display | more...

Niagara


Joseph Rodman Drake



I.

ROAR, raging torrent! and thou, mighty river,
Pour thy white foam on the valley below;
Frown, ye dark mountains! and shadow for ever
The deep rocky bed where the wild rapids flow.
The green sunny glade, and the smooth flowing fountain,
Brighten the home of the coward and slave;
The flood and the forest, the rock and the mountain,
Rear on their bosoms the free and the brave.

II.

Nurslings of nature, I mark your bold bearing,
Pride in each aspect and strength in each form,
Hearts of warm impulse, and souls of high daring,
Born in the battle and rear'd in the storm.
The red levin flash and the thunder's dread rattle,
The rock-riven wave and the war trumpet's breath,
The din of the tempest, the yell of the battle,
Nerve your steeled bosoms to danger and death.

III.

High on the brow of the Alps' snowy towers
The mountain Swiss measures his rock-breasted moors,
O'er his lone cottage the avalanche lowers,
Round its rude portal the spring-torrent pours.
Sweet is his sleep amid peril and danger,
Warm is his greeting to kindred and friends,
Open his hand to the poor and the stranger,
Stern on his foeman his sabre descends.

IV.

Lo! where the tempest the dark waters sunder
Slumbers the sailor boy, reckless and brave,
Warm'd by the lighting and lulled by the thunder,
Fann'd by the whirlwind and rock'd on the wave;
Wildly the winter wind howls round his pillow,
Cold on his bosom the spray showers fall;
Creaks the strained mast at the rush of the billow,
Peaceful he slumbers, regardless of all.

V.

Mark how the cheek of the warrior flushes,
As the battle drum beats and the war torches glare;
Like a blast of the north to the onset he rushes,
And his wide-waving falchion gleams brightly in air.
Around him the death-shot of foemen are flying,
At his feet friends and comrades are yielding their breath;
He strikes to the groans of the wounded and dying,
But the war cry he strikes with is, 'conquest or death!'

VI.

Then pour thy broad wave like a flood from the heavens,
Each son that thou rearest, in the battle's wild shock,
When the death-speaking note of the trumpet is given,
Will charge like thy torrent or stand like thy rock.
Let his roof be the cloud and the rock be his pillow,
Let him stride the rough mountain, or toss on the foam,
He will strike fast and well on the field or the billow,
In triumph and glory, for God and his home!

I particularly like the imagery in this piece.

On the New York Central railroad, there were hundreds of Mohawks and hundreds of Hudsons, but only ever twenty-seven of the mighty Niagara, the epitome of the American steam locomotive in express passenger service.

Others had built locomotives of the 4-8-4 wheel arrangement before - Alco built the first in 1927 for the Northern Pacific, hence the common term Northern for this type - indeed, the NYC had acquired an experimental high-pressure 4-8-4 in 1931. Maybe by learning from those other locomotives, the Niagara improved upon them.

Indeed, the Niagara's only flaw was to be built too late. Designed by the New York Central's superintendent of motive power, Paul Kiefer, his team, and the American Locomotive Company (Alco), the prototype Niagara was unveiled in March 1945, numbered #6000 after the design goal of 6000 horsepower. Twenty-five production Niagaras followed later that year and into 1946, distinguishable from #6000 by the slanted rear edges of their distinctive "Elephant Ear" smoke deflectors. In June 1946, the last Niagara was built, this twenty-seventh locomotive being built with Franklin oscillating poppet valves, the same equipment as fitted to the rival Pennsylvania Railroad's T-1.

Visually, the Niagara was a fine-looking locomotive indeed. With its smooth, clean lines, straight running board and big smoke deflectors, it looked somewhat European in line, but its sheer size and power and sophistication spoke of the finest in American built locomotives. Only handrails and the throttle linkage broke the clean, smooth line of the boiler casing. The NYC's restricted loading gauge made for a smooth, flat boiler top, domeless and with a stack so short as to be almost not there. The big smoke deflectors (also known as smoke lifters) were a feature of much later New York Central power, but while on other locomotives they looked ungainly, here they added grace and a look of power and eagerness.

From an engineering standpoint, the Niagara was also a thing of beauty. With roller bearings on all axles, as well as on side and main rod bearings, the locomotives were exceptionally free rolling. They were fitted with every modern gadget; self adjusting wedges eliminated the need for constant maintenance where the axleboxes moved in the frames, the NYC's valve pilot eliminated guesswork in setting the correct cutoff for the speed and load. Special tandem side rods absorbed the tremendous thrust.

The PT class tender alone was something special. Special overflow vents allowed the Niagaras to scoop water from track pans at 80mph. The force of the inrushing water at that speed would have burst previous locomotive tenders. The ability to scoop water without slowing, and the large number of track pans on the System, enabled the tender to carry relatively little water, and a huge load of coal, 46 tons.

In the end, though, the greatness of the Niagara hardly mattered - the diesel locomotive was coming. Despite test results showing that the Niagara equalled or beat an equivalent diesel unit in every possible respect - performance, costs, availability, you name it - the writing was on the wall. While ultra-modern steam power like the Niagara could compete at high-speed passenger service, the diesel had the edge in every other task. Keeping the vast infrastructure required for a steam locomotive fleet just for twenty-seven locomotives would have been uneconomic.

Besides, in passenger service, the reality hardly mattered - the image did. In 1945, having the newest and most advanced steam power sounded good -- five years later, steam was old-fashioned technology. Who'd want to be running steam locomotives on the crack expresses when other roads had gone to sleek, ultra-modern diesels?

The Niagaras' story ended almost before it began, and none survive today; of all the extinct locomotive types, the New York Central's Niagaras and Hudsons are probably the most missed.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.