In 1804, Merthyr
witnessed the first ever steam locomotive journey, as Trevithick's
'Penydarren Locomotive' travelled down the valley, through this
tunnel, and on to Abercynon.
Samuel Homfray of the Penydarren Ironworks invited Cornish
engineer, Richard Trevithick to his works in 1803 to install
high-pressure stationary engines. After these engines were
installed Homfray became interested in another of Trevithick's
designs, namely that for a steam railway locomotive that he had
recently drawn up for the Coalbrookdale Works. Homfray thought it
would revolutionise the transportation of goods.
Work on the construction of the locomotive started in October
1803. Trevithick wrote:
"Last Saturday night we lighted the fire in the tram Waggon and
worked it without the wheels to try the engine, and Monday we put
it on the tram road. It work'd very well, and ran up and down with
great ease, and very manageable."
Richard Crawshay of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks expressed doubt as
to the ability of such a locomotive being able to work. So strong
was his conviction that he made a bet with Homfray of 500 guineas
that the locomotive and its load could not reach Abercynon and
return with its empties.
On the 21st February 1804:
"we proceeded on our Journey with the engine; we carry'd ten tons
of iron, five wagons, and 70 men riding on them the whole of the
journey...we had to cut down some trees and remove some rocks out
of the road. The engine, while working, went nearly 5 miles pr
hour...On our return home about 4 miles from the shipping place of
the iron, one of the small bolts that fastened the axel to the
boiler broak, and let all the water out of the boiler which
prevented the engine returning until this evening."
The delay in returning to Penydarren made no difference, the
locomotive was a success.
History has not been kind to Trevithick, although he undoubtedly
succeeded in producing the world's first steam locomotive he
continues to be overlooked.
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