The Visit, at Last
The visit to the Steam Museum took place on June 18th, a nice summer’s afternoon. Miss Tumble hired a bus and the journey from Newbridge to Straffan took only twenty-five minutes. Many of the children liked the Power Hall the most. There they saw steam engines operating with live steam. From the background information that Miss Tumble had provided, they understood the main principles involved and appreciated the importance of these machines. It was great to see, hear and smell the steam engines in action. The staff at the museum were very surprised at how knowledgeable the children were and how well they followed the demonstrations.
The large black independent beam steam engine in the Power Hall was built in about 1830. It was called independent because it was one of the first steam engines to be built in a factory, as opposed to being constructed where it was to be used. Engines like this drove the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The red reciprocating engine opposite the large black independent beam engine in the Power Hall was built in Ireland almost one hundred years later. Its flywheel weighed almost four tonnes (equal to the weight of about four family cars). It produced about 150 horsepower, which meant that over a given amount of time, like an hour, it could do as much work as 150 horses working hard for that amount of time. This was enough power for a small factory. Engines like this were made in many sizes and were produced in great numbers. A big one running in a cotton mill in Bombay, India, had a ten metre high flywheel – the height of the roof in the Power Hall.
Another display in the Power Hall was the front end of a Cornish boiler, a type that was invented by Richard Trevithick. It was capable of supplying high pressure steam to steam engines. The boiler that Newcomen had used in his engine had only been able to supply steam at atmospheric pressure.
Miss Tumble explained to the children that the models of locomotives and road engines on display in the Richard Guinness Hall were actual models built by the inventors of the full scale machines. The children were amazed at the detail of the models that were on display. Benjamin said he would like to make steam engine models when he was older.
One of the exhibits was an original inventor’s model of Richard Trevithick’s road locomotive, the first automobile ever seen! Another of the models was the prototype for the locomotive on the original Dublin and Kingstown railway. From 1834 this locomotive ran between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire over part of the route where the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) trains run today. Freddie and Eve enjoyed the steam-engine-related exhibits very much. They were also pleasantly surprised to find that there was an activity room at the Steam Museum where children could try out some science- and technology-related experiments. Freddie liked the experiment where he was able to move a simple valve to switch a vacuum from one side of a piston to the other. This caused the piston to move to-and-fro and, by way of a connecting rod, caused a bicycle wheel to turn. The partial vacuum was created by an ordinary vacuum cleaner. Eve enjoyed working with an experiment that showed how wind blowing over the wings of an aircraft could support it and make it fly.
It was the end of the school year. Freddie and Eve felt a little sad that they would have a new teacher instead of Miss Tumble when the next term began. Among the many things they had learned under her guidance, they had found out about steam engines. In doing so they had also learned a lot about history, science and innovation. For years afterwards, Freddie used to think of steam engines whenever he encountered condensation. Eve used to think of Miss Tumble whenever she came across a hemisphere, or jelly!
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