As the Industrial Revolution produced mechanical devices to perform work, it was only natural to compare the productivity of an engine to that of the animals that had historically provided the muscle. So why don’t we talk about oxenpower or bullpower? And why was horsepower actually based on the work capacity of Shetland ponies. And not to get too picky, why is “one horsepower” not the amount of work one horse could accomplish in a given time?
Category: Steam Power
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Both indigenous peoples and early European colonists in North Carolina cleared farmland. But their impact on the seemingly endless forest was miniscule. Later, when the woodlands became the basis for thriving export business in naval stores, oak lumber, and shingles, the scale of deforestation jumped significantly. And yet it still seemed as though the forests were so vast they could never be used up. But a century of steam power – especially in the form of railroads – would call that confidence into question.
In our automobile age, when the fuel gauge in our car gets toward “empty,” we look for a filling station where we can “gas up.” In the steamboat era, when his boat got low on firewood for the boiler, the captain looked for one of the many woodlots that dotted the banks. Pausing there, he could “wood up.”
As the balance of political power in 1830s North Carolina shifted from the conservative Democratic Party to the progressive Whig party, it became apparent that after years of debate, North Carolina’s first railroads would be built. Left to be decided was where those rail lines would lie on the land and who would build them.
When automobiles started appearing on US roads around 1900, the technology for a steam powered automobile had already been around since the late 1700’s. Clean, quiet, and world-record fast, steamers led the United States market for motor carriages.
The little steam engine “Best Friend of Charleston” made its inaugural run on Christmas Day, 1830, “like a live rocket scattering sparks and flames.” The train’s passengers were too amazed to be scared.
The age of steamboats began in North Carolina in 1818, when the vessels Norfolk, Henrietta, and Prometheus began huffing and puffing along our waterways. Prometheus, a little sternwheeler, was built in Swansboro by the naval hero, chartered privateer, and entrepreneur, Otway Burns.
Early on the morning of August 27, 1891, Richmond & Danville Railroad Passenger Train No. 9 plunged off the Bostian Bridge just west of Statesville. Twenty-three people died. It was “A Great Wreck!” “A Frightful Accident!” It was also a mystery.
Touring America in 1842, young Charles Dickens captured in his journal the manic exhilaration of traveling on early American railroads: “…on, on, on – tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars…”