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.