"In the beginning, no one dreamed of steam upon the road. Horses were to do the work; and even after the line was completed to Frederick, relays of horses trotted the cars from place to place. In this, the Relay House, at the junction of the Washington branch, obtained its name. One great desideratum was to reduce the friction of the axles in their boxes, and about this time Mr. Ross Winans made his appearance in Baltimore, and instantly became a celebrity, with his friction wheel, unquestionably an ingenious and beautiful contrivance.
"The town went wild with 'the Winans friction wheel,' and the speaker [JHB Latrobe] remembers well, as though it were but yesterday, seeing Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, who was the great man on all great occasions in Baltimore, seated on a little car in one of the upper rooms of the Exchange, and being drawn by a ridiculously small weight attached to a string passed over a pulley and dropping into the hall below. Around him were all the prominent men in Baltimore, and all were as much pleased as children with a new toy. In fact, there was a verdant freshness about railroad things in those days that it is wonderful to recollect.
And yet the Company, stumbling along, with many a fall and many a bruise, made headway notwithstanding, and gave to the Companies fast multiplying in all directions the benefit of its experience. Nothing was more sought after by engineers than the Company's reports. With a great deal now useless there was mixed a great deal of scientific and mathematical information. Accurate tables for the location of curves, for estimating quantities, for regulating grades, were to be found there. The Company's very errors imparted lessons of wisdom. What now seems simple was then abstruse, and it was only natural that the managers of new works should resort to the first railroad which had arrived at practical results in the United States, for information.
"When steam made its appearance on the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad it attracted great attention here. But there was this difficulty about introducing an English engine on an American road. An English road was virtually a straight road. An American road had curves sometimes of as small radius as two hundred feet. There was not capital enough in the United States applicable to railroad purposes, to justify engineers in setting nature at defiance. If a tunnel through a spur could be saved by a road around it, the tunnel was postponed and the circuitous route adopted, although the distance was increased in consequence; so, if embankments could be saved by heading valleys, in place of crossing them. This led to sharp curves here, where they would have been straight lines in England. No better illustration of this is to be seen than near the Relay House, or Washington Junction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, where the curve, as the road turned into the gorge of the Patapsco, was originally located with less than three hundred feet radius, to avoid the necessity of the cut, that has since been made through the rocky, northern jaw of the gorge. A tunnel is now cut at the Point of Rocks, through the hard intractable material which is there met with, in a spur of the Catoctin mountain, which, in the first instance, the road was located to avoid. For a brief season it was believed that this feature of the early American roads would prevent the use of locomotive engines.
Lives and Works of Civil and Military Engineers of America by Charles Beebe Stuart NY: 1871
About the time that the [B & O] company was chartered, Ross Winans, a New Jersey farmer, who had a remarkable genius for mechanical invention, removed to Baltimore, and turned his attention to the building of steam-engines. The experiments in the construction of railroad machinery which the company instituted gave Mr. Winans a wide field for the exercise of his inventive faculties. To him the railroad world is indebted for a series of improvements in the construction of the locomotive without which it might have long remained a sort of blind giant, incapable of moving except upon a straight track. The Winans journals, friction-wheels, coal-burning grates, and four- wheel trucks lifted forward the railway art at least ten years. His famous camel-back engines were in their day the most powerful motors in the world, and although none have been built since 1861, the Baltimore and Ohio Company still has a large number of them in daily use.
The power of Mr. Cooper‘s “working model" was little if any over the power of one horse…the bearings on the extremity outside the nave; the rear wheels are on Ross Winans‘ patent principle, with friction-wheels which permit the carriage to adjust its motion to the curves of the road. …
The first locomotives and cars used on the Baltimore and Ohio road had wheels with flanges on the outside, and for a while it was supposed that if the flanges were put inside it would be difficult to keep the car on the track. Jonathan Knight, the chief engineer of the company, was at first of this opinion, but alter the track had been laid to Ellicott’s Mills with the iron strap on the outer edge of the wooden rails, and this section of the road had been in actual operation for four or five months, he came to a different conclusion. About this time Mr. Knight demonstrated by an intricate and laborious mathematical calculation that a pair of car-wheels should be equal sections of a cone, with the larger diameters turned inward and facing each other. He proved by scientific demonstration that wheels of this form would be less likely to leave the track than if they were parallel sections of a cylinder. Every time a drayman rolls a flour-barrel down a pair of skids he illustrates the principle which Mr. Knight applied to the construction of car-wheels. The two cones are constantly adjusting themselves to the curvature of the track and keeping the axle approximately at right angles to the rails. In rounding curves on wheel is crowded over against the outer rail, and by revolving on its larger diameter overcomes the increased distance; while the other wheel, being pulled away from the inside rail, revolves on its smaller diameter, and having a less distance to travel, both wheels move in lines approximately parallel with the track. …
History of Baltimore City and County by John Thomas Scharf. 1881
©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD