Under the (car) hood – Part 2: Inroads made and then some

By the time the railroad had arrived on the scene, the seeds of what was known as the wagon road had already been firmly sowed.

However advanced the state of the latter was, it had become patently obvious that this pathway for transport just didn’t measure up and something more resilient, more durable and way more accessible and at the same time way more accommodating to a wider array of travelers was needed. At first, the train in that regard sufficed just fine. But, ultimately, it would be the car and the road it traveled upon that enabled our getting here – here being where we are today. And where we are today: 1 billion motor vehicles and growing on the world’s roadways.

Steam locomotive boiler superheater

While in “Reflections on our rail past: Knowing where we’ve been could tell us where we’re going” (Part 1) provided: 1) reference to a couple of current matters that cause – and are cause for – concern, i.e. global warming/climate change and the pollutant emissions emanating from the single biggest contributor, i.e. the transportation sector; 2) a brief overview describing how, in at least one city – Baltimore, Maryland, smoke from steam locomotive activity on America’s first common carrier railroad – the Baltimore & Ohio – inside the Howard Street Tunnel, was effectively dealt with; and 3) a discussion that chronicled and detailed the five generations of railway propulsion technologies, in today’s discourse described is the automobile’s evolutionary journey and we’ll get an under-the-hood look at the propulsion chronology and history connected to that.

Auto intro

Unsurprisingly but remarkably automobile development closely mirrored that which had been going on in the railroad development realm. The main difference between the two modes is the platform on which the respective conveyances operate.

In the case of the former, motorized rubber-tired mobile machines traveled on dirt, stone, cobblestone, concrete and asphalt cement roadway surfaces. And, in the case of the latter, engine and rolling stock moved on, at first, wood rails topped with iron bands or straps and affixed to granite stones set in or upon the ground. Markedly improved upon, in their place was placed iron or steel rails then set upon crossties (ties) either set on – or, in some situations in – the ground and fastened with steel spikes, the whole physical plant made much more stable when set in a bed of rock ballast. And, whereas the car was guided on the so-called “open” road using steering mechanisms, on the train, on the other hand, said mechanisms were unnecessary due to the rail platform’s self-guiding, self-centering nature.

Engines = prime movers = power plants

Under-the-hood view of internal combustion engine

Now, as to the inner workings of road-based automobiles, some may be surprised to learn that the generations of propulsion types up to a point, closely paralleled those of rail’s; we’re talking steam, electricity, internal combustion (diesel, gasoline, propane). It should be noted that due to the comparatively long time it took to recharge car batteries and other factors, the electric vehicle lost out to the internal combustion automobile, and quite early in the game as a matter of fact, which explains the reason for the internal-combustion-engine’s or ICE’s dominance today. For more on electric automobile history, see: “Making an impact: The effect on air from electric cars – NONE!” here.

New York, New Haven & Hartford FL9 electric/diesel electric “dual-mode” locomotive-hauled train

Whereas hybrid technology as applied to the automotive mode came much, much later, what is referred to as “dual-mode” capability (diesel-electric and straight electric) made its railway domain debut as far back as the mid-1950s (see photo at right). It has only been very recently that the rail industry has explored or experimented with and/or embraced such areas as liquefied and compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel-cell, battery and solar power, and maglev propulsion. And whereas on some pikes external combustion (another term for steam locomotion) rules the day, steam in the automotive world has all but disappeared.

As it turns out, the two disparate modes – road and rail – where under-the-hood operations are concerned at least, really, they are not that far apart.

Looking ahead, in Part 3, covered will be the likely direction both rail and road, of course, apart from each other, are headed.

Images: Christopher Ziemnowicz (middle); Roger Puta (bottom)

This post was last revised on Dec. 9, 2020 @ 6:16 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Published by Alan Kandel