The Collection - The Disease

Dear Marjorie - My husband is 46 years old and spends most of his time playing with toy trains. He doesn't pay any attention to me these days.

Dear M - You have my deepest sympathy! Unfortunately, this condition is well known and is usually terminal. Very few people ever fully recover. However, you can turn this situation to your advantage! Trainaholics are so oblivious to their surroundings that you can bring as many men back to the house as you want - your man will never know!

Whatever you do though, don't get rid of your train fanatic - they are notoriously good at paying the bills! Blessings

When I first read this letter in a women's magazine I was shocked, devastated, mortified........

It took me a while to comprehend the truth in these words, but I am determined to 'clean up' my act.

No more trains!

The disease started .......... continue reading my incredibly boring history


Monday, April 6, 2009

Braking The Slow Train

Brake Vans (also known as Guards Vans)

Slow freight trains literally dragged their brake vans behind them to keep the train linkage under tension. Essentially defunct now, the brake van once served a major role in containing the terrifying spectre of rail disasters. Unfortunately, the demon of rail-borne accidents had his wicked way a great many times before the idea of braking was given serious consideration.

George Westinghouse – the unheralded hero of safe train travel

George was the man that worked out that train brakes still needed to be applied even if everything else failed. This same system (modified) is used in heavy goods vehicles, buses and trains the world over.

The basic principle is devastatingly simple – when the engine is running, air pressure is built up in a compressor that is used to remove the brake shoes from the wheels, when the brake lever is released. If power is lost or a leak develops in the braking system, then the brakes are automatically applied. A fool-proof safety system.

Actually, this simplistic view of train braking is too simple and a much more controllable system was designed ensuring that the brakes were not applied too suddenly, with dramatic consequences – to learn more about how air brakes work read

….but it wasn’t always like that! In days of yore when men were men and women twice as hairy (this could be the beginning of a little ditty –suggestions for the next line on a postcard please!) … All manner of scary tactics were applied to make a train stop in a controlled manner.

Attention Railway Modellers - excellent tips and resources for everyone

The first efforts involved:

Steam pressure from the boiler was reversed through the drive chain forcing the wheels to turn backwards. This frequently ended in mechancial damage!

The engine driver leaning down hard on a lever that pushed a bloc of metal onto one of the locomotives driving wheels.

The lever was eventually replaced with a threaded rod and control wheel that could be turned to gradually apply the pressure.

A system of chains linking the carriages was tried for a while that enabled the same handle to apply brake shoes to each carriage in the train.

The super-hero braking system involved a man leaping from carriage roof to carriage roof (in days before concertina corridor connections or vestibules) and applying a brake handle on each carriage when given the signal to do so using a coded blast on the train’s whistle. Needless to say the trains frequently arrived at their destination minus the brakeman! Called 'Cooning the Buggy' by those in the trade, it would tend to indicate that it was the domain of the black skinned, still suffering the torment of racial abuse/unofficial slavery in the mid 19th century America, where this practice was prevalent.

A similar super-human system required a brakeman to jump off the train and run along aside the train throwing the brake levers. I imagine that the designer of this system also ran slave ships from the Ivory Coast to replenish the broken brakemen!

Another braking system that was very short-lived used steam from the boiler to apply pressure to the brake shoes on the carriages. Unfortunately, the steam rapidly cooled and condensed and proved extremely ineffective.

The Brake Van

Before the Westinghouse air brake system came into being in 1869 and for many ensuing years, whilst new carriages and wagons were built and existing railway stock upgraded, the brake van was employed on freight trains throughout Britain, Australia and several other countries.

The brake van was attached to the very back of the train and constituted little more than a very heavy box containing a large brake wheel that the brakeman or guard would turn to apply the brakes, thus slowing the train from the back end at the same time as the locomotive brakes were applied. Not the most effective braking system ever designed and the train was limited to a top speed of around 25mph. Freight trains were considerably heavier and more cumbersome than passenger trains.

Occasionally the brake van was modified to carry mail bags or other light goods and more often than not a drunken brakeman!

Brake or Guard vans, as they were often referred to, continued in use in Britain until the mid 1980’s although all new rolling stock manufactured before then employed a Westinghouse or similar braking system.

In earlier days the guards van would often keep the brake partially applied throughout a journey, to prevent the loose wagon couplings from jerking and snapping off and to prevent the highly dangerous shunting effect that lead to many derailments.

This Hornby Dublo outfit contains several brake wagons representing the earlier braking tasks and more recent guard duties.

Hornby Dublo Brake Wagons 178717 and E178717

Both of the above wagons are from the golden days of early Dublo. All-metal construction didn't weather quite as well as the more modern plastic versions and both have slight roof damage. Although they both bear the same serial number, one van has a grey roof and a chimney (to keep the guard warm), the white roofed wagon was presumably used in summer to prevent the poor chap from cooking in his box! Both guards vans have very slight paint chips, but otherwise intact, unbroken and sound great on the rails with their lovely metal wheels!

Note the 20T weight tag - almost double the usual freight wagon weight.

Super-Detail Molded Plastic Guards Vans 730973 and 730012

Brake van 730973 and van 730012 are identical except in colour and both are boxed and in immaculate condition. The Super-detail plastic molding dates them to the post '58 era. The larger size also reveals them to be more advanced wagons than their predecessors with the open foot plates. Probably, they carried mail in these wagons.

Train Wreck

Quite where this one came from I don't know, but it isn't a Dublo truck - the wheels do not fall off Hornby Dublo trucks! I used it in a display with a crane in a siding. In any case, it's a dead brake van.

What's next on the agenda? Let's go back to the box and have a look!
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