Short History of Fire Fighting
Chapter title – Early Greek and Roman Railways
Early Greek and Roman Railways
Archeological evidence indicates that the Greeks, and later the Romans, built paved trackways as early as 600 BC. These trackways consisted of grooves carved into limestone road beds that guided wooden wheeled vehicles along a path. Called the Diolkos, the trackway was about 5 miles long and allowed men to pull boats across the land using some type of wheeled vehicle. This provided a shortcut across the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Corinth. The shortcut gave boats a way to escape the arduous sea voyage around the Peloponnese peninsula. The Greeks used this trackway for about 700 years. The Romans also built similar trackways later on.
Mid-16th century (1550) –Hand-propelled mining tubs
Coal mine workers in the 1550’s used hand propelled mining tubs called hunds to transport the coal from the mine pit to the surface. These vehicles rolled on two wooden planks. A pin in the center of the tub that penetrated the gap between the two planks kept the tub going the right way. The Germans exported the technology to England.
c.1600 Funicular Railway
Sometime around 1600 the funicular railway came into use. A funicular railway uses a cable to move two vehicles permanently tethered to each end up and down a slope. Each vehicle helps balance the other while one ascends the slope while the other descends. The vehicles move simultaneously and are used to move both passengers and freight.
Wagonways, also called tramways, plateway and dramways, have apparently existed since ancient times. Using both human and animal power, the wagonways featured wagons with wheels supported on stone pavers or wooden planks as loads were transported. The pavers or planks provided less resistance to the rolling wheels than dirt roads and allowed the vehicle to pull larger loads than otherwise possible. The first railway line in England may have been a wooden-railed, horse-drawn tramroad which was built at Prescot, near Liverpool, around 1600 and possibly as early as 1594. These tramways used horses to draw the vehicle over a wooden track pulling freight, from one location to another. Sometime around 1807 the first companies that transported fare-paying passengers appeared in Great Britain. The first horse-drawn trams appeared in the United States around 1832. The electric trolley and steam powered locomotive gradually replaced these conveyances.
Rails, Wheels and Rolling Stock
The first tramways used wooden planks as rails. The planks were laid end to end with wooden posts laid perpendicular to them to serve as crossties. Called sleepers, they were fastened to the rails with iron nails. Tramway workers began sheathing the wooden planks with iron plates, which would help extend the life of the rails. This, in turn, caused more wear on the wooden wagon wheels. Iron wheels began replacing wooden ones. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century iron rails began replacing the iron sheathed ones. Another improvement the introduction of the “L” shaped rail. This shape held the wagon wheels on the track. Iron rails could not hold up under the weight of the steam engines leading to the perfection of steel production and the introduction of steel rails.
Steel wheels on steel track provide a low friction contact, creating a very efficient method of moving things. It takes approximately one horsepower to move one ton of weight over rails. By contrast, semi-trucks require about ten horsepower to move one ton. Rail power provides about the same savings in fuel efficiency and manpower to operate.
Improvements to the rails and wheels of the early tramways allowed even easier transportation. The wood rails had iron facings added. Wheels were then provided with an iron rim. In 1767 an iron foundry in England made the first iron rails. This again increased the amount of weight which could be transported. Modern rails evolved from ‘edge’ rails which were developed in northern England in the early 19th century.
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