[Probably the best work dealing with this subject up to the year 1860 is a now scarce work, entitled, 'The Economy of Steam Power on Common Roads, in relation to Agriculturists, Railway and Canal Companies, Mine and Coal Owners, Quarry Proprietors, Contractors, etc., with its History and Practice in Great Britain'. By Charles F. T. Young, C.E.: and Its Progress in the United States. By A L Holley, C.E., and J. K. Fisher. With Engravings by J. H. Rimbault.’ Among the illustrations is one of the Griffiths Steam Road Coach (1821), the first of the kind constructed in England expressly for the conveyance of passengers on common roads. I have taken this illustration and several others from this work. Translator]
Since the locomotive is included in the consideration of military mechanical traction, a brief review of the development of transport by means of traction engines may be given.
With the insufficient means of a still undeveloped technical knowledge, the problem of mechanical traction was again attacked at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the idea, which originated in the previous century, of utilising steam for driving engines was further developed. The construction of steam carriages for use on country roads engaged the attention of inventors in England, the native land of Watt [Watt was a Scotsman. Translator] and Stephenson.
The introduction of the giant road-engine, which ruined the roads, damaged the bridges, and scared the horses, met with great opposition from the authorities, and the promoters of traffic by means of these new-fashioned vehicles found themselves compelled to build special roads for them.
They combined with them rail tracks, as it had been proved that with the reduced friction the steam traction engine could be used economically.
Then for a long period the whole energy of the most distinguished engineers of the time, and the capital of the country were employed in establishing railways. It was not until the fifties that the question of the employment of steam locomotives on ordinary roads again came to the front in England, in order to utilise them for the transport of heavy goods on country roads, and thus restrict the extension of costly railroads. The further development of this kind of locomotive was even carried so far as to permit of attempts to construct them for across-country work. [That this was no visionary dream has been proved by the work of our military traction engines in the present war in South Africa. I have to thank the proprietors of the Daily Graphic for the illustration by one of their war artists of the startling effect on the Kaffirs of a traction engine and train rolling—one might almost say rollicking—over the veldt. —Translator].
When social conditions in England necessitated the employment of machinery in agricultural work, the engines required were at first constructed to be moved from place to place by horse-power, and later, like railway locomotives, were self-propelling. [Boydell, Patent Specification No. 11,357 of August 29, 1846. For an account of the Boydell Engine see Parliamentary Papers, Ordnance Select Committees, of 25th June 1858. The engine is also described in the Engineer, Nos. 82 and 136.]
Then, for a considerable time, attempts were made to substitute steam-power for horse-power in ploughing, by harnessing a locomotive to the plough in place of the horse. For this purpose the engine must be light enough not to sink too deeply into soft ground. But it was soon recognised as a law of steam-power, that the more freely the power concentrated in an engine can be used, the greater is the amount of work which can be got out of it, and this notwithstanding the fact that its size, weight, and cost of installation may be increased thereby. So the system of harnessing the engine to draw the plough after itself across the field was abandoned in favour of the stationary ploughing engine, by means of wire-rope and drum (clipdrum-system) [Eyth, Wanderbuch eines Ingenieurs, 1871. Appendix 1 and 2.]
The earlier of these forms of steam-ploughs (engine harnessed to the plough) gave rise to the first use of the road locomotive for the transport of heavy artillery, and this was by the English army during the Crimean war [Rahlmann, Maschinenlehrs: Brunswick, 1887 p. 188]; but during the following long period of peace, and owing to the excessive extent to which economy was practised in military circles, the traction engine found no admirers.
In England, on the other hand, great factories were established for the production of steam ploughs, steam road-rollers, and steam road locomotives. As absurdly stringent official regulations hindered their use in England, they found their principal market in the Colonies [Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 1857-58, July 30].
Through the London Exhibition of 1862, the attention of Germany was attracted to the road locomotive. German factories now began to build them, and obtained prizes at German agricultural shows. In 1863 in the Palatinate experiments for the purpose of testing the endurance of road-locomotives in drawing heavy goods took place, but failed entirely in consequence of want of perseverance on the part of the makers in overcoming the many glaring defects in their engines. Moreover, at that time the want of more rapid road transport in country districts had not made itself felt in Germany.
The conditions have changed since then. There has been a gradual withdrawal of the population from the agricultural districts. Manufacturing industries, long confined to the great towns, have gone into the country, where they find cheaper labour, often their raw materials to hand, and can use water-power to the best advantage. This means dependence on goods traffic with the trade centres. The existence of agriculture and of manufactures carried on in country districts depends directly on the perfection of means of transport. Animal traction is too expensive in this case, canal systems are wanting, and for many kinds of goods water transport is too slow. One is faced, then, by the problem whether the main railway lines shall be connected by a widely extended network of branch lines, or whether the cheaper, automobile road train, more suited to small requirements, should be made use of.
Transport on rails does not meet all requirements. As the metal rails cannot follow all the bends and ups and downs of a country road, in many cases a regular railroad like the main line must be built, so that the expense of the branch line is often as great. The laying down of rails on country roads upsets the general traffic to some extent, and therefore requires the assent of the highest authorities (Parliamentary powers, as we say in England). Thus the need for quicker and yet railless transport has of late given a renewed impetus to the development of mechanical traction.
Since the invention of the Lenoir gas engine (1860) [Musil, Die Motoren fur Gewerbe und Industrie: Brunswick, 1887, p. 106] various methods of constructing motors have been discovered; used at first for small power auxiliary stationary engines, they proved later to be suitable for driving vehicles.
Apart from the fact that the war of 1870 affected, prejudicially, the development of this new industry, it was again shown that rail lines, not in this case for connecting towns with towns, but as tramways for more rapid communications between the larger towns and their suburbs and manufacturing quarters, attracted all the enterprise of the capitalists. It was not until 1886, when the German engineer, Daimler, [Lieckfeld, Die Petroleum und Benzinmotoren: Munich, 1894, p. 49.] succeeded in constructing his explosion-motor [The following brief account of the Daimler Motor is from Lockert’s Petroleum Motor Cars,London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. (Translator): 'The Daimler engine acts in four stages or cycles. The first cycle is the period of the charging stroke, during which the explosive compound supplied by the gas-inlet enters the cylinder through a valve, and is mixed with a considerable quantity of air. ... In the second cycle or period of compression the piston compresses the compound in the cylinder. Ignition is effected by means of an incandescent tube heated by a fixed burner. The third cycle, subsequent to the ignition, is the period of the useful stroke, while the fourth is the period of the return stroke of the piston during which the burnt gases are expelled’. For full illustrated description of automobiles of all kinds, including the latest American traction engines, fire engines, motor cars, etc., see Horseless Vehicles, Automobiles, and Motor Cycles. By Gardiner D. Hiscox, M.E. London: Sampson Low, Marston A Co. Every one interested in Automobiles should possess a copy of The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Pocket-Book of Automotive Formula, published by Messrs. F. King A Co., Ltd., 82 St. Martin’s Lane, E.C.—Translator.] that it was possible to run vehicles at high speeds on good roads. Since then, France setting the example, there has been a rapidly growing movement in favour of mechanical traction, a movement which has attained such proportions that already we hear talk—certainly much exaggerated—of the coming of the horseless age.