Author Archive

Japanese Cab Ride

February 19, 2013

I was forwarded this video by a friend, and because I was more interested in the hand signals being made by the engineer, I did not notice one little thing.

The “little thing” is the fact that this is a cab ride in a computer simulator that represents a Japanese Class D51 steam engine.  Aircraft pilots often talk about the fact that the planes fly more like simulators and that the simulators fly more like planes, but this is taking things to new heights.

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angelsprings Tavio

February 8, 2013

japankiha52

If England is the mother of all railroads, then Japan certainly must be the father.  While we here in the United States struggle with getting even limited passenger train service, and our local heavy rail transit line is only 48 miles long, things are quite different in Japan.  To be sure, all of the necessary elements are present in Japan; short distances between cities, high population density and expensive car ownership.  There are literally hundreds of trains running everywhere throughout Japan.

There are, of course, some cultural differences.  Consider the Japanese pusher:

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The Japanese pusher is a station attendant who works during rush hours to literally push people into the trains.  Of course, Westerners are advised by their travel agents and local hotels to stay off the commuter train network during rush hours, for obvious reasons.  Once outside the city, however, Japanese train travel is wonderful, even if the trains look  like spaceships:

14intransit-japan-train-blog480

The Japanese also have a whimsical streak:

doraemonjapantrain-thumb

That said, I stumbled across a wonderful video of a Kyoto tram.  What starts off as just another tram ride slowly draws you into a well edited slice of Japanese life.  Take a look, here:

japantram

This comes from an artist called angelsprings Tavio.  As of this writing, there have been 128 videos posted by this individual (or company), and they’re nicely done.  Take a look.

Cab Ride – Waterloo to Basingstoke

January 19, 2013

Ok, Gary and I are getting into a rut, but it’s an interesting one.

Waterloo Station

Waterloo Station

Cab rides are by their nature special events if you are not a railroad employee.  For the train crew, it’s just another day at the office, but for the railroad enthusiast, it is a special event.  A cab ride is different.  It’s not like you’re going to somebody’s office to look at the new copier.  No, this is railroading, and like everybody else in the transportation industry, it is a special place.  Lord knows that it can be a difficult place sometimes and there are a lot of demands made upon people in the transportation business.  But, on the other hand, it is a train….

Cab rides still seem to be fairly common in Europe.  My last trip there produced two cab rides, both of them very interesting in their own way.  While all of the rest of the riding public is sitting back there wondering what is going on, you’re up in the front with a clear view of the tracks ahead and maybe a little railroad conversation with the train’s crew.

Here in the United States, where everything must always be safe all of the time, cab rides are not quite so common.  They may still be happening, but everybody is a lot quieter about things than they used to be, out of fear that discovery would make something this magic go away.  You can’t even stand on the platform in Philadelphia to watch your Acela leave the station before they descend upon you with guns at the ready.  It’s sad, but you can see why this has happened.

It has been said that Great Britain is the mother of all railways, which is quite true.  And even today, English railroad operations are interesting and intense.  Consider yet another video of a cab ride, this from Waterloo Station to Basingstoke, Hampshire, 48 miles down from London on the line to Southampton.

This video was produced by “madabouttrains“.  As you get into the video, it appears that madabouttrains is someone who is a young man who has wangled a cab ride.  There are a number of quite interesting things about this ride, most of all is the cab conversation between the videographer and the train crew.  As the train eases out of Waterloo, the locomotive driver and our video producer engage in a little conversation just to see how serious this young man is about trains.  He then proceeds to rattle off the train stations on this line in order.  Thus ends the “Are you really serious about trains?” conversation.

There is little doubt that madabouttrains is already very knowledgeable but wants to know more.There also is little doubt that the line to Southampton is a busy one, with four tracks (two for express and two for local trains).

This cab ride happens in the lead car of a Class 444 multiple unit train:

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These units max out at 100 mph, and this cab ride shows them nearing that speed several times.  Along the way, there’s all sorts of interesting British Rail operations, including passing a freight train of hopper cars pulled by a Class 66 diesel:

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Also, about 30 minutes into the video, the Class 444 train passes the British Pullman train:

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This train is loping along at about 60 mph, pulled by a Class 67 diesel:

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As our MU train slides by, the locomotive driver notes that “You’re a lucky boy, seeing that”.  And, indeed he is.

This video is a bit jerky, presumably because the camera wants to correct for the motion of the train.  And the EMU windshield needs a cleaning.  Oops, sorry, the windscreen….

Cab Ride – Waterloo to Basingstoke

Basingstoke Station, Hampshire

Basingstoke Station, Hampshire

Siskel & Ebert on Electric Trains

August 11, 2012

I’d be remiss if I did not pass this along.  The first four minutes of this video are classic Siskel & Ebert, classic Lionel and classic issues raised by young children and electric trains.

Siskel & Ebert Meet Lionel Railscope

Roger Ebert is still with us, while Gene Siskel has gone on to the Great Trainroom.

The Good Old Days?

August 5, 2011

I’m cautiously willing to acknowledge that I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Leaving aside the old age comments, it is interesting to look back upon the model railroad hobby as it once was and to marvel that this idea ever caught on in the first place.  Consider the seasonal project railroad published in the December, 1952 issue of Model Railroader magazine.

Pine Tree Central

The “Pine Tree Central”, which fit onto a flat sheet of 4′ x 6′ plywood with 1×3 pine frame, was designed to start off in the living room at Christmas time.  After the Christmas season had passed, it was then supposed to weasel its way into the household, becoming a full-time fixture in some model railroader’s life.  Of course, it was the 1950’s, which means that you built everything.

Parts needed for the Pine Tree Central

You built everything except the transformer, which is probably just as well; no telling how many houses were not destroyed by fire because of that.  It’s interesting looking back at the train:

The Train for the Pine Tree Central

Once Christmas had passed, the railroad added two more sidings and scenery, and you had something:

The Complete Pine Tree Central

Of course, we have progressed considerably since 1952, and the hobby has become much more user friendly.  So, too, what you get for your money has improved, too.  Consider the 1952 prices and the adjusted-for-inflation 2010 prices:

  • Mantua Shifter 0-4-0 steam switcher.  $15.95 then, $127.88 now
  • Varney gondola. $1.90 then, $15.33 now
  • Roundhouse box car.  $2.70 then, $21.65 now
  • Ulrich stock car.  $2.95 then, $23.95 now
  • Varney caboose.  $2.95 then, $23.95 now

In 2010 dollars, you would have spent $212.06 for items that cost $26.45 back then.  And, you still had to spend over 12 hours to build these trains.  And, if you were lucky, the 0-4-0 would actually run once you had finished.

Of course, the model train revolution had not really started until the Athearn “Blue Box” trains entered the scene in the late 1950’s.  Athearn produced a series of inexpensive yet reliable items that would make a lot of people take up model railroading.  Consider these items from the 1971 Walthers catalog:

  • Athearn Super Power F-7.  $12.95 then, $68.93 now
  • Roundhouse gondola. $2.00 then, $10.64 now
  • Roundhouse box car.  $2.25 then, $11.98 now
  • Athearn stock car.  $1.98 then, $10.54 now
  • Athearn caboose.  $2.98 then, $15.86 now

So, in twenty years, the costs for the Pine Tree Central trains had both dropped in dollar cost and improved in quality.  By the 1970’s, Walthers no longer sold Mantua, which had been merged into Tyco during that era.

Today, of course, things have become better and cheaper again.  This is due, in no small part, to the considerable presence of Chinese labor.  Mantua is still in the marketplace, but the smaller engines such as the Shifter are now sold under the Model Power brand.  Steam locomotive kits are now an oddity, reserved for those who enjoy a challenge.  The Pine Tree Central trains in the modern era:

  • Model Power Shifter 0-4-0 steam switcher.  $47.98
  • Bowser 40′ gondola.  $13.95
  • Walthers 40′ box car.  $19.98
  • Accurail stock car.  $13.98
  • Atlas Trainman caboose. $17.95

And, of course, these different cars are available in a large number of different road names and numbers.

So, 60 years after the Pine Tree Central article was published, the model hobby has grown in both scope and in quality.

A few things have changed along the way.  For one, scenery techniques are both more realistic and safer.  The 1952 Pine Tree Central article calls for a scenery plaster formula of glue-based patching plaster combined with 7 lbs of ground asbestos.  Although this was a widely accepted technique at the time, fortunately, the hobby has become better in any number of ways.

And, we haven’t even talked about the improved locomotive performance that results from command control.  I don’t miss the old days; I like to look back and read about them, but I don’t miss them.

Model Railroad Command Control

July 8, 2011

Allow me a moment of personal commentary.  Model railroading can be a complicated hobby.

It’s a lot better now than in the late 1940’s, where you had to build everything.  Back then, you built your own locomotive from a kit (and it often didn’t work the first time, either), you built your own rolling stock, you laid your own tracks.  The whole lot.  You rarely hear long time model railroaders whining about how great the old days were.  Trust me, they weren’t.  Today, things are a lot better, but there are things that are good news/bad news.  Model railroad control with advanced electronics is one of those things.

The concept of model railroad command control is simple enough.  A central command station generates coded signals which are sent out over the track to all the locomotives.  Each locomotive has a decoder which interprets those coded signals and, if the signal is meant for that locomotive, executes the commands from the central station.  There are also decoders for solenoid devices such as track switches.

I’ve been interested in the subject since General Electric introduced ASTRAC to model railroading in 1963, a system which never really caught on.  It would be Märklin that made the world safe for command control with their Märklin Digital system.   It was brand new, and I liked it from the get-go.  The system was both advanced and user friendly, a rare combination.

Märklin plowed a bunch of money into promoting this new command control system and into the support of the Digital dealers and operators.  I attended my first Märklin Digital dealer training seminar in 1986, a two-day event.    For Digital to succeed, Märklin felt that a well-trained network of dealers was key to Digital’s success.  I use Digital to this day on my home railroad:

Märklin Digital Control Panel

It is a reliable system, and, most importantly, it does what I want it to do.  What you don’t see is what was necessary to get to the point that “it does what I want it to do”.  Here, this is part of what was necessary:

Märklin Digital Decoder Panel

You didn’t really need to see that, did you?  What you would rather see is this:

Amstetten Station Layout

Actually, I’d rather you see this instead of the background wiring, too.  I did what was necessary for the railroad to operate in a certain manner, but it is helpful to remember that things don’t need to be this complicated for you to have a good time.

Although Märklin Digital was very successful from the start in Europe, it never really caught on in quite the same way in North America.  In the American market, the dominant control format is DCC.  Unlike Märklin Digital, DCC is “open architecture”. As a result, there are several manufacturers of DCC equipment, many of them based in the United States.  No reason to get into the “whys” of this, just accept that DCC is the electronic communication format of choice here.

That said, there is a degree of difference between the different manufacturers.  As with so many other model railroad matters, everybody has their own taste and preference for a DCC system.  And, while DCC is open architecture at the individual locomotive decoder level, it is not open architecture at the command control system level.  The whole promise of DCC was that it would be cheaper than Märklin Digital, which is what it proved to be.  Along the way, DCC also became more powerful than the earlier generations of Digital.  Which is another story for a later day.

The point being that while DCC locomotive decoders can be used with all DCC systems, you’re only going to buy one DCC control system, and generally the different components of that system are going to come from one manufacturer.  And while individual locomotive decoders can be bought for as little as $20.00, the command stations, throttles and such can run into some money.  Combine this with the notorious thriftiness of the average model railroader and you’ve got a formula for some interesting events.

A lot of model railroaders put professional golfers to shame with their drive to not spend a lot of money for something.  The model railroad manufacturers use the term “value oriented consumer” because it sounds a whole lot more professional than some of the other descriptions.  The net result is that when it comes to the selling of DCC command control systems, there’s a lot of elbowing and elitism.

Generally, model railroad DCC systems tend to be in clusters, like infectious diseases.  An adventurous modeler buys a DCC system and learns how to use it.  Another model railroader friend comes to visit, sees the command control system and decides that it is for him.  His choice of a DCC system is likely to be same system as what they have seen.  So, too, a good train dealer has a preference of systems, for a variety of reasons.  Model railroad club layouts are also influential.  On the plus side, this behavior means that a command control system often becomes popular for reasons other than competitive excellence.  This is not bad, just a statement of the general reality of the market.  At the same time, this clustering of command control systems often leads to the model railroad equivalent of sports “trash talk” about competing systems.  There’s a lot of elbowing going on out there, often for no good reason.

I say this because I am writing about an application of electronic command control for a specific project on my personal website.  On the pages that I am currently working on, I’m describing how I approached a model railroad control issue in a coffee table.  Ultimately, my solution is to use command control, because it makes things easier for a number of reasons, and it won’t require a wiring panel like the one above.

The idea in this situation is to control two or possibly three locomotives, and to control three track switches.  Very simple, and for many command control systems, far below these systems’ capacities.  Keep in mind that even the “basic” command control systems can control 10 locomotives.  Some of these basic systems also can control up to 8 track switches.

The “entry level systems” are now capable of operating 20 locomotives at any given time, and are able to access over 9,000 locomotive addresses.  They are also capable of operating 999 turnout addresses.  In short, far more power than my little coffee table would require.

Yet, why do I want to use command control in this situation?  It is because of a feature called “load compensation“.  Märklin introduced this concept in the mid-1990’s with its new 6090 decoder.  Basically, the command station sends a speed command to the locomotive and the load compensating decoder balances the motor voltage so that this locomotive goes the same speed all the time.  Uphill, downhill, with a light train or a heavy train.  It’s a terrific feature.  And, like the concept of sectional track in the 1870’s, the concept of load compensating decoders was willingly shared by Märklin with the rest of the model railroad industry.

Because my coffee table project has track gradients, I know that I want to equip this railroad’s locomotives with load compensating decoders.  And, since the coffee table railroad is N-Scale, my choice will be DCC because of the widely available number of N-Scale sized decoders.

But as I am writing about this, an interesting episode comes to mind.  As I was working through the coffee table design, I knew that I wanted a really simple command control unit.  In practice, this unit would control 2 or possibly 3 N-Scale locomotives.  If implemented, it would also control three track switches.  Very simple, and I had a unit in mind, the Bachmann unit:

Bachmann E-Z Command System

Bachmann E-Z Command System

Yeah, it’s pretty boring, but, on the other hand, my requirements were three locomotives and three turnouts.  Granted, this Bachmann unit doesn’t control turnouts, but my personal irritation centers on something else.

As I was considering which command control system to use, I asked a fellow model railroader who is also on the business side of the hobby what he thought about this particular unit.  “Oh, it’s a piece of ****”.  I reiterated what my requirements were, but he was adamant that I needed something “better”.  Presumably, one of his products.

It surprised me in a way, but you also have to wonder how many potential model railroaders were turned off by an elitist attitude.  And, you have to wonder about the mission-creep that DCC often takes on.  Where the whole premise once was “two wires”, meaning that the basic technology only required two wires to the layout to get command control.  In practice, however, it takes more than two wires, depending upon how many locomotives you have and such.  But what gets me is that when the command control intelligentsia get together, it’s a never ending complicated cavalcade of CV’s, stop bits, zero stretching and whatever else their active minds can come up with.

Given the attitude of those serious DCC enthusiasts, a lot of model railroaders seem to conclude that they would be just as happy with analog control lest they get sucked into command control, which can be a hobby all unto itself.  My point is that while command control should be seamless and invisible, it rarely is so when in the hands of the “experts”.

Which brings us back to the “piece of ****”, above.  While it is a limited unit, it also may be more than sufficient for many in the hobby.  For while the E-Z Command unit itself has limited controls, it will be used to control individual locomotives.  And each locomotive has its own decoder, assigned an unique address.  And within that decoder are powerful adjustments that make each locomotive both unique and realistic in operation.

In short, the command station itself can be “dumb” since most of the complicated stuff happens with the decoder in the locomotive.  A knowledgeable third party such as your train dealer can program the locomotive.  This would not be just the locomotive address, but also the speeds, the light functions and a host of other specifications.  And, under normal circumstances, the locomotive can be programmed in one location and then brought home to be used in another location.

So, calling the E-Z Command unit a foul name does little justice to the model railroad layout owner.  Yes, there are more advanced systems out there, but not everybody needs to fly a 747 when a Piper Cub will do.  And, by the way, even if you have just one locomotive, command control may still be for you because the load compensation feature makes for very smooth slow speed operation.  Perfect for switching railroads, for instance.

In a way, the elitist attitude is as old as the model railroad hobby itself.  In Europe, kids who had Märklin layouts felt superior to the kids with Fleischmann.  In America, it was Lionel versus American Flyer.  And, for a lot of model railroaders, there is the elitism of being in O-Scale rather than HO.  I suppose that this is fun stuff, but in the end it doesn’t really serve the purpose of expanding interest in the model railroad hobby.

William Huskisson

August 15, 2010

Today marks an unusual railroad anniversary. On this date in 1830, William Huskisson was the first person to be widely reported as being killed by a railroad train.  There apparently were earlier fatalities, but by those who were not worthy of mention.  They most likely would be operating crews in boiler explosions and other situations caused by inexperience with early technology.  This would include the “qualified” locomotive fireman who tied a rag around the boiler pop-off valve because the noise bothered him.

Huskisson, on the other hand, was a major personality and his death made people aware of the railroad.  As could be expected, Huskisson was an investor in the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and he would not be the last investor killed by the railway.

Bill Purdy

August 13, 2010

Bill Purdy, Master Mechanic – Steam Locomotives, has passed at age 95. He led a full and interesting life, but most of all, he was an interesting man in an interesting occupation. He was a man of good humor, strict expectations, a family man and a believer in God.  Every life is remarkable, yet Mr. Purdy made a contribution to American railroading which is without equal.  In this era of greatests and biggests and bests, Bill Purdy quietly went about his particular anachronistic craft, the steam locomotive.  Bill Purdy would be a key character in the long term railroad preservation movement.

I first fell in love with trains in the 1950’s, and came of age in the 1960’s, an era of railroad failure.  The railroads in the late 1800’s had been the Tech Bubble of their time, growing quickly and without regard to business realities.  America’s railroad capacity would prove to be vital during World War II, and after the war, America’s railroads were simply worn out.  The steam locomotive went away and the diesel was ascendant, but the diesel alone could not save the railroads.

Popular tastes had shifted away from the railroad.  With massive Federal assistance, people now flew in modern airplanes.  Federal assistance also built the highways that took the railroads’ business away.  And it was Federal assistance in the form of the Interstate Commerce Commission that prevented the railroads from conducting profitable business.  With ICC control, the railroads slowly began to fade away.

And, when the mail contracts started going to trucks that operated on Federal highways for a pittance, the railroad passenger train began to fade, too.  The decline of the railroad passenger train also meant a decline of contact with railroads for the average American citizen.  America’s eyes were on outer space and flying the friendly skies.  The railroad began to disappear from American daily life.  Although some railroads continued to operate their passenger trains as they always had done, others actively sought to leave the passenger business.  Declining revenues were easy to establish, for the market was speaking.

Where once there had been six passenger trains a day between Atlanta and Cincinnati, suddenly there were none.  And nobody noticed.  Where once there had been five trains from Atlanta to Washington, DC, now there were only two.  Congress, in a defensive act, formed what would become Amtrak.  Three railroads did not join Amtrak. The Georgia Road had its own reasons for continuing passenger service and the Denver & Rio Grande Western was the Rebel of the Rockies, but the Southern Railway felt that Look Ahead, Look South was more than a slogan.

In part, Southern had always done things in its own way, but keeping the passenger trains was much more than that.  In part, there was the spirit of independence, of keeping the operation of their tracks to themselves.  At the same time, the railroader that was president of Southern Railway also was a lover of railways.  Graham Claytor would keep the Southern independent and efficient, but he also knew that the railroad needed all the public relations it could get.  And on a fateful day, at the back of a steam locomotive, Graham Claytor and Bill Purdy met.  It would prove to be a happy convergence.  Both were dyed in the wool railroaders.

Bill Purdy had come about it in the traditional way.  He had the train bug very early.  As a student at an elementary school that was along the tracks, he always found a way to stand up and watch as each train passed.  An exasperated teacher asked: “Must you get up every time a train goes by?”  And like the most of us, his reply was “I must.”  Had he been sent to the school’s principal, it is unlikely that he would have been punished, for the principal always made it a point to go out front and watch as the trains passed, too.

His father had worked for Southern, and Bill showed a mechanical inclination at an early age.  He worked for the Southern, with a few years off for World War II.  Initially, the military would not take him because his Southern Railway job was important for the war effort.  On the third try, he got into the Merchant Marines and did his part as a mechanical engineer on a cargo ship.  His part included devising a washing machine that was driven by the ship’s propeller shaft using a limited supply of parts that were available.  This may not have helped the war effort, but it earned him the loyalty and respect of his shipmates.

I must admit that I was in awe of Bill Purdy, for he commanded respect.  Yet, at the same time, he was perfectly accessible if the time was right.  The last time that I saw Mr. Purdy was at a wedding reception.  It was the marriage of two railroaders and the reception was naturally held at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta.  The Depot itself is another tale of preservation in the face of doom.  It was a happy moment and the new couple were about to set off on a great adventure.

Bill and his beloved Sara were there, and in a quiet moment, he and I talked.  The wedding was taking place at a time when the railroads were in a clear state of recovery from the dark days of regulation.  Traffic was up, there were new locomotives and, as always with the Southern Railway, the track was level and solid.  It was a great time.

He and I inevitably began to talk about the railroad business.  I noted that things were much better, but he, always the engineering type, noted that there was need for even more improvement.  So typical of Mr. Purdy; things could always stand improvement.  I noted that there was still competition from trucks, especially those with double-bottom trailers.  He looked  at me and said: “They’re as big as a 40-foot box car.”

The evening ended sweetly with Sara talking about how she and Bill eloped to Chattanooga, followed by their friends in a parade of automobiles, horns honking all the way.  As she and Bill checked into their hotel as husband and wife, a grain of rice from the wedding fell from her hair onto the hotel register.  She remembered it as if it had been yesterday, and I saw Bill Purdy as a family man and father.

Two things; Bill Purdy realized that he was in the entertainment business.  At each of the steam train trips, he never was too busy to pose for a photograph with a young child in front of this ancient machine that he cared for.  Every fan trip run-by was staged for a maximum display of the steam locomotive’s spectacular power and character.  People took photographs that they later shared with others.

He was a key player in the railroad preservation movement.  I was at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum on a tour of the locomotive shops.  The 4501 was there for a refurbishing, and I asked one of the workers what happened to all the equipment that Southern had at its Birmingham steam locomotive shops in the 1970’s.  He replied that the equipment had all been sold to other steam locomotive preservation organizations.  The tools were all still being put to use somewhere, but I also realized that the accumulated knowledge from Bill Purdy and others had also continued on to another place.  He also was a preserver of the flame, the knowledge and skills that are required to preserve a locomotive.

In the late 1960’s when he and Graham Claytor had that fateful meeting, the future of the railroads was uncertain, but the future of railroad preservation was also in doubt, too.  The railroads had become so distant from daily life that nobody cared if the past was preserved or not.  Today, it is a different story and railroad historical preservation is doing reasonably well.  But without Bill Purdy and countless others, there would be no operating exhibits.

What I consider to be the most important thing for Bill Purdy is that he got to see his beloved railroads come back from near death.  He had the time to see the railroad return to its natural position, to succeed.  I think that makes it a good thing, but I also realize what Mr. Purdy gave to the industry.  He helped show countless people the railroads that had been.  At the same time, he helped bring them trackside, to see what the railroads are today.  While the diesels made the money, the steam locomotives won the hearts of people.

Foreign Motive Power

July 14, 2010

A lot of foreign locomotives reflect the character of their home countries. German electrics are the penultimate in engineering and design. The Chinese had mainline steam locomotives until recently.  And, of course, the home built back shop critters appeal to my peculiar tastes. At the same time, a lot of American technology has found its way around the world.  Consider the Belgian Class 204:

Belgian Class 204 and second unit

Looks Euro on the outside, but inside beats the heart of an Electro-Motive Diesel design, the 567.  It’s just a little weird when you are standing on the platform at Liege waiting for a train and what sounds like a Seaboard GP-7 winds up and pulls off, looking like that.

So, let me introduce you to the GM-22, another American design that has found its way out into the world:

Argentine G22

Argentine G22, photo by Alejandro Goldemberg

Built under license by ASTARSA, the G22 looks a little more like our kind of locomotive, but when you listen, it beats the pure heart of an SW1500.  Which is to say, a 12-cylinder 645E diesel engine; that’s 645 cubic inches, per cylinder.  I like SW1500’s:

The Wave of the Future?

May 11, 2010

Coming Soon!

We are committed on this blog to the concept of steel wheels on steel rails.  The concept has been around since the 1820’s, and seems to be holding its own against the competition.  To be sure, there have been a variety of contraptions that were supposed to be significantly better than the tried and true.

Who could forget the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company?  This ill fated system was a block long transit experiment in New York City that transported passengers in a tube by air pressure, not unlike that wad of cash being sent from the department store cashier.  It did not do well.   In the same manner, the monorail keeps trying to compete.  Here, a gyroscope balanced monorail from 1907:

Gyro Monorail

There’s a Monorail Society, devoted to promoting the concept.  The monorail captures the public’s imagination.  There have even been monorail toys, such as this one from Schuco of Germany:

We don’t want to be smug here, but in our mind the monorail remains a curio, largely confined to amusement parks and dedicated systems such as at airports.  This is not from a lack of trying.  Consider the first monorail in Houston, Texas.

The Trailblazer

Manufactured by Alweg, Texas promoters put up a demonstration site on the west side of town, near the intersection of Main Street and Old Spanish Trail in 1956.   As with any good introduction of advanced technology, the roll-out is crucial to the success of the venture.  The business types were present in droves:

Back when everybody wore a hat

No good roll-out would be complete without a star; here, a young Roy Rodgers, without Dale or Trigger:

Roy Rodgers Introduces the Monorail

Roy could draw a crowd:

Inside, the monorail had all the charm of a bus station waiting room.

Check out the babes and the futuristic uniforms!

Monorailettes

Blast off!

Into the Future!

Of course, every new technology is not always what it seems.  Note the high-tech piece of equipment, formerly called a ladder:

What's Upstairs?

As with so much other technology, when you look under the hood, you can be in for a disappointment.  The Trailblazer used two stodgy Packard 352’s which drove transmissions connected to rubber tires which rode on top of the monorail.

Monorail Operator's View

Likewise, the control station was on top of the Trailblazer, another need for the ladder:

Captain Kirk

At The Helm

In the end, the monorail was disassembled at some point in 1958 and moved to Dallas, where it operated as an attraction for several years.

At the Texas State Fair

The Ladder Was Never Far Away

The monorail was removed from the Fair Grounds around 1964.  I was going to go for the joke and say that it is now a chicken coop on a farm in Waxahachie, Texas, but, once again, truth exceeds fiction.  The Trailblazer sat at a scrap dealer’s yard for several years until it was sold and transported to “East Texas” and used as a kitchen, with a residence built up around it.

Meanwhile, steel rail and steel wheels just keep rolling along.