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Spring/Summer 1991 | Volume 7 |  Issue 1

From Steam To Diesel

Having been involved in the dieselization of U.S. railroads, I found Maury Klein’s article “The Diesel Revolution” (Winter 1991) very interesting. His reference to engine men gradually coming to appreciate the vastly improved working conditions of diesel is almost an understatement. On one major road that completely dieselized, a sudden traffic surge required reactivation of a few steam locomotives. No one wanted a steam job, so only those on the bottom of the seniority list operated those locomotives.

John K. Scott
Foster City, Calif.

From Steam To Diesel

Having been involved in the dieselization of American railroads, I found your article on dieselization interesting, but I must point out that the locomotive pictured on page 19 is not a diesel, as indicated, but is in fact a Westinghouse/Baldwin experimental gas-turbine locomotive from 1950.

The idea was to develop a locomotive with even higher thermal efficiency than the diesel, and to produce considerably more horsepower in a single unit. The locomotive was rated at 4,000 horsepower, as opposed to 2,000 for contemporary diesel passenger units; the picture shows one of its two 2,000-horsepower generator sets being lowered into the car body. The turbine was actually about 6,000-hp size, but two-thirds of this was needed to run the compressor—even when the locomotive was standing still. This meant that unless the locomotive could be used continually at high load levels there would not be a tremendous savings compared with a diesel locomotive, even though the machine used far less expensive fuel.

In any case, the Westinghouse unit was never sold or duplicated, and diesel power continued to take over as the prime mover of the railroad industry.

F. S. Moorhead
Battle Creek, Mich.

Mrs. Einstein

I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas P. Hughes’s “Einstein the Inventor” in the Winter 1991 issue. Einstein’s inventing work is usually underemphasized even in fairly comprehensive analyses of his output. I’d like to add another interesting fact: Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Einstein-Marić, was herself a physicist, and she shared his enthusiasm for invention. A biography (in Serbian, by Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić) and several recent papers have reported on how Mileva Einstein-Marić was involved in practical engineering work and invention, notably with their colleague Paul Habicht.

Caroline L. Herzenberg
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, Ill.

The Flight Frontier

I enjoyed T. A. Heppenheimer’s very informative “The Closing of the Aviation Frontier” (Winter 1991) but was surprised that it contained no mention of the 1946-61 effort to develop a nuclear-powered airplane. A nuclear-powered craft would have been able to fly indefinitely long distances at treetop level without running out of fuel, something that no fossil-fueled aircraft could do.

By 1951 there were two competing contracts for the project, one with Pratt and Whitney and the other with General Electric. The general idea in both cases was to replace fossil-fuel combustors with a nuclear reactor as the heat source. In the Pratt and Whitney version the heat was transferred to air indirectly through a liquid-metal circulating system; in G.E.’s version the air was heated directly by replacing the turbojet engine’s combustors with a high-temperature nuclear reactor. I was in charge of the reactor development for G.E., and we actually ran a modified J-47 turbojet engine on nuclear power. Airframe studies made by leading airframe companies showed that in spite of the weight of the radiation shielding, total aircraft weights comparable to those then existing were feasible.

Both branches of the project were canceled by the government in 1961 on the basis that Congress couldn’t fund both the nuclear aircraft and the intercontinental-ballistic-missile project, a competing weapons system. The episode illustrates the fact that technological feasibility does not guarantee success. In the future as in the past there will surely be technologies whose potential will never be realized because of nontechnological financial, political, or societal factors.

Miles C. Leverett
Monte Sereno, Calif.

Big Difference

I really enjoyed “Postfix: Your Evolving Phone Number,” by Richard Brodsky, in the Winter 1991 issue. Over the past fifty-seven years I have lived through some of those changes, but I had forgotten them until the article appeared. I recall that in the 1962 change our number, which had been ACademy 6-2799, became 226-2799. To prevent confusion, Bell of Pennsylvania sent out instructions with the comforting statement that if you erred and dialed the old number, Bell’s sophisticated new technology would convert it. I know some people who thought this was high technology.

Barnum would have had a ball.

Jack R. Maurer
Pittsburgh, Pa.

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