Railroading in 1632 Canon

The principal focus of this article will be on how the USE will design its first locomotives, but first I will explain what Canon (the entire set of 1632 series novels and anthologies) tells us about railroading after the Ring of Fire (RoF).

Mike decides that Grantville's best survival strategy is to use its "modern technology, while it lasts, to build a nineteenth-century industrial base." Mike muses, "Steam engines, steam engines. The railroads are about to make a big comeback in the world." (Chap. 11)

At the first "cabinet meeting," Mike Stearns says, "We got rail tracks leading most of the way from the mine to the power plant, but as far as I know there isn't a locomotive anywhere around. We may have to haul it by truck." (1632, Chap. 8)

During Becky's first cablecast (Sept. 10, 1631), the down-timers were privileged to see Buster Keaton's The General. "Within minutes, Grantville was rollicking again—and no one harder than the Germans. True, they were not very familiar with trains. Many of them had helped to lay the tracks just coming out of the new foundry, but the first steam locomotive was still being built." What this passage reveals is that in September, 1631, the foundry was already manufacturing railroad tracks.

The next reference to railroads in "canon" is in the David Weber story, "In the Navy" (Ring of Fire). There, Eddie Cantrell lobbies Mike Stearns to turn over enough miles of salvaged railroad track to armor several ironclads, prompting complaints from Quentin Underwood about undermining the economy.

Nonetheless, the up-timers did lay steel rails between Grantville and Halle. At the beginning of "Elizabeth" (Grantville Gazette, Volume 4), set in summer 1633, Frank Jackson complains that the rail line to Halle had not yet been completed. Nor was Halle serviced yet as of a September, 1633 cabinet meeting (1633, Chap. 34), although Underwood had "pushed hard" to get the tracks that far.

Still, the line was already in use, to some intermediate destination, as of September 1633. The trackwork was not modern steel T-rail, but rather "dinky wooden rails with an iron cap."

We don't know precisely when Halle became a railroad stop, except that it must have been by spring 1634, when Major Elizabeth Pitre's railway battalion rides civilian flatcars to Halle ("Elizabeth"). The railway battalion's mission is to build and operate narrow gauge military railroads (TacRail). TacRail will not be discussed further here.

Confirmation of the Grantville-Halle link is provided by Virginia DeMarce's "'Til We Meet Again," (Grantville Gazette, Volume 4); in June 1634, Iona rides the train to Halle.

The Grantville-Halle line is intended to extend to Stassfurt and Magdeburg. As of May 1634, supplies for the Halle-Magdeburg section had been found, but only after a "struggle" (DeMarce, "Prince and Abbot," Grantville Gazette, Volume 8).

Other lines are envisioned. One would run from Erfurt-Eisenach to Hersfeld, Butzbach, Frankfurt am Main and Mainz; the route crosses the Fulda Gap. There were surveyors in Fulda in May, 1634, but construction had not yet begun. (DeMarce, Prince and Abbot, gazette 8).

Returning to the question of the steam locomotive, we can only broadly indicate when it was completed. It was still being constructed as of the October 8, 1631 cabinet meeting (1632 Chap. 40). However, as of summer 1633, Charlie Schwartz had already "worked on the railroad link to the coal mine and helped to build the steam locomotive." ("Elizabeth") It is therefore somewhat surprising that as of September 1633, the "pathetic" cargoes are "being pulled as often as not by 'locomotives' made up of a pickup truck—or even a team of horses." Perhaps the completed locomotive was a mere prototype; perhaps it was only hauling some of the trains.

Grantville Railroading Knowledge

Having some track is nice, but it is not enough. We have to know how to plan out a rail network, manufacture and lay track, build locomotives and other rolling stock, and operate the railroad.

Naturally, there will be some information on railroads in the public libraries. Of the documented sources (those known to exist in Mannington, or mentioned in canon), the most useful from a locomotive design standpoint are the encyclopedias (especially the "Railways" [EB11/R] and "Steam Engine" [EB11/SE] articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition) and Alexander's Iron Horses: American Locomotives 1829-1900.


There is more knowledge of railroads than just book knowledge stored in the libraries, of course. The first group to whom would-be railroad barons may turn for help are the retired railroad workers. According to the Up-timer Grid, there are ten such people in Grantville. These people have practical, first-hand experience with real railroads. They may also have souvenirs of interest. But bear in mind that a ticket taker isn't going to know how to build a firebox.


Next, there are the mineworkers. Some of them may have laid narrow gauge track to service the mines, or operated and repaired the mine cars or even locomotives. ("Elizabeth" says there were a couple of locomotives used in the Joanne mine.)


The third group are "rail fans." They may go out and watch (and perhaps photograph) real trains in operation, try to ride behind particular locomotives or on particular tracks, collect books, videos and railroad memorabilia, or build and operate model railroads.

There are at least three rail fans (Hardy, Pitre, and Szymanski) so identified on the Grid; there may be additional hobbyists. A town the size of Mannington (the model for Grantville) is likely to have five to seven model railroaders (Atlas Model Railroad Forum).

Of the rail fans, "Monty" Szymanski is of particular interest because he "helped restore locomotives for the Cass State Park Scenic Railway and had built several one-eighth scale models of steam locomotives." (Up-timer Grid)


Even up-timers who are not retired railway employees may have something to contribute. There are the steam engine buffs, of course. People who rode a scenic railroad may have home videos of the experience. Movie lovers who have videotapes of any of the many movies, including Westerns, mysteries and thrillers, which contain locomotive or other railroad footage. We know that The General (1927) is available; that is the movie which introduced Buster Keaton to the down-timers.

Motive Power

A train, running on rails, may be propelled by any of several different means. Despite Quentin Underwood's sneering, animal power is actually a pretty reasonable propulsion system, at least for moderate speeds and loads. A draft horse, with a body weight of 1,200 to 2,000 pounds, can, for as long as ten hours, exert a pull of 180 to 220 pounds. If the load is carried in a wheeled vehicle, riding on rails, the rolling resistance of the load is perhaps 1/100th to 1/250th of its weight. In other words, a 200 pound pull moves a 20,000 to 50,000 pound (ten to twenty-five ton) load, i.e., 1000% to 2500% of the body weight. (See Cooper, "Transportation Cost FAQ," www.1632.org.)

Teams as large as thirty horses were used in the American West to haul heavy loads. Even an eight horse team can move 80 to 200 tons on rails.


Clearly, steam locomotion is one of the options the USE is considering. In the early days, the greatest advantage of steam locomotion was that it had a lower operating cost. For the horse-drawn trains on the B&O railroad, the "crew" was 42 horses and 12 men, and the total operating cost was $33/day. The horses towed the train at a speed of 10 mph. In contrast, the 1832 locomotive Atlantic (0-4-0, 6.5 tons), which replaced the horses, could go 20 mph, and its operating cost was just $16/day. (Dilts, 196). (Alexander, PL4, says that it hauled 30 tons at 15 mph.)

Eventually, the locomotives became powerful to pull trains too heavy for normal draft teams. As early as 1839, a Gowan & Marx (4-4-0, 11 tons, 9 tons on drivers, driving wheels 42" diameter, cylinders 12 1/8" x 18," anthracite coal burner) hauled a train of 101 loaded four-wheeled cars, weighing a total of 423 tons, from Reading to Philadelphia at average speed of 9.82 mph. (Alexander PL10).


Why not jump directly to diesel-electric (DE) propulsion? Modern locomotives use a diesel engine to power electric motors; the latter turn the wheels. DE locomotives are more fuel efficient, and less labor intensive to operate, than steam locomotives. They can exert high tractive forces at high speeds, and they can be wired so that one DE's crew can operate several at one time.

The problem is that we lack the infrastructure to support DE's. A diesel engine requires diesel fuel, and we don't have it yet. The oil fields of Germany are small, and we probably won't have a large, reliable supply of oil until we have control of the North Atlantic and can import it from the Middle East, Africa, or the Americas. In other words, we have to win the war first.

Then there is the electrical system. We will need insulated copper wire. The best insulation is rubber or plastic and, in 1632, neither rubbers nor plastics are commercially available. In OTL, the natural rubbers and plastics were obtained from non-European sources.

Finally, there is the issue of start-up costs; DE's are perhaps five times as expensive as a steam locomotive of equal horsepower. (NOCK/RE 203)


Even if we recreate the steam locomotive technology, that doesn't mean that it will be suitable for all purposes. During World War One, Major Connor warned against use of steam locomotives to directly supply the front line, because a "steam locomotive would indicate too clearly its position by its smoke."

As one possible alternative, Connor provides data on Vulcan gasoline locomotives. Even the smallest can haul over 150 tons. It therefore is not so strange as it seemed at first blush that the USE is using "a modified pickup truck cab section" to draw Iona's train. Canon doesn't specify the modifications, but it probably has been equipped with locomotive-type wheels so it will run on the rails.

Gasoline locomotives were first developed for coal mines (WLW). If the Joanne mine locomotives (Elizabeth) passed through the Ring of Fire, they were presumably narrow gauge gasoline machines.


Historically, fuel was the largest operating expense item for railroads, and the choice of fuel was based primarily on cost. The early American locomotives mostly consumed wood; it was not until 1870 that half the steamers in service were coal-burners (White 85). Fuel conversion was driven by both deforestation, and the opening of large new coal fields.

Early seventeenth-century Germany is experiencing a wood shortage because of the heavy use of wood as a fuel in home fireplaces and industrial furnaces, and as a raw material for carpentry.

On the other hand, because the Ring of Fire encompassed several up-time coal mines, and the up-time equipment for mining them, there is a readily exploitable coal supply in the Grantville area. There is also a lot of coal in Germany, notably west of Hannover, near Zwickau in Saxony, in Saarland, and in the famous Ruhr region.

So it is something of a no-brainer to prefer coal to wood. (What wood we have available for railroads is best employed in the wood-ties which support the rails.)


The USE is rich in coal but impoverished in petroleum. Consequently, we cannot expect to have large supplies of either gasoline or diesel fuel within a reasonable time. Our gasoline locomotives are likely to be limited to rebuilds of up-time vehicles, and used only as a stopgap. And we aren't likely to consider building a diesel locomotive at all—at least, not until we are importing oil in large quantities.

Steam Locomotion

We have completed the first stage of the engineering process: conceptual design. The principal motive power for the new railroad is going to be a coal-burning steam locomotive.

Both the Encyclopedia Americana and the modern Encyclopedia Britannica provide a basic cutaway view of a steam locomotive. These diagrams show, and label, certain major components of the boiler system (the firebox and its grate, the water circulation, the steam dome, and the superheater tubes), the engine system (the steam chest, the valve, and the cylinder-and-piston), the transmission system (the crosshead, main rods, and connecting rods), the driving and leading wheels, the valve control system (the eccentric crank and rod), the exhaust system (exhaust pipes, smoke box and smokestack), and the control system (throttle valve, throttle lever, safety valve). Other parts are recognizable to a railroader (e.g., the ashpan), but are not labeled.

In a steam locomotive, fuel is burnt in the firebox, evaporating water in the boiler. The resulting high-pressure steam is directed by the valve slide in the steam chest to either the front end or the back end of a cylinder containing a piston. If the steam enters the back end, it drives the piston forward and, at the completion of this forward stroke, the steam is allowed to escape. Steam then is redirected to the front end, moving the piston backward. Then the front end is exhausted, and the piston is ready for the next cycle.

This to-and-fro movement of the pistons is converted by the rods and cranks into rotary motion, each piston turning the driving wheels one half turn on each stroke of the cycle. Another linkage, driven by the rotation of the axle, controls the position of the valve slide.

The process may sound simple, but it is important not to underestimate the difficulties of building a practical steam locomotive. There are no steam locomotives in Grantville. That means that the design for the USE's first steam locomotive must be based on inspection of books and videos.


The next engineering design step is called "preliminary design" or "embodiment design." That is when engineers decide things like the size and weight of the locomotive, the fire grate size, the desired boiler pressure, the diameter of the cylinders, the piston stroke length, the number of wheels, the wheel diameter and so forth. These in turn determine how much the locomotive can pull, how fast.

To make those decisions, we have to determine the tractive force (pull) necessary to overcome the expected train resistance to motion.

Basic Train Resistance to Motion (Straight, Level Track)

The "basic" resistance on straight, level track is the result of rolling friction between wheel and rail, friction among all the mechanical parts driving the wheel (cylinder and piston, bearings and axle, etc.), air resistance, and other factors.

The starting resistance is about 20 pounds per ton of load, but the engineer can bunch up the cars and then take advantage of slack, starting the train one car at a time.

Resistance drops once the train is moving slowly. It then climbs again as train speed increases.

EB11 provides some formidable equations, of dubious relevance, for calculating resistance. I instead quote two simple historical formulae which are likely to be known to model railroaders. The resistance, measured in pounds of force per ton of load, equals

(1) 2 + (speed (mph) / 4)(the "Engineering News" formula; Ludy, 131), or

(2) 3 + (speed (mph) / 6)(the Baldwin Locomotive Company formula; Connor, 89).

Equations (1) and (2) are useful at the speeds the USE will be operating. However, for high speed modern trains, air resistance becomes important, and this introduces a factor which is proportional to the square of the speed.

Extra Train Resistance (Grades and Curves)

In nineteenth-century America, poorly capitalized pioneer railroads economized on track building by taking the path of least resistance: going up and down, or around, hills. As a result, American locomotives had to be engineered to cope with steep grades and sharp curves. This could be true in the USE, too.

Total train resistance is the sum of the basic resistance mentioned above, and extra resistance attributable to grades and curves.


Grade (Slope). If it is going uphill, the locomotive has to overcome gravitational force as well as rolling friction. This grade resistance is roughly 20 pounds per ton of load, for every 1% of slope. (Armstrong, 20)


Curves force the train to reduce speed (so it doesn't derail), and also result in an effective increase in resistance. A curve with a turning radius of 5,729 feet (called a one degree curve) increases resistance by 0.8 pounds per ton of load. Halve the radius, and you double the resistance.

Rated Tractive Force

EB11/R explains how to calculate the average tractive force (in pounds) exerted at the rail by the driving wheels of a two-cylinder steam locomotive engine: it is the product of the mean effective pressure (p.s.i.) of steam in the acting cylinder, the square of the piston diameter (inches), and the length (inches) of the piston stroke, divided by the diameter of the wheel. (See also Ludy, 131). The mean effective pressure at start-up is usually assumed to be 85% of the boiler pressure.

In this article, when I refer to "cylinder diameter," what I really mean is the size of the bore, which is, roughly, the piston diameter. Also, I may express the cylinder bore diameter and piston stroke length in shorthand form as, e.g., "16X24" (16 inch bore, 24 inch stroke).

The drawbar pull—which determines the load that the locomotive can haul—is its tractive force at the rail, less the resistance imparted by the locomotive itself.

The steam locomotive develops the rated tractive force made possible by its boiler and engine only if it can adhere to the track.

Maximum (Adhesion-Limited) Tractive Force

The effective tractive force applied to the wheel rims cannot exceed the "adhesion," which is the product of the weight which the locomotive places on its driving wheels, and the "coefficient of adhesion." This coefficient (Armstrong and others use 0.25; EB11/R, 0.2.) expresses how well the wheels resist sliding on the rails; higher is better. The engine can apply more force to the wheels, but they will just slip, not turn.

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