Fairlie, Robert Francis

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b. March 1831 Scotland
d. 31 July 1885 Clapham, London, England
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British engineer, designer of the double-bogie locomotive, advocate of narrow-gauge railways.
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Fairlie worked on railways in Ireland and India, and established himself as a consulting engineer in London by the early 1860s. In 1864 he patented his design of locomotive: it was to be carried on two bogies and had a double boiler, the barrels extending in each direction from a central firebox. From smokeboxes at the outer ends, return tubes led to a single central chimney. At that time in British practice, locomotives of ever-increasing size were being carried on longer and longer rigid wheelbases, but often only one or two of their three or four pairs of wheels were powered. Bogies were little used and then only for carrying-wheels rather than driving-wheels: since their pivots were given no sideplay, they were of little value. Fairlie's design offered a powerful locomotive with a wheelbase which though long would be flexible; it would ride well and have all wheels driven and available for adhesion.
The first five double Fairlie locomotives were built by James Cross \& Co. of St Helens during 1865–7. None was particularly successful: the single central chimney of the original design had been replaced by two chimneys, one at each end of the locomotive, but the single central firebox was retained, so that exhaust up one chimney tended to draw cold air down the other. In 1870 the next double Fairlie, Little Wonder, was built for the Festiniog Railway, on which C.E. Spooner was pioneering steam trains of very narrow gauge. The order had gone to George England, but the locomotive was completed by his successor in business, the Fairlie Engine \& Steam Carriage Company, in which Fairlie and George England's son were the principal partners. Little Wonder was given two inner fireboxes separated by a water space and proved outstandingly successful. The spectacle of this locomotive hauling immensely long trains up grade, through the Festiniog Railway's sinuous curves, was demonstrated before engineers from many parts of the world and had lasting effect. Fairlie himself became a great protagonist of narrow-gauge railways and influenced their construction in many countries.
Towards the end of the 1860s, Fairlie was designing steam carriages or, as they would now be called, railcars, but only one was built before the death of George England Jr precipitated closure of the works in 1870. Fairlie's business became a design agency and his patent locomotives were built in large numbers under licence by many noted locomotive builders, for narrow, standard and broad gauges. Few operated in Britain, but many did in other lands; they were particularly successful in Mexico and Russia.
Many Fairlie locomotives were fitted with the radial valve gear invented by Egide Walschaert; Fairlie's role in the universal adoption of this valve gear was instrumental, for he introduced it to Britain in 1877 and fitted it to locomotives for New Zealand, whence it eventually spread worldwide. Earlier, in 1869, the Great Southern \& Western Railway of Ireland had built in its works the first "single Fairlie", a 0–4–4 tank engine carried on two bogies but with only one of them powered. This type, too, became popular during the last part of the nineteenth century. In the USA it was built in quantity by William Mason of Mason Machine Works, Taunton, Massachusetts, in preference to the double-ended type.
Double Fairlies may still be seen in operation on the Festiniog Railway; some of Fairlie's ideas were far ahead of their time, and modern diesel and electric locomotives are of the powered-bogie, double-ended type.
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Bibliography
1864, British patent no. 1,210 (Fairlie's master patent).
1864, Locomotive Engines, What They Are and What They Ought to Be, London; reprinted 1969, Portmadoc: Festiniog Railway Co. (promoting his ideas for locomotives).
1865, British patent no. 3,185 (single Fairlie).
1867. British patent no. 3,221 (combined locomotive/carriage).
1868. "Railways and their Management", Journal of the Society of Arts : 328. 1871. "On the Gauge for Railways of the Future", abstract in Report of the Fortieth
Meeting of the British Association in 1870 : 215. 1872. British patent no. 2,387 (taper boiler).
1872, Railways or No Railways. "Narrow Gauge, Economy with Efficiency; or Broad Gauge, Costliness with Extravagance", London: Effingham Wilson; repr. 1990s Canton, Ohio: Railhead Publications (promoting the cause for narrow-gauge railways).
Further Reading
Fairlie and his patent locomotives are well described in: P.C.Dewhurst, 1962, "The Fairlie locomotive", Part 1, Transactions of the Newcomen Society 34; 1966, Part 2, Transactions 39.
R.A.S.Abbott, 1970, The Fairlie Locomotive, Newton Abbot: David \& Charles.
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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