Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

The golden age of steam is largely remembered for the romance of locomotives puffing and chugging their way through the countryside. But with varying degrees of success, early developers of cars, boats and most other forms of transport also attempted to exploit the motive power of boiling water.

Perhaps no steam-powered vehicle is more incongruous though than Mr Nathaniel Grew’s Ice locomotive, a steerable steam train with sledge runners.

This unusual forerunner to the snowmobile had, reported the Engineer, recently been exported to Moscow, where a Mr Solodornikoff planned on using it to transport goods and people across the frozen rivers and lakes of Russia’s unforgiving interior.

Like rail locomotives of the time the vehicle was built around a frame of wrought iron plates. As The Engineer explained: ’this frame with the boiler, cylinders, and tank attached, is carried upon a pair of driving wheels to give them as much tractive power as possible; to aid in this, steel spikes can if necessary be screwed into the tyres of the driving wheels. The remainder of the frame is carried upon a pair of sledges fixed at either end of the engine.’

The Engineer reported that on its arrival in Moscow the engine was to be equipped with ’a house of light, but warm, construction, as a protection for the engine driver and conductor from the severe temperature’. The article also noted that a steam jet from the boiler would help keep the temperature in the tank sufficiently high that the vehicle’s feed water supply could be topped up with snow and ice.

With a view to keeping the weight down, marvelled the article, ’the machine has been constructed without the use of cast iron, excepting for the cylinders, wheel centres, and eccentric sheaves, the remainder of the work being wholly of wrought iron and gun metal.’ However, despite these assurances, history doesn’t appear to recall what became of the Ice Locomotive. The Engineerearnestly hopes that the considerable weight of a steam-powered sledge made of iron didn’t prove too much for Russia’s frozen lakes.