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upon that line to get their supply of water, and were thus cut off by
the train conveying the Duke, from returning direct to Manchester.

There were not yet at this early period of railway history any sidings
to allow of a passage, or any crossing to enable the engines to get
upon the other line of rails. Under these circumstances the drivers
took the shortest course open to them. Having taken in their water,
they pushed on as fast as they could to a crossing at a short distance
from Liverpool. They backed into the other line of rail, and thus
returned to Manchester to pick up their trains.

In the meantime the vague rumour of some great disaster had reached
Liverpool. Thousands of persons, many of whom had friends and relatives
in the excursion trains, were congregated on the bridges and at the
railway station, anxious to learn news of their friends and relatives.

About five o’clock in the evening they perceived at a distance
half-a-dozen engines without any carriages, rushing furiously towards
them—suddenly checking their speed—then backing into the other line of
rail—again flying away towards Manchester, without giving any signs
or explanation of the mystery in which many of them were so deeply
interested. {316}

It is difficult to estimate the amount of anxiety and misery which
was thus unwillingly but inevitably caused amongst all those who had
friends, connections, or relatives in the missing trains.

When these engines returned to Manchester, our trains were
unfortunately connected together, and three engines were attached to
the front of each group of three trains.

This arrangement considerably diminished their joint power of traction.
But another source of delay arose: the couplings which were strong
enough when connecting an engine and its train were not sufficiently
strong when three engines were coupled together. The consequence was
that there were frequent fractures of our couplings and thus great
delays arose.

About half-past eight in the evening I reached the great building in
which we were to have dined. Its tables were half filled with separate
groups of three or four people each, who being strangers in Liverpool,
had no other resource than to use it as a kind of coffee-room in which
to get a hasty meal, and retire.

〈PLATE-GLASS MANUFACTORY.〉

The next morning I went over to see the plate-glass manufactory at
about ten miles from Liverpool.

On my arrival I found, to my great disappointment, that there were
orders that nobody should be admitted on that day, as the Duke of
Wellington and a large party were coming over from Lord Wilton’s. This
was the only day at my disposal, and it wanted nearly an hour to the
time appointed: so I asked to be permitted to see the works, promising
to retire as soon as the Earl of Wilton’s party arrived. I added
incidentally that I was not entirely unknown to the Duke of Wellington.

On the arrival of the party I quietly made my retreat {317}
unobserved, and had just entered the carriage which had conveyed me
from Liverpool, when a messenger arrived with the Duke’s compliments,
hoping that I would join his party. I willingly accepted the
invitation; the Duke presented me to each of his friends, and I had
the advantage of having another survey of the works. This was my first
acquaintance with the late Lady Wilton, who afterwards called on me
with the Duke of Wellington, and put that sagacious question relative
to the Difference Engine which I have mentioned in another part of this
volume. Amongst the party were Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot, with the former
of whom I afterwards had several interesting discussions relative to
subjects connected with the ninth “Bridgewater Treatise.”

A few days after, I met at dinner a large party at the house of one of
the great Liverpool merchants. Amongst them were several officers of
the new railway, and almost all the party were more or less interested
in its success.

In these circumstances the conversation very naturally turned upon
the new mode of locomotion. Its various difficulties and dangers were
suggested and discussed. Amongst others, it was observed that obstacles
might be placed upon the rail, either accidentally or by design, which
might produce expensive and fatal effects.

〈ON PREVENTING RAILWAY ACCIDENTS.〉

To prevent the occurrence of these evils, I suggested two remedies.

1st. That every engine should have just in advance of each of its front
wheels a powerful framing, supporting a strong piece of plate-iron,
descending within an inch or two of the upper face of the rail. These
iron plates should be fixed at an angle of 45° with the line of rail,
and also at the same angle with respect to the horizon. Their shape
would be something like that of ploughshares, and their effect would
{318} be to pitch any obstacle obliquely off the rail unless its
heavier portion were between the rails.

Some time after, a strong vertical bar of iron was placed in front of
the wheels of every engine. The objection to this is, that it has a
tendency to throw the obstacle straight forward upon another part of
the rail.

2nd. The second suggestion I made, was to place in front of each engine
a strong leather apron attached to a powerful iron bar, projecting five
or six feet in front of the engine and about a foot above the ballast.
The effect of this would be, that any animal straying over the railway
would be pitched into this apron, probably having its legs broken, but
forming no impediment to the progress of the train.

〈VARIOUS PLANS PROPOSED.〉

I have been informed that this contrivance has been adopted in America,
where the railroads, being unenclosed, are subject to frequent
obstruction from cattle. If used on enclosed roads, it still might
occasionally save the lives of incautious persons, although possibly at
the expense of broken limbs.

Another question discussed at this party was, whether, if an engine
went off the rail, it would be possible to separate it from the train
before it had dragged the latter after it. I took out my pencil and
sketched upon a card a simple method of accomplishing that object. It
passed round the table, and one of the party suggested that I should
communicate the plan to the Directors of the railway.

My answer was, that having a great wish to diminish the dangers of this
new mode of travelling, I declined making any such communication to
them; for, I added, unless these Directors are quite unlike all of whom
I have had any experience, I can foresee the inevitable result of such
a communication. {319}

It might take me some time and trouble to consider the best way of
carrying out the principle and to make the necessary drawings. Some
time after I have placed these in the hands of the Company, I shall
receive a very pretty letter from the secretary, thanking me in the
most flattering terms for the highly ingenious plan I have placed in
their hands, but regretting that their engineer finds certain practical
difficulties in the way.

Now, if the same Company had taken the advice of some eminent engineer,
to whom they would have to pay a large fee, no practical difficulties
would ever be found to prevent its trial.

It was evident from the remarks of several of the party that I had
pointed out the most probable result of any such communication.

It is possible that some report of this plan subsequently reached the
Directors; for about six months after, I received from an officer of
the railway Company a letter, asking my assistance upon this identical
point. I sent them my sketch and all the information I had subsequently
acquired on the subject. I received the stereotype reply I had
anticipated, couched in the most courteous language; in short, quite a
model letter for a young secretary to study.

〈REASONS WHY REJECTED.〉

Several better contrivances than mine were subsequently proposed; but
experience seems to show that the whole train ought to be connected
together as firmly as possible.

Not long after my return from Liverpool I found myself seated at dinner
next to an elderly gentleman, an eminent London banker. The new system
of railroads, of course, was the ordinary topic of conversation. Much
had been said in its favour, but my neighbour did not appear to concur
with the majority. At last I had an opportunity of asking his {320}
opinion. “Ah,” said the banker, “I don’t approve of this new mode of
travelling. It will enable our clerks to plunder us, and then be off
to Liverpool on their way to America at the rate of _twenty_ miles an
hour.” I suggested that science might perhaps remedy this evil, and
that possibly we might send lightning to outstrip the culprit’s arrival
at Liverpool, and thus render the railroad a sure means of arresting
the thief. I had at the time I uttered those words no idea how soon
they would be realized.

〈THE AUTHOR’S EXPERIMENTS ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY.〉

In 1838 and 1839 a discussion of considerable public importance had
arisen respecting the Great Western Railway. Having an interest in that
undertaking, it was the wish of Mr. Brunel and the Directors that I
should state my own opinion upon the question. I felt that I could not
speak with confidence without making certain experiments. The Directors
therefore lent me steam-power, and a second-class carriage to fit
up with machinery of my own contrivance, and appointed one of their
officers to accompany me, through whom I might give such directions as
I deemed necessary during my experiments.

I removed the whole of the internal parts of the carriage. Through
its bottom firm supports, fixed upon the framework below, passed up
into the body of the carriage, and supported a long table entirely
independent of its motions.

On this table slowly rolled sheets of paper, each a thousand feet long.
Several inking pens traced curves on this paper, which expressed the
following measures:—

1. Force of traction.

2. Vertical shake of carriage at its middle.

3. Lateral ditto.

4. End ditto.

5, 6, and 7. The same shakes at the end of the carriage. {321}

8. The curve described upon the earth by the centre of the frame of
the carriage.

9. A chronometer marked half seconds on the paper.

Above two miles of paper were thus covered. These experiments cost me
about 300 _l._, and took up my own time, and that of all the people I
was then employing, during five months.

I had previously travelled over most of the railways then existing in
this country, in order to make notes of such facts as I could observe
during my journeys.

The result of my experiments convinced me that the broad gauge was most
convenient and safest for the public. It also enabled me fearlessly to
assert that an immense array of experiments which were exhibited round
the walls of the meeting-room by those who opposed the Directors were
made with an instrument which could not possibly measure the quantities
proposed, and that the whole of them were worthless for the present
argument. The production of the work of such an instrument could not
fail to damage even a good cause.

On the discussion at the general meeting at the London Tavern, I made a
statement of my own views, which was admitted at the time to have had
considerable influence on the decision of the proprietors. Many years
after I met a gentleman who told me he and a few other proprietors
holding several thousand proxies came up from Liverpool intending to
vote according to the weight of the arguments adduced. He informed
me that he and all his friends decided their votes on hearing my
statement. He then added, “But for that speech, the broad gauge would
not now exist in England.”

〈THE PHILOSOPHER’S ADVENTURES AND ESCAPES BY RAIL.〉

These experiments were not unaccompanied with danger. {322} I
sometimes attached my carriage to a public train to convey me to the
point where my experiments commenced, and I had frequently to interrupt
their course, in order to run on to a siding to avoid a coming train.

I then asked to be allowed to make such experiments during the night
when there were no trains; but Brunel told me it was too dangerous to
be permitted, and that ballast-waggons, and others, carrying machinery
and materials for the construction and completion of the railroad
itself, were continually traversing various parts of the line at
uncertain hours.

The soundness of this advice became evident a very short time after it
was given. On arriving one morning at the terminus, the engine which
had been promised for my experimental train was not ready, but another
was provided instead. On further inquiry, I found that the “North
Star,” the finest engine the Company then possessed, had been placed
at the end of the great polygonal building devoted to engines, in
order that it might be ready for my service in the morning; but that,
during the night, a train of twenty-five empty ballast-waggons, each
containing two men, driven by an engine, both the driver and stoker
of which were asleep, had passed right through the engine-house and
damaged the “North Star.”

Most fortunately, no accident happened to the men beyond a severe
shaking. It ought, however, in extenuation of such neglect, to be
observed that engine-drivers were at that period so few, and so
thoroughly overworked, that such an occurrence was not surprising.

It then occurred to me, that being engaged on a work which was anything
but profitable to myself, but which contributed to the safety of all
travellers, I might, without {323} impropriety, avail myself of the
repose of Sunday for advancing my measures. I therefore desired Brunel
to ask for the Directors’ permission. The next time I saw Brunel, he
told me the Directors did not like to give an official permission,
but it was remarked that having put one of their own officers under
my orders, I had already the power of travelling on whatever day I
preferred.

I accordingly availed myself of the day on which, at that time,
scarcely a single train or engine would be in motion upon it.

Upon one of these Sundays, which were, in fact, the only really
safe days, I had proposed to investigate the effect of considerable
additional weight. With this object, I had ordered three waggons laden
with thirty tons of iron to be attached to my experimental carriage.

On my arrival at the terminus a few minutes before the time appointed,
my aide-de-camp informed me that we were to travel on the north line.
As this was an invasion of the usual regulations, I inquired very
minutely into the authority on which it rested. Being satisfied on this
point, I desired him to order my train out immediately. He returned
shortly with the news that the fireman had neglected his duty, but that
the engine would be ready in less than a quarter of an hour.

A messenger arrived soon after to inform me that the obstructions had
been removed, and that I could now pass upon the south, which was the
proper line.

I was looking at the departure of the only Sunday train, and conversing
with the officer, who took much pains to assure me that there was no
danger on whichever line we might travel; because, he observed, when
that train had departed, there can be no engine except our own on
either line until five o’clock in the evening. {324}

Whilst we were conversing together, my ear, which had become peculiarly
sensitive to the distant sound of an engine, told me that one was
approaching. I mentioned it to my railway official: he did not hear
it, and said, “Sir, it is impossible.”—“Whether it is possible or
impossible,” I said, “an engine _is_ coming, and in a few minutes we
shall see its steam.” The sound soon became evident to both, and our
eyes were anxiously directed to the expected quarter. The white cloud
of steam now faintly appeared in the distance; I soon perceived the
line it occupied, and then turned to watch my companion’s countenance.
In a few moments more I saw it slightly change, and he said, “It _is_,
indeed, on the north line.”

Knowing that it would stop at the engine-house, I ran as fast I could
to that spot. I found a single engine, from which Brunel, covered with
smoke and blacks, had just descended. We shook hands, and I inquired
what brought my friend here in such a plight. Brunel told me that he
had posted from Bristol, to meet the only train at the furthest point
of the rail then open, but had missed it. Fortunately, he said, “I
found this engine with its fire up, so I ordered it out, and have
driven it the whole way up at the rate of fifty miles an hour.”

〈ESCAPES MEETING BRUNEL.〉

I then told him that but for the merest accident I should have met him
on the _same_ line at the rate of forty miles, and that I had attached
to my engine my experimental carriage, and three waggons with thirty
tons of iron. I then inquired what course he would have pursued if he
had perceived another engine meeting him upon his own line.

Brunel said, in such a case he should have put on all the steam he
could command, with a view of driving off the opposite engine by the
superior velocity of his own. {325}

If the concussion had occurred, the probability is, that Brunel’s
engine would have been knocked off the rail by the superior momentum
of my train, and that my experimental carriage would have been buried
under the iron contained in the waggons behind.

These rates of travelling were then unusual, but have now become
common. The greatest speed which I have personally witnessed, occurred
on the return of a train from Bristol, on the occasion of the floating
of the “Great Britain.” I was in a compartment, in conversation with
three eminent engineers, when one of them remarked the unusual speed of
the train: my neighbour on my left took out his watch, and noted the
time of passage of the distance posts, whence it appeared that we were
then travelling at the rate of seventy-eight miles an hour. The train
was evidently on an incline, and we did not long sustain that dangerous
velocity.

One very cold day I found Dr. Lardner making experiments on the Great
Western Railway. He was drawing a series of trucks with an engine
travelling at known velocities. At certain intervals, a truck was
detached from his train. The time occupied by this truck before it
came to rest was the object to be noted. As Dr. Lardner was short of
assistants, I and my son offered to get into one of his trucks and note
for him the time of coming to rest.

〈SAILS ACROSS HANWELL VIADUCT.〉

Our truck having been detached, it came to rest, and I had noted the
time. After waiting a few minutes, I thought I perceived a slight
motion, which continued, though slowly. It then occurred to me that
this must arise from the effect of the wind, which was blowing
strongly. On my way to the station, feeling very cold, I had purchased
three yards of coarse blue woollen cloth, which I wound round my
person. This I now unwound; we held it up as a sail, and gradually
acquiring {326} greater velocity, finally reached and sailed across
the whole of the Hanwell viaduct at a very fair pace.

〈THE BATTLE OF THE GAUGES.〉

The question of the best gauge for a system of railways is yet
undecided. The present gauge of 4·8½ was the result of the accident
that certain tram-roads adjacent to mines were of that width. When the
wide gauge of the Great Western was suggested and carried out, there
arose violent party movements for and against it. At the meeting of
the British Association at Newcastle, in 1838, there were two sources
of anxiety to the Council—the discussion of the question of Steam
Navigation to America, and what was called “The battles of the Gauges.”
Both these questions bore very strongly upon pecuniary interests, and
were expected to be fiercely contested.

On the Council of the British Association, of course, the duty of
nominating the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of its various sections
devolves. During the period in which I took an active part in that
body, it was always a principle, of which I was ever the warm advocate,
that we should select those officers from amongst the persons most
distinguished for their eminence in their respective subjects, who were
born in or connected with the district we visited.

In pursuance of this principle, I was deputed by the Council to invite
Mr. George Stephenson to become the President of the Mechanical
Section. In case he should decline it, I was then empowered to offer
it to Mr. Buddle, the eminent coal-viewer; and in case of these both
declining, I was to propose it to the late Mr. Bryan Donkin, of London,
a native of that district, and connected with it by family ties.

〈BRITISH ASSOCIATION AT NEWCASTLE.〉

On my arrival at Newcastle, I immediately called on George Stephenson,
and represented to him the unanimous wish of the Council of the
British Association. To my great {327} surprise, and to my still
greater regret, I found that he at once declined the offer. All my
powers of persuasion were exercised in vain. Knowing that the two
great controverted questions to be discussed most probably formed the
real obstacle, I mentioned them, and added that, as I should be one
of his Vice-Presidents, I would, if he wished it, take the Chair upon
either or upon both the discussions of the Gauges and of the Atlantic
Steam Voyage, or upon any other occasion that might be agreeable or
convenient to himself: I found him immoveable in his decision. I made
another attempt the next day, and renewed the expression of my own
strong feeling, that we should pay respect and honour to the most
distinguished men of the district we visited. I then told him the
course I was instructed by the Council to pursue.

My next step was to apply to Mr. Buddle. I need not repeat the
arguments I employed: I was equally unsuccessful with each of the
eminent men the Council had wished to honour. I therefore now went
back to George Stephenson, told him of the failure of my efforts, and
asked him, if he still persisted in declining the Chair, would he do
me the favour to be one of the Vice-Presidents, as the Council had now
no resource but to place me in the Chair, which I had hoped would have
been occupied by a more competent person.

To this latter application he kindly acceded; and I felt that, with
the assistance of George Stephenson’s and Mr. Donkin’s professional
knowledge, and their presence by my side, I should be able to keep
order in these dreaded discussions.

The day before the great discussion upon Atlantic Steam Navigation,
I had a short conversation with Dr. Lardner: I told him that in my
opinion some of his views were hasty; {328} but that much stronger
opinions had been assigned to him than those he had really expressed,
and I recommended him to admit as much as he fairly could.

〈RAILWAY DISCUSSION.〉

At the appointed hour the room was filled with an expectant and rather
angry audience. Dr. Lardner’s beautiful apparatus for illustrating his
views was before them, and the Doctor commenced his statement. He was
listened to with the greatest attention, and was really most judicious
as well as very instructive. At the very moment which seemed to me the
most favourable for it, he turned to the explanation of the instruments
he proposed to employ, and having concluded his statement, it became my
duty to invite discussion upon the question.

I did so in very few words, merely observing that several opinions had
been attributed to Dr. Lardner which he had never maintained, and that
additional information had induced him candidly to admit that some of
those doctrines which he had supported were erroneous. I added, that
nothing was more injurious to the progress of truth than to reproach
any man who honestly admitted that he had been in error.

The discussion then commenced: it was continued with considerable
energy, but with great temper; and after a long and instructive debate
the assembled multitude separated. Some few who attended in expectation
of a scene were sorely disappointed. As I was passing out, one of my
acquaintance remarked, “You have saved that —— —— Lardner:” to which I
replied, “I have saved the British Association from a scandal.”

Before I terminate this Chapter on Railways, it will perhaps be
expected by some of my readers that I should point out such measures
as occur to me for rendering this universal system more safe. Since
the long series of experiments I {329} made in 1839, I have had
no experience either official or professional upon the subject. My



Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 23 of 36)