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Sun Apr 29, 2012, 08:37 AM

A giant of a man (cross post from UK group)

Yesterday was Trevithick Day in Camborne, a recent innovation where the ingenuity if Cornwall's native son, Richard Trevithick, is celebrated.

For those who do not know Trevithick was a mining engineer and inventor. A huge man for his day (6'2" he is celebrated in legend for his strength, it is said he threw a miners sledge hammer over the beam of the engine at the Dolcoath mine (a height of over 40 feet). His primary achievement however was the development of high pressure steam as the driving force for engines. This allowed him to develop the first practicable "chariot" or steam powered carriage in 1801.

The tale of the first epic ride is told in the song "Goin' up Camborne Hill (comin' down)" but the song is only half the tale for, in what seems to have been Trevithick's usual impulsive way, the test was undertaken without any prior warning or, seemingly, intent. It was a success, but a few days later on another test run the engine broke so Trevithick and his companions sent for help and retired to a local inn for a meal of goose and, no doubt, some beer. Unfortunately no one damped the fire in the boiler which ran low on water, overheated and burnt the engine to the ground. This may have led to Trevithick's later invention of the fusible plug which made steam boilers self damping.

On Trevithick Day a reproduction of that first chariot is run through the streets where its predecessor was first tested. In the pictures of that device below the smaller gentleman at the front is steering the beast by brute force leverage on the front wheels.

Trevithick's later career also shows his considerable inventiveness. He was the first man to run passenger locomotives but his engines were not matched by the rails on which they ran allowing the Stephensons, father and son, to claim the title of "Father of the Railways". Trevithick also seems to have lacked business acumen for virtually all of his business projects ended in failure.

One final note on his life is that he went to Bolivia to help develop pumping engines for the silver mines there but was unable to recover his investment due to Simon Bolivar's first civil war erupting. Trevithick joined the rebels helping to develop a gun for them to use but with the collapse if that revolt was left penniless. Further adventures (and engineering) followed until he arrived in Cartagena (Columbia) in 1827 where a passing Briton gave him 50 to get home. That Brit was George Stephenson the younger.

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