The passing of the steam engine from the railways of the world continues to evoke feelings of nostalgia among enthusiasts from nine to ninety but, although the replacement of steam by diesel traction is irrevocable, it has not meant an overall decline in the use of copper in locomotive and permanent-way construction.
On the contrary, the modernization of British Railways which is now in full swing is requiring very large amounts of copper and certain copper alloys, including about 10,000 tons of copper and cadmium copper conductors for the overhead electrification of the two main lines from London to the North (Fig. 47). There is also a considerable use of copper in signalling systems, besides all the miscellaneous needs for pantographs, switchgear, brake systems, motor windings, commutator bars, large and small service stations, etc.
The principal use of copper in the old steam locomotives was for the large firebox plates, although in certain later construction when the boiler generated superheated steam the use of copper was restricted because of the higher temperatures involved. Copper firebox plates have been used for locomotives ever since Stephenson's Rocket was built in 1829. The cylindrical boiler of the Rocket contained a firebox with a double copper wrapper-plate forming a water-jacketed top and sides, the front and back being dry plates; copper tubes connected the water and steam spaces of the firebox with those of the barrel. The heating surface of the Rocket's firebox was 20 sq. ft.; by contrast, that of the Royal Scot, a famous engine designed by Sir Henry Fowler in 1927 for the London to Glasgow service, had a heating surface of 189 sq. ft. The notable old Silver Link (1935), which was used to pull the Silver Jubilee train between London and Newcastle, had an even larger copper firebox within which the whole of the Rocket could have been packed quite easily. The Stephensons chose copper for their fireboxes because of its successful use in large brewing and boiling vessels.
As far as motive power in the 20th Century in concerned the internal combustion engine is undoubtedly the power unit par excellence, as illustrated by its use in road vehicles ranging from motorcycles and cars to tractors and heavy trucks. Although its coefficient of friction is not as low as some materials, copper was used for bearings of heavy tanks and other vehicles during the last was, and since then oil-filled, self lubricating bearings and sintered copper materials have also been developed for i.c. engine use. Copper-lead bearings are also in demand because of their exceptionally high fatigue strength
The average car, whether private of commercial, appears to contain little copper or copper-alloys but, in fact, has from 40 to 45 lb., according to type and size (Fig. 60). Gaskets are often of copper or an alloy such as 80/20 cupro-nickel which is recommended for high-duty engines. The most important application of copper in motor-cars, however, is in the radiator, where the heads and cores are generally copper with tube of thin brass strip or foil, and the crimped fins of copper.