Friday, 3 August 2018

The guns of August 1918



One hundred year ago, the Germans were still on the offensive on the Western Front. I understood why they were confident of victory in spring 1918, but always felt that the summer offensives were a bloody waste. 
Early in 1918, the German Army attacked the Western Front with vigour. Tremendous gains were made; in late March, early April, the were almost able to break the Front in two. British and French soldiers managed, just, to hold the line east of Amiens. This was a tribute to the soldiers involved.
In March 1918, nearly 300 WD locomotives and 2000 wagons had to be destroyed as the Germans advanced. These  models, Baldwin WD tank 4-6-0 loco, WD D-class wagon and WD covered bogie wagon, show the sort of stock destroyed. 16mm scale built by Wrightscale
There was another factor. The Allies were better supplied. The Germans had to bring everything – ammunition, food, even water - and evacuate their wounded over many kilometres of trampled, rutted and bloodstained ground. The Allied defenders were bringing their supplies over a few kilometres of fresh fields.
Both side depended on 60 cm gauge field railways using portable or highly versatile track. In the case of the French, this was a development of artillerie 88, the system that was first adopted in 1888, and was informally known as the système Péchot in honour of Prosper Péchot its original designer.  The Germans had their Feldbahn system, the British, Canadians and ANZACs had developed the War Department Light Railways (WDLR). The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) had their Department of Light Railways. When they retreated towards Amiens, WDLR operators destroyed the material they could not take to stop it from falling into enemy hands. 
Although such railways were versatile, they were more easily laid over fresh ground – undisturbed fields and quiet country lanes.
German prefabricated track came in a range of  lengths. As can be sen, it could be laid quickly, but not on extremely rough ground. Track photographed at Apedale, Staffs. Courtesy MD Wright
The Germans continued their offensives into the summer, trying one section of the Front after another until what had been a relatively smooth frontier became a bulging line of excrescences where territory had been gained at terrible cost.  Yet in July 1918, General Ludendorf planned yet another attack. In German this was known as Friedensturm which we might translate as ‘auspicious storm’.
There was logic to the plan. The French still depended on places fortes – strategic towns which were heavily defended.  One of these, Reims, was almost surrounded. The Germans would smash the enclave, cross the Marne and encircle Paris. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) building up south-east of Verdun - most celebrated of the places fortes - would threaten the German flank. They would therefore have to be neutralised.
It was a good plan with similarities to the offensive of 1914. The Germans had developed new arms. As well as artillery and Storm Troopers, armed with flame-throwers, the Germans had started to deploy tanks. Therefore the optimists in German High Command thought that this time would be more successful than the last.
Posed propaganda painting by Felix Schwormstadt shows the seated figures of Hindenburg (left), Ludendorf and Kaiser Wilhelm 11. The Kaiser's finger shows the spot where the French Army will be destroyed in July 1918. Picture from 'Illustration' magazine courtesy MD Wright
At dawn on August 15th, the people of Paris heard the enemy guns. The threat was not far off.
Unfortunately for the Germans, they had lost the element of surprise. A week earlier, rumours of such an attack, emanating from Alsace, reached the French General Staff. More specific information was to reach them on the night of the 14th. That very  evening, some prisoners gave away the time and place of the German attack. This was not much notice, but the French had just enough time to prepare their own surprise. Most of the Front was evacuated and troops moved back to the second and third line of trenches so that the initial bombardment hurt no-one. A few sturdy volunteers had dug themselves in. Equipped with machine-guns, they gave the Germans the impression that the line of trenches was manned. As the Storm-troopers moved forward towards the second line, they were hit by a terrific bombardment. They took shelter in refuges – old farm buildings – many of which had been booby trapped. The second and third line of trenches had become the new Front and it was almost impossible to break through. The total death toll for both sides was 45,000.
The Germans had slightly more success on their left flank and actually crossed the Marne having gained 75 square kilometres of territory. All they had really gained was a new salient, pressed on three sides by the Allies, broken ground, and hard to supply – all they had was one railway. By July 19th, they retreated beyond the Marne, leaving valuable equipment, and Paris was safe.
Late in July 1917, a French tank tows away a German gun, abandoned as they retreated. PIcture from 'Illustration' magazine courtesy MD Wright
Why did the attack fail?
One good reason was that the French were learning how to deal with storm-troopers, as we have seen above. Another was the AEF on their east flank. As mentioned in previous blogs, the AEThough the AEF started arriving in France in 1917, their generals had, for the most part kept them back from battle until summer 1918. When faced with fresh armies of fine strapping men, full of the wheat and beef of the US prairies, German soldiers felt more than somewhat discouraged. US soldiers were formidable fighters.
Another reason was given by my dear old Granny who experienced the First World War. ‘The spring offensives of 1918’ she would say, ‘were a big mistake. When the Germans advanced, they saw how well supplied we were. This disheartened them’
She had a point. The Germans had been told by their Government and media that submarine warfare had successfully cut off supplies. The British were starving. The French, having lost territory, were in not much better shape. If things were bad for the Central Powers, they were even worse for the Allies.

This detail from the above picture shows the soldiers marching over a 60cm railway. As they were the same gauge, both sides made use of captured rail. From Illustration magazine courtesy MD Wright
The Spring Offensives gave the lie to these optimistic claims. Time and again, when the Germans occupied enemy trenches, they found supplies aplenty. Admittedly, the food was very dull. Dear old Granny could still remember the tins of ‘Maconochie’, containing tasteless stew and staple diet of the British Army. Also part of the ration was plum and apple jam – usually ‘spooned’ out of the tin with a bayonet, tasteless, perhaps, but full of calories.
The ordinary German soldier realised that he was being fed, not with proper food but with propaganda. The Allies were not starving. One comment about the German diet in 1918 says it all. They gave the world the word ersatz which we still use to describe fake and substitute food.
This may explain why the German prisoners started co-operating. Up until 1918, German military intelligence had been, like so much else, superior to that of the Allies. They could obtain information from prisoners without using undue pressure. The Allies, especially the British, were not so successful. By summer 1918, the soldiers who were captured may not have been quite as discreet as they had been earlier in the war. This might explain why vague Intelligence was leaked to the French from the Alsace area, and why the vital Intelligence was gathered on the night of July 14th.
Ordinary Germans knew the game was up. Their superiors, who ought to have known better, were prolonging the agony. What a pity that the slaughter went on until November 1918.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Reflections on the Wrightscale Baldwin 4-6-0 WD Tank Locomotive



Could the Wrightscale Baldwin 4-6-0 WD Tank locomotive enrich your life?  Here are some reflections.
A model can help you appreciate life more. Here is what the Baldwin 4-6-0T has done for us. The first and most important service it performed was putting us in touch with generous friends.
Jim Hawkesworth was one of several who shared with us the knowledge and information he gathered over the years. This included photographs, references and research. Frequently, when we wanted to do a bit of research of our own, he was willing to come with us and point us in the right direction. If it suited us better, he would sit us down with a cup of tea and just listen! Others, such as Eric Fresné and Eric Lloyd have been more than generous. They have given us a chance to exercise our gratitude muscles.
This ex WD Baldwin 4-6-0T is in need of some restoration! This photograph is an example of the information kindly shared with us by Jim Hawkesworth


Gratitude is an under-used resource which yes, honestly, helps you live longer. A grateful person is less likely to be snarling at the world and therefore has a better balance of endorphins and hormones.
The feeling can and should be cultivated. It is all too easy to succumb to the opposite – the negative feeling. Advertisers and other practitioners of the black arts know that. An insider made this comment about social media: 'content that generates the most engagement (media-speak for interest) is whatever creates the negative feelings of sadness, anger or envy'. Advertising empires are built on this insight. This insider is Jaron Lanier, a 58-year-old technology guru who made a fortune as a virtual reality pioneer ie someone who really ought to know.
The positive feeling of gratitude should be nurtured otherwise it will be swamped.   
It is possible to exercise your gratitude muscles.
This is how we do it. Find a regular spot in the day to take stock. Focus on a couple of good things which have happened in the last twenty four hours. The delight may be simple – a ray of sunshine may do it. For the sophisticated 21st century adventurer, one daily joy should be that ‘Ah hah!’ moment of discovery or of a problem solved. You see, whether simple or clever, we are living out our own stories. When a loose or dissonant thread is caught and tied into a personal story,  that is happiness. Social media protect us from dissonance and discomfort by whisking us into a protective bubble. We see only a carefully filtered version of the world. Along with discomforts, the joy of weaving in a loose strand for ourselves is denied. 
The Wrightscale adventurer faces down (rather than avoiding) difficulty and uncertainty. Without the possibility of being wrong, we deny ourselves the joy of being right. One specific which can be correct or incorrect is historical accuracy. 
 16mm scale Baldwin WD 4-6-0T built by Wrightscale. Photograph by MD Wright
Take, for example, my somewhat elaborate description of what seems a simple locomotive. You can understand why it is a 'Baldwin' - it was made by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. One look at the wheel arrangement explains why it is a 4-6-0. The water tanks arranged around the boiler explain why it is called a 'tank' rather than a 'tender' loco. The number 854 refers to a specific locomotive that we know worked the War Department Light Railways. 
The abbreviation WD also tells a whole history. 
The War Department Light Railways (WDLR) of the British, Canadian and ANZAC forces of the First World War came late to the fight. The French and their great rivals the Germans had 60cm gauge portable railways from 1888 onwards. The British started World War One with a couple of miles of 2'6" (67cm) gauge railways and tried to manage without. By 1916, they realised their mistake and the WDLR - railway, rolling stock and locomotives - was born. The Canadians were particularly enthusiastic railway engineers and many photos show how Indian and Chinese troops were also involved.
Here, let me be suitably grateful. If you have read other entries on my blog or my books eg ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks to the Trenches’, you will know how much generous help I received from people such as the Péchot family, Jim Hawkesworth, Dr Christian Cénac, Raymond Duton, the Tramways Touristiques du Tarn, Roy Link, Eric Fresné, Rich Dunn, Malcolm Wright and others. They gave their help and information willingly, along with encouraging messages. We have almost always found that if we seek out the owners of copyright, they are modest in their demands (always be willing to pay their expenses) and often very generous.
And yet there are people who do not follow this simple and obvious course. There are two ways in which they can be ‘wrong.’ It seems amazing and depressing.
Wrightscale 16mm Baldwin 4-6-0 pushing a WD D-class wagon and WD covered goods wagon, both built on Wrightscale WD bogies. Photo by MD Wright

There are those who decide to be accurate by lifting the designs off other people. You wouldn’t just take your neighbour’s garden tools without prior arrangement. As I have said above, 'ask and ye shall receive' Why would intellectual property be any different? All too often, people find that their research and creations can be stolen. Alas! We have had this experience several times, as have several of the finest names in the business – Roy Link, Pete Binny, Stuart Baker.   I trust that all readers deplore this evil theft of intellectual property.
Why do the IP thieves want to break the law, bend gentlemen’s agreements and deny themselves the joys of cooperation? They lay themselves open to quarrels and black-listing. Their experience is all aggression and confrontation. This leads to the build-up of cortisols in their bloodstream. Alternatively, they can retreat into a bubble where any negatives are filtered out while they, no doubt, feel safe in vilifying others. It is a brittle existence. One twist in their fortunes and they are lost.
Do you have an example in mind? I hear you ask. A manufacturer, you all know who, bought a Wrightscale locomotive, took it to pieces, paid a factory to reproduce the pieces and assemble the imitation. In the original, certain parts had to be assembled in sequence, something not understood by the plagiarists. They joined them any old how. As they were not under tension, they had the embarrassing tendency to fall apart. The plagiarists weren't the designers therefore they didn’t know why it happened and there was no way to correct the fault.
After 1918, the Glyn Valley Tramway regauged and adapted a Baldwin 4-6-0. Wrightscale 16mm gauge model. Photo MD Wright
On the other hand, there is the right way to be ‘wrong’. Start with a boiler, get it working. Add a system of wheels and motion. You end up with a free-lance model. That is fine. Most folk enter 16mm steam this way. What is sad is the freelance model to which a few castings have been added which is then passed off as a named locomotive. Still, if this floats your boat, enjoy!
Happy steaming, everyone. Feel the joy and be grateful.

The Data Protection Act
Your rights and Wrightscale (a reminder)
 Those of you who have put their names on lists of interest may be wondering about changes to the law on Data Protection. As you probably know, these changes come into effect on May 25th. We have considered the implications of these changes, and how our information might affect your privacy.
We will be required to put our privacy policy on the website and any sales literature.
We currently store our email address book online. It simply has name and email but no other personal details. All of you who email and expect a reply go into this email address book automatically. Every couple of months, I remove the ‘once onlies’  but everyone who emails us has the right to have their address removed immediately. We shall remind every first contact of this right.
This is our only online data-base.
 Our interest list is held off-line. In it, we try to include date of contact, a full name, postal address and phone number as well as email. This is because email addresses keep changing and we need an alternative way of keeping in touch. We, for example, have been obliged by our providers to change our own email address at least three times. We do not keep other personal details such as partner’s name, date of birth etc.
 We do not hold any bank details online. As you all know, our policy is cash or cheque if at all possible. Where bank transfer is convenient, we do not hold details online though they will show up in our bank statements which are off-line. Privacy during the transaction will be ensured by the systems of the banks involved. Our bank is the Clydesdale. We have used paypal; in this case privacy is guaranteed by paypal and our own system as described above. If you wish any email correspondence deleted after a payment, please inform us. 



Friday, 6 July 2018

How Wrightscale could save you 200 grand



You could change your life by spending £200,000. This sort of money is the entry fee for what we shall call the Extraordinary Adventures Club. A-list celebrities and the very wealthy are willing to spend time and money to belong to an organisation of this kind. They find that the commitment is worthwhile.They may suffer from panic attacks, drug and alcohol abuse or just a grinding lack of self-confidence. The adventures are challenging – a day of sprinting through the heather perhaps followed by a plunge into an ice-cold Scottish burn, or six weeks guiding a sledge pulled by huskies through the Arctic.

This grey lady could restore your inner calm. Wrightscale 16mm scale Wren. Photo MD Wright
Inner insecurities have driven the typical client to panic, alcohol or such-like. The guides provided by the Club encourage them to think of theseinsecurities as the ‘saboteurs.’ The client takes on some tremendous challenge.  The point of the challenge is take club members out of the rut, give them new perspectives, the opportunity to ‘open up’ after a physically gruelling day. This in itself makes 'the saboteur' less threatening. With the right guidance and techniques, it can be cut down to size. Some of these exercises can be quite  simple. If you are fabulously wealthy try to explain your troubles to someone who has nothing.
Often it works.  A celebrity who was used to an adoring public was told after a day of dog-sledding in the Arctic that she was the subject of a critical magazine article. Her only companion was a native American with few possessions and who never read the gossip columns. He was quite worried at her reaction to the news. Only the death of a close family member could, to his mind, produce such grief.
 At this point, the usual health warning; if you need proper medical advice, take it. So what if the doctor is always busy? She will be glad you asked. Your symptoms may be important, especially if a close family member is ill. Your doctor may already have assured you that there’s nothing seriously wrong. You yourself may understand that the usual gremlins are circling or you may be putting off an important decision. In this case, join the Wrightscale adventure club.
How do you become a Wrightscale adventurer?
Ready for your journey? Hop aboard the Wrightscale Wren. Photo MD Wright
The aim is to escape the rut – boredom, negative thoughts and cynicism. Then you can relearn focus. You could do this the expensive way by dislocating from your usual environment. In the real world, this involves travel, time and money. On the other hand, you could add the Focus project to ordinary life.
Try to make certain activities routine - physical challenge, the to-do list with attitude, a regular pause for gratitude and the courage to do less.
Make a habit of planning the day ie creating a to-do list with attitude. Either start the day or end the previous day by running through the important things to be achieved over the next twenty four hours.
If it is more convenient, run through your list the evening before Leave yourself plenty of time. Then switch off before sleep with a pleasurable activity and NO, do not look into a little blue screen until the early hours! Catching up with your emails or exploring the Instasphere do not count as late-night pleasurable activities!  While creating the list, you should briefly imagine that each item has been completed successfully. Try to visualise the success. For example, if you plan to be running a model, see that locomotive pulling away on the track. Hear the satisfying chuff. Smell the lubricant. The ‘internal saboteur’ hates it when you are grounded and specific.
 The physical challenge could be a cold shower, or just taking the stairs instead of the lift. It can be mastering a skill. This is where the Wrightscale Wren can help. It is supposedly one of the trickier 16mm locomotives to run. There are various reasons why it is considered rather delicate.
Here is 'Peter Pan' a 2' gauge Kerr Stuart Wren at Alston in 1992. Photo courtesy R. Bodenschats
It is a very small locomotive. The 16mm Wren is a convincing model of a well-loved prototype. Kerr Stuart produced the first two examples of the Wren design in 1905 - adapted from an existing design. Well did it deserve the name of Wren, one of the smallest British birds. At 3 ton 7 cwt /3.4 tonnes and with a wheelbase of 3’/45cm it was tiny and aimed at the ultra-narrow-gauge market.
In 1915, the ‘new’ type Wren was introduced. The ‘old’ type had Stephenson’s links, the ‘new’ ones Hackworth valve gear. (More about the specifics below). This, seemingly small, change brought a number of others. The reversing shaft had to be fitted above the driving wheels, boiler parts raised and cylinders installed at an angle. In fact typical duties were heading trains of skips to the rubbish dump!
Types old and new have been written in quotation marks because ‘old’ ones were produced as late as 1926, long after the ‘new’ had come into production. In fact, if you want a 2’ gauge prototype, you could still have one. Hunslet took over Kerr Stuart and Statfold Barn Engineering took over Hunslet. As of 2018, Statfold are still going strong.
The Wrightscale model is based on a specific prototype. Kerr Stuart no 3114 was a ‘new’ type supplied in 1918. Faithful to the original, the Wrightscale model has a scaled-down Hackworth Link as well as many other features. There are simpler and cheaper ways to build a model locomotive.
The Hackworth link, die and pin characterise the Kerr Stuart Wren as built after 1915. Simplified diagram courtesy MD Wright
Other manufacturers start with a freelance design of valve gear and everything else – whatever works in that scale. If the customer wants an electrically operated locomotive or a brick on wheels, that is fine. (A ‘freelance’ design’ to which a few cosmetic features have been added is not a faithful model.) A model, whose design priority is ease of operation, should indeed be easy to operate. We extend our good wishes to all those who simply want the experience of clocking up the miniature miles. By comparison, the Wrightscale Wren is a slow-paced little locomotive.
 And yet.
A Wrightscale model can give you a sense of proportion. A thousand miles by modern transport is not necessarily a thousand times better than a miles covered on foot. Stop and think why. Push back at the assumption that more is always better. Too many of us are under pressure to be productive. We end up with unreal expectations on ourselves. It is as though we have to be forever explaining to the inner saboteur ‘Look how MUCH I’ve done!’ Try to be yourself. If a mile matters to you more than a thousand, then go for the small one. Face down the inner demon. Be yourself. This is the lesson that an Extraordinary Adventure or a Wrightscale Adventure can teach.
The Hackworth link is at near vertical, the tipping point. Photo MD Wright
Running a Wrightscale Wren, for example, may well be slower than running an electric or ‘convenience’ model. Built into this little Wren are important aspects of running the real thing. Raising steam involves sight, hearing, touch and smell and also that sixth sense which comes with experience. A Wren seems to know if it is loved. Starting off is more than just pressing an ignition or pushing a lever. It takes patience and knowledge. There is genuine life in the slow initial movement of the Hackworth link.
At the heart of the motion is the valve gear. At the heart of the valve gear is the Hackworth link. This is in three parts – link, die-plate and pin. The link is the largest of the three. During construction, it must be filed just enough so that a bolt can slide up and down, neither wobbling nor binding. The die-plate also fits within the link, snugly but also able to move without binding. The Hackworth pin goes in the die-plate. When fitted, all must move smoothly whether the valve-gear is rotating forwards or back. There are other, no doubt far simpler, ways of linking power to wheels but Hackworth is truly prototypical. It explains why the locomotive looks the way it does and helps to explain the faults, failures and successes of the original Wren.  A model on an electric chassis will not do that for you.
Wrightscale 16mm Wren in green, the commonest prototype colour. Photo MD Wright
At this point, recognise that you have done less, but done well.
The Wrightscale adventurer is also able to be grateful. Admit first of all that there is a bit of control-freakery about us all. We want things done yesterday. Any obstacle is an insult. Yet even this can be turned into an adventure. Try to see an obstacle overcome as a good thing, problem solving as an adventure. Yes, this could make you more grateful. Give yourself time to enjoy the feeling.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Big guns and tracks to the trenches



Artillery has been at the heart of modern warfare. Indeed, if the vast catapults of Roman times and the throwing spears, arrows etc of ancient time are included, artillery has always been important. France of the 1850s and 60s thrilled to stories of big guns. The young Prosper Péchot idolised his uncle who went out to free Italy from the yoke of the Hapsburg oppressor. At the battle of Solferino, the French Army under Emperor Napoleon 111 hammered the Austrians at a safe distance, thanks to their modern guns. A panorama showing the guns was painted and put on exhibition, to the delight of vast numbers of the patriotic French.
Sketch of the battle of Solferino 1859 from a painting by Meissonier. Copyright MD Wright
It is easy to imagine a young Péchot deciding to become an officer in the Artillery on the strength of this victory. Before he could join up, he had to win a place at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. This involved two years at a junior university before he could even sit the competitive entrance exam, but he managed all this and in 1870 was a student there, sponsored by the Army.
‘Bigger, better, faster, longer’ was the slogan where artillery concerned. Unfortunately, the French took on Prussia in 1870. Undoubtedly their new rifles were superior to the Prussian offer and there were many German casualties. The Prussians, however, had superior guns. There were also other factors in the French defeat. Too many of their trained army were pinned in frontier fortresses or interned in Switzerland. Enthusiastic citizen armies were no match for the well-drilled Prussians who always popped up in the right place at the right time – the most inconvenient place at the most inconvenient time from the French point of view.
Prosper Pechot in 1909. Courtesy of Raymond PECHOT
There were many lessons learned from the humiliating defeat followed by the loss of Alsace Lorraine. Bigger and better artillery was one, bigger and better forts another.
For years after, standard exercises at officer training were re-runs of the 1870-71 war. In 1882, Prosper Péchot, now in training as a staff officer, was set a problem: How should he recapture the city of Metz from the Germans? (Metz was one of the prizes that were awarded to the Germans in the peace of 1871.P Péchot‘s response was non-standard, and made history.
The standard Prussian gun used in 1870-1 used 4 kg shells. The Germans had difficulty in transporting sufficient of these comparatively small shells to their gun batteries. By 1914, their mortars could be firing shells of 40 kg. An efficient means of transporting shells was needed. Copyright MD Wright

He realised that the only practicable way to bring the big guns within range of the enemy was to bring them up on temporary railways. There were already examples of this technology. The Decauville Company had been marketing portable track since 1876s. By the late 1870s, they were in use on military bases.
In 1880, Paul Decauville, thought of using his portable track for transporting guns and ammunition in the field. Until then, such track was considered only suitable for light little wagons, and stacks of shelves, for smallish loads of gravel, earth or agricultural produce. It was unsuitable for large loads; worse still, using a horse to pull the wagons along tended to wear away the margins so that bit by bit the rail was dislodged. Thus when Decauville track was used on campaign in Tunisia, it attracted much criticism.
The genius of Péchot was to design away every difficulty. Track and axles were the first part of his problem-solving approach. He determined that 60cm gauge (0m60 as he preferred to call it) was the best compromise between standard gauge which gave stability and speed and very narrow gauge which could be easily laid.
He then improved the track. Existing Decauville track could best be described as metal ladders, quickly laid, quickly taken up, but quickly mauled. Péchot devised the track anew. Not only was there a heavier weight of rail and more sleepers per prefabricated length, but each of these sleepers extended well beyond the rail and was cleverly designed to keep the ballast under it. By careful use of theory and practice he made sure that each 5m length could be carried without strain by four men. His Memorandum of 1882 is accompanied by a sketch of his new design.
Pechot's 1882 Memorandum to the Minister. Big guns need new technology. Courtesy Raymond PECHOT
Péchot also found the way to carry hitherto unimaginable loads on this light portable track. Okay, each wagon axle could safely carry a maximum of 3.5 tonnes (itself quite an advance) but what about having lots of axles under each wagon? This could double, quadruple yea, dodecatuple the load that could be carried.
This technology was very new, but in 1882, Péchot was already designing improved bogie wagons. He realised that the axles had to be joined with efficient springing and made advances there. To accompany his Memorandum, he provided a sketch of a 270mm gun being carried on a portable railway.
Horses and oxen wore away the tow-path. The more effort a beast of burden put into pulling a wagon forward, the more it scraped away the path – simple physics. Once the tow-path was eroded, the entire railway started tipping into the hole thus created. Don’t blame Isaac Newton for his Second Law of motion – that’s like shooting the messenger! Once the tow-path was eroded, the entire railway started slipping into the hole. The worse the hole, the more the poor beasts had to pull and the more they eroded the tow-path. 
Péchot was not the first to solve the problem. If the prime mover was itself using the track, then the forces were resolved into the track in relative safety. He was the first to insist on locomotives being the rule not the exception. His Memorandum of 1882 shows a 5-tonne Decauville locomotive equipped with steam capstan hauling the gun.
The standard Pechot system well-wagon, manufactured 1888 and in use until after the Second World War. This was photographed outside the Maginot fort of Fermont by SM Wright
After a struggle ending with convulsions in the French Army, the Péchot system was officially adopted. feldbahn. The Brigadewagen was similar to the standard Péchot wagon, both in having bogies and in overall length.
Wrightscale 16mm model of a Pechot well-wagon
Interestingly, the French Navy used it to best effect. This was in 1888. That very year, the German Army stopped its flirtation with other gauges and settled on 60 cm for its own
 When designs for Mallet and then Péchot-Bourdon locomotives appeared, the Germans ditched their Hohenzollern locomotives and started producing ones of similar appearance and weight. The Germans also kept improving the designs and so by 1914, they had benefited from over 25 years of R&D.
French 155 Long gun as used in 1914-18. Photographed at Verdun by SM Wright
The French kept to the old-fashioned idea of long-barrelled guns and their field railways were adapted to transport them. The Germans standardised on mortars. These could more easily be moved by horses or a team of men. Their wagons was used for ammunition and all the other stores. The Brigadewagen, though an admirable design in many ways, was therefore lighter and less durable than the French (and later the British WD bogie wagons). There are few survivors.
The German 105mm mortar was less of a brute to transport but it was of high calibre and generally able to inflict a lot of damage  on the trenches of the enemy. Photographed at Verdun by SM Wright
The Péchot well-wagon is so sturdy that numerous examples survive. It was, however rather over-engineered. In 1915, the French Army introduced the ‘Decauville 15’ a somewhat lighter wagon but produced in thousands.
A ‘Tracks To The Trenches’ event is coming up at the Apedale Railway. Among many other goodies, there should be an example of the Péchot well-wagon and of the ‘Decauville 15’ Catch it 13th to 15th July.
For the full story of the Péchot Memorandum of 1882, see Chapter 111 of ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks To The Trenches’ Birse Press.
The Decauville 15 platform wagon did not have the handy well of the Pechot wagon but it was easier to manufacture. This survivor was photographer in the museum at Verdun by SM Wright


Data Protection A Reminder
Customer information is held off-line but if you email us, your e-address does go into our e-address book. If you have emailed us but you wish it removed, please tell us.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Wrightscale and Data Protection



Wrightscale and the new General Data Protection Regulation. 
GDPR came into effect on May 25th. It applies to any organisation which sells goods and services to individuals living in the EU. You may ask why we aren’t bombarding you with emails on the topic.
The Wrightscale 16mm scale live steam Wren locomotive is one of our best-selling products

GDPR affects traders from all around the world; the new legislation has proved profitable to various advisers eg accountancy firms and other consultancies. They have hyped up the threat – a maximum fine of 20m euros or 4 % of annual turnover. In the USA alone the largest 500 companies have spent nearly $8 billion in making sure that they can continue to trade within the EU. Apparently, consultants were able to double their rates monthly as the deadline of May 25th approached.
This  live steam Wren locomotive explains the nature of our business
Small companies like ours have been worried by the new legislation. It is hard to know where to turn for advice. The UK Government itself has been less than clear. A professional analyst said that advice from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office was ‘not easy to understand’. He was a pro so the average amateur is even less likely to understand what our own government has to say on the issue. No doubt there will have to be a case in court before everything is completely clear.
The upshot has been that organisations large and small have been emailing or writing to clients. My inbox is full of emails from companies, organisations and charities all begging me for permissions to keep sending their ‘updates’ – organisation-speak for advertising. Some offer inducements as well as heartfelt pleas. There is emotive language ‘We love you… don’t lose us for ever’ There is wit. A well-known snack food retailer offers ‘a pizza my heart.’ There are inducements such as £10 off the next order. Be afraid when they offer gifts. Anything you buy will be more than £10, so what seems like a concern for your privacy turns out to be just another marketing gimmick. For the most part, there’s no need to answer. This ‘marketing’ will probably continue anyway. If a site, or an e-tailer is sufficiently interesting, you will find your way back to them.

16mm Wrightscale Wren running on a garden railway. Rather than targeted advertising, we would rather you came to look at our products
We decided against pestering you. We feel that you our customers should be allowed to search for what you want. We have carefully reviewed our business practices which already respect your privacy and right to a clear inbox. Our mailings are in response to yours or to give you information that you specifically requested. Your email addresses appear without distinguishing marks in our ‘contacts’ list. You can request us to delete them. We made a conscious decision not to clutter customer’s inboxes with ‘newsflashes’.
By asking ‘regulars’ for consent, small businesses may even have made some of their mailings illegal. About two thirds of customers do not respond to ‘privacy policy’ emails. If people think ‘dull, unimportant or whoops! I hit the wrong button!’ can you blame them? Technically, all these failures to reply mean that this 66%  of all customers should be deleted from the typical e-tailer’s list. If they are not, then in theory the organisation is breaking the law. If the e-tailer had just kept quiet, all would have been well.
If you have hours to spare and like raised blood pressure, you can read through all the ‘re-subscribe’ emails. You may even start to feel sorry for the smaller e-tailers and publishers. Advice that these organisations receive is of varying quality.
There is a feeling that large well-funded companies will ignore the rules. To be more accurate, they can find accommodations with the new realities and find ways to suck us back on to their mailing lists. GDPR may give us more power to block unwanted communications, but this right is incomplete. ‘Service communications’ do not count as marketing, nor do mailings and phone messages about services if they can argue that the victim whoops, sorry, customer has a legitimate interest in such information. Thus although 25th May has come and gone, recorded messages still tell us that we might be eligible for free home insulation. It is business as usual for some marketeers.
This is a genuine historic Wren locomotive at work on the Leighton Buzzard LIne. We are proud to offer history to our public. Photo copyright MD Wright
There is evidence that larger organisations are exploiting smaller ones. A certain Web platform, whose information harvesting tools are used to price, sell and place adverts has informed its users that data protection compliance is their responsibility. The Web platform can continue to use the data that has been harvested. In theory, the fines for the small blogger might be massive.
The key word is ‘might’. The one certain thing is that it has cost many people with a Web presence good money to avoid a conceivable prosecution. We have to remember that the massive fines for bad practice are potential rather than a certainty. At the very worst, a small company with a small turnover will be charged ‘in proportion’ ie enough to hurt but nothing like 20m euros.
We must not seem ungrateful. This large Web platform has enabled us to blog, conveniently both for you and for us. We can share with you the news from Malcolm’s work-bench and our historical research. It comes from us to you in a convenient way. We don’t carry paid advertising for other products. We are pleased that you are interested in what we write. We don’t hold data on our readers any more than we do about our customers.
Part of Wrightscale WD bogie kit made up. It is a faithful 16mm model of the bogies that were used in their thousands to carry food, water, ammunition and supplies to the British Army on the Western Front 1916-18
Although it is disappointing that telemarketing and spam have not disappeared, there are some good things about GDPR. One is that small organisations acting in good faith probably won’t suffer. Another is that it is (in theory) illegal to hold data without informing the customer about this hitherto clandestine data bank.
Fine 16mm models of WD wagons made by Henry Holdsworth. They run on Wrightscale WD bogies as seen above. Photo copyright Jim Hawkesworth

This aspect of the new legislation affects, for example, the data on which robots base insurance quotations or loan decisions. Someone who is considered ‘a bad risk’ for insurance purposes can at least discuss special circumstances with a human being. We have all heard stories about elderly relatives who keeps claiming on the insurance for home repairs.They may think that the repairs are ‘free’ but the insurance just reclaims the cash by quietly raising the premiums paid by direct debit. Loving family take her affairs under control and fix the roof or the intrusive tree roots so that the damage and thus the claims will cease, but no other insurer will take on the house. Scandalous premiums must continue to be paid, even though the problem is fixed. Now at least, loving family can discuss it with a human being and interest another insurer enough to quote a more reasonable sum.
Colonel Prosper Pechot. Thanks to him, 60cm/2' gauge became widely used.  We use the blog and our biography to make his name better known. Photo courtesy Raymond PECHOT
  Wrightscale tries to keep down its costs and so we haven’t paid out to consultants – yet. We feel that this is what our customers prefer. The companies with most to fear from GDPR legislation are the ones who take customer data for their own uses.. The Wrightscale presence on the internet tries to go the other way. Our website and blog exist to give you information, not the other way around.  GDPR at its best exists to foster this shift in power between people/customers and organisations.
Remember, if you wish us to remove your email address from your mailing list, please tell us. Have a nice day, folks.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Wrightscale Péchot 5-tonne bogie kit



We have been spending a bit of time making up a kit. It was rather larger than a Wrightscale kit; it was a flat-pack garden shed. The experience was an interesting exercise in empathy. 'Why empathy?' you ask. Read on.
16mm scale Péchot system flat wagon, made by Malcolm Wright. The author has just been making up a full size kit for a garden shed.  It was a interesting experience, being a customer rather than a manufacturer.
We started the process of building a garden shed by carefully comparing products. We made our choice, paid and awaited delivery. The components arrived in a huge box which was dumped in front of our gate.This spurred us on to preparing the site. Firstly, it had to be levelled. The soil was replaced with a layer of ballast and then sand. The process ended with a final levelling. Paving slabs to form the under-floor had to be sourced. Suppliers of new slabs offer a choice. Either paving is bought in bulk and I mean bulk, or it must be collected. As we are a few miles from the nearest supplier, we scoured the online market-place for a local vendor offering twelve or so slabs. The only one we found had conditions: a/ buyer collects at a convenient time b/ buyer dismantles the path where they had originally been laid. Last Monday, we grubbed up seventeen concrete slabs with plenty of patina and loaded them into an old van. By the time we were home, the van was older still. Having seventeen half-metre square slabs loaded over the front off-side had damaged a spring. After another day of work, we had laid the best-looking twelve slabs to form a shed base and were ready to begin.
As Malcolm says with his Péchot 5-tonne bogie kit: it pays to study the instructions and identify parts and orientations carefully. The instructions for the flat-pack shed were buried under a mound of parts which we laid our carefully on timber baulks in piles of grey and white, plastic and metal. The instructions turned up eventually and were carefully studied.  Each part was indeed named though usually in white on white or grey on grey. Never be without your specs, especially if you are a senior citizen!
As it turned out, the plastic was colour-coded. Walls were corrugated plastic in grey, edges were white, floor and roof black. There were all-important distinctions between 25mm, 12mm and 6mm screws. More than once during the build, we had to removeone kind from a joint and substitute another.
Before beginning, study instructions carefully, whether building a 16mm scale Péchot 5 tonne bogie or a full-size garden shed. Drawing copyright MD Wright
The floor went down in satisfactory fashion. Putting up the walls was more difficult because a box with only two walls tends to flap around.
Assembling the Péchot bogie presents a similar problem. Identifying long sides A1 and A2 and ends B1 and B2 is the easy part. The instruction: ‘on a flat surface assemble the sides to the end frames up-side-down’ is easier to write than to achieve.
Sides and ends must be assembled on a flat surface, whether a model Wrightscale Péchot system bogie or a full-size plastci garden shed. Model Péchot bogie pictured here
To successfully build a Péchot bogie, it is important to understand a bit of its history. When Prosper Péchot was designing it, he had various issues in mind. The bogie had to benefit form compensated springing so that it could take uneven, hastily laid track evenly. If one wheel was forced up, the platform stayed level and the drag on the drawbar stayed consistent. At the same time, he did not want to over-engineer his bogie. Thus at one end, the springing was a marvel of leaf, coil and shock absorbing coupling. The other was simpler and therefore lighter. He called the buffer at that end the tampon sec (dry). The crafter has to be aware of this history when making up the kit.
With both the small-scale and large scale activities, it is important to take regular breaks. It can be beneficial so that your brain can have a rest, settle and come back to issues with a new perspective; with both the large and the small creations. As Sarah Corbett says, clinicians and neuroscientists show that doing craft-work with the hands can help us cope with feelings of being overwhelmed, disempowered, angry or depressed. (How to be a Craftivist p 61)   
Meanwhile, we were getting on with the garden shed. As we built up the sides of the rectangle, we were watched with interest by a passer-by. ‘Well’ she asked, ‘have you divorced yet?’  We admitted that this had already almost happened. Early in our marriage we tried fairly unsuccessfully to assemble a flat-pack wardrobe. In fury, Malcolm had attempted to hurl it at the wall. As it was heavy, it simply rebounded on him and bruised his foot. The subject of his sore toe caused much mirth for several weeks. ‘A tender subject’ said one wit.
This could be described as how not to do craftwork.
Attaching a top to a scale model of a bogie is easier than dropping a roof on to a full-size shed. Drawing by kind permission of KETER
More difficult yet was the shed roof. We laid out a sheet of corrugated plastic - it seemed light enough. By the time it had edgings and a large roof-ridge, it was clearly heavy and had to be held at an angle (see drawing). How on earth were we going to lift it into place? Our choice of a shed that was over two metres in height began to look less sensible.
Top plate of a Wrightscale Péchot 5-tonne bogie kit, before cleaning-up
The bogie kit has its own problems. Before the bogie top-plate can be fitted, the brake pot must be fitted and all checked before the top-plate can be lowered on to the frames.. This is fine, but means that the sides and ends do not lie flat.
In the end, the shed wasn’t such a problem. We didn’t have to drop the roof over the walls. It was possible to stand at the back and slide it upwards, over, then down into place.
For the Péchot bogie kit, instructions merely say: ‘Fit the top (L) to the side and end assembly.’ A thoughtful craftivist will probably use a small box or jig to support the sides as the top goes on.
The shed doors were a challenge. They didn’t hang correctly. With wood and metal, there is some scope for adjustment. With plastic there is none. To bend the door into shape, we made judicious use of a crow-bar. The bolt shot home. We had a secure shed.
 With the Péchot bogie kit, adjustment must be made from time to time. For example, once the axle hangers (to take the wheels) are fitted, the brake parts must go in. ‘Bend the shoes gently away from the wheel flanges if this is found necessary:’ is the Wrightscale instruction.
The last instructions in the bogie kit are about colour. This was not an issue with the shed kit as it is made from low maintenance plastic. This was a selling point; restoring and painting woodwork is not a favourite pastime for the Wrights.
Door of the completed shed will not require painting. A KETER product

For the railway enthusiast with a model layout in mind, choosing a livery is part of the fun. Research around the subject is a vital part of the project, whether it is reading, asking around, exploring or joining in a discussion. As Sarah Corbett says: ‘Turn the information into a sort of wisdom soup.’ With knowledge and understanding come wisdom.
If the bogie is to run on a model of a military railway pre First World War, then French Horizon Blue would be the colour. One or two very rare tinted postcards show such railways. Our thanks are due to Raymond Duton for letting us show this one.  Colours developed over the long history (1888 to present) of the Péchot system. During the war years, a bloom of rust covered many bogies in the field. Nowadays, on preserved railways, almost any livery might be possible.
A rare hand tinted postcard of the early 20th century shows a Péchot bogie used on military exercises. Copyright courtesy Raymond Duton 
‘What about empathy?’ you ask. At the beginning of this blog, I promised that by making up a kit, you could increase your EQ.
We learned something by making up a shed kit; we were able to experience what you, our valued customers, undergo when making up a Wrightscale kit. It is humbling and potentially ennobling. It is what empathy is all about. Yes, tempers have been lost during construction projects but at least we can laugh about it now.
For all of us, during the time when the hands are constructively occupied, the mind can be in a comforting and safe space. Contemplation and reflection are possible. It is no coincidence that our increasing engagement with social media – fiddling with a smartphone is the very opposite of creating a real-world object - has been accompanied by a decline in empathy. The average Internet Troll, though quite able to laugh at the misfortunes of others, is unable to laugh at himself/herself.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Many experts agree. A Silicon Valley wizard who has created many profitable games and social media start-ups explained the process. ‘Nastiness, outrage and extreme views  are the most effective way to increase engagement – Valley-speak for time spent’ (on social media). ‘It’s quicker to alienate somebody than it is to build love and trust’ thus ‘advertisers advertisers chase after negative streams without intending to.’ Jaron Lanier
16mm layout by Henry Holdsworth shows the colours of the First World War. Wagons of the British War Department railways are clearly inspired by the Péchot system. Photo Jim Hawkesworth
In short, put down your smart-phone and get going on that truly creative project that is sitting in the corner. You won’t regret it.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Field Railways on the Western Front May 1918



One hundred years ago, the Germans had a chance of turning the Allied flank and forcing an armistice in France. They would then have achieved victory in the west as well as the east. April 6th proved to be a watershed, and gradually the tide began to turn.
By March 31st, the Germans had advanced 52 kilometres across the well-defended territory of the Somme. There was a pause and then on April 4th, they continued their advance. They reached Villers-Bretonneux, 16 km from Amiens. Around there and Hangard, also within reach of Amiens, there was fierce fighting, but they could not quite make it to Amiens and cut the Allied communications in Northern France.
Behind the Western Front ran locomotives such as this Baldwin 4-6-0T (British WD) and behind it a French 0-6-0. These preserved examples were pictured at Apedale, Staffs.
The ‘break-through’ doctrine had not worked. When the Allies were forced out of one position, they reformed further back. Worse still, fresh troops appeared to counter-attack, threatening the flanks of the German advance. The troops who were thrown back were British, fresh troops were French. The British 5th Army was in retreat. The French should be given credit for bringing in reinforcements. Pétain, quick to grasp the situation, had sent in the First and Third French Armies.
By this stage in the War, there were thousands of kilometres of 60cm trench railways serving the French, British and Germans.  These railways were vital for communication. During the retreat, as many wagons and locomotives as possible were salvaged; track was lifted. Within days, they could be put back into business.
In practice this did not work for the British 5th Army. Apart from an escape line running to the French sector, the network was unfinished. There were almost no tracks leading to safety. Locomotives in their hundreds and wagons in their thousands were destroyed to stop them falling into German hands. As both railways systems ran on 60cm gauge, the material would have been useful to the enemy.
In patched up and poor condition, this German Brigadewagen was pictured in the 1960s. Like the British and French examples above, it is 60cm gauge. Though not robust enough to stand the rough handling, it was a fine piece of design. The generous front platform made for safe(ish) operation. The bogie is placed far forward. The couplings were very well sprung. Photo courtesy of Eric Fresné
 
 
As it was, the Allied trench railways were quickly realigned. As early as 27th March 1918, 2404 reinforcements were brought thirty miles by light railway. By April 9th, a new Front had been constructed to stop the enemy advance. The Germans contented themselves with a heavy bombardment of Amiens and on April 9th they started a new attack fifty miles further north.
Yet the Germans loosed fresh waves of assaults on the Western Front. Up until April 1918, they had outmatched the Allies in many ways. Their material on the whole was superior and their generals on the whole showed more common sense. After April 6th, a watershed was past. Further offensives were quite literally a bloody waste of time.
The magnificent French 155mm gun dwarfs its operators. It suffered from certain disadvantages. Photo from Illustration Magazine coourtesy MD Wright
Our memories of World War 1 are clouded with hindsight. The Allies won, so their generalship and equipment must have been better. Right? Well, er, not always.
The very smallest calibre of Minenwerfer could be transported by four Pioniere. Photo from Illustration Magazine courtesy of MD Wright
In May and June 1918, the Allies captured increasing amounts  of German equipment. This was gleefully portrayed in the French, British and US media.
French light tank 1918. THere was no slogging through the mud for these soldiers. Photo from Illustration magazine courtesy MD Wright
The official message was ‘Look how small and primitive compared with ours!’ The French newspapers contrasted their char d’assaut/light tank with German machine-guns and the minenwerfer. These were depicted being hauled by soldiers while the tank, petrol- powered, ambles along a French country lane. French artillery are shown, the 75mm and the 155mmm guns, magnificent beasts which dwarf their operators.
The lesson which should be learned is perhaps different. Bad things can come in small packages.
The German Minenwerfer/howitzer may look like a humble machine. It could be transported without effort by the gunners. The French and British soldiers who had experience of its fire-power had learned a grudging respect. General Alan Beith, writing as Ian Hay, described her with whimsical military humour as ‘Minnie’, and the trench from which she was operated as ‘Unter den Linden’. Yet the military humour could not disguise the fear. Of all the sounds in the trenches, hers was the most dreaded.
Small calibre Minenwerferready to be fired. It was not designed for long range but it was effective. Photo from Illustration magazine Courtesy MD Wright
The Minenwerfer had a short range and was operated, not by the Artillery but by Pioniere working in the German trenches, taking advantage of local knowledge. Worse was the fact that it was fired upwards in a trajectory that brought the shell down on to the heads of the enemy sheltering in their trenches. Worst of all was the explosive charge. The 105mm version delivered 1kg of explosive, the 150 6kg. These were in common use. The one pictured here is smaller, but the same applies. There were others with even more punch.
John Buchan also had experience of the Front and described waiting for a powerful bombardment.
‘A man’s thoughts at a time like that seem to be double powered and the memory seems sharp and clear. I don’t know what was in the others’ minds, but I knew what was in my own. I watched every detail of the landscape as little by little it appeared in  the  revealing daybreak’
Then came the first shot.
‘The earth seemed to split beside me and I was pitched forward.’
This was just range-finding.
‘The charge must have been short. The next was better and crashed on the parapet, carving a great hole. This time my arm hung limp, but I felt no pain’ (Greenmantle, first published 1916)
The French 75mm in contrast was a huge gun. It was developed for long and accurate range. The angle of fire was restricted, making it all but impossible to drop explosives into enemy trenches. In spite of its impressive size, the actual weight of explosive delivered was two thirds of a kilogram, less than the standard Minenwerfer. The long barrel, so useful for accurate firing over a range of a couple of kilometres, tended to get hot, so the rate of fire had to be restricted.
The 75mm French gun was developed in response to the defeat of 1870-1. Photo from Illustration magazine courtesy of MD Wright
The same comments apply to the 155mm gun, except that it was even bigger.
Because of their great size, and the unwieldy gun barrels, they were difficult to move into position on a battlefield. This was why Prosper Péchot invented elaborate gun conveyances for his ground-breaking portable railway system. The largest of his beautifully engineered bogies could take weights of up to twelve tonnes and could be combined to carry a gun barrel up to 48 tonnes in weight. If each axle could support 3.5 tonnes, then a four-wheel bogie could safely carry five tonnes, a six-wheeler could be rated at nine tonnes and eight wheels at twelve tonnes.  Ten tonnes could be carried by two five tonne bogies, and ingeniously engineered combinations could be employed for progressively greater weights.
His system was a marvel. It was adopted by the French Army in 1888, was copied by the Prussians soon after. The rest of the German States copied the Prussians. I describe the process in ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks To The Trenches’
The Germans imitated the 60cm gauge, engine design and the ten tonne bogie wagons. They did not   imitate the massive bogies designed to carry guns. They did not need to. Their artillery staples could be manoeuvred in the field by a few men.
Plenty of Péchot designed bogie wagons survive to this day. Thousands of examples of the German Brigadewagen were built. Most succumbed to wear and tear.  So few have survived that it has been hard for me to source a photo (see above).
One hundred years old Péchot wagon, fairly complete except for one brake wheel. Photo S. Wright
Yet the two contrasting designs show that the German bogie wagon was not worse than the French one. It did what was required. If it turned out to suffer from built-in obsolescence, that was not all bad. The needs of the military keep changing.
In the same way, the German howitzer proved that, for the War that was being fought, small was, if not exactly beautiful, beautifully effective.