HISTORY OF USA
Railways, or rather railroads as they are called in America, had their beginnings in the late 1820s. The success of the Rainhill trials in England encouraged the development of a steam powered line in America and by the 1830s, a network of lines had emerged on the east coast despite opposition from the canal industry. The locomotive BEST FRIEND made the first scheduled passenger run in America on Christmas day of 1830. Later, this locomotive would have the dubious distinction of being the first locomotive in America to suffer a boiler explosion. Many other famous locomotives were constructed during this period such as OLD IRONSIDES, a Baldwin built 0-4-0 and the 0-4-0 DE WITT CLINTON. By 1835, 1098 miles of track had been laid and in 1850, this had increased to 9021 miles. During the 1830s and 1840s, operations were rather primitive and speeds seldom exceeded 18 miles per hour since track construction was not up to accommodating higher velocities. Night operation was very rare even up to the 1850s. Rail was a composite construction consisting of a wooden base with an iron strap attached to the top on which the wheels rolled; this was commonly known as "strap rail". Some wrought iron ‘T' rail was also in service however even it was not capable carrying the applied loads and often failed especially during the severe winters in North America when frost upheavals distorted the alignment of the track. The solution to this problem was to use stronger rail and, with this in mind, the first steel rails, made by Great Britain's Bessemer process, were imported and laid in 1863 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1865, a Chicago mill was able to produce steel rails using the Bessemer process however the use of strap rail continued into the 1870s.
The move towards settling the west had begun somewhat earlier and great railroad empires were in the making. The California gold rush in 1849 stimulated the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and in 1869, the Central Pacific RR coming from the west was finally linked with the Union Pacific RR coming from the east. The last spike, made of gold, was driven at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869 with the Union Pacific's locomotive #119 facing the Central Pacific's locomotive Jupiter.
The American Civil War, fought from 1861 until 1865, was responsible for a significant expansion of the railways as well as the procurement of much new equipment. The railroads made possible the rapid movement of large numbers of men and equipment and it was clear that they would play an important part in deciding the war's outcome. Key objectives for both the Southern and Northern armies was the destruction of rail lines and many famous raids were made by both armies with that objective in mind.
Over the years builders also flourished in America and during the later part of the 19th Century there were literally dozens of shops, large and small, turning out locomotives mostly with a 4-4-0 wheel arrangement which became known as the American Standard type. Cylinders were traditionally on the outside of the frames and, after 1855, the Stephenson valve gear was universally fitted with only a few exceptions. The particular requirements of the American continent were sometimes reflected in the locomotive's design; for example the "cowcatcher" or pilot, as it was often called, had the duty of throwing live stock off of the track to prevent damage to the locomotive; in Europe, such a device was considered unnecessary. In the later part of the 19th Century, other wheel arrangements evolved to meet specific requirements thus giving birth to the 2-6-0, 4-6-0, 2-8-0 etc. Different valve gears also came into vogue including the Walschaert and Baker.
Of all the American builders, the firm of Baldwin was probably the most famous. Matthias Baldwin, the founder of the firm, was originally trained as a jeweler. He worked in the jewelry trade for about seven years but left it in 1825 to form a business manufacturing book binding tools and cylinders for printing patterns on cloth. This business was successful and eventually called for the procurement of a steam engine to aid in the manufacturing effort. An engine was purchased but found to be unsuitable so Baldwin designed and constructed his own. It was a unique upright design which was fully successful and established a reputation for its builder as an ingenious steam engineer. As might be expected, other firms needed similar engines and orders were placed with Baldwin's shop.
As the west coast was developed, more railroads were built to serve the needs of the expanding population. While the corporate giants fought for prime right-of-ways, they were met along the trail by smaller branch and narrow gauge lines such as the Virginia & Truckee, the Denver and Rio Grand, the Rio Grand Southern and the Colorado & Southern. These small lines had unique requirements and often relied on light motive power or geared specialty locomotives, such as those produced by Shay, Heisler and Climax, to handle their payloads of lumber and ore.
On the more glamorous side of the business, during the 20th Century, the New York Central and the Pennsylvania RR competed to serve traffic from New York City to Chicago with such posh trains as the 20th Century Limited and the Broadway Limited. Eventually, the Santa Fe RR would provide luxury service from Chicago to Los Angeles along with the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific. By the end of the 1930s, the Southern Pacific's 1st Class Coast Daylight provided service between Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. And the Union Pacific would develop the greatest locomotive of them all, the giant 4-8-8-4 BIG BOY.
Long distance passenger rail service still exists in America however, because of the vast distances between major cities, most travelers prefer to use the airlines. On the other hand, there is a renewed interest in the development of high speed rail systems so it may be premature to write off American railroads as having seen their best days.
While full sized and narrow gauge railroads dominated the scene, the story of rail transportation in America would be incomplete without the mention of the many miniature passenger hauling lines which have existed over the years. Commercial manufacture of 12 5/8 and 15 inch gauge miniature passenger hauling locomotives began in the 1890s and they soon were put to work operating at resorts and fairs. During the first part of the 20th Century, gauges were increased to 18 and 22 inch and some fairs, such as the 1903-1904 St. Louis World's Fair had as many as 24 locomotives operating over six miles of track. These miniature railways provided transportation throughout the fair grounds and proved themselves popular with both adults and children. There were many manufacturers of miniature passenger hauling steam locomotives during the past 100 years including Herschell-Spillman, Armitage-Herschell, Wagner and Son, Thornton Miniature Railways, Ottaway Amusement Company, etc. however the largest company was the Cagney Brothers Miniature Railroad Company which operated first in New York City and later in Jersey City, NJ. The company was in existence from 1892 until about 1948 and manufactured about 1300 miniature trains during that time period. Most of them were 4-4-0 fifteen inch gauge coal burners and many are still in operation today.