Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197.
Perhaps no other item of commercial transportation machinery, as exemplified by the steam locomotive, has ever created the wonderment, the awe, the entertainment and 'show qualities' that the steam locomotive has throughout its evolution from a small crude vertical-boiler outfit to the large, intricate and complicated monsters that they eventually became by the time of the termination of their economic usefulness. Up to comparatively near the last days of its economic utility, the steam locomotive was the most rapid specimen of land space-covering capacity mechanism in existence, although at the time of its early invention, on one occasion, it lost out in a race with a horse! It must be noted that the earliest railway cars were first moved by horses. Also the early canal boats were powered by horses. As steam locomotive power, for early railroad transportation, eventually became substituted for horse power, the steam locomotive naturally earned a permanent sobriquet, 'The Iron Horse' a sobriquet manifesting a superior potential power capacity and speed achievement rather than any pictorial or organic resemblance.
The early locomotives were fired with wood, and wood continued to be the universal fuel, due, at the time, to quantity and availability, for quite a number of years after the Civil War. However, as power demands became greater, locomotives converted to coal-burners while some of the very last locomotives were fired with oil. With the latest very large locomotives, the greater grate and heating surface required an hourly coal consumption of 65,000 pounds, or 75,000 pounds under extreme conditions. Consequently, in the largest locomotives mechanical stokers were a positive necessity to replace the hand-firing method.
While there was a constant and progressive mechanical improvement in locomotive design and construction, yet there was one model that served quite consistently throughout a number of years years prior to the Civil War and well past the 'Gay Nineties' and into quite a bit of the 20th century. It served throughout the wood-burning era and deep into the coal-firing stage. This model with a wheel-arrangement of 4-4-0 and a Stephen link-motion valve gear, was universally known as 'The American Standard' type of locomotive. In its time, it served most efficiently as a general 'all-around work-horse' for every variety of railroad service. It served equally efficient as a switch engine, a light freight engine and a fast passenger engine. It was especially adapted for fast passenger serve as its design permitted great speed rather than attractive and pulling capacity. It broke all records in the matter of speed.
Due to the later development and competition of the passenger-carrying airplanes, the interstate bus-passenger service and the great number of privately owned automobiles, railroad-passenger service patronage diminished to such a low ebb as to cause the passenger-service division to operate financially 'in the red.' To recoup for this financial loss of passenger revenue and to remain financially solvent, it was necessary, as a pure economic justification, to cut passenger service to its absolute minimum, and increase the profit-producing freight service to its absolute limits, which, in materialistic economics, meant bigger and longer freight trains, and which required bigger and more powerful locomotives to haul the longer trains.
It is patiently evident, due to structural limitations that 'The American Standard' type of locomotive would seriously lack sufficient attractive power to pull the excessively longer freight trains. To accomplish this objective it was necessary to get a greater number of drive wheels in contact with the rails and with power sufficient to turn them to the capacity of their tractive potential. This meant locomotives with larger grate and heating surfaces. Due to structural limiting factors, this additional demand could be met only by lengthening the locomotive boiler to a considerable extent. To expedite this requirement, it was evident that the typical motive-power equipment - two steam cylinders and other necessary driving equipment - was not feasible structurally and mechanically power-producing to utilize fully the extra power-producing capacity of the elongated boiler. To meet the contingencies of extra capacity, a new design of the mechanical power equipment was effected by installing a second power unit an exact duplication of the power unit that is customarily under the boiler - thus, making a power-combination of four steam cylinders; and therefore, making it possible for a locomotive to have a maximum of twenty drive wheels. This new type of locomotive was classified as an 'Articulated Mallet Locomotive.' A locomotive of this monstrous size, with two lead wheels and two trailer wheels, would have a wheel arrangement listed as 2-10-10-2, with each drive-wheel load being between 25,000 lbs. and 33,000 lbs., and having a gross power rating of 6,000 horsepower.
The greatest difficulty encountered in the manufacturing of excessively large locomotives is due to the limiting manufacturing 'space factors.' The 'width factor' is practically fixed and unchangeable (maximum width 11 ft. and 6 in.); the 'height and depth factor' (maximum height 16 ft.). The only 'space factor' without limitations (other than structural limitations) is the 'length factor.' In the larger locomotives, the increased diameter of the boiler-barrel caused insufficient space for under-the-boiler installations and consequently drove the Stephenson link-motion valve gear out from under the locomotive. There was no room under the boiler for the four enlarged eccentrics and related valve gear that would be required by the larger locomotives. With the Stephen link-motion becoming obsolete, necessity and convenience of location the Walschaert valve gear the ideal valve gear for the larger locomotives. It is noteworthy that the Walschaert valve gear was on European locomotives some forty years, in spite that its outside location afforded greater accessibility for inspection and repair, before its final adoption by American locomotive builders. It was through sheer conservatism (stupid bullhead ness), even though the Walschaert valve gear was the most efficient in regard to perfect steam distribution, that deterred the adoption of this efficient valve gear until the combined forces of circumstances actually compelled its adoption!
However, the steam locomotive, even including the largest sizes, seemed to have reached the ultimate in all possible power transportation possibilities, and yet it still failed to meet the economies of the diesel-electric locomotive. This failure was due to the fact that the diesel locomotive could make the most efficient and unlimited use of the 'length factor' by adding three, or a greater number, of diesel locomotives to a single train all these added locomotives being under the management of one engineer who could control their combined power to operate a freight train over a mile long. It was this greater economy feature of operation that sealed the doom of the old faithful and dependable steam locomotive!
In closing, perhaps it would produce a more soothing alleviation to digress abruptly from a trite mechanical theme and conclude with a humanistic epitome. Conforming with this variation, I shall relate a newspaper account of bits of conversation of a retired steam locomotive engineer who was paying a last visit to his old steam locomotive which was placed in line to be junked: 'I used to pet and pamper her as if she were alive. That's the way I always thought of her and the other steam locomotives. Each had a feeling a personality that required a certain attention and handling.' Asked if he had a special pet name for his engine. He answered, 'No, we always referred to locomotives by their number, but like I said, the steam ones were something special.' Referring to some nearby diesel locomotives, he further commented, 'The romance in railroading went out when they came in. They're just machines no personality, you know!'