Tag Archives: industrial age

I’m clicking on all 4 cylinders this morning

Why don’t we drive steam cars today? What happened?

In a steam engine, a burner heats water in a boiler to create steam which pushes a piston in a cylinder. The burner and boiler are outside of the cylinder, so we say a steam engine is an external combustion engine.

A real simple diagram of 4 pistons pushing a drive shaft around.

What if you could put the heat and fuel inside the cylinder? That would be an internal combustion engine. Instead of just one, the internal combustion engine has several cylinders with moving pistons. Each cylinder gets a squirt of air and gasoline injected into it. As each cylinder connects with a spark plug, a spark ignites the gas and makes a little explosion. The explosion pushes the piston. The piston pushes a drive shaft. The drive shaft turns a car’s wheels.

Whew! Complicated, huh? But it works great.

This is cool. A rotary engine—https://twitter.com/intent/like?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1084506431850713095%7Ctwgr%5E&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.motorbiscuit.com%2Fthe-interesting-history-of-the-internal-combustion-engine%2F&tweet_id=1084506431850713095

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How a steamer engine works

Last post I wondered why a steam car doesn’t have a smokestack. Here’s what I think the differences are between a steam car and a railroad locomotive.

Here’s a simplified diagram of how a steam car engine works.

The locomotive burns wood or coal in a firebox to heat the water in the boiler.
The steam car uses kerosene or other liquid fuel that gets transformed into vapor through pressure. The fuel heats a burner which spreads the heat over a wide surface to heat the water in the boiler.

Here’s the burner. Kerosene goes in as a vapor—like the burner on a gas stove. The gas comes out through the little holes where it catches on fire.

In the locomotive, hot smoke and steam (from the cylinder) are combined and expelled through the blast pipe. They leave a vacuum behind as they shoot upwards which draws air into the firebox and makes the fire burn hotter.
In the steam car, the water in the boiler is contained—it’s under pressure as it becomes steam. The steam only leaves the boiler through a pressure-relieving valve or else it goes into a condenser as water, to be heated into steam again.

Here’s the boiler for a steam car.

I suppose there is an exhaust pipe for the burnt-up gas on the steam car but I didn’t see one.


Historic Engines – Stanley Steamer


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Where the buffalo roam

The railroads in the east connected ports on the Atlantic Ocean and went as far west as Iowa. From there to Sacramento was over 1,900 miles of American MidWest—territory inhabited by the Shoshone, Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Pawnee tribes. Their centuries-old way of life would soon be ended by the railroad. The Plains Indians depended on hunting bison, the buffalo, that flourished in herds of thousands on the prairie. Buffalo need a tremendous amount of undisturbed land to graze on.

In the end it would take three railroad companies to build the transcontinental line. The 2 big ones, who would be laying the most track, had a race (of course) to see who could first reach Promontory Point in Utah. On May 10, 1869 the two tracks were joined together. The last spike to be driven was solid gold.

After that, you could board a train in New York City and travel clear to San Francisco—all by railroad. You still can—it takes 2 and a half days. https://www.rome2rio.com/s/New-York/California


UPDATE! My pal Diana (known to you readers as Ms Physics) pointed out this article about the return of the buffalo herds. What great news! https://returntonow.net/2020/06/19/bison-return-to-lakota-reservation-in-south-dakota-for-first-time-in-150-years/?fbclid=IwAR39CIg4w2RyhmtwfSrNDvn0bIbdkLO3clVsvw3tizMmojf8UkQWXJYSQoU

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Horses get a break

While Americans were traveling by packet-boat, barge and steamboat on the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, cities that weren’t connected by these water routes were suffering from lost business. They needed to get connected. The best way looked to be overland travel by railroad—the new train tracks.

In 1828 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company began laying track to connect the port city of Baltimore with the Ohio River (the Ohio feeds into the Mississippi). Believe it or not, they were going to use horses to pull the trains. Luckily for the horses, in 1830 inventor Peter Cooper convinced the B&O to try a steam locomotive. He designed a small version of a locomotive—named the Tom Thumb—to demonstrate how efficient steam power would be. He took the board of directors for a train ride with Tom Thumb pulling them in an open-air car.

Train tracks are way more easy to ride on than rough prairie. Heavy wooden ties lay on a level gravel bed and steel rails are hammered onto the ties with spikes.


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Swimming upstream

By now I’m sure you’ve spotted the pattern: there’s a situation where people struggle to get from Point A to Point B, and some tinkerer comes along and says, “I bet I could make those people’s lives easier.” We saw how Watt’s steam engine turned a wheel to pump water out of a mine. Trevithick developed that idea into a steam locomotive to haul carts of coal. Stephenson improved the locomotive to move cars full of people along rails made of Bessemer steel.

In Great Britain and the United States, inventors worked on the problem of moving a vessel in water. Just like a locomotive, a steam engine would pump a piston to turn a wheel. This time the wheel had paddles and was mounted on either the stern or the sides of a boat.

John Fitch proposed a design with banks of oars, like an Indian war canoe.

John Fitch and James Rumsey designed steam-powered boats that operated on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and New Jersey. In Scotland, William Symington designed a boat for towing on the Forth and Clyde Canal. In 1801 his steamboat the Charlotte Dundas ran successfully upstream on the Carron River. The Mississippi is a big river with a powerful current. It would take a powerful engine to move a boat against it.


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