The advent of the steam engine was the signal for a host of ingenious and amusing inventions, and the writer is enabled, through the courtesy of an official of the Patent Office at Washington, to afford this brief account of these old railway patents.
One inventor, who appears very early on the scene, says the " Industrial World " was very sure that in winter the steam engine would be comparatively useless, because the thin coating of frost that would gather in the morning upon the rails would effectually hinder the wheels from moving along. Of course, this objecter had a remedy to offer. His rails were to be hollow in order to allow hot water to circulate through them, thus keeping the metal warm and preventing the formation of frost.
Another ingenious spirit, fully persuaded that no smooth wheeled vehicle could be made to move along ordinary roads, fitted his piston rods not to wheels, but to a set of legs that kicked into the road beneath the engine, moving it much as a punt is poled in the water, only in this case there were to be found several poles instead of one.
Decidedly more interesting than an engine that kicked its way along was one that was to actually walk on four legs. There were several varieties of these steam-walkers, one of which burst on its trial trip ar. d killed ten persons. It was not till Hedley exploded all these ingenious theories by simply trying how a smooth wheel would really act on a smooth road that the wonderful inventions ceased.
The idea of danger was always a very prominent one in the minds of these early inventors. One was so convinced that "accidents on railroads would be frequent,' that he proposed to minimize the loss of life by attaching the train to the engine by a long rope, so that in the event of collision only the enginemen would suffer.
Another adopted the expedient of a feather-bed placed between the buffers of the cars, so that " a shock could not be transmitted," and a third and still more ingenious patentee, proposed fixing a pair of rails along the top of the train, falling at a gradient fore and aft, so that in the event of another train meeting or overtaking it, the two could pass over and under each other and both could go their way rejoicing.