Perhaps less well known or celebrated than their freight and passenger carrying cousins, vertical boiler locomotives – by dint of their design – were vital to any operation requiring the movement of heavy loads over relatively short distances.
The narrow-gauge locomotives had several advantages in that they allowed for smaller designs (particularly important where width was to be considered), the fire box wouldn’t be compromised because water was situated above it (this was a particular issue for horizontal boilers when traversing gradients), and they were easily maintained because they were mounted in a frame.
Consequently, the vertical boiler was ideally suited primarily for load-hauling locomotives at work in mines, quarries, dockyards and similar industrial locations.
The June 10, 1955, edition of The Engineer saw the publication of part three of R.A.S Abbott’s history of vertical boiler locomotives.
“No previous history of this type of locomotive has ever been published it is hoped that this excursion into a little explored by-way of locomotive engineering will prove welcome to both the engineer and historian,” The Engineer said in its introduction.
Six vehicles were summarised in Abbott’s article, including an example from Ransomes and Rapier, a company in Ipswich formed in 1868 by former employees of Ransomes, Sims & Head, itself a major agricultural machinery manufacturer.
Ransomes and Rapier was established for the manufacture of general railway plant, such as chairs, rails and points, but a few years later the firm commenced building various kinds of narrow-gauge locomotives, among which was a series of vertical boiler inspection locomotives.
Abbott said: “As very little appears to be known about these locomotives, and the writer has as yet found no other contemporary account, it will be convenient here to quote from the makers’ catalogue: Steam Carriage suitable for rails of 18-20 lbs. per yard. . . . This engine has since done exceedingly good service, both as an auxiliary on ordinary railways and as principal Engine on light railways. It is practically a combination of Engine, Tender, Brake and Carriage, all in one; and it is the least expensive contrivance for travelling 20 miles an hour which has yet been produced. For economy of space, the boiler is made of the vertical type, with grate surface and heating surface so ample as to enable a good supply of steam to be easily maintained, even when burning wood or refuse fuel. The Engine has two cylinders, and is fitted with reversing gear, and all other fittings usual in the best locomotive work. It can be made of any gauge from 2 feet-to-5 feet 6 inches”, according to the gauge of the railways in the locality.
“If there are no railways, the best gauge will be 3 feet or 3 feet 6 inches. We build these Engines on stock, and can finish them at short notice to any of the following gauges, viz., 3 feet, metre, or 3 feet 6 inches.”
Further snippets gleaned from the catalogue show that on level ground, the locomotive could achieve 8mph with an 80 tons load, 5mph carrying 40 tons on a 1 in 100 incline, and 3mph carrying 20 tons on a 1 in 35 slope. With room for six to eight passengers, the 11 feet long locomotive cost £480 with a roof and £520 if fitted with windows.
“These locomotives were spring mounted, and all appear to have had disc wheels, but not always of the same pattern, some being solid, while others had the circular holes,” Abbott noted.
Ransomes and Rapier folded in 1987 but by then the company had diversified into cranes and other equipment including railway turntables, which may explain how it ended up providing the revolving stage at the London Coliseum Theatre.
No catalogues were required for Abbott’s appraisal of Greenwood and Batley in Leeds, which built ‘a somewhat larger vertical boiler tramway locomotive’ for Loftus Perkins in 1878.
“The engine…was arranged for triple expansion, the high-pressure cylinder having a diameter of 3 1/8”, the intermediate cylinder a diameter of 5 ½”, while the low-pressure cylinder was 7 ½” in diameter,” Abbott noted. “There were only two cranks, the high and intermediate cylinders being arranged in tandem with the two pistons on the same rod. The steam acted on the top of the high-pressure piston and then passed to the underside of the intermediate piston, finally passing to the low-pressure cylinder, which was double-acting; the common stroke was 9”.
Abbott continued: “The gear ratio between crankshaft and countershaft was 4 to 1, with the final drive by coupling rods to the 2’ diameter wheels set on a wheel base of 4’ 3”, the gauge being 4’ 8 1/2”. The Perkins boiler provided a heating surface of 90 square feet, with a grate area of 3 square feet, and carried a working pressure of 500lb per square inch. The boiler feed water was supplied by one steam donkey pump and one mechanically driven pump.
The brass condenser tubes were 6’ high and ½” diameter and together had a cooling surface of 1500 square feet.
This locomotive was l0’ long, 7’ wide and 9’ 8” high excluding chimney, and weighed in working order six tons.
“It was tried on the Leeds Tramways, but does not seem to have done any useful work,” Abbott lamented.