The Railroad played an important part in American culture ever since it was introduced long before the steam engine. It may come as a surprise to some that railroads existed long before the Iron Horse was introduced.
Of course the width of the rail was based on the width of the Roman Chariot (normal gauge) and the first ‘coaches’ were altered stage coach bodies. Many of the old terms like Iron Horse were replacements for the original source of power, the Horse. Horsepower and all of that, although there is a difference between ‘Locomotive’ and ‘Braking’ Horsepower, but I won’t get into that.
The first steam powered locomotive built in America was the ‘Tom Thumb’, a diminutive engine built by Peter Cooper, yes that Peter Cooper! Workers on the railroad said that the engines couldn’t make the sharp turns on the logging rails. The first engines were not articulated, but this one was small enough to manage the tight curves.
Initially fueled by cord-wood, rails on wooden ties, wooden bodied railroad cars, bridges, trestles, lumbering and woodworking played a significant role in Western Expansion brought on by the technological advancements of the early nineteenth century. Wood made the locks, the canal boats are constructed of wood as were the steamboats, all relied on wood.
But then there was the early Canal trade brought on by this countries interest in getting low friction methods of transportation. Flat boats could float down river and flat canals could be traversed in both directions. Up river traffic is another story. The canals in early times were built on relative flat terrain to reduce the number of locks to adjust to different water levels.
Canals in the East were different that those made out here in the Wild West. Out here our canals were mainly used for irrigation. Brigham Young introduced irrigation to the West and it was one of his greatest contributions, among others. These canals were also used to float large blocks of Granite to build the Mormon Temple, and ox carts and later a narrow gauge railroad that went to a regular railroad line, that delivered almost all of the granite blocks to Temple Square.
The tonnage of material that was moved around this country was astounding, if they needed to move something, they needed to find the easiest way to get the job done. Put it in a barrel and roll it on to the conveyance and it is bound or its destination. Markings, labels, brands, stencils, stamps and other items of lading signified both the maker, user and sometimes shipper. Shipping one ton of merchandise from
St. Louis or San Francisco to Great Salt Lake City in the 1850’s was $250.00 a ton or one bit or 12 and a half cents a pound for freight. The price went down after the Railroad finished up.
But with the introduction of the steam engine for water borne transportation greatly reduced the voyage from Europe to America. The side wheel, stern wheel and newly introduced turn screw cut down travel time. Instead of weeks at sea the voyage was cut to days.
One of the problems with steam boats is that they incorporated high pressure boilers, highly inefficient but very high power. At these high temperatures, high pressure and proximity to water, of all of the 800 odd steamboats that plied the rivers of North America in the nineteenth century, all of them blow up, burned or sank.
A bit latter technology was to equip the tenders with a scoop on the underside. Certain ‘watering stops’ were replaced with a long metal lined trough set up between the rails. As the train approached it lowered the scoop and the forward momentum caused the tender to fill with water. At the end of the trough the scoop was closed and the train didn’t need to stop for water hence the term ‘jerk-water town’.
On May 10, 1869 the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad met at Promontory Point in Utah to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. (The Transcontinental Telegraph was completed in October of 1861 in Utah and The Transcontinental Telephone was hooked up on the Utah and Nevada Border in 1914). And I think we were one of the first hookups to the Internet.
All these advancements in transportation brought shipping costs down dramatically in the areas they served. This contributed to the expansion of the country and its economic and social development. Lower costs of imported goods left more ‘cash’ to stay within the communities.