carriage be larger, or of greater diameter than those on the opposite side, such carriage, when propelled, will necessarily snake a curve. On this principle the patentee's contrivances are founded. In running along a straight line, the peripheries of the wheels are of equal elevation; but when the carriage has to make a turn, the wheels on one side roll on a greater diameter, or more extended periphery, while the wheels on the opposite side run on a less extended periphery, and the elevations upon the rails on which they run are so adjusted to these variations, that the different peripheries of the wheels change and come in contact with the variable parts of the rail, and run round the curves without any increase of friction.


The next invention we have to record, emanated from the prolific mind of William Henry James, of Birmingham; it blossomed fairly, but the embryo fruit never came to maturity, owing, we believe, to a deficiency of the metallic nutriment which is indispensable to the successful culture of steam carriages.

The specification of his patent (which was dated the 15th of August, 1832 is too voluminous, and the illustrative drawings too elaborate, to enable us even to condense an intelligible description within the space allowed us. We must, therefore, briefly state that the chief feature is a powerful high pressure boiler, formed of a horizontal tier of cast-iron plates, ingeniously cast with tubular cavities in the body of the metal, and throughout its area. These cavities hold the water to be vaporized, which is constantly made to flow throughout the tier, by an hydraulic apparatus which the inventor denominates a "heart-pump." The fire operates upon the entire bottom surface of each water-plate, and the steams, is collected in the highest plate, to which, in addition to the usual appendages, is a steam pipe leading to a trumpet, which is sounded by the motion of a lever operating upon a valve at the induction orifice. For the other ingenious arrangement of the carriage, we must refer the reader to the enrolled documents.

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