Author Topic: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?  (Read 1137 times)

John73

  • Swab
  • Posts: 2
Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« on: June 16, 2021, 01:21:13 pm »
Hello everyone.

This is for a steampunk / fantasy novel I'm working on. It's in an 1880's setting but with elves and dragons... think Lord of the Rings + Industrial Revolution. I'm trying to keep the science & technology parts of it as close to reality as possible.

There's a terrorist group who wants to destroy a steam locomotive. Now, I heard somewhere about the practice of hollowing out lumps of coal and packing them with gunpowder. Or it's possible it was nitroglycerin. Then you slip the coal into the locomotive's fuel supply, and as soon as it gets shoveled into the firebox the boiler explodes.

I don't remember where I heard it, it might be from a TV show or it's possible it's just one of those old myths. Does anyone know for sure if this would work? Or if it won't, is there another good way to sabotage a steam locomotive, in a way that the crew won't notice or be able to do anything about? I need the boiler to just suddenly explode without warning.

Thanks in advance!

LordWorthing

  • Deck Hand
  • *
  • Posts: 33
  • The Viscount Sir Leo Stanley Worthing-Topper
    • An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2021, 04:54:29 am »
What you are referring to is called a "Coal Torpedo", the first documented use of which was made at least as early as the American Civil War 1861-65. Essentially it's an iron tube, packed to the brim with black powder and painted black so it blends in with a mass of coal. Which was deposited in a coal bunker or coal storage bin, and hopefully eventually shovelled into a ship or train engine's fire box. The results could be fairly destructive, in one instance during the ACW,  the Union logistical base at City Point, Virginia was devastated by a single coal torpedo which detonated in an ammunition barge, the resulting explosion killed approximately 43 people and injured a further 126. The Austro-Hungarian military/intelligence agents also used coal torpedoes of a more modern sort against the Italian Royal Navy with some success during WW1, one of which may have been responsible for the destruction of an italian dreadnought, the Leonardo da Vinci.

One way I can think of tampering with a train engine, which won't necessarily destroy the train, although it will play havoc with the engine itself is contaminated the boiler water, which on most ships and trains was usually cleaned or distilled at least from the 1880s onwards. For instance, adding salt to clean boiler water will cause it to foam dangerously when heated, it also prevents the engine from reaching full atmospheric pressures. While you can run a boiler with salt-water at low power, it has to blow off steam at least several times each hour to prevent dangerous build ups of heat and erratic pressures.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2021, 05:27:08 am by LordWorthing »
An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron

It is the year 1889 A.D., an age of enlightened discovery, of unrivalled and often fantastic scientific and technological progress: powered by coal, steam and electricity. It is also an age of empires and empire building, of fierce and often complex competition for wealth and material resources by both governments, corporations and private individuals. The Nations of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia vie for power, prestige and prosperity on the world stage and across the solar system.

Banfili

  • Zeppelin Admiral
  • ******
  • Posts: 2372
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2021, 11:36:32 am »
Sugar in the oil doesn't do much good, either! Used in WWII by French Resistance fighters.

John73

  • Swab
  • Posts: 2
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2021, 07:58:15 pm »
Sugar in the oil doesn't do much good, either! Used in WWII by French Resistance fighters.

Steam engine, not diesel -- unless that also works with the bearing grease?

@LordWorthing thanks for all the info! So it has to be an iron tube, I assume to keep the powder compacted so it explodes better? (I know practically nothing about explosives can you tell?)

LordWorthing

  • Deck Hand
  • *
  • Posts: 33
  • The Viscount Sir Leo Stanley Worthing-Topper
    • An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2021, 03:40:59 am »
I suspect iron was used because at the time the coal torpedo was first utilized, it was relatively widely available, could be made up in any blacksmith workshop or foundry and offered several advantages: it could be sealed tightly enough to be water proof and air tight, important so the black powder charge didn't get contaminated or seep out of the container. It was durable and would not be easily crushed flat by several tons of coal dumped on top of it once, it was inserted into a coal storage bunker. I'm am not an explosive expert either, I just have a considerable amount of useful trivia in my head about all sorts of diverse subjects due to assorted and variable reading and study over the years, lol.

Madasasteamfish

  • A clanger waiting to be dropped......
  • Board Moderator
  • Rogue Ætherlord
  • **
  • Posts: 1715
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2021, 04:56:34 pm »
Well, IIRC this method was used by (Or at least reccomended to) members of the British SOE and resistance groups in Occupied Europe during the Second World War, although they used 'modern' explosives rather than gunpowder.

I'm not sure as to the accuracy but slipping coins into the lubricators was (supposedly) also a technique used to wreck locomotive wheel bearings by the resistance in occupied France.

I suppose the real deciding factor with something like this is the aim of the sabotage, and if the sabotuers are looking to cause death and destruction, or just disrupt the rail network.
I made a note in my diary on the way over here. Simply says; "Bugger!"

"DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING, JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH."

Banfili

  • Zeppelin Admiral
  • ******
  • Posts: 2372
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2021, 11:19:06 am »
Sugar in the oil doesn't do much good, either! Used in WWII by French Resistance fighters.

Steam engine, not diesel -- unless that also works with the bearing grease?

@LordWorthing thanks for all the info! So it has to be an iron tube, I assume to keep the powder compacted so it explodes better? (I know practically nothing about explosives can you tell?)

Yes, was used in the lubrication process. Sugar is not good for the innards of steam engines!

Banfili

  • Zeppelin Admiral
  • ******
  • Posts: 2372
Re: Best way to sabotage a locomotive?
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2021, 11:20:41 am »
Well, IIRC this method was used by (Or at least reccomended to) members of the British SOE and resistance groups in Occupied Europe during the Second World War, although they used 'modern' explosives rather than gunpowder.

I'm not sure as to the accuracy but slipping coins into the lubricators was (supposedly) also a technique used to wreck locomotive wheel bearings by the resistance in occupied France.

I suppose the real deciding factor with something like this is the aim of the sabotage, and if the sabotuers are looking to cause death and destruction, or just disrupt the rail network.

I don't think the sugar business was to cause death, just enough damage to take the loco out of service