Zerah Colburn

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At last a copy of Zerah Colburn's Locomotive engineering and the mechanism of railways (Ottley 2762) has been seen although it may be questioned whether the copy inspected at the British Library at St Pancras was seen by George Ottley as Ottley notes a location at the LSE. It was originally published by William Collins of Glasgow as a part-work and periodical publications in general appear to upset the otherwise orderly library activity at St Pancras (and elsewhere). This is a major danger to the future history of technology and should be addressed by those with the strength to address it. The copy inspected was leather-bound and had the original covers bound in at the back: it appeared to be a "British Museum" copy rather than one from the Patent Office Library (which had a copy: blpc indicates that this was so). Bibliographically, Colburn poses another problem in that he was an American and the book is only partly about British locomotive history (it also considers development elsewhere, notably in the United States and on Continental Europe), but for all those British xenophobes it was published in the second city of the British Empire: Glasgow; and has much to say about British locomotive development. It is wonderful to note that the great Mitchell Library in that City has a copy of this work (the copy is in slightly less pristine condition, but this further inspection has modified some of the earlier comments): ntably this has a supplementary chapter (30) on coal burning..

It was beautifully printed on high quality (quarto) paper and has magnificent folding plates of locomotive drawings. Furthermore, there  area great many line drawings and tables within the text. The book is so important that its presence in the town's library might be used to establish those places seeking city-status, or for football teams looking to be in the Premier League, or similar trite measures of greatness. Any true locomotive enthusiast compelled to stay on the proverbial Desert Island should select this as the book "other than the Bible and Shakespeare" (spare us the latter: too many libraries are cluttered with literary bilge).

Marshall states that Colburn was born in Saratoga Springs, New York State in 1833 and died in Belmont Mass. by shooting himself on 25 April 1870. Marshall incorrectly states that the monumental work was posthumus as publication started in 1864. Colburn began his publishing activity in the USA in 1851 and became Editor of The Engineer in London in 1858 before founding Engineering in 1866. Mike Chrimes has written the entry for Colburn in his Biographical dictionary..

J.B. Snell (Railways: mechanical engineering) having dismissed D.K. Clark's works in a line recorded that "the magnum opus of mid-nineteenth-century technical literature on locomotives is Zerah Colburn's Locomotive Engineening and the Mechanism of Railways, completed in 1864 after Colburn's death by D.K. Clark. This is a very full and detailed accont of locomotive technology in the then state of the art; and Colburn, who was an American, had his feet on the ground in a practical Yankee way. For instance, at one place he makes the point that engineers were mistaken in spending such efforts in search of coal economy. If the whole cost of fuel were saved, it would mean only two-thirds per cent extra dividend to shareholders. Repairs cost more than fuel; mechanical improvement was therefore more important than thermal improvement , though despised by the 'dilettant'. Colburn's book became something of a standard work, and deserved to.

Petree, J. Foster. Some reflections on engineering biography. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 1968, 40, 147-58.
Petree made some brief but very perceptive comments on Colburn: having called Locomotive engineering a "classic working" records "I have suffiecient faith in Zerah Colburn's phenomenal memory and his passion for exactitude" to be able to accept his comments on Church's engine.

Locomotive engineering and the mechanism of railways

There is one major puzzle: it now seems to be agreed that Charles Markham solved the "coal combustion problem" with his and Matthew Kirtley's development of the brick arch in the firebox. There is no mention of this in this work (it is always difficult to be certain about absence), but on page 265 there is a table which compares the attempts made by McConnell, Beattie and Cudworth to burn coal (from a paper by D.K. Clark) and some of the tests described took place "as recently as" 1860 (Markham published his results in that year). The relationship between D.K. Clark and Colburn has been described by Mortimer at length which shows that Clark completed Colburn's work for publication and as noted on the Clark page there is need for further study of Clark. The copy in the Mitchell Library has a Supplementary chapter (30) pp. 295-9 which does include the Midland Railway system as well as D.K. Clark's systems

Mortimer extract: Following the death of Zerah Colburn, book publishers William Collins, and Company of Glasgow approached Daniel Kinnear Clark. The company was keen to see completed the book it had commissioned Colburn to write.

The book had already been a long time coming. Colburn started work on it shortly after he met Maw in 1863, and whom he commissioned to write a number of chapters. But since completing, or commissioning, some fifteen , chapters or so - roughly half the finished text – the American journalist had to move onto something more exciting. This something was, of course, Engineering. But with Engineering successfully launched and now behind him, so to speak, Colburn could find no enthusiasm to complete the massive work Locomotive Engineering. Instead he worked fitfully, latterly on lectures for the Society of Arts and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

And so Collins the publishers could do no more than approach the man best known in the skills of pulling together the final strings of the project and bringing it to the point of publication.

It was with a good degree of humble pie that they did so. In the past, Clark's publisher was Collins's competitors, Blackie and Son of Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. To go cap in hand to a rival author to complete a work was something publishers did not like.

Clark's most famous work, Railway Machinery, was published by Blackie; so too was his combined work with Colburn, Recent Practice in the Locomotive Engine. But not any Tom, Dick or Harry could complete Colburn's epic work. It needed an expert's touch. And Clark, most clearly, was that expert.

Clark was a prolific writer. Born just ten years before Colburn, Clark, had by the age of 33 produced his classic work, Railway Machinery that, even by the time of his death at the age of 74 in January 22, 1896, was still regarded as a standard work. Nothing so complete had been produced before, and Colburn's treatise, modeled on Clark's epic, was not, of course completed by the author. Clark's last work, The Steam Engine and Boilers, deserved to rank amongst the very best treatises ever written, noted The Engineer in its obituary to Clark. The journal conceded that while Clark 'never carried out any great engineering work, he was a noteworthy man, and will not soon be forgotten.'

Joint editor Clark was indeed kind, forgiving and generous to Colburn on a second count. The title page of the book carries only one author: Zerah Colburn, Yet while Colburn conceived the book he wrote only the first five chapters, including three relating to the history of the locomotive, of which he was an expert. As might be expected he compiled a chapter on 'Heat and Steam' and one on the 'Description of the Locomotive Engine'. He commissioned Maw to write a further eight chapters on valve gear. Interestingly, when Colburn's book was published, Maw was shown still as 'Mr. W. H. Maw, of the Great Eastern Railway'. This was not so; and it would have upset Maw to see it as such - he was a stickler for accuracy. In fact, in 1871 Maw was, of course, joint editor of Engineering along with James Dredge. Why not credit him with this tide? Perhaps Mr. Clark was unaware.

Colburn also organized for Mr. Fred Slade to produce a chapter on the principles of the slide valve, whilst his colleague Mr. Ferdinand Kohn wrote chapters on the principles of combustion, the functions of the locomotive boiler and the theory of the blast.

Together these accounted for some 234 pages.

Yet, in his modesty, without adding his name below Colburn's as joint author, Clark put together the remaining 21 chapters, amounting to some 95 pages. So it is clear that Clark compiled at least one-third of Volume One. Notwithstanding this, Clark also arranged the very large number of woodcuts and he was responsible for organizing and collecting together the various whole plates that went to make up Volume Two.

The whole plates included double-page spreads of a cosmopolitan collection of locomotives, including passenger locomotives (14), mixed-traffic locomotives (2), goods locomotives (3) and goods tank engines (1). Included among the illustrations was the passenger locomotive by the Rogers' Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, New Jersey and the goods locomotive built by MM. J. F. Gail & Co. of Paris for the Great Northern Railway of France (Fig.26). The opening illustration was J. Ramsbottom's 'Lady of the Lake'.

So who would read this classic work? In his Introduction, Colburn could visualize five classes of reader most likely to turn to his 'Treatise upon the Locomotive Engine'(2}:

It should be noted that Ahrons (The British steam locomotive) relied heavily upon Clark and Colburn's works.

Plates (only those directly relevant to British locomotive history are listed as there is a limit to note-taking by pencil): these plates are accorded the status of being selected from the Imperial Exhibition of 1862.

1 2-2-2 Lady of the Lake (LNWR: Ramsbottom); 2 sectionalized; 3 2-2-2 D. Luiz (Beyer Peacock for Spain); 4 sectionalized; 5 Sharp Stewart 0-6-0 for Egypt 6 Sharp Stewart locomotive for Ghaut Incline in India; 7 2-2-2 (CR: Benjamin Connor/Neilson); 8 sectionalized; 9 2-2-2 (Sinclair GER); 10 sectionalized; 11 2-4-0 No. 118 (SER: Cudworth); 12 0-6-0 outside-cylinder (Neilson) for Spanish Railway? 13 sectionalized; 15 0-6-0 (LNWR: Ramsbottom); 16 2-4-0 No. 71 Clyde (LSWR: Beattie); 17 details of previous; 22 0-4-0T (Fletcher Jennings patent mineral tank engine); 23 2-4-0T (St Helens Rly: James Cross with W.B. Adams radial boxes); 24 2-4-0 (Sharp for export); 25 Sturrock steam tender; 26 4-4-0 Saltburn (S&DR supplied Robert Stephenson); 27 sectionalized; 28 tender & boiler Cudworth coal burning locomotive; 29 0-4-2 (Beyer Peacock for Smyrna & Cassaba Railway); 30-2 sectionalized of previous; 34-5 0-4-2 (GS&WR: John Wakefield); 36 4-4-0T (Beyer Peacock for Metropolitan Railway credited to John Fowler); 37-8 4-4-0T No. 1 (NLR W. Adams); 41-2 4-4-0 "goods locomotive" GNoSR: Cowan); 43-5 0-6-0T Marquis (Manning Wardle); 47 0-4-4T double bogie Fairlie (GS&WR: A.A. McDonnell); also rolling stock: Plate 55 included a round-end wagon for GER presumably for conveyance of swedes; Plate 57 engine turntable. All of the previous have Roman numbers in the original document, but there was also a separate series of plates with Arabic numerals which explains valve motion by J.F. Gray.

The Chapters are in the main built around the Plates. The exceptions are the first Chapters which provide a history of "locomotives" from Cuneot onwards and then describe the function of the various components of the locomotive rather in the manner of D.K. Clark. Many of the later Chapters examine specific aspects of locomotive development:

Chapter 11: Alexander Allan's straight link motion [and Trick's similar gear developed in Germany]
Chapter 12 Heusinger or Walschaerts valve gear (order given as stated)
Chapter 13 Combustion
Chapter 15 Theorry of blast
Chapter 18 Expansive motion as studied on Great Britain
Chapter 19 Steam condensation in cylinders
Chapter 21 Balancing
Chapter 24 Exampled of coupled passenger locomotive engines: linked, for instance, to Plate 11
Chapter 25 Examples of goods locomotive engines: linked to Plates 15, 34 and 41
Chapter 26 Examples of steep-gradient tank engines: linked mainly to locomotives overseas or to work overseas, notably the John Kershaw design for service on the GIP, and also the Adams/Cross design for the St Helens Railway (Plate 23)

Steam boiler explosions. London: John Weale, 1860.
Originally published in Engineer between 16 September 1859 and 4 November 1859. Cited boiler explosion at Sharp Stewart in Manchester in 1858 which exploded at a pressure of 117 psi. Most of the explosions discussed occurred in the USA. Another British locomotive boiler explosion took place in October 1856 at Messrs. Bolckow & Vaughan at Middlesbrough. Cites Joule's work on fireboxes. Seen National Library of Scotland.

Professional papers

Colburn, Z. American locomotives and rolling stock. Min. Proc. Instn Civ. Engrs, 1869, 28, 69-75 . Disc.: 385-439.
Swing beam used exclusively under all American passenger carriages, and for the last eight or nine years more or less extensively adopted directly for engine bogies. Instead of the weight being taken upon the bogie frame, it rests upon a series of springs, steel or rubber, placed upon a transverse beam which is suspended by links from the cross timbers of the bogie frame-passenger carriage bogies being always made with timber frames. The transverse beam is thus free to swing endvise, or across the line. Discussion contributions from W. Bridges Adams, G. Berkley, W.B. Lewis, R.P. Brereton, W.A. Adams, P.R. Hodge, W. Atkinson, E.A. Cowper, W. Pole, Sir C. Fox , W. Lloyd, and G.K. Radford.

Colburn, Z. Coal burning on American railways. Engineer, 1857 (30 October), p. 317
Mentioned A.F. Smith (of Chambersburg) boiler with combustion chamber for the Cumberland Valley Railway; Boardman's boiler (ncorporating features from Smith's boiler), Dimpfel's boiler, Phleger's boiler, Winans' boiler, Bayley's boiler, Delano's boiler and Wright's grate.

Books mentioned by Mortimer
The Locomotive Engine: including a description of its structure, rules for estimating its capabilities, and practical observations on its construction and management. Boston (Mass.): Redding & Co., 1851

Mortimer, John. Zerah Colburn: the spirit of darkness. Bury St. Edmunds: Arima, 2005.
The provenance of the copy inspected is remarkable: it came to Sheringham Public Library from North Platte Public Library courtesy of the International Public Library Interlending System. The Anglo-American operation is surely appropriate for Zerah Colburn enjoyed working on both sides of the Atlantic, but whereas Colburn was an American who did not want to become involved in the Civil War, John Mortimer lives in Buckinghamshire and is an award-winning English journalist and enjoyed a publisher located less than one  hundred miles from Sheringham. As usual with all good biographies this one is highly illuminating on several other engineering literati, notably the first of the Pendred dynasty and Maw.
Between 1969 and 1980 Mortimer was the Editor of The Engineer — a position formerly occupied by Colburn..

Holley, Alexander Lyman
American who worked for Colburn on the Railroad Advocate. He was a brilliant artist and engineer and involved with the introduction of the Bessemer process to the USA: source Mortimer. Holley came from a privileged background in Connecticut: he was born on 20 July 1832, but his mother died as a result of the child birth. He was educated at Brown University when a role in technical education was becoming acceptable. Upon graduation he joined Corliss, Nightingale & Co. and attempted to apply the valve gear employed on the firm's high speed stationary engines to a locomotive, the Advance but the gear was not robust enough for railway service. Went with Colburn to London in 1857 at behest of American railroad companies to learn about progress with coal burning on British railways where they made contact with D.K. Clark and through him many of the experimenters, but neither Kirtley nor Markham. .

Healey, Edward Charles
Founder of The Engineer (Mortimer source of information). Born in Rochdale in 1822 and Baptised on 18 July 1823. His father Samuel spelt his name Healy. He married Elizabeth Wheatley whose father was associated with the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. He acquirted the rights to the Bourdon Pressure Gauge and founded The Engineer on 4 January 1856. According to Mortimer his friends included Daniel Kinnear Clark, Robert Stephenson and Brunel (although both of the latter died in 1859).

Slade, Fred
"Expert on slide valves": chapters in Colburn's work as added to by Clark: Mortimer p. 483