MENLO PARK , New Jersey, is associated in the popular mind, more perhaps with the incandescent lamp than any other invention; but there also Edison did his great and original work on the telephone, the phonograph, and the electric rail way-not to mention a few other things of importance There does, however, seem to be a general tendency to insist that a man shall have no right to more than one invention, as a basis for fame, just as monogamy is a basis for offspring. Morse for the telegraph, Brush for the arc lamp, Edison for the incandescent lamp, Bell for the telephone, Sprague for the electric railway, Stanley for the transformer, Tesla for modern power transmission, Thomson for electric welding, Marconi for the wireless, Weston for meters-that is about the way the territory of electrical invention is supposed to be roughly divided up. Yet most of these men have done more than one big thing; and in each of the domains there have been other notable figures Looking back these thirty years, one might perhaps wonder what Edison was doing with the electric railway in 1880, when he had already so many other inventive troubles on his hands; but no kind of preoccupation ever prevented Edison from taking up a novel idea that challenged his insatiable curiosity and his passion for experiment Besides, the air was full of a trusting belief that to electricity all things were possible. The successful introduction in quick succession of the quadruplex, the telephone, the dynamo, and both forms of the electric light, was an immense stimulus to other endeavor; and the problem of perfecting and utilizing the electric motor haunted every aspiring imagination. Edisons ambition would have required a straight jacket to keep it away from such an opportunity. In these days, when long stretches of main railroad are electrified and when every large steam terminal is under sentence of death, as obsolete, it is hard to believe that the beginnings were so crude as the pictures herewith show them to have been_ But it had been very much that way for fifty years prior, back to the work of Davenport and Davidson; and one may feel amazed that although so much had been done it all amounted to so Iittle_ Evidently a new point of departure had been reached with new men; from whom both in Europe and America real progress must date. Edison had plenty of spare land around him at Menlo Park, and the adjacent country was not preoccupied by intensive cultivation. Hence it was easy and inexpensive to lay out a single track about one- third of a mile in length which ran from the laboratory along a country road, flanked a hill and came back like a belt to its buckle_ The rails were “second” street car rails, and anybody who remembers the street railway construction of the early eighties will not contradict the assertion that the “irons” could not have been much worse_ The gage of the track was about three feet six inches, laid with ordinary sleepers on the natural grade_ To these sleepers the rails, insulated with tar canvas paper and other stuff not much more effective, were spiked. There were various sharp curves of dangerous short radius, and the hill gave the chance for a nice grade of about GO feet in 300_ It was all delightfulIy amateurish, but enthusiasm and serious intent carried through. The power plant consisted of two of the small light- ing dynamos then being built at the laboratory, each of about 12-horse-power, and the electrical energy was conveyed from them to the track by underground conductors, for which Edison always had a keen predilection as against overhead wires. About 75 amperes at 110 volts was the yield of each machine, so that subject to track losses, not to exceed 25 horse-power, was available at the motor. As with his lighting, Edison's traction system was operated in parallel. The locomotive was worthy the rest of the equipment. It was a four-wheeled iron truck, an ordinary fat dump car, some six feet long and four feet wide. On this chassis, another of the “Z” dynamos of 12-horse-power was mounted as a motor, laid on its side. The armature end projected in front of the locomotive and the rotative movement was transmitted to the driving axle by means of friction pulleys. The wheels Ruins of one of the trucks. of the locomotive had metal rims and a central web of j)apier mache or wood. The current was taken up from the track on one side by contact brushes, from the wheels, through a brass hub to the motor; and the return circuit was completed through the other set of wheels., i. e., the motor was in paralleL It had its field magnet circuit in permanent connection as a shunt across the rails, with a safety fuse in the shape of a bit of bare copper wire; while a switch in the armature circuit gave the motorman ability to reverse the current flow in the armature and thus reverse the direction of the locomotive_ As one might expect now. though it was not so obvious then,. this friction gear was not able to stand up under the strain put upon it, espeeially when all the “boys ; in the shops piled on like rush hour passengers in the subway. May 13th was the day in 1880 when the road was thus tried out, and it was a memorable date at the “Lab,” as well as in the history of electric traction; for Edison was thus applying many of the principles of the multiple arc distribution now universal, as well as the low internal resistance dynamo with its high resistance field. For mechanical transmission, Edison next resorted to belts, and the armature pulley was belted to a countershaft on the locomotive frame, while the countershaft was belted to a pulley on the car axle; and there was an idler pulley for tightening the axle belt, worked hy the lever which had previously thrown the friction gear into adjustment. As the motor was started, the armature came up to full revolution, the belt was tightened on the car axle, and the locomotive moved off. But there was a lot of slip, the rubbing of the belts caused serious charring; and if on the other hand the belt was suddenly tautened up, the armature was burned. The odor of burnt armature was grimly familiar during the tests. The next step in the evolution was to employ a series of resistance boxes in the armature circuit. The locomotive would be started with all of these “cut in” and then it was brought up to full speed by cutting them out successively. After loading up the locomotive with a generous superabundance of these boxes, Edison came to the conclusion that he was carrying a lot of unnecessary dead weight. He, therefore, dispensed with most of them very ingeniously by winding copper resistance wire around one of the long legs of the motor field magnet. There it occupied no space, was inconspicuous, served as an additional field coil in starting up the motor, and proved an important advance. This coil was also in series with the armature, and could be “plugged” in and out of circuit by the motorman as he needed. In the same year, 1880, the generators were compound·wound for better regulation under changes of load, and three cars were put in commission as rolling stock. One of these was an open car with awning, ' and two park benches placed back to back. Another was a flat car for freight, and the third was a box car, dubbed the “Pullman,” on which Edison tried a system of electro-magnetic braking covered by patent. The road attracted a great deal of attention, was visited by celebrities, and was freely described in the papers. The Scm:TIFIC A:mRICAN of June 6th, 1880, gave an excellent account of it, and a little later the New York Daily Graphio described also the electric locomotive with six·foot drivers, capable of working up to 300 horse·power, which Edison designed for use on the Pennsylvania Railroad between Perth Amboy and Rahway. But President Frank Thomson of the Pennsylvania could not “see it;” nor could his engineers. What would they say of the electrified Pennsylvania entrance into New York to·day? When Edison went out to Wyoming in 1878 with his transimeter to observe and help register the transit of Venus, he had noted the long hauls of the wheat farmers with their grain. A drawing of his of Hay, 1879, shows electric power plants operated out on the prairies by wind power, to give these farmers light electric traction. Henry Villard had the same general idea, and in lSS1, after this successful demonstration of 1880, joined issues with the yonng inventor and put up between $35,000 ana $40,000 for a trial of the scheme. The-Menlo Park pioneer line had been extended to a mile and was now made nearly three miles in length in 1882. The construction approximated standards as to gage and material and was solidly built. There were three trestles. one of which was nearly 250 feet long and 10 feet high. The rails were insulated from the sleepers by two coats of japan varnish baked on them in the oven, and by pads of tarred muslin. The ends of the rails were electroplated to give proper contact for copper bonds and fish plates. The conductors were underground as before. There were two turntables, a freight platform, three sidings and a car barn. The line ran through a rural district three miles south to Pumptown. Two new electric locomotives were built, and following the traditional lines of conventionality there were given the full regalia of headlight, cab and cowcatcher. Little change except by way of refinement was made in the electrical arrangements from those of 1880. One 10comotive was designed for passenger service and weighed five tons; the other for freight, with single reduction gears, weighed about ten tons. As many as 90 passengers at a time ,ere hauled by the smaller locomotive in 1882. The contract speed was 60 miles an hour. The capacity of the freight locomotive per contract was 10 tons, speed negligible. Air. ViIlard agreed to enter into negotiations, if the tests were successful, for an initial 50 miles of electric railroad in the western wheat regions, as right·angled feeders to the Northern Pacific line. Possibly all this would have been done, but the Yillard panic came-and the farmers of the northwestern wheat fields are still without the service that was planned for them, although many thousands of farmers now depend upon trolley lines for getting their milk, fruit, eggs, and other produce to the distant market. Edison was a great admirer of Villard; and as the directors of the old Edison Electric Light Company refused to have anything to do with the electric railway or the contract, Edison treated the money advaneed from Villard ai a personal loan and nepaid it out of his own pocket. Villard was worthy of such esteem. He was a great leader and pioneer and visuali7ed the whole Pacific Coast development while all America was still looking eastward. At an early moment he believed that the mountain division of the Northern Pacific could be operated electrically, and acting on his request Edison devised a third·rail·and·shoe system such as is now familiar and set it up in his works yard at Orange. The steam railroad engineers refused to have anything to do with it as impracticable, and one The sensible and scientific way to keep blue prints - keep them flat, clean, smooth and jnd-able at a moment's notice -is tn a “Yand E” Vertical Blue Print Cabinet. You file your contracts and correspondence. Aren't your blue prints, maps and drawings just as valuable? Then keep them where they'll be safe-in a “y and E” Cabinet. 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This is our 59th year. 20thCentury Limited Most Famous Train in the World A vital factor in the business relations between the great trade-centres of the East and West. Lv. New York 4.00 Lv. Chicago 2.30 Lv. Boston 1.30 M. Ar. Boston 11.50 M. Ar. Chicago 8.55 M. Ar. New York 9.25 M. Water Level all the Way You Can Sleep can hardly blame them; but it is here and every year will see more of it. Edison has never made anything out of all this or other pioneer electric railway work; but that is not a unique experience for an inventor. Had he “stayed in the game” he might have recouped some of his losses financially, but he was very busy elsewhere and the young art was already moving forward with swift and tremendous strides_ His first electric locomotive Is now a treasured relic at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N_ Y. The remainder of the little primitive system has rusted and faded away, or lies around, as shown, in innocuous oblivion, at one with the pyramids and castles and ancient cathedrals
This article was originally published with the title "Edison's Pioneer Electric Railway Work"