Saturday, 17 February 2018

What the WDLR can offer the 16mm enthusiast

There have been lots of centenaries marked in this blog. In a forgotten siding at Froissy (the ‘little train of the Upper Somme’) Jim Hawkesworth snapped this abandoned WD wagon. One hundred years ago, the wagon was taking supplies to the Army in the trenches. In this very area , the British Army was waiting anxiously for a German attack. They knew it was coming, but not where or how. The people involved, their worries, most of the 60 cm railways which served them have all gone, but these mute and aged witnesses remain.
A WD class D wagon without a side waits on a siding at Cappy, Haute Somme. Photo taken by Jim Hawkesworth 1990
Perhaps these 100 year old wagons have something to teach us in the modelling community. To truly appreciate the passage of time, we should try to live more in the present. By this I mean enjoy everything and escape the concept of ‘waste-of-time’. Try to shake off the idea that being time-poor is somehow to be materially rich.
For example, ‘time-poor’ people look for meal replacements not real food. Too often, people entering our craft are looking for the equivalent on their scale railways. Yes, meal replacements and convenience foods have their uses. Ready-meals have appeared in the Wright household.
I have never tasted a true ‘meal replacement’ but they have been marketed for years, a staple of old-folks-homes and hospices.  Rachel Joyce describes the experience of consuming a ‘nutritional milkshake’. These have hopeful names like strawberry, butter-scotch and vanilla but their colour gives the game away. They are all a shade half-way between beige and pink that has no name except possible ‘blush taupe’. They are a chore, to be consumed without pleasure.
In contrast, consider a simple fruit, a peach. You may wonder what is so special.. Real food has the potential to  surprise or disappoint. A peach has non-standard colour, shape and a little ’give’ to the touch. It has a well defined crease and a dimple where it was once attached to a tree. It has a smell. When it is cut, the juice runs out. It dares the most careful eater to consume it without coating his/her chin in pulp. It has flavour, sometimes delightful, sometimes not. When it is eaten, there remains a glorious stickiness.
The same applies to even the simplest of things, boiling a kettle. You could on the one hand, flick a switch and let your super-convenient device supply you with water at exactly 100 degrees. On the other hand, you could watch as the water travelled up to boiling point. At room temperature, water appears stationary. The French and the Chinese have terms for liquid as it starts to heat up – in French étincelant; the Chinese see 'fish eyes' in the water. At the simmer, the French say frémissant, a Chinese poet describes water as ‘pearls from a gushing spring’.  At a full boil, the French term is a gros bouillons, the Chinese say ‘galloping waves’. Are we perhaps missing something when we just flick a switch, walk away and come back when the job is done?
Coal tipper wagon  in HO scale produced by Roco International ref  4335a
In the same way, there are plenty of instant products for the modeller in a hurry. I am not decrying them. Pictured above is a lovely HO Roco wagon produced with painstaking attention to detail. It is, of course, exactly like every other Roco side-discharge tipper wagon reference 4335a .There is a place for this quality on any railway of this scale. But if a railway consists merely of a circle of proprietory track surrounded by ready-made buildings on which run locomotives and wagons straight from neat boxes, there is no individuality, no hopeful travel and no sense of owning the end result. All you have to do is transfer your money to the right quarter and then open the box. Isn’t this the equivalent of swigging down your Soylent Green instant lunch at your desk?
Many modellers may fear the alternative, which is making up a kit. They then miss out on a chief joy of the 16mm craft. A high proportion of available wagons and accessories are only available in kit form. The fact is, we aren’t the large market that is typical of, say, HO. The techniques of mass production are very often not practical. Whatever the reason for being drawn to 32mm or 45 gauge, the charm was not the vast range of readymade stock available. 
Most kit suppliers take pride in the customisations possible – early, middle or late versions of a prototype railway. The original wagons were adapted, botched and cannibalised. They were bought up by different orgaisations and used in new places.
Wrightscale 16mm WD bolster on Wrightscale WD bogies. The bolster was used for carrying long loads such as timber. Something similar was used to carry lengths of prefabricated track. Phot MD Wright

Making up a wagon is risky. Your first painful effort involves time, materials and the chance of many things going wrong. The end-result may be a wagon which compares poorly to the professional model, especially if it is a first attempt. For many of us, this is uncomfortable. We have been taught to avoid risk. Yet taking a chanc may bring its own rewards.
We are pleased that over the years, we have coaxed thousands of 16mm society members to consider Wrightscale WD bogie kits. On studying them, a fabric of history gradually unrolls. A lot was expected of these bogies. Two had to support a load of up to ten tons, on rough track without derailing. What is more, they had to be produced in their thousands within a few months.
Wrightscale WD 16mm bogie kit based on a 1917 prototype; long side-frame, short side-frame, end-frames and centre with pin to support one end of a wagon body. The wheels are Binnie Engineering curly-spoked.
As you get to know the components, you can see how these engineering problems were solved. The rivets are not mere decoration; parts were welded when this was sensible. Rivets and welds turned standard lengths of channel steel into sturdy frame members. Those chunky springs above the axle-boxes earned their keep; without serious springing, the bogie would be upset by rough track. The brakes, operated by prominent brake-wheels were essential to safety under trench conditions. Central to the bogie is the ‘pin’, the link with the wagon body which allowed parts to swing independently where necessary. A trench railway was sinuous at best. In fact, a nice straight line would be a gift to enemy gunners.
Most of all, let’s face it, hands-on modelling is a chance to overcome failure. Look on mistakes as part of the experience. Indeed, trouble-shooting is a valuable life-skill. There is no better achievement than looking failure in the eye and watching failure blink first.
16mm model of a WD covered wagon made by Jim Hawkesworth. It set on WD bogies. It has sliding doors; adaptations were used as ambulance wagons.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

AEF and Baldwin Gas Mechanicals went to war 100 years ago

One hundred years ago, there was watching and waiting on the Western Front. The Germans signed a treaty with the new Soviet government of Russia which gave them a tract of agricultural land and ensured safety to their east. They could now move their armies westward. If they could attack as soon in the early spring, they could knock out France before the AEF (American Expeditionary Force of the USA) could deploy for battle. A system of convoys, for the most part British in 1917 to early 1918, was bringing US troops in British shipping across the Atlantic.
The Baldwin Gas Mechanical. Any excuse to include a picture of this lovely brute!A series built beginning 7001 running on 60cm gauge was built for the AEF. This is a 16mm scale model by  MD Wright
As well as an Army, the AEF had to create a whole system of trench railways, which they modelled on the existing 60 cm gauge. In ‘Colonel Pechot: Tracks to the trenches’ pages 236-239, I describe the US Light Railways. Just at the planning stage in 1917, they were a formidable force by the end of the War. 150 examples of the 50h.p. Baldwin Gas Mechanical locomotive were built. They were identical to a large order (over 500) for the French Army. US industry also imitated French practice and constructed over 2800 bogie wagons for carrying freight. Rich Dunn comments 'there was some controversy about this decision' Clearly there were many proponents of simple four-wheel wagons for gauge this narrow.
German Military Intelligence told the High Command that this fresh new AEF was grouped south of Verdun (east of Soissons at the bottom right of the map); the western Front swung east from Soissons through Reims, then on to Verdun and Toul. Though this area had been regarded as the hinge of the Front in 1916, for various reasons, the Germans did not wish a frontal attack on the AEF.
Railway map of north-east France. In February 1918, The Front ran from just west of Lille at the top right to just east of Soissons, bottom right. A strong attack on Amiens(centre), well to the west of Albert, would knock out most n/s communications. Map courtesy of Terry van Winkle
The original Schlieffen Plan had been to attack France from the North-East, punch through the existing defences, destroy communications, cut off northern France and encircle Paris. It had worked before. The Front now ran from Soissons northwards, west of Lille, dangerously close to the Channel.
Military Intelligence also told the Germans that the British had just taken over the sector of the Front west of Amiens and had no time to settle in. This city was an irreplaceable centre for communication and supply for the whole north-east sector. A successful attack could cut off the north of France and most of the Channel ports (Boulogne is shown top left on the map). Thus their forces could encircle Paris without a threat to their northern flank. With France knocked out, the AEF would go home. They had come to protect their sister republic and didn’t have much interest in Britain. German Intelligence suggested that the new army stayed well clear of the British.
It was a good plan and nearly worked.
The Germans had developed storm-troopers. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen ("shock troops" or "thrust troops") were trained to fight with imfiltration tactics. Most memorable of these tactics were flame-throwers directed into trenches. Gas projectiles were also used.  A soldier trained in these methods was known in Germany as a Sturmmann ("storm man", usually translated as "stormtrooper"), formed into companies of Sturmtruppen.  
It is observed in Wikipedia that the infiltration tactics were much copied. In the Second World War, the Russians developed the flame-thrower into the Katyusha (Little Katy) and used this against the Germans.
The Allies were aware of a German threat. Unfortunately the British generals simply reinforced the defences forward of Amiens. This filled the trenches with fodder for flamethrowers.
The first AEF  troops were in France by August 1917. A contingent arrives by standard gauge Photo 'Illustration'
Fortunately, the British were also learning the use of trench communications. A resilient network, described at more length in ‘Tracks to the trenches’ page 226-7 had strength in depth and redundancy. Even if one line was cut, reserves could be brought up on parallel lines. Another advantage of the trench railway was how quickly it could be repaired.
The Germans also misunderstood the AEF. It did not stay solely behind the lines at St Mihiel. Troops were already out with the French, learning war-craft and how to deploy the Schneider 155 and the Filloux 155 which were being manufactured for them in France.
Some of the AEF were also supporting the British. In Rich Dunn’s ‘Narrow Gauge to No-man’s Land’ he describes how the 12th Engineers of the AEF were out on British War Department Light Railways quite early in 1917. The 11th Engineers were also with them, as standard gauge specialists.
Both 11th and 12th Engineers did brief training in June to July 1917 and left for Europe by the end of August. The 12th Engineers arrived in Liverpool on August 15th to lead a parade of US troops through the city. They then went to the Somme valley (east of Amiens) to operate the WDLR. 
Both 11th and 12th saw action in November, helping to capture some territory. When the Germans counterattacked, they fought their way out in spirited fashion. You can read the full story in Chapter 2 of Rich Dunn’s book.
Doughboys facing the oven! French and US soldiers share a trench in the winter of 1917-18. The US boys look fresher. The French are wearing the distinctive greatcoat and ridged helmet. Photo 'Illustration'

Though not made by simpletons, claims that the AEF kept itself to itself are overly simplistic. There were, no doubt many jokes about being divided by a common language, but they joked together, fought together and, sadly, often died together.
Sarah Wright,‘Colonel Pechot: Tracks to the trenches’  Birse Press
Richard Dunn ‘Narrow Gauge To Noman’s Land’  Benchmark Press
WJK Davis ‘Light Railways of the First World War’David & Charles

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Slow Locomotion

Modern technology promised to speed up our world. Take for example the telephone. It saved visiting or writing. A mobile phone saves the bother of going to the telephone. A quick flick through the contacts device saves us even the trouble of dialling. And so on.
Does that mean we spend less time on the telephone? Now the average person spends more time looking at the mobile than sleeping. Frequently it is the last thing a digitally connected human looks at when going to sleep and the first thing reached for in the morning.
There is plenty that is good about the modern hyper-connected world but some not so good. One big problem is our feeling about ‘down-time’. The phone and then the mobile were justified to us as time-savers. If time is money then somehow time has become money. Our down-time has to be as streamlined as a fully automated work-place. Leisure is a matter of films seen, pages read, engines run and how many people have ‘touched base’ with us.
To the hyperconnected moderner, this looks like a mess.Nothing is running; the vegetation is clearly flourishing but there is no activity ... and yet!
Fun has become a matter of numbers, the bigger the numbers the better.
Even time-off becomes a treadmill. For the railway modeller, the more turns the model train has done, the more photos taken and uploaded, the more this, the more that, the better. What have all these numbers actually done for us?
Always being connected and busy can lead to chronic fatigue. The whole point of leisure is that we step outside ordinary existence. It is a complement. This may be to numbers, results or competition. Unlike work, it is not the goal that is important, it is the journey.
The Slow Movement started as a protest. An Italian - they consider themselves the home of good food - was so shocked at the sight of a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps that he started an anti-culture. The Slow Movement protests against speed, size and surplus. At its best, it gently encourages slowing down, doing less, walking more and sleeping more.
One former burnt-out activist admits that her first attempt at craft-work was a failure. Her mind-set was one of speedy results. She had purchased a cross-stitch kit simply to pass time on long journeys. The first lesson she learned was … read the instructions! In the hyper-connected world, pausing to read these meant that the competition would pass her. She would be left behind!. All that happened was, she got her thread into a tangle and wasted time and material. She realised that no-one minded. No-one was racing her. She went back to the beginning and tried to make sense of the advice in the instructions. Then she had to apply the advice to the kit. At first it was slow, mindful, but then she picked up speed and ended with a first attempt whichgave her pleasure. She could even be proud of it.
16mm live steam Wrightscale Wren. This is not a switch-on-and-go sort of locomotive, but the joy that it can bring is immense. Step back, step out of time, enjoy the journey Photo MD Wright
The Slow Movement applies to our craft. Instead of fingering endless boxes of products and  racing our 16mm locomotives around the track, slow down. Enjoy the journey. If you have a live steam rather than electric locomotive, you have already grasped the vital point. The journey from shelf to trip is all part of the experience.
The instructions on the Wren 16mm locomotive are a veritable gateway to pleasure. The ritual begins with warming some water and conveying it in the correct container to the locomotive. Using a syringe, give the boiler its first dampening. 60 cc (four tablespoons) is enough. This is not just to apply water, but to reseat the ball-valve. The ritual may need to be repeated in a few minutes.
Check the lubricator. Water may have gathered inside. Unscrew the bottom nut and allow this to drain away. Tighten the nut gently. Loosen the top nut. Lubricate and then tighten, again, gently.  Moderation applies here.
Make friends with your gas filler. Make sure that your gas cylinder is at normal room temperature. On a cold day, carry it around for a little before use. Remember that gas will flow readily from a warm place to a cool one.
When it feels comfortable to the touch, connect gas filler to cylinder. Push the filler down gently to find the valve to the locomotive gas tank. Push down a little more and gas will flow from your gas bottle. Learn from subtle signs when the gas tank is full. When the burner sighs thanks to escaping gas, you are probably there!
If there is poetry in ritual, there is plenty of poetry in lighting the gas burner. Hold a flame in front of the front buffer beam of the Wren. You will learn from experience how far in front; about two finger-breadths is probably a good guide.
Open the gas valve slightly, and the flame should ‘pop’ back into the burner.  After a few seconds, you should be able to adjust the burner until you hear the purr of a well-tempered locomotive. Adjust to be ‘more open’ or ‘more closed’. It all depends. Once you have heard the purr or soft roar of a contented locomotive, then it will be forever recognised.
Wrightscale Wren seen from the back. The huge rod coming down into the gas tank is the filler. The water-filling valve is to the right, the regulator is the handle seen just above (it is in the 'off' position) the gas control valve is the hndle on the left.  Photo MD Wright
Allow the locomotive to adjust and pick up steam.
Problems with lighting are usually caused by carbon deposits. If gas persists in burning below the smokebox or the fire keeps going out, the jet needs cleaning. Have the cleaning wire at the ready. Loosen the cleaning screw and gently roll the little wire with a forward motion through the jet. Gently, gently. Check that the o-ring stays on the conical washer as you replace the cleaning screw. Try lighting again.
When the pressure gauge comes to life, you can think of running but firstly, any condensate must be removed from the valve gear. When 20 psi shows on the gauge, engage forward gear (handle to front). Flick the wheels forward to clear condensate. Quite soon, the wheels will start to turn of their own accord.
Now open the regulator … and let her away.
This all seems long-winded. By the standards of our hyper-connected, super-efficient world, this is an invitation to a waste of time. See it rather as a gateway to a slow world. This has been a journey, part of the fun, part of the re-invention we so desperately need.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dick Kerr and Baldwin Gas Mechanical locomotives

Our friend Jim Hawkesworth recently produced a photograph. It dates back to the 1960s. A First World War survivor waits outside the depot of the Sabliers de Nemours just outside Paris. It was then a working sand-extraction works though these days, its 60cm railway has become a heritage site – worth a visit if you are in Paris area.   
He had fond memories of the day. An enthusiasts’ coach tour had started early at Pithiviers, then still a centre for a 60cm network. They had been dragged away from the attractions and struggled up the crowded Route Nationale towards Paris. They visited the sand extraction works on the Loing, now the site of Tacot des Lacs museum and railway. They were finally on their way to dinner and bed when they passed through Nemours. There a night-watchman was shutting up the works while the staff put away their 60cm locomotives and stock. The bus skidded to a halt and the passengers streamed off to see this attraction. parc roulant – of the sabliers de Nemours with their bus parked firmly in the gateway in case it should accidentally close.
A Dikk Kerr petrol electric tractor waits outside the depot at Sabliers de Nemours, south of Paris,1963. Photo courtesy of Jim Hawkesworth
Naturally, they asked permission to look round - in impeccable English. Equally naturally, the watchman replied – in good cursive French. They took his stream of imprecations and expressive gestures as permission. In no time at all, the British party were swarming around the site.
Jim snapped this Dick Kerr petrol electric locotractor which was just about to be put back in the engine shed. Its pedigree is long and interesting. Already a veteran in 1963, the design dates back to the 1916 plan to modernise British transport on the Western Front and to my mind this makes it a significant locomotive. It marks a revolution in military thought and action on the British sector of the Western Front Just briefly, this is why:
In 1914,  British and Continental military planning were very different. In the 19th century, the French realised that the only way to supply an army, given the impressive growth of artillery, was to construct temporary field railways, using portable track panels.  The British did not and so once the Western Front came into being, they were at a logistical disadvantage.
This was partly because, between Crimea and 1914, the British had not made war on a large nation with modern armaments. They were consequently complacent. The French in contrast had endured the bruising defeat of the Franco-Prussian War. There was another reason which I have explored in my book Colonel Péchot – Tracks To The Trenches. The French Army included an officer, Prosper Péchot, who made it his life’s work to ensure that his fully integrated system of 60cm portable railways was adopted. It was adopted – for attack rather than defence - in 1888. Although the official name of the system was artillerie 1888, the Army always called it système Péchot. The Germans – coincidence? – produced their own 60cm feldbahn, also in 1888. By 1914, they had 1000 km of prefabricated track, and, more importantly, a couple of regiments of specially trained engineers. The French had less material, but soon placed orders for a massive increase in 60cm rail and rolling stock. The British had 4 ½ miles (7.2 km) of 2’6” track and no plans to build any.
International amity. This photo of 16mm scale models taken on the 'Pont du Lyn' line built by the late Henry Holdsworth makes n important point. A German d-Lok feldbahn locomotive, a French Pechot-Bourdon and Baldwin Gas Mechanical a British Hunslet 4-6-0 and  British  Dick Kerr and SImplex petrol locomotives all share a line. The prototypes were often used together.. Photo Jim Hawkesworth
By 1916, the British realised their mistake. Lloyd George sent his trouble-shooter, Eric Geddes, to France. Just before the War, Geddes was deputy manager of the North-Eastern Railway.  Interestingly, when young, he had managed a narrow gauge line but it was 2’6” gauge.

16mm scale model of a Dick Kerr made by Jim Hawkesworth
When he assessed French practice, he rejected any gauge but 60cm, the same as the système Péchot. This was the basis of Programme B, the War Department Light Railways. By late 1918 the WDLR involved 6000 miles (9600km) of track, over 600 steam locomotives, over 800 tractors of various sorts, and well over 10,000 wagons.
Starting in 1917, the American Expeditionary Force of the USA built up their own enormous system of railways, based on a modernised plan which harked directly back to the système Péchot. 
These 16mm models are all from Wrightscale. The 50h.p. Baldwin Gas Mechanical prototype was made in the USA for the French Army. The WD wagon, just seen at left was British and the wagon in the background is  artillerie 1888.  Photo MD Wright
After the War, the huge 60cm networks were dismantled. British, AEF and German material was sold off as War surplus; this is why US-built Baldwin Gas Mechanicals  ended up on the Festiniog Railway, also at Froissy and why a British locotractor was working the Sabliers de Nemours many years later. (Relatively little French material was sold off in this way – until recently.)
Among the first orders of this historic Programme B was one for 200 electric locomotives and a power system. Geddes realised that the original French system, involving steam locomotives, was unsuitable for trench conditions. Night or day, a steam loco provides a good target for hostile artillery. The French and Germans were already bringing petrol driven ‘locotractors’ into service. The British on the other hand thought that electricity would be the ideal smoke-free, spark-free and silent power source. Orders were placed with both British Westinghouse in November 1917  and (a little later – we believe) Dick Kerr Limited. Each were to supply 50 pairs of tractors - one of each pair could take electricity from trolley-poles  Conditions on the ground soon convinced the powers-that-be that the motor should be driven by petrol, but 50% of all ‘tractors’ supplied had vestigial electric connections. The other half of each pair had electrical connections so that they could run together.
Which design arrived in France first? BW undertook design and testing and so it is reasonable to assume that they were first built, but the Dick Kerr locomotives have earlier WD running numbers. This often happened in wartime and so numbering is not clear evidence that the DKs arrived first.
The two designs were similar: armoured 0-4-0, 15’1” in length, nominally 45 h.p. supplied by two 22.5 b.h.p. motors. When it was clear that transmission systems were not going to be built at the Front(!), each was fitted with a 55 h.p. petrol engine to supply the generator. The motors fitted in the DKs were slightly less powerful than the ones in the majority of the BWs, therefore overall output was lower in these examples. The tractors can be told apart immediately because the DKs had louvred sides, the BWs panelled.
They were not too heavy (8 imperial tons), reasonably well  armoured and not self-advertisers to the opposition – no clouds of steam nor showers of glowing sparks. All the same, they did not see much service at the Front. The gearing was very low and so they were too slow. They were far more useful elsewhere. Forward work-shops and repair stations needed power and so, in a neat reversal of the original concept, they often became parked power units. I suspect that otherwise, few would have survived the War.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

From Paul Decauville to narrow gauge modelling

Once, the name of Decauville stretched around the world from France to coral islands in the Pacific to Australia. The history of the Decauville family is full of contradictions. Paul Decauville was an ardent Republican yet had adopted an aristocratic name. He was a hard-boiled engineer with the soft centre of the visionary. For most of its existence, the Decauville Company – it went through many name changes – had no connection with the family. The company was lauded for patriotism and enlightened working conditions and reviled for collaboration. Were all these claims incompatible ?
The Decauville nameplate resembled a coat of arms, Photo taken at the Chemin de fer Touristique de Tarn - well worth a visit - by Malcolm Wright
The Decauville genealogy goes back to a certain David. He came from Coville. He considered that enough to enough to give himself the aristocratic surname 'de Coville'. Years later, Paul Decauville though a professed Republican gave his products slightly aristocratic nameplates. Amand Louis Victor, born 1821, changed the family name to Decauville.  His son, Paul Amand, born 1854, the most celebrated of the family, started the Decauville Company. Roger Bailly told the story in his 'Decauville ce nom qui fit le tour du Monde'
Amand Decauville was a prosperous farmer who part-owned and part-rented 700 hectares by the Seine upstream of Paris (Seine et Oise). He went over from cereal cultivation to the new crop, sugar beet. This produced sugar for human consumption and spent pulp for animal feed. The Decauvilles treated their own sugar beet to that the pulp could stay on the premises. The escarpment above the farm provided another ‘cash-crop’ – building stone. By 1854, Decauville had a a total workforce of 70. He formed a valuable connection with Fowler, supplier of agricultural machinery. He was praised as an employer for providing good working conditions, a form of health insurance and a cooperative shop for the workforce.
Turbulent times! This reproduction of a famous lithograph by Ciceri shows the scene outside the Pantheon in Paris 1848. Collection MD Wright
From 1854 onwards, Paris was rebuilt. The narrow streets and bulwarks of the old town were replaced by boulevards, lined with smart new buildings. Masons came from central France, stone from the hills south of Paris. Amand Decauville had a potential fortune in stone, could he remove it from the quarries. Paul Decaville, when still a very young man, helped to develop a cable railway to bring it to the river where barges took it on to Paris.A nice little video entitled Decauville is available on the RMweb website.
Various elements were in place: there was already a railway of sorts on the premises, a good workshop and a large area devoted to sugar-beet. Equally important were attitudes. The family prided themselves on their progressive outlook, morally as well as commercially, and also their international links, especially with the Fowler Company.
In 1870-1, France was ravaged by the Franco-Prussian War. Paul Decauville was a Citizen volunteer - a photo shows him in uniform when he was the member of a gun battery. When France was eventually at peace, he returned home to find his father dying. Responsibilities to immediate family, the farm and to a largish workforce were now his.
The autumn of 1875 turned into a nightmare for a conscientious boss. The good news was that the beet fields had been particularly productive. The bad news was that it could not be harvested. Months of rain had turned the fields into a morass. There was no way that existing methods – loading the contents of wheelbarrows into horse-drawn carts – could transport 9000 tonnes of sugar beet. Without beet, his customers would be angry, the beasts would starve and there would be no money to pay the workers. Then he had a flash of genius. The solution was already around him!
A Decauville portable railway in action. This elaborate railway shows how a single person could transport a considerable weight without breaking sweat. The railwas in fact very light and easy to lay. From catalogue 130 courtesy Jim Hawkesworth
There were lengths of prefabricated rail in his workshop and suitable mini-wagons in the quarry. A few lengths of track connected the field with the gate and the farm lane. The rail supported the barrows which once they were full.  Once the field was cleared, the rail and rail-mounted barrows were moved to the next field until all had been harvested.
Decauville's idea literally rested on this portable track. Prefabricated lengths of 5 metres could be fitted together and support up to half a tonne, then easily moved elsewhere. It took some years of improvement. Further refinement gave us the Pechot system whose 60cm track could support weights of up to 3.5 TONNES per axle. Courtesy Jim Hawkesworth

Decauville saw a commercial opportunity. By the autumn, a portable railway and prefabricated track were on sale. That first year, sales of the ‘porteur Decauville’ were to the value of 200,000 francs, 1879, 2.3 million, 1881, 8 million. As well as farms, he supplied factories. In 1882, he devised his first porteur militaire. In 1889, millions of passengers took the little Decauville railway round the great exhibition of Paris.
A certain officer in the French artillery had been watching the progress of Decauville. Sarah Wright tells the story in her book 'Tracks To the Trenches'.  In the late 1870s, industrial porteur Decauville was being used in army bases.  In late 1914, a thousand kilometres of track was ready to be laid on the Western Front, many more thousand by the end of 1918.
Magnificent beast! This Pechot-designed bogie wagon is 110 years old and counting. It has suffered amputations and modifications but is still functional. The Pechot system was famous for sturdiness and longevity. Photo taken in 2014 by Malcolm Wright at Apedale Staffs.
The Pechot designs went back to first principles - Paul Decauville had been content with what worked for him. In 1888, the French government looked to buy hundreds of kilometres of ‘voie Pechot’. The Germans were watching and were soon devising a system which shared many of the Pechot features.
In the meantime, what had happened to Paul Decauville? 1889 should have been his year of triumph. After the Great Exhibition, orders flooded in. A postcard showing a Decauville railway can be found on the St Margarets London Assets Images (Pelabon Works) website. Railways to serve holiday traffic were due to open, commercial railways were planned, there were many enquiries from abroad. The company went public with Paul Decauville as its first Director. In a few years, he had been ousted. By the turn of the century, he had left the area. He continued as innovator and entrepreneur and made his name again, with reinforced concrete. The 'cuirasse Decauville' was used into the 20th century.
An airship in the centre of Paris. Paul Decauville had interests in the new 'dirigible' technology. We can see how sleek and prosperous the Paris of the Belle Epoque has become. Author's collection.
The Decauville Company did quite well until 1940, going down many fascinating by-ways. It produced cars and bicycles, tanks during World War 1 and some extraordinary railcars.  Though accused of collaboration, it survived the Second World War. In the 1980s, manufacturing had moved to tipper trucks and cranes. At present, Decauville SA is still a registered company name, though enquiries to its address in Evry go unanswered.
Narrow gauge railways inspired by Paul Decauville and Prosper Pechot spread around the world. Decauville railways were found in quarries, industry and agriculture. After World War 1, 'army surplus' was sold everywhere and with them went designs originating with  Pechot. Again, these were in quarries and settings rural and indudtrial. A really intriguing model could be made featuring railways serving frontier forts of the late 19th century.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

A thank you to supporters of 16mm scale steam

Four Bagnall Excelsior models have gone to their appreciative new homes.
16mm Wrightscale 0-4-0 models of the Bagnall Excelsior as it was used on the Kerry Tramway. THese were supplied to their customers once they were painted. Photo Malcolm Wright
Malcolm is starting a batch of Kerr Stuart ‘Wrens’ which will bring pleasure to future owners. Apart from thanking our customers and friends, we'd like to take a moment to consider what a live steam locomotive can offer.
Wrightscale 16mm model of 0-4-0 Kerr Stuart Wren with optional custom paint. Clearly, the superstructure is.very light and airy. Photo Malcolm Wright
In the first place, the owner has something unusual. Both Wren and Excelsior are quaint locomotives, among the smallest commercially available in 16mm scale.  This makes them oddities, yet the fact that they are unique is a joy in itself. A Wren and an Excelsior both ask and answer the question ‘why do I look like this?’
In brief, each was a designer’s way of packing the most power into the shortest and lightest frame-work. A light locomotive can run on light track. A short one can cope with sharp turns without derailing. These were the conditions faced by both the Wren and the Excelsior. Both were built with the lowest possible centre of gravity. The Wren had an exiguous roof much lessening the weight above, the Excelsior had water-tanks set low. Because the Kerry-style Excelsior was working in a forest, it had to have a balloon-stack chimney, the better to arrest sparks. The history and purpose of each locomotive is written into its appearance.
Ownership, admittedly, can be good or bad. We all remember squabbles about stuff and probably, even now with great annoyance, the sibling/ex-friend who deprived us of some fancied treasure. Idealists say that without property there would be no squabbles, fights and wars, making the world a better place. They are idealists and we listen to them respectfully. We should respect the nobility of those who have nothing but share everything.
Bearing all this in mind, ownership should be a good thing. According to no less an authority than Prof. Niall Ferguson, property rights have been among the factors which have driven civilisation as we know it. He calls these ‘Killer Apps.’ In the case of the 16mm craft, our collections of locomotives and rolling stock have presented challenges and educated us – in history, geography and science.
A full-size Wren does what a Wren does best; it conveys a train of skips to a dumping ground. The footplate is crowded with enthusiasts who have already spent part of the morning preparing the locomotive for her steam trip. Photo taken at Stafold barn by Jim Hawkesworth
There are other joys our possessions can bring. Things can keep us in touch with our happiest memories and with our friends. A locomotive on a mantelpiece immediately brings back happy summer evenings spent with friends - anecdotes, rivalries, shared jokes.
16mm scale has an association and so, beginner or expert, regardless of means, you can join like-minded people for weekemds and evenings of fun. The Association of 16mm narrow gauge modellers has a website and magazine, but, better still, they can direct you to 47 and counting Area Groups, let alone several Special Interest groups. You may think we are remote, but we are members of the East of Scotland Group. For more information, try
There is also the most unexpected joy of all. A load of stuff on a shelf is safe. Railways, unlike many treasures, are an invitation to action and action is risky. Doing things as opposed to merely owning them offers challenge and failures along the way. All 16mm enthusiasts remember the heart-stopping moment when a new locomotive is brought out for a run. There could be delight  or disappointment. The locomotive could steam around the track at a realistic speed, could hiss expressively and whistle with joy. It could  stay stubbornly still, rush away or limp. Then it has to be withdrawn and new remedies tried. The process requires imagination, careful planning and a sure touch. It brings together the power of hand and eye, personal skills and advice from the models community. Hours rush by, absorbed in the challenge. Let’s face it, success sets one apart, failure can bring us together.
That sort of success when it comes can be the sweetest of all.That, not its price, makes an object valuable.
Will it go or won't it? A group of pals look on with bated breath. Since the photo was taken, some of the friends have left us  forever. A look at the models bring back the good times and the happy memories they left us.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Kerry Tramway Bagnalls

At last the small batch of Excelsiors are finished.  Most of the delays were due to life getting in the way of the the workshop -  only to be expected as the years go by!
Wrightscale 16mm Bagnall Excelsiors 2017 - finished at last!
The engines are very small, probably some of the smallest ever built.  They are the epitome of Victorian British design and use, built for a Welsh gentleman who wished to modernise his Mid-Wales estate.
The model in this iteration is improved. It now sports a blow-down and boiler-level-valve.
Left side of the Bagnall Excelsior
 The paint work is the result of a search to find a heat resistant finish.  Up until now, our models have been painted first with etch primer then with Halfords car paint for the finish.  Alas, the formulation of Halfords paint has changed and with one exception (matt black) softens and becomes "sticky" at 80"C. Next, I tried 2-part car paint but had no success.  It was too thick and the finish was not reliable.  The search ended with Humbrol enamel.  It goes on well, tack dries in about 30 minutes and 24 hours later is dry.  At this point it is baked at 80"C for 30 minutes and it does not soften.
The small size of the prototype is clear. The distance between  the footplate and the cab roof is about five feet six inches.
 The colour is close to Bagnalls standard green and I think when lined in yellow/black /yellow will look just like the illustration drawn by Roy Link for the cover of Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review #53. (No 53 is out of print, but sometimes available second hand)
Phil Copleston sourced the original photograph that allowed Roy Link to produce a drawing and this beautiful rendered picture.
This was the volume that contained the drawing from which the model was built.
The drawing itself came about due to the research of Phil Copleston.  The story behind the drawing is well worth reading.  I am lucky that others find this prototype irresistable too.