There's No Fuel Like an Old Fuel
(Peat is so common in the United States and Canada that most people can't see the resource for looking at it. There are an estimated 80 million acres of deposit in the continental U.S. Most of this vast natural supply goes unused . . . although some people do throw a few bushels of the muck on their gardens for fertilizer and others use the more fibrous and mossy varieties as a dressing for flowerbeds. What most folks don't know, however, is that peat can be a clean-burning, efficient and low-cost fuel. However, since filtering systems were in their infancy in those days burning peat in a steam locomotive must have fouled up the flues something fierce. It is interesting to note that peat was being experimented with for use in locomotives as long ago as the 1860s. The following article appeared in the Syracuse Journal on April 21, 1865, with the headline "Peat as Railway Fuel." - Dick Palmer)
We averted, some weeks ago, to an experimental trip on the New York Central Railroad to test the availability of peat as fuel for locomotives. This experiment was satisfactory so far as it went, but still left some matters in regard to its practical working undecided. Yesterday morning the new fuel was subjected to a severer ordeal, and the result on the whole appeared conclusive as to its practical adaptation to locomotive use.
The scene of the experiment was the Oswego & Syracuse Railroad, and the train, consisting of ten loaded freight cars, was run from Fulton to Syracuse, a distance of about twenty-six miles, using peat exclusively for fuel. Superintendent VanVleck and a number of gentlemen interested in railroad affairs accompanied the train.
Shortly after leaving Fulton, one or two of the boiler flues commenced to leak, the water dripping down into the fire-box, making it difficult to keep up a sufficient head of steam while in motion. When standing, however, the steam made rapidly. At Baldwinsville the indicator noted an increase of ten pounds of steam to the square inch in two minutes, with an ordinary blower. After getting the indicator up to 110 pounds pressure, the train started on, and for three or four miles the speed attained was greater than ordinary.
The force of the steam, however, increased the leak in the flues, and the water began to pour out upon the fire faster than the pumps could force it in. This formed a cake of wet ashes in the bottom of the ash pan, the steam from which, added to the water, seriously affected the fire. The indicator sank to fifty, forth, thirty pounds, and the train stopped. This happened when about four miles from Syracuse.
The wet ashes were then scraped out, and in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes, the gauge indicated a pressure of about one hundred and twenty pounds of steam. Up to this time no other fuel had been used than peat, but the supply of this article running out, the remaining distance was made with wood.
The train started out with about thirty hundred weight of peat on the tender, but owing to the delays consequent upon the leak, the question of its economy , as compared with wood, could not be definitely settled. No doubt remains, however, as to its steam-producing powers. The opinion of the gentlemen on the train being unanimous that the engine, when running, carried steam as well as wood, and made the usual running time before being affected by the leak.
It was suggested, by those conversant with the matter, that a slight alteration in the ordinary fire-box would be necessary before peat could be burned with advantage on locomotives. This would consist in giving a broader surface to the fire and diminishing the force of the draft. The introduction of a current of air above the burning peat, for the purpose of consuming the gas, was also suggested. We have no doubt that the result of these experiments will be favorable to the employment of this fuel as a substitute for wood.
Our enterprising townsman, Mr, Bradford Kennedy, was the originator and leading spirit for the experiment. Mr. K. owns a tract of some two hundred and fifty acres of peat land in Oswego county, near Fulton, and within a short distance of the railroad. This bed of “turf” is unusually rich, averaging over thirty feet in depth. In some places it has been probed to a depth of forty feet. We understand that a company is in the process of organization to develop the riches of this land of promise.