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French steam engines in Panama

by asdf Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 12:12:23 AM EST

This is not a political topic! I'm trying to figure out the answer to what should be a pretty simple question: Did the French locomotives used in Panama in the 1880s during the initial canal construction burn coal or did they burn wood?

After the French canal project faltered, the equipment was stored in the hopes of selling it to a new investor. The new investors turned out to be American, but by the time they showed up, most of the old steam shovels and railroad equipment had rusted away. Some of the old engines and cars found their way to the bottom of Lake Gatun, and were recovered in 2000 and put on display.

What I'd like to find out is whether this type of engine is designed to burn wood or coal. According to the source of these pictures, the locomotives were built between 1882 - 1887 by the Belgian company La Societe Cockerill.

The underlying question is whether the Panama Railroad ran on local wood products, which might make sense in a jungle--if you can figure out how to get dry wood--or used imported coal. Here in the western U.S., local wood was used as fuel and most of the mountains near railroads and mining areas were stripped of trees. I'm curious as to whether there was any such activity in Panama during the days of steam...

Perhaps someone is familiar with French railroad engines who can help with this history?

Pictures very much appreicated from http://www.czimages.com/CZMemories/frtrain/ft13.htm

I wouldn't know, but wouldn't the firegrate be different between a coal or wood burner ? the wood grate being comparatively larger to get to the same calorific rate.

That would then imply a larger smokebox, something which this engine seems to lack.

But that's just a guess.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 10:38:24 AM EST
Exactly, same what I would have said. I add that I don't know, but suspect Cockerill didn't make wood-burners.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 04:34:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you can have your cake and eat it to: you can produce charcoal (just as good as coal) from local woods in a small workshop, and purchase commodity coal-fired locomotives to run on it.

Charcoal is quite close to pure dry carbon, it delivers more useful heat per unit of volume & weight because you don't need to evaporate the water in the wood, so the engine is smaller and also the feeding is easier, the storage wagon is much smaller (which makes for more payload).

Yet this is only a speculation, I cannot identify the engines depicted here.


by Pierre on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 11:32:00 AM EST
Try cross-posting to a specialized forum e.g. The Railway Forum or (in French) Trains Français. I think many scale train aficionados are knowledgeable about period engines too.

You're clearly a dangerous pinko commie pragmatist.
by Vagulus on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 03:01:28 PM EST
The history of the following locomotive may give a compelling answer to your question:

This is a locomotive type 130 of French maker Cail, bought for the Panama Canal construction in 1889, and put to service there as No. 2296. Later, it became Porto Rico railways No. 15:

According to a French source, it was the loco to pull the first train on the island, and it was after the US took the island that it was converted from coal-burner to wood-burner. In 1929, Henry Ford purchased it for his museum in Dearborn. From there, after diverse troubles, it came to Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, a French museum railway that restored it and runs it since 2003 as No. 2.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Dec 15th, 2007 at 07:39:05 AM EST
Thank you! That's exactly what I was looking for.
by asdf on Sat Dec 15th, 2007 at 02:00:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In theory, it is not entirely impossible that the Panama Canal construction company ran both coal and wood burners, say if there were different subcontractors or different work groups within the same company that made separate orders for different uses. But if coal was imported for one anyway... Also, methinks they must have used some steam-powered digging machinery, too, so coal might have been needed anyway.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Dec 15th, 2007 at 02:46:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It can be noted that coal was in the same era imported to California from Oregon and Australia (It think Hughes mentions it in Networks of Power). So longdistance would not be anything new.

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by A swedish kind of death on Sat Dec 15th, 2007 at 03:07:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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