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Brunel's Fan: His Locomotive Draught Experiments of 1840/41

Medium: journal article
Language(s): English
Published in: The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology, , n. 1, v. 87
Page(s): 20-41
DOI: 10.1080/17581206.2017.1327197
Abstract: A characteristic of I.K. Brunel's approach to engineering was to challenge established practice to see if a better understanding of scientific principles would offer improved specifications. This approach led to failures as well as successes. This paper discusses his programme of trials using steam turbine driven fans to provide a continuous draft of air through locomotive fire-grates to encourage the burning of coke in lieu of the normal blast-pipes. This arose after 1839 trials with a constricted blast-pipe on the Stephenson-built North Star locomotive gave poor fuel use results. The narrower the blast-pipe the more back-pressure problems were experienced, whilst partially-burnt coke was pulled from the fire and ejected. Brunel pursued the notion that either an exhaust or boiler-pressure steam fan creating a vacuum would provide continuity of air flow giving sufficient draft for adequate steam generation with reduced fuel consumption. Initial trials were held using a previously unknown small locomotive, the Brothers, built by Henry Stothert & Co. of Bristol. Following success with these trials, Brunel sought the advice of John Farey regarding an application for a patent, but was dissuaded. Brunel never took out any other patents. The trials were scaled up in 1841 using Thunderer, the unconventional locomotive built to T.E. Harrison's patent design, which had been withdrawn from service due to high costs of maintenance. After limited success with these scaled-up vacuum trials, Brunel then worked closely with John Ruthven, the Edinburgh-based engineer, to trial a rotary steam engine coupled to a fan to supply compressed air through the fire-grate via the ash-pan. In spite of considerable personal expenditure on the trials, Brunel discontinued his pursuit of fans following the introduction of improvements to valve-gears which offered more fuel-efficient applications to locomotives.


Structurae cannot make the full text of this publication available at this time. The full text can be accessed through the publisher via the DOI: 10.1080/17581206.2017.1327197.
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