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Meteoric rise

Wednesday November 24 2004 08:24 IST

By Karmayogi

Times of transition, historians say, offer matchless opportunities for penniless men with powerful brains and imagination. They are astonished how quickly these penniless men come to the fore. Stephenson invented the steam engine's greater uses. It was James Watt who set in motion the first modern steam-pumping engine.

This was the prime period of Industrial Revolution. Stephenson came from a family of shepherds, though his father worked as an engine man at the pits. The owners of the mine were anxious to recognise, promote and reward talent. Stephenson had no education. At eighteen, he could not read or write.

By then, he had been a herdsman and a welder. He had driven a gin horse, had served as an assistant fireman, then fireman, then engineer. He was mending shoes and clocks in his spare time.

A year before, he was put in charge of a giant new pumping engine at a major coal pit, consulting with the man who made it, a brilliant designer called Robert Hawthorne. The historian says Stephenson, at 18, was in love with the steam machinery, as Keats and Shelley were in love with poetry.

He found the hissings and pounding of these massive engines to be romance. To him and to that period of the industrial revolution, these were noises of romance. In 1811, the new pumping engine failed. It was Stephenson's supreme chance. He was called in to transform it and work it efficiently. He succeeded.

The masters put him in charge of all the machinery at the pithead. He was offered 100 a year, at a time when 10 a year was a good wage for a workman like him. In addition, he worked as a civil engineer for other firms. He learnt to read and write, attended night school.

He provided an excellent education to his son Robert. He himself benefited from it. Robert had to ride ten miles a day on a donkey to attend his classes. When the boy returned home, he had to teach his father at night. They read volumes of science and technology together.

His masters entrusted him with greater and greater work. Stephenson thought big, worked on problems till he solved them. At last, Stephenson was hired as Chief Engineer for the first railroad which the Parliament sanctioned. Many are endowed with equal brains, work as hard, think as big, but their scope is in the paddy field or domestic kitchen.

It was the Time, the period of Industrial Revolution that lifted Stephenson sky-high. India is passing through one such transition, a change from low poverty to high prosperity.

For every hard-working man who can think big, who can work indefatigably until the problem on hand is solved, a meteoric rise awaits. They should leave their usual narrow grooves and enter into the mainstream of transition and act ceaselessly.
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