Monday, January 16, 2017

Tom Thumb steam engine vs a horse

Did Peter Cooper's steam locomotive "Tom Thumb" race a horse drawn train car, as told by John Latrobe years later?  He said Cooper's new steam engine was winning until "the band which drove the pulley, which drove the blower, slipped from the drum."  The daughter of one of the B&O directors, was on that "trial trip" and often related how Mr. Jenifer's horse on the turnpike won due to the "slipping of a belt on the engine." She also remembered how their "clothes and umbrellas were ruined by sparks thrown from the smokestack."  So, maybe it did happen...or not.

JHB Latrobe lecture at Maryland Institute in 1868 -
To meet the difficulty growing out of the construction of the railroads in America, Mr. Peter Cooper of New York came forward and built an engine to demonstrate his contention that steam could be used upon American railroads around curves. His engine was not a very magnificent affair. The boiler was as large as the ordinary boiler in our kitchen, and the entire weight was a ton. After experimenting with the engine, his success was such that Mr. Cooper proposed a trial trip from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills, and so in the summer of 1830 the first trial trip in the United States was made by a steam engine pulling a passenger car. The speed at times was as high as eighteen miles an hour. Memorandum books were pulled out when at this highest speed. The occupants of the car wrote their names to prove that at this great velocity it was possible to do so. There was, however, a fly in the ointment. The triumph of the engine was not without a drawback. 

There were parallel tracks laid from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills, and at the Relay House, upon the return trip, Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb Engine was challenged to a race. On the track alongside a gallant gray had been hitched to a wicker car, and the race between horse and steam was on. The horse's steam developed more rapidly than the engine's, and he started ahead. The horse was a quarter of a mile ahead when the safety valve on the engine lifted, and the vapor issuing from it showed an excess of steam. The pace increased, the passengers shouted. The engine gained upon the horse, soon it lapped him, the whip was applied. The race was neck and neck, nose and nose. The engine passed the horse and a great "hurrah" heralded the victory. 

Just then, when the gray's master was about to give up, the band which drove the pulley, which drove the blower, slipped from the drum, the safety valve ceased to scream, and the engine for want of breath began to wheeze and pant. In vain Mr. Cooper, who was his own engineer and fireman, lacerated his hands in attempting to replace the band on the wheel. The horse gained on the machine and passed it, and, although the band was presently replaced, the horse was too far ahead to be overtaken and came in the winner of the race.  [Semmes]


Peter Cooper - 
"It is now about fifty-five years since I was drawn into a [land] speculation in Baltimore. [land, that] the new Baltimore and Ohio railroad was going to run through…I found that my speculation was a loss unless I could make the road a 'go.'

"So I came back to New York and got a little bit of an engine, about one horse-power (it had a three and a half inch cylinder, and fourteen inch stroke), and carried it back to Baltimore. I got some boiler iron and made a boiler, about as big as an ordinary wash-boiler, and then how to connect the boiler with the engine I didn't know."…But I couldn't find any iron pipes. The fact is that there were none for sale in this country. So I took two muskets and broke off the wood part, and used the barrels for tubing to the boiler, laying one on one side and the other on the other.

I went into a coach-maker's shop and made this locomotive, which I called the 'Tom Thumb,' because it was so insignificant.  I didn't intend it for actual service, but only to show the directors what could be done. I meant to show two things: first, that short turns [sharp curves in the rails] could be made; and, secondly, that I could get rotary motion without the use of a crank. I effected both of these things very nicely. I changed the movement from a reciprocating to a rotary motion.

I got steam up one Saturday night; the president of the road and two or three gentlemen were standing by, and we got on the truck and went out two or three miles. All were very much delighted, for it opened new possibilities for the road. I put the locomotive up for the night in a shed. All were invited to a ride Monday — a ride to Ellicott's Mills. Monday morning, what was my grief and chagrin to find that some scamp had been there, and chopped off all the copper from the engine and carried it away — doubtless to sell to some junk dealer. The copper pipes that conveyed the steam to the piston were gone. It took me a week or more to repair it.

Then (on Monday it was) we started — six [people] on the engine and thirty-six [passengers] on the car. It was a great occasion, but it didn't seem so important then as it does now. We went up an average grade of eighteen feet to the mile, and made the passage (thirteen miles) to Ellicott's Mills in an hour and twelve minutes.
"We came back in fifty-seven minutes. Ross Winans, the president of the road, and the editor of the 'Baltimore Gazette,' made an estimate of the passengers carried and the coal and water used, and reported that we did better than any English road did for four years after that. The result of that experiment was that the bonds of the road were sold at once, and the road was a success."
Mary (Smith) Lea -
You have frequently heard your mother's friend, Mrs. Lea, [Mary R. (Smith) Duncan Lea] whose father, Dennis Smith, was one of the first directors of the Baltimore & Ohio, tell in her inimitable way of their experience with a 

party which was taken to “Ellicott's Mills” and back behind the engine on its trial trip; how their clothes and umbrellas were ruined by sparks thrown from the smokestack, they being seated in an open observation car, and how on the return trip when nearing Baltimore they overtook 

Mr. Jenifer driving a fine horse on the turnpike alongside of the railroad; how he, Mr. Jenifer, challenged them to a race into town, a race which he won owing to the slipping of a belt on the engine."   [Reminiscences]

Randolph B. Latimer (1821-1903) began working at age 15 in the B & O Railroad engineering department, then started a store Randolph & Latimer and flour commission. In 1856 he married Mary Elizabeth Wormeley Latimer (1822-1904) who wrote historical novels and magazine articles.

Mrs. Lea was not married into the Sandy Spring Leas (Elizabeth Ellicott Lea), but to a Louisiana Judge James Neilson Lea (1815-1884). They retired to Virginia in 1874.  Mary R. (Smith) Duncan Lea's first husband was Lucius Campbell Duncan (1801-1855) of New Orleans. Her father, wealthy Baltimore banker Dennis Smith, Sr. (1768-1859) built his country seat "Calverton" mansion with 300 acres in 1815, sold about five years later.

Sources -
Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States from the Earliest Discovery of American to the Present Day, vol.3.  NY: 1895    Image of 'race'
Kennedy, William Sloane. Wonders and Curiosities of the Railway.  1884  
"Reminiscences of early days in American engineering; recollections of the late Randolph Brandt Latimer"  Engineering News.  NY: July 23, 1908
Scribners 1888
Semmes, John.  John H. B. Latrobe and his Times, 1803-1891.  1917

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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