FOONOTES On Steam History

The Craigievar Express

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We believe that steam traction engine collectors are interested in all historic applications of steam, whether the efforts proved successful or not.

With that in mind, we offer a few findings toward a time when we can put them all together for an interesting volume on steam.

In London, England, we recently saw a handsomely fabricated vehicle, metal and wood with an appropriate gauge, in an exhibit on the Heritage of England which presented many other displays.

This one was a three-wheeled steam tricycle called 'The Craigievar Express', dated 1895. It was a machine built by the local postman, Postie Lawson, to help him get around for his deliveries. It has modern descendants in the three-wheel motor carriers now used by some post persons of the U. S. Postal Service.

The tricycle, in excellent condition, is owned by the Grampian Transport Museum in Alford, Aberdeenshire. It was on loan to the exhibit we saw, at the British Museum. Postcards were available.

On another aspect of transportation with steam supplying the power, let's turn to aviation. The world is so accustomed to the fact that the Wright brothers depended on a gas engine, that it may seem strange to recall that steam had been considered for aerial flight by prior inventors.

A steam-driven monoplane with twin propellors was invented in 1842 by W. S. Henson, an Englishman. He received a patent, but so far as is known, the machine never flew.

In 1848 John String fellow, an Englishman, flew his own steam-driven model in an empty factory and outdoors, but apparently he did not build a full-sized plane.

Otto Lilienthal, who made hundreds of glider flights until his death in 1896, had built a power airplane which he never flew.

Prof. Samuel P. Langley, in whose honor Langley Field was later named, experimented with airplanes powered by motors of compressed air, carbonic acid gas, and steam. He made a model with a miniature steam engine which flew a minute and a half for about a half-mile over the Potomac at Washington, and another which flew a little further, in 1896.

He was encouraged by government officials to build a man-sized plane and did so, using an internal combustion engine. This failed, as did a second, in 1903.

The Wright Brothers became expert with gliders before they made their successful effort for powered flight. Deciding on an internal combustion engine as appropriate, they asked makers of automobiles, and of other gas engines, to design one for them. When they were turned down, they went ahead and built their own. On December 17, 1903, they made their historic breakthrough at Kitty Hawk and a new era was on its way.