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Description of First Run

Written by engineer Horatio Allen 22 years later in 1851:

"The circumstances which led to my being left alone [on the Lion] were these: The road had been built in the summer, the structure was of hemlock timber, and the rails [hemlock stringers] of large dimensions, notched onto caps placed far apart. The timber had cracked and warped, from exposure to the sun.

"After about 500 feet of straight line, the road crossed the Lackawaxen creek on a trestle-work about 30 feet high and with a curve of 350 or 400 feet radius. The impression was very general that the iron monster would either break down the road or that it would leave the track at the curve and plunge into the creek.

"My reply to such apprehension was, that it was too late to consider the probability of such occurrences. . .that I would take the first ride alone. . . .[Placing] my hand on the throttle-valve handle. . . and preferring that if we did go down, to go down handsomely and without any evidence of timidity, I started with considerable velocity, passed the curve in safety, and was soon out of hearing of the large assemblage present. At the end of two or three miles [actually at Seelyville, where a bridge over the track was too low for the 15-foot high smokestack], I reversed the valves and returned without accident to the place of starting, having thus made the first railroad trip by a locomotive in the Western Hemisphere."

 


Significance of the Stourbridge Lion

The Stourbridge Lion shows the fallacy of the notion that the history of technology can be understood in terms of "firsts" or "great inventions." The Lion demonstrated to contemporaries that for steam railroads to be useful in America, a lot of factors had to merge successfully in a relationship more complex than they had realized: the track or infrastructure, the locomotives themselves, and the economics of route, traffic volume, and market.

The Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., on the other hand, became an enormous success, supplying clean burning anthracite coal to New York City. The Stourbridge Lion's cost was insignificant compared to the $2 million cost of the whole canal and rail project--the largest capital project in American up to that time. Horses served on the rail portion of the line until 1899--70 years after the canal began operations.

 



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