BOOK REVIEW: The History of Steam Locomotive Energy



Written by

William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

THE HISTORY OF STEAM LOCOMOTIVES ENERGY: How these locomotives used energy and what has been done to make them more efficient. By Walter Simpson. The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, Inc. Hardcover, 144 pages, $ 44.95. Available from Simmons-Boardman Books,

Among railway workers and railroad enthusiasts, and even those who are not, who doesn’t love steam locomotives? Walter Simpson’s new book, The history of steam locomotives energy: how these locomotives used energy and what has been done to make them more efficient, offers readers the chance to delve into the inner workings of the locomotives that were the primary source of motive power for American railroads for over a century, from the crude beginnings of the early 19th century to the Era from the superpowers of the 1920s to the 1940s and short-lived experiments with steam turbines, until the end of regular commercial service around 1960. Detailed engineering drawings, scientific graphics and tables cover everything from smoke boxes to superheaters, boilers to fireplaces, conductors to side rods, safety valves to mushroom valves, offers to drivers, etc. – no detail is overlooked.

“This is, in the spirit of these critics, the best discussion ever about the efficiency of steam locomotives,” says Tom Dixon of the C&O Historical Society. “Simpson uses original sources from various railroads, as well as authoritative books and articles by the mechanical engineers who have worked so hard to make the steam locomotive even more efficient, especially over the past four decades. steam operation. His conclusion was that a good steam locomotive could convert 7% of its fuel into mechanical energy, and most did not reach this level, while the best reached only 8%. A typical diesel-electric locomotive, on the other hand, produces around 30-35%. And, for comparison, a power plant is 33% efficient and an automobile about 25% efficient.

“Simpson understands and documents how steam engine builders and railroads have worked hard to increase efficiency. Yet the very design of the machine prevented a dramatic increase in capacity even in the much-advertised Super Power locomotives after 1925.

“The study is a scholarly, full footer journal with an extensive bibliography, so it should feature prominently in the steam power literature. It is, at the same time, a very readable and understandable discussion that the ordinary person can easily appreciate and enjoy. It is a visually pleasing and authoritative book. The book is well illustrated with stunning black and white and color photos showing all types of steam locomotives at work.

“This reviewer has read hundreds of books and probably thousands of articles on steam locomotives, and has written several himself, but this book gave me new perspectives and an understanding I never had before. had in 52 years of involvement in the history of railways. “

Simpson’s book delves into a lesser-known aspect of steam locomotives: attempts to design and build a “modern” locomotive. In the epilogue of the book, “Advanced Steam – The Quest for a High Efficiency Steam Locomotive”, the author describes initiatives such as the Red Devil, a 1981 modernization of a Class 26 4-8-4 South African Railways with GPCS (Gas Producing Combustion System), Lempor dual exhausts, Porta water treatment and other improvements. It also covers Ross Rowland’s long-abandoned US coal businesses. ACE 3000 3,000hp reciprocating steam locomotive, which, if built, would have incorporated features such as GPCS, draft produced by steam fans, four cylinder compound expansion, connected duplex drive, diesel type piston rings and microprocessor controls, including multiple unit capability.

Fascinating stuff. It is worth adding to your rail library.


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