The Ice & Steam Velocipede (1869)

Marine Ice and Steam Velocipedes

The method of applying the winched-axle system to velocipedes intended for locomotion on water will at once occur to the intelligent reader. It dates its origin from Boston in the United States, but contains nothing sufficiently novel in construction, to call for much remark here. As will be seen, it is propelled by the feet working upon winches, that turn a paddlewheel and it is steered by cords attached to the tiller and arranged by passing round a pulley, so that they may come up, ready to the hand of the driver. Another variety of marine velocipedes may be seen in the Bois de Boulogne. They are generally made by placing a paddle-wheel between two canoes that are lashed together and the operator bestrides the paddle box and drives the apparatus, in a manner gracefully.  There will be seen a somewhat different construction of marine velocipede, for which a patent has been taken out in this country by a certain Mr. Thierry. The mechanism is worked by spring treadles, which move back each time the feet are raised. These treadles are connected with ratcheted wheels, whereby a swift rotary motion is attained, which is then communicated to the paddles or the screw as the case may be. The number of workers that may be employed on the machine is, in the opinion of the patentee, perfectly unlimited. It is also claimed for it, that it may be of considerable use in the navy in the laying of torpedoes and other similar work. We have been, moreover, expecting a Frenchman to redeem his promise and navigate one of them across the English Channel at an early period, but hitherto, either from the roughness of the weather, or the failure of his own courage, he does not appear to have made the attempt. The Ice Velocipede is, as might be anticipated, an American idea. How far it is likely to have a fair trial here, it is difficult to say. The comparative mildness of English winters and the small expanse of ice which even a severe winter renders available for such a machine, will cause its use to be very limited. In the United States and Canada the physical conditions of the earth are different and for several months of the year thick coats of ice cover the lakes and streams. Where the ice is several inches thick this machine proves very effective, but if it is thin the danger of breaking the ice with the front wheel is considerable. The Ice Velocipede is in fact a monocycle. Its one wheel is however rimmed with a number of sharp points, which catch hold of the ice and prevent the danger of slipping, to which wheels on ice are always subject. The balance of the apparatus is perfect, in consequence of its possessing two large skates or sledges, affixed behind, which, whilst acting as a steadying apparatus, slip easily along the ice and render the machine both swift and traceable. Those who have driven this machine tell us, that the pleasure to be derived from it, is little, if at all inferior, to that which is derived from skating and if this be so, we can only regret that our humid climate prevents our adding it to the few out-door enjoyments of the winter season. We also subjoin an engraving of what we have called a Steam Velocipede. Perhaps the term is not a technically correct one, and that as soon as the element of steam enters into the machine, its velocipedic character disappears. However, we give the diagram for the benefit of the curious. It will be remarked that the cylinders and their attachments to the two driving wheels are not shown. We are told in the description of the apparatus that they are placed vertically in front of the boiler, between it and the seat and connect with cranks on the shaft of the driving wheels. The engraving shows the position of the boiler relatively to the other parts of the machine. “The engine is a direct action compound engine of 2 cylinders, each cylinder 2 ½ inches diameter, and 5 inches stroke.The steering gear consists of an endless chain over a grooved wheel on the engine shaft and passing over a corresponding wheel fixed between the forked shaft just over the front wheel. The latter grooved wheel is a wide one and over it passes another chain. This latte/chain works round the boss of the front wheel. This arrangement gives power to the front wheel, so that in turning a corner, this wheel takes a wider sweep than the two driving wheels, which go first. In travelling on a straight road (backwards) the machine is turned to either side by turning the steering wheel to the opposite side.

The boiler is a vertical one, with four tubes of 1 ½. internal diameter, hanging down by the side of the firebox. The fire-grate is cast with four holes in it to receive the bottom ends of the tubes, so as to hold them firmly. Height of boiler, 2ft. 6 in.; height of fire-box, 15m; diameter of fire-box, 11 in.; diameter of boiler, 14m. The fire-box and tubes are copper, pressure 200lbs; but 25 lbs of steam will be equal to a velocipede propelled by the feet. Great speed is expected from this so-called velocipede, but steam carriages are of course beyond the scope of our present enquiry and we leave our readers to ascertain the new varieties of them, which have recently appeared, from the scientific works specially devoted to their consideration. We have now enumerated nearly all the notable peculiarities of the velocipede and the machines which the invention of the winch axle has brought into prominence. Whether that invention will mark a lasting era, in the progress of mechanical science, time alone can show. America has already gone half-crazed over the new discovery and it is confidently asserted that walking is now on its last legs. One of their writers expresses the exuberance of his feelings in the following high falutin’ style.

“The two-wheeled velocipede is the animal which is to supersede everything else. It costs but little to purchase and still less to keep. It does not, like one Zedechias mentioned by an old historian, eat cart-loads of hay, with carts, horses and drivers as a relish, just to amuse Louis le Debonnaire, or any other sovereign. It does not, like Jeshurun, wax fat and kick. It is easy to handle. It never “rares up.” It needs no check-rein or halter, or any unnatural restraint. It is light and little; let alone, it will lean lovingly against the nearest support. It never flies off at a tangent unless badly managed and under no circumstances will it shy at anything. It is not ludibrious, like the young mule, nor does it; like the Morgan colt, cut up in a ridiculously corybantic manner, nor does it in other ways disgrace the memory of its inventor. In its movements it is all grace. Its one gait is so uniform and easy and beautiful to look at, simple to analyse, that it would be a shame to speak of a trot in the same breath. When its driver driveth furiously, even as did Jehu, the son of Nimshi, then there may be danger to him who obstructs the way and will not make room for the flying steed. But otherwise not. When we have nationalized the stranger, do not let us forget his origin, but where many smooth roads meet, erect to the memory and in honour of the inventor a brave monument like that which surmounts the grave of him who first gave us pickles and taught the world how to cure and barrel the bony herring. Let it not be said that the maker of the first bicycle went unrewarded by the descendants of that posterity who forgot Ctesibius, the first organ builder, or him who introduced the gridiron, nor yet those other anonymous benefactors to whom we owe the benefits and blessings derived from the use of door knobs and buttons.”

This kind of writing has a style of its own. We cannot approach it and so perhaps we had better end our chapter.

The velocipede, its past, its present & its future, by Joseph Firth Bottomley, 1869


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