Dave steam 15 (catch me who can)(27)

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Dave steam 15 (catch me who can)(27)

  1. 1. Steam Engines<br />A series of lessons <br />by David C<br />Dec 2010<br />
  2. 2. Part 15<br />Catch me who can<br />
  3. 3. Sitting here in the 21st century, we have the privilege of hindsight when we read about great inventions, such as the steam engine.<br />It’s easy to think that when something like that was invented, everyone immediately saw it as the great machine <br />that we know it to be. <br />
  4. 4. But that wasn’t so. <br />Like many other great inventions, when the railway engine was shown to people the reaction was generally <br />“Oh that’s interesting…” <br />and then they would go back to their busy lives <br />and forget about what they’d seen. <br />
  5. 5. England’s first railway engine was built in 1804 by Matthew Murray.<br />There are no pictures of it, nor letters to say what Murray did with it. <br />Building it must have cost a small fortune<br />and must have distracted him from his paid work. <br />No-one commits themselves to such a thing unless they are sure of its importance. So it is unthinkable that Mr Murray didn’t try to sell his invention to somebody; yet there is no record of him ever doing it. <br />
  6. 6. All we know is that he showed it to another inventor named Richard Trevithick, who was inspired to go out and make an engine of his own and try to sell that to the same disinterested customers. <br />
  7. 7. You see, for a railway engine to be useful, it not only has to do the job <br />of towing wagons, it has to do the job better than a horse.<br />In the early 1800s, a railway engine was a massive, smoke-belching monster that some inventors warned might blow up in your face at any time. Would you really prefer that to a horse?<br />
  8. 8. Trevithick found a customer in Wales who was prepared to let him test out <br />his first railway engine for free on a 15km stretch of railway that ran from his ironworks at MerthyrTudfil. The engine was so heavy it broke the rails and cost the owner a fortune to repair. <br />Needless to say, the customer lost interest in buying the machine. <br />
  9. 9. Trevithick then tried selling the railway engine to another mine operator named Christopher Blackett, who lived in a place called Wylam. <br />Blackett must have heard about the experiment in Wales <br />because he politely turned Trevithick away. <br />
  10. 10. MrBlackett was a very clever fellow, however. <br />He could see that the problem was not that <br />the engine was too heavy but that the rails were too soft.<br />Within 3 years he and his staff were tearing the wooden rails <br />out of the ground at Wylam and replacing them with iron ones. <br />
  11. 11. At the same time, he asked the best engineers in his firm <br />to start building a railway engine of their own. <br />Smart fellow, MrBlackett. <br />
  12. 12. A big part of the problem for people like Murray and Trevithick <br />is communication. <br />You must appreciate that in 1805 there is no radio <br />and no TV and no internet. News of an invention <br />travels to some extent by newspaper but mostly <br />by word-of-mouth, and a successful inventor <br />has to be prepared to spend a lot of time <br />knocking on doors and publicizing his invention. <br />
  13. 13. It’s a bit like selling ice-creams, I suppose: <br />if nobody knows what an ice-cream is, <br />no-one will buy it. <br />
  14. 14. By 1807, Mr Trevithick understood that he was going about things the wrong way. <br />Perhaps he was influenced by the stunning success of another recent invention, the Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) that carried freight in and out of the city of London. <br />The SIR was very much larger than the usual railways operated by the mine-operators out in the country, but the remarkable thing about it was that it was open to the public. <br />
  15. 15. Any fellow rich enough to build a wagon to run on this railway <br />was allowed to use it – for a small fee of course. <br />That was the clever part: <br />the people who built this railway realized that it was a public service <br />they were providing, not a product to be bought by a rich miner. <br />
  16. 16. A similar thing was in happening out in Wales, at a place called Swansea. <br />A group of businessmen in the village had put their money together <br />to build a railway that would carry all their factory products <br />to the nearest seaport, a distance of about 15km. <br />They could have made this a private railway, <br />but the investors opened the railway <br />to anyone prepared to pay a fee to travel along it. <br />Travelers generally provided their own horse and wagon, <br />and whether or not they collided with anything else <br />on the line at the time was their own business. <br />
  17. 17. The Swansea railway was already doing well when one of the shareholders decided that maybe – just maybe – one or two people might be interested in travelling as passengers along this railway. <br />After all, people probably had to accompany their freight into town; why not let them travel in comfort in a specially designed rail carriage? <br />
  18. 18. Hesitantly, the other shareholders allowed this man to test the idea out for a year. <br />After the first 12 months it was clear that a ‘passenger service’ was not only a good idea, it was the best thing they could have done with the railway line.<br />
  19. 19. Hesitantly, the other shareholders allowed this man to test the idea out for a year. <br />After the first 12 months it was clear that a ‘passenger service’ was not only a good idea, it was the best thing they could have done with the railway line.<br />Everyone til now had completely missed the point of railways, <br />which is that people will pay <br />to ride on them. <br />
  20. 20. That was in 1807. <br />The following year, Mr Trevithick got permission from the local council to set up a circular railway line in a public park in London. <br />
  21. 21. From the look of it, the line was no more than 50m in diameter. <br />He set his railway engine on the line and attached <br />a wagon behind it, and charged people money to come in and have a ride on the ‘train’. <br />
  22. 22. To inspire a carnival atmosphere, Trevithick called the train ‘Catch-me-who-can’. <br />It was a good name for a machine trying to catch the interest of businessmen, <br />not all of whom could see this as a moment in history.<br />
  23. 23. It should have been a great day for everyone, a funny, remarkable experience for young and old, rich and poor. <br />Unfortunately the engine repeatedly broke the rails <br />and the show sort of <br />fizzled out. <br />
  24. 24. And of the hundreds of people who turned up, not a single one of them <br />would offer him any money to build more.<br />That was the last straw for Mr Trevithick, who gave up building railway engines once and for all and went off to South America to try his hand at other things.<br />
  25. 25. But sometimes the true value of a venture does not shine through until much later. <br />A lot of people now knew what a railway engine could do, and some of them were inspired to go off and make their own. <br />
  26. 26. But sometimes the true value of a venture does not shine through until much later. <br />A lot of people now knew what a railway engine could do, and some of them were inspired to go off and make their own. <br />Just 4 years later these people built and sold these railway engines, and went to build <br />even more.<br />He had been that close. <br />
  27. 27. End<br />dtcoulson@gmail.com<br />

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