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The Story Book of Science by  Jean Henri Fabre

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CHAPTER XLIX

THE LOCOMOTIVE

[221]

U
NCLE PAUL showed his nephews the following picture, and explained it to them.

"This picture represents a locomotive. The boiler where the steam is generated, the boiling pot, in short, forms the greater part of it.
[Illustration]
  An old-time Locomotive  
It is the large cylinder that goes from one end to the other, borne on six wheels. It is built of solid iron plates, perfectly joined together with large rivets. In front the boiler terminates in a smoke-stack; behind, in a furnace, the door of which is represented as open. A man, called a stoker, is constantly occupied in filling the furnace with pit-coal, which he throws in by the shovelful; for he must keep up a very hot fire to heat the volume of water contained in the boiler and obtain steam in sufficient quantity. With an iron bar he pokes the fire, arranges it, makes it burn fast. That is not all: skilful arrangements are made to utilize the heat and warm the water quickly. From the end of the furnace start numerous copper pipes which traverse the water from one end to the other of the boiler, and terminate at the smoke-stack. You will see some in B where the picture [222] supposes a part of the casing taken away to show the interior. The flame of the furnace runs through these pipes, themselves surrounded by water. By this means the fire is made to circulate through the very midst of the water, and so steam is obtained very quickly.


[Illustration]

A modern Locomotive

"Now look at the front of the locomotive. In A is seen a short cylinder closed tightly, but represented in the picture with a part of the outside removed to show what is within. There are two of these cylinders, one on the right, the other on the left of the locomotive. Inside the cylinder is an iron stopper called a piston. The steam from the boilers enters the cylinder alternately in front of and behind the piston. When the steam comes in front, what is behind escapes freely into the air by an orifice that opens of itself at the right moment. This escaping steam ceases to press on the piston, since it finds its prison open and that it can get out. We do not try to force doors when other outlets are open. So does steam act: the instant it can escape freely, it ceases to push. The entering steam, on the contrary, finds itself imprisoned. It pushes the piston, therefore, with all its strength and drives it to the other end of the cylinder. But then the rôles immediately change. The steam that hitherto has [223] been pushing, escapes into the air and ceases to act, while on the other side a jet of steam rushes in from the boiler and begins to push in the contrary direction."

"Let me repeat it," said Jules, "to see if I have understood it properly. Steam comes from the boiler, where it forms unceasingly. It goes into the cylinder before and behind the piston by turns. When it gets in front, that behind escapes into the air and no longer pushes; when it gets behind, that in front escapes. The piston, pushed first one way, then the other, alternately, must advance and retreat, go and come, in the cylinder. And then?"

"The piston is in the form of a solid iron rod that enters the cylinder through a hole pierced in the middle of one of the ends, and just large enough to give free passage to the rod, without letting the steam escape. This rod is bound to another iron piece called a crank, and finally the crank is attached to the neighboring wheel. In the picture all these things can be easily seen. The piston, advancing and retreating in turn in the cylinder, pushes the crank forward and back, and the crank thus makes the great wheel turn. On the other side of the locomotive the same things are taking place by means of a second cylinder. Then the two great wheels turn at the same time and the locomotive moves forward."

"It isn't so hard as I thought," Jules remarked. "Steam pushes the piston, the piston pushes the crank, the crank pushes the wheel, and the engine moves."

[224] "After acting on the piston, the steam enters the same chimney that the smoke comes out of. So you can see this smoke-stack sometimes throwing out white puffs, sometimes black. These latter are smoke coming from the furnace through the tubes that go through the water; the others come from the steam thrown out of the cylinders after each stroke of the piston. These white puffs, in rushing violently from the cylinder to the smoke-stack after acting on the piston, make the noise of the engine as it moves."

"I know: pouf! pouf! pouf!"  exclaimed Emile.

"The locomotive carries with it a supply of coal to feed the fire, and a supply of water to renew the contents of the boiler as fast as evaporation may require. These supplies are carried in the tender; that is to say, in the vehicle that comes immediately behind the locomotive. On the tender are the stoker, who tends the furnace, and the engineer, who controls the passage of the steam into the cylinders."

"The man in the picture is the engineer?" Emile asked.

"He is the engineer. He holds his hand on the throttle, which allows the steam from the boiler to enter the cylinders in greater or less quantity, according to the speed he wishes to obtain. By one movement of the throttle, the steam is cut off from the cylinders and the engine stops; by another movement the steam is admitted and the locomotive moves, slowly or rapidly at will.

"The power of a locomotive is no doubt consid- [225] erable; however, if it is able to draw with great speed a long train of cars, all heavily loaded, this is due, above all, to the preparation of the road on which it runs. Strong bars of iron, called rails, are fixed solidly on the road, all along its length, in two parallel lines, on which all the wheels of the train roll without ever running off. A light flange with which the wheels are furnished keeps the train from slipping off the rails.

"The iron road not having the inconveniences of other roads, that is to say the ruts, pebbles, and inequalities that impede the progress of carriages and cause the waste of much energy, the whole traction of the locomotive is utilized, and the results obtained are wonderful. A passenger engine draws at a rate of twelve leagues an hour a train weighing as much as 150,000 kilograms. A freight engine pulls at about seven leagues an hour a total weight of 650,000 kilograms. More than 1300 horses would be necessary to replace the first locomotive, and more than 2000 to replace the second, if they were employed to transport similar loads with the same velocity and to the same distances by the aid of cars running on rails. What an army of horses it would require with wagons running on ordinary roads having all the inequalities that cause such a great loss of energy!

"And now, my little friends, think of the thousands of locomotives running daily in all parts of the world, annihilating distances, as it were, and bringing the most distant nations together; think what a vast number of machines of all kinds, moved [226] by steam, are ceaselessly working for man; think how the engine that makes a warship move, sometimes represents in itself the united strength of 42,000 horses; think of all these things, and see what inconceivable development of power man's genius has given to him with a few shovelfuls of coal burning under a pot of water!"

"Who first thought of the use of steam?" asked Jules. "I should like to remember his name."

"The use of steam as a mechanical power was proposed nearly two hundred years ago by one of the glories of France, the unfortunate Denis Papin, who, after giving the first suggestion of the steam-engine, source of incalculable riches, languished in a foreign land, poverty-stricken and forlorn. To realize his fruitful idea, which was to increase man's motive power a hundredfold, he could hardly find a paltry half-crown."


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