Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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John Fowler: Fowler's Ghost

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Note: This is a sub-section of John Fowler

Fowler was also the designer of an experimental fireless locomotive (nicknamed Fowler's Ghost) which was tried out on the Metropolitan Railway in the 1860s. It stored energy in heated bricks (on the same principle as a storage heater) but was unsuccessful.

Three different designs were produced but only one locomotive was actually built and this has led to some confusion. The first design was for a 2-2-2 saddle-tank and a drawing of this has been published in some books as a representation of the real machine, although it was never built.

The locomotive actually built, by Robert Stephenson and Co, was a broad-gauge 2-4-0 tender engine. It was of fairly conventional appearance but very unconventional inside. The boiler had a normal firebox and this was connected to a large combustion chamber containing a quantity of fire brick. The combustion chamber communicated with the smokebox through a set of very short firetubes. Exhaust steam was condensed by a water-jet condenser and there was a pump to maintain a vacuum in the condenser. The idea was that it would operate as an ordinary coal-fired locomotive in the open but, when approaching a tunnel, the dampers would be closed and steam would be generated using stored heat from the firebricks. It was tried out in 1861 but was a dismal failure.

Following this unsuccessful trial a third design was produced, this time for a 4-2-2 saddle tank. It would, again, have had the hot brick heat store but, above the boiler drum, would have been a second steam/water drum to allow for large variations in water level. This machine was never built and, instead, conventional steam locomotives with condensing apparatus were used.

The Metropolitan Railway advertised the 2-4-0 locomotive for sale in 1865 and some parts of it were bought by Mr. Isaac Watt Boulton.

High resolution 1862 photo here.

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