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.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

New models almost ready

We should have the latest batch of Excelsiors ready soon.
A Wrightscale 16mm Bagnall Excelsior model from a previous batch
As some customers will have to reach into their wallets, here are a few thoughts about why a Wrightscale model is worth the expense.
Modelling in the virtual world might seem comparatively cheap. With such good computer generated special effects, many people these days go in for virtual modelling. For a society that is so keen on instant gratification, the advantages are obvious. Get in your computer generated cab, twist the virtual controls, listen to the sound effects and set off, admiring the computer generated scenery out of your virtual cab window. There is no need to find a space in your real-world home, no real-life Significant Other complaining about the mess. Planning morphs seamlessly into program which in turn becomes programmed train ride. Why not?
Tipper trucks being pushed along a garden railway route Photo Malcolm Wright
Why not indeed? Yet there are some advantages to remaining in the real world. There is the satisfaction of meeting challenges. The ‘real-world’ modeller can use various means to overcome lack of space. The Japanese led the way in miniaturising models. The smaller the scale, the larger the landscape that will be fitted into the space available.   In the USA, builders typically go down into the basement while in Britain, they remake the attic. Enthusiasts can negotiate a share of the garden and the clubbable can co-operate. Each has his or her own solution when tackling the problems.
'Boracic' and crew Such models of men would never appear in a virtual model  yet they have been given real artistic charm. Photo Malcolm Wright
The next phase is planning. In the virtual world, horizons are unlimited. In the real world, the space available dictates the layout. A club will have to plan a model which can be seen from many angles. For the home modeller, the room or the lack of will dictate the shape of the layout. This, the outsider might observe, actually adds to the fun and the achievement. To take an analogy, the poet’s struggle with language, as well as original intentions, creates the poem. The same goes for the poetry of motion.
Pic Hunslet
The effort put into real-life modelling can have benefits. A garden can be enhanced by its railway. Too often regarded as an outdoor room, a sanitary void between self and the neighbours or simply a competitive place (for smoothest lawn or most strident colour) a garden can be a source of pleasure. DaveChipchase
 It can be ornamental and an outdoor room. It can give the genuine satisfaction of ‘unity’, of purpose and design.
The Wrightscale South Deside Railway sufferedthe ravages of time and had to be extensively remodelled. It is a challenging site and many happy hours went into the planning let alone earthmoving.
There is another subtle challenge. The body as well as the brain is involved in all the pleasure, something not obtained when virtual modelling. All artists and crafters understand this. They aim to externalise something inside and bring it into the visual, audible and tactile world. It imposes a discipline on random thoughts and ideas. It is truly, deeply calming in the way that being glued to a screen is not. Some would describe it as a sort of meditation.
Malcolm Wright in meditative mood. The bridge in the foreground required extensive repairs
Of craft, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said in a TED talk:  ‘We are living more fully. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and the sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger’
A Wrightscale 16mm Quarry Hunslet crosses the bridge. Photo taken by MD Wright some years ago
Biologically, the process of making, the mastery of skills and a tangible end-product rewards us with a boost of powerful feel-good chemicals. It is a tool to help us cope with what life throws at us. A real-world craft is a constant in a world full of variables.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Colonel Péchot – it’s personal

Prosper Péchot was first and foremost an artillery office. Before he developed his system of 60cm railways, he invented an automated range-finder for gunnery. It was in fact an analogue computer!
Prosper Péchot 1849-1928 Photo courtesy of Raymond Péchot
The description given to the French Patent Office described it as ‘a device’ which can be added to existing range-finders ‘to find the range automatically’. The device could be fitted to cylindrical rangefinders or ones consisting of steel ribbons. The machine à diviser (range-finder) which Péchot intended to improve was one invented by a M. Guyenot which depended on a steel ribbon. In the field, this proved inflexible as the range could only be found to certain arbitrary measurements. The drawing accompanying Péchot’s patent application shows an impressive array of cogs and levers which attached to the existing range-finder. One thinks of the Babbage Difference Engine. 
Almost programmable. One detail of sketch which accompanied Péchot's patent application

Another detail Péchot's analogue computer. The handle shown above turns the gear. Both pictures courtesy of Raymond Péchot
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one was to be constructed! The patent refers to discussions held in 1879-80 when Péchot was at Bourges. The reference is
no: 777The patent was lodged on March 7th 1880 at the Prefecture of Cher.
The full story is in my book ‘Colonel Péchot: Tracks to the Trenches’ chapter Two.

There are parallels between the story of Prosper Péchot and some of my own family.  My great-great grandfather, David Davidson, 1811-1890 invented a related device, a collimating gun sight.
He had always been interested in ordnance. As a boy, he invented a crossbow of ‘peculiar and novel construction’ from which he could shoot pellets with precision. His targets were sparrows, needed as food for his pet sparrow-hawk. He used the top of the family’s weather-cock for target practice; the workman sent to repair it looked down on the young shot. He favoured him with a look and a shake of the head but did not tell. He also ‘peppered’ the monkeys of the local travelling circus (Wombwell’s Menagerie). Being used to projectiles, the monkeys were neither hurt nor surprised  but disappointed to find that Davidson’s missiles were not edible.
When he was fourteen, his target was Sandy the gardener. Sandy was seventy yards away and foolishly said to young Davidson ‘I’ll wager you’ll no hit me’ This was a tempting challenge and he ‘hit him in a safe place’ – I assume his bottom. Sandy admitted it was quite sore. Such merry japes continued until he was packed off to India in 1827 to become a servant of the Honourable East India Company.
The Indians he met were a good influence on him. For the rest of his life, he held them in respect. He developed his original ideas, first being a sort of blow-pipe to which he attached his design of telescopic sight and indulged his love of hunting. In those days, the only good tiger or cobra was a dead one – sad but true. 
In 1839, he wrote a paper entitled ‘Rifled Cannon’ which was brought to the attention of the Duke of Wellington. The crusty old war-horse wrote back a lengthy criticism to the effect that rifled cannon were an impossibility. His paper was better received by the Royal Society when it was read in Edinburgh by Professor Piazzi Smyth.
Years later, projectiles were made with copper studs which could engage in the rifling. Sir David claimed that ‘the principle was the same’ and that he had been justified! Pic p215
David Davidson's innovation. At the top is a cross-section of the gun barrel showing grooves in the gun barrel. Below are sketches of the shell shown in crosssection and lengthways. In the system that was subsequently adopted, copper studs rather than continuous bars were used. Picture courtesy of the Davidson family
An early version of a telescopic sight was shown at The Great Exhibition of 1851.
Soon, he and his friend Professor Piazzi Smyth were working on improvements. When the Crimean War was in progress and the British gunners hit a problem with Sebastopol. They could spend a whole day pounding at the defences with their guns. While they rested at night, the Russians went and repaired the damage so that ‘in the morning the assaulting party … instead of a practical breach … were faced by fresh (enemy artillery)’.
Davidson’s idea was to register the British guns so that they could keep up their fire with equal precision at night. His invention was tried out at Woolwich but the siege of Sebastopol was over before they could be used. He had the comfort of being told by Sir J.H. Lefroy of the United Service Institution that ‘if such as siege as Sebastopol were to occur again, (he) had no doubt this instrument would be deployed’
In practice, the recoil of heavy artillery would upset careful calculations but this was not an end to his Collimating Telescope. In 1858, he was invited to fit an improved version of his new Collimator to a Whitworth rifle. He heard nothing more. Later a friend researched the matter and found that 100 Whitworth rifles fitted with his sight ran the blockade and were used by the Confederate side, from Shiloh to Beatonside.
So armed, the Confederate snipers were deadly. They could fire to a range of 2200 yards (1.98 kilometres). The new sight was also used by the other side. A small body of Federal snipers equipped with the new gun-sight kept a Confederate battery silent for twenty days. When the position was taken, they found 50 gunners had been killed, chiefly by head shots, from a distance of 1100 yards (0.99km). The heads of the targets could not be seen with the naked eye.
The new sight was not adopted in Britain. Davidson described the blunders of the testing committee and ended with: ‘Inventors outside the dominant clique have a poor chance of fairplay’.
Davidson’s invention, was based on a device used by astronomers. It needed a small lantern and came in a carrying case. When setting up, the carry-case could be weighted (Davidson recommended the use of lead shot) and was then used as a platform for the device. Where two sets of cross-hairs intersected, as shown in his diagram, the aim was registered.

It could be adapted for field mortars, he commented.
Davidson returned  from India in 1850. He and his wife lived in Edinburgh but later on, they had a summer residence in Aboyne. They raised a family of ten children, five boys, five girls.
In 1880, he published his ‘Memories of a long life’. The book has recently been relaunched in the USA.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Four Bagnall Excelsior models nearly ready

Thank you, everyone, for your enquiries about Malcolm’s batch of 16mm gauge ‘Excelsior’ locomotives. She is a locomotive that Malcolm always loves building. They are proceeding to the ‘paint-shop’ to be primed and we are checking the order book for potential customers.
Four 16mm models of the Bagnall 'Excelsior' wingtank made byWrightscale. They are in the 0-4-0 configuration with spark arresting chimneys - more about the history below.  Photo MD Wright 
This is a locomotive which has always interested and mystified people. It is particularly tiny – only 3 tons 15cwt (3.8 metric tonnes) – in working order. The original maker’s records are sparse. 'Excelsior' was Bagnall Number 970, completed February 1888, 2’ gauge, wheelbase 3’, cylinder size 5” by 7.5” (metric equivalents 60cm, 90cm, 12.5cm, 18.75cm). It was supplied to Christopher Naylor for a tramway on his Kerry Estate, Mid Wales. In 1895, it was sold to J.Nuttall, Manchester, the contractor building the  Lynton and Barnstaple Railway in Devon. When that construction job was completed, it was bought by F.J. Barnes, Isle of Portland, for stone quarrying operations.
For a long time, it was assumed that Excelsior left Bagnall’s in 0-4-2 configuration although this is not implied by the information in the Order Book which just mentions that the wheel-base was 3' - simplest interpretation 'two axles three feet apart'. In fact, it is quite fascinating how many books perpetuated the myth. It shows, firstly, how many authors were interested in the tiny locomotive and secondly how deeply a myth can become entrenched.
The ‘myth’ was finally busted by Phil Copleston and Roy Link. Phil had been asked by Mrs Chadwick, the local landowner, to look through the researches of her late husband. Having traced much of the permanent way of the Kerry Tramway, Phil searched Mr Chadwick’s papers. There was a photo, admittedly a blurred copy of a copy, showing an 0-4-0 with the distinctive ‘Excelsior’ name-plate and general profile – though rather shorter and sporting a balloon-style chimney. The locomotive was surrounded, as Excelsior always was, by affectionate workers in late 19th century costume. Acting as devil’s advocate, Roy Link scanned the photo and set about checking that it was not a hoax.
THis 'three quarter' left hand side' viewof the 16mm Wrightscale model shows the Bagnall as it appeared in the Chadwick photo which has been dated to around 1890. The locomotive was clearly a compact 0-4-0, with balloon stack chimney.  Photo MD Wright
We can believe our two professionals. Meticulous scanning of the copy showed no sign of tampering.  The photo had provenance. It had been copied from an original in the archive of Severn Press, though it has not been possible to trace where this original went. This photo was genuine.
It gave us some interesting extra information. As before mentioned, it showed the locomotive in 0-4-0 configuration. It has the distinctive profile which is confirmed by later photos, and the spark arrester which appears in one photo taken on the Lynton and Barnstaple. It is running on very light track, laid on rough sleepers, little more than logs. The tramway was short, little more than 3 miles (5 km). The locomotive was tiny, well adapted to such light track. The short duration (small tanks and bunker) were hardly a disadvantage when runs were so short. All in all, it was well adapted to C. Naylor's requirements.
Once it left the Kerry Tramway, Excelsior was photographed several times. One phot, dated 1896-7 (perhaps in early summer) shows her at Barnstaple. She has now been fitted with a back extension – evidence that she now has the trailing wheels – but she still has her American style logging railway chimney. The most celebrated view which must have been taken in winter shows her with a stove-pipe chimney. The back extension is shown quite clearly. In all likelihood, these were fitted when she was sold, probably by Bagnall's.
Excelsior finished her life at the Isle of Portland Quarries. Her job was not glamorous, heading a train of skips taking quarry waste to the edge of the island for disposal. Even then, she featured in a postcard entitled ‘The Quarry Express’. A last photo shows her, in the words of Roy Link, looking weary. (Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review Issue 53 page 197) The smart platework at the rear has been replaced by corrugated iron and even the name plate has lost its lustre. At some time in the 30s, she was taken back to the contractor’s works at Easton, central Isle of Portland, where she stayed until cut up for scrap. We believe that this was well before 1953 when the Isle of Portland Railways were officially wound up. However, even here there is not complete certainty.
16mm Wrightscale Bagnall 'Excelsior' Most photos show the locomive from the right,, though in 0-4-2 configuration and sporting a back extension. This would have accommodated another water tank to extend her duration.
This little locomotive inspired affection in the people who worked with her, always eager to appear in photos. Eight photos survive, a remarkable number as Roy Link comments ( NGI Review page 193). Phil Copleston, Roy Link, B.L Jackson, L.T. Catchpole, J.I.C. Boyd and Lewis Cozens, to name but a few, found her interesting enough to break off their narrative to describe her and her history.
So what, the anthropologist might ask, is her appeal? Clearly, her characteristics and unique profile are important. She also stands out because of a tinge of melancholy. She only worked on the Kerry Tramway for a few years before it was dismantled.  Her next owners went out of business building the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. She then went to the Isle of Portland. In thirty years, the Isle had gone from medieval, run by Court Leet, to booming provider to the Building Trade. In the 1930s she shared in the slump and the death of the industry. As with her inception, mystery hangs about her end.  
Excelsior in 0-4-2 configuration, showing nameplate. 16mm Wrightscale model (not for sale) photo MD Wright
Her name is important, the Excelsior plates appearing so prominently in right and left views throughout her life. The brief mention in the Bagnall order book does not indicate if the plates were factory-fitted. Clearly, throughout her history, no-one thought to change them or melt them down for scrap. Even when there is a crowd around her, the nameplate stands clear and visible. Her name was, the anthropologist might think, part of her mystique.
Excelsior means ‘Higher’ in Latin; the name has clear links with ‘Excellent’,but for centuries, the term was only of interest to Latin scholars. At the time of the Revolution, New York State took Excelsior as the motto for its official state seal. In the 1860s, the term went mainstream; New York became popularly known as the Excelsior State. It was in due course adopted as a trade name in the USA (for a patent mattress stuffing, since you asked).
Why did the first owner of the locomotive, Christopher Naylor, like the name? Perhaps there was some connection between the family and New York State. Even the idea of a logging railway is American. To a less cynical age, it suggested self improvement and aspiration.Answers on a postcard, please!
The view that never was, TWO Excelsiors! 16mm models by Wrightscale

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Russian Sons of Péchot

 Think of the Péchot System and we always think of the Western Front but a version was also used by the Russians in the easty. Photographs show well-engineered prefabricated 60cm gauge track in the Russian sector of the Bukovina Front in the summer of 1917. The British sent their Allies some armoured troops, as is recorded in the newspapers of the time and, clearly also some military railways. This story affected my own family. My grandfather spent some time in Russia as a military transport adviser – more of him later.
The background to the Russian story is as sad as anything during the 1914-18 War. In 1917, the air was heavy with anger and politics. The conscripts had been let down by the politicians and their generals. News from home was terrible; the best hope offered seemed to be Revolution. Allies of the Russians were melting away like snow. How had it come to this?

General Brusilov is on the right. He was the  commander of the southern Russian Army until 1917. The smaller man is General Gorko. Picture from 'Illustration' magazine, courtesy M.D. Wright
All things considered, the Russians did well. In June 1916, their Front stretched from the highland headwaters of the Goryn river, flowing northwards, and the Dneiper, southwards. The main town of this northern sector was Pinsk and the enemy they faced were the Germans. From there, the Front went south-east to the Rumanian border and they faced the Austrians. Brusilov realised that the Austrians had simply garrisoned the line with no strategic reserve. His attack was unsubtle but effective; by August 1916, the Russians had advanced up to 180 kilometres, a handsome rectangle of Austria (now in Slovakia and Poland).
Early 20th century Russian transport was reckoned to be old-fashioned; events were to prove that often the Russians knew better what they were doing than their allies. Photo courtesy Margaret Jean Jackson
On August 27th, 1916, the Rumanians declared for the Allied side. Their motives were not entirely pure. In the event of victory, they expected to gain the territory of Transylvania (Erdely to the Hungarians, Siebenburgen to the Germans).
The Allied plan was to attack Bulgaria from Greece with a Franco-British force under General Sarrail. Concerted thrusts from Rumania and the Russians to the east would surround Bulgaria and the route to the fourth Central Power, Turkey. Italy, attacking Austria over the Alps, could do with the diversion.
Whatever could go wrong went wrong. In Greece, the French were stopped by the mountains. The British were bogged down in the marshes of the Struma river. For two years, their expedition achieved nothing much except annoying the Greeks. Matters in Rumania were worse. While the Rumanians were attacking Austrian territory (modern Transylvania) to the west, a Bulgarian/German force attacked them from the south-east. They lost their capital, Bucharest, in December 1916 and soon ‘free Rumania’ consisted of nothing more than the north-east of the country. As remarked above, the Russians had done the best.
Which way? On the Galician Front, a motor  transport is being turned around to face the Front. A British officer strides across.At the right can be glimsed some prefabricated track. Picture from Illustration magazine courtesy MD Wright
The Allies put forward a plan for 1917. They would now divert the Germans by new attacks on the Western Front while the Russians under Brusilov would advance over the Dneiper river to hammer the Austrians. In the meantime, the armies of Free Rumania would protect the Russian left flank.
This did not happen. The Allies on the western front were commanded by Nivelle; his offensive ended with French troops in mutiny. British losses were sickening. The Italians were at their last gasp. Until July 19th, the Russians put up the best fight.   
Kerensky taking the salute. In early summer 1917, he toured the Russian Front, making patriotic speeches. When his troops went over the top on July 1st 1917, he he led the way, revolver in his hand, Illustration magazine reported. Picture courtesy of M.D. Wright from Illustration magazine
Back in April 1917, the Germans had attacked near Pinsk in the northern sector, using poison gas and heavy bombardments. They did not follow up this atack. I believe that they thought a brief show of force would frighten the Russians into suing for peace. Their intelligence had told of near revolution and régime change in Petrograd (modern St Petersburg) the then Russian capital. The offer of an armistice was radioed directly to the Russian people. 
If they believed Russia was near surrender, they were wrong. The Russian Miniister of Defence, Kerensky urged the Army to resist the invaders, to go on the attack for the sake of Mother Russia, to avenge the insult. Brusilov was to attack once more, but with new generals. They picked on the Austrians once more -  what is now south-east Poland – the Galician Front. On July 1st, the Russian Army attacked. At first, all went well.
We have photographs showing showing prefabricated railways on this part of the Russian Front. These were taken in the period of retreat, with British officers waving their revolvers at the fleeing troops. In the background is prefabricated railway though no sign of rolling stock. In the circumstances, it is likely that it has already been taken to the rear. Thousands of miles of prefabricated rail was made for the Western Front, at first in France, then in British factories and then also in the USA. The route it took was circuitous, probably via the North; the Russians built the Murmansk Railway to get supplies south.
The original Péchot design of prefabricated track, useful for transporting food, ammunition, pretty well everything in the field. Several hundred kilometres of this track was made for the French Army in 1888, many THOUSANDS of kilometres in the 14-18 war by both sides; the Germans copied and  improved the Péchot system. Photo courtesy Jim Hawkesworth

Various styles of prefabricated track photographed by M.D. Wright early this century. Such track was laid and relaid many times in the previous hundred years. The original Péchot design is the neat track with curved edges to the sleepers. It required good quality press tools to make and other designs were tried. Prefabricated track appears in the photo above.
For the first week, the Russians advanced, taking thousands of prisoners, but by July 12th, the Austrians, reinforced by Germans, replied with heavy artillery. By 19th July, the Germans had rushed in a strategic reserve.  The Russian line was broken in at least three places. Soon it was not so much retreat as rout, on the Front and Home Front simultaneously.
On July 16th Petrograd was in open revolt.  A few months after came the October Revolution and the new Soviet administration which did indeed sue for peace. Russia descended into civil war with the Soviets on one side, the White Russians on the other.
If you want to know more, Professor Tony Heyward of Aberdeen University has researched Russian transport of the period.
Here is a family recollection. My grandfather, a Captain in the Royal Engineers, went to Russia as a transport adviser. His experiences in Murmansk 1918 must have been broadly similar to the experiences of the officers on the Galician Front.
Captain CVS Jackson of the Royal Engineers, my grandfather. His horse is called Charlie. Jackson spent the First World War  in West Africa, the Somme and Russia.
Here are some reminiscences later written down by my grandmother:
‘The White Russians though outwardly friendly and charming proved disappointing allies, torn as they were with jealousies and intrigues. They soon started plotting against the British who had been sent to help them. Their intrigues were not taken seriously as the plotters discussed their plans in loud voices in public places. At one time a plan was developed to invite all the British officers to a dinner party and blow them up. Everyone was much interested and went to the party to see what would happen. In the middle of the feast, a drunken reveller descending the staircase fell over an empty barrel. This clattered down the stairs bringing a host of other barrels with it, causing a furore in which Russian ladies fainted into the arms of their boy-friends and the meeting broke up in confusion.
Another time when a revolution was planned, two young British officers, driving back to their quarters after a party remarked to each other –
Isn’t this the night of the Revolution?
Let’s start it!
They drove wildly round the town shooting off their revolvers.
Cecil got on well with the Russian peasants and workmen once he had broken through their natural distrust of authority. When the British withdrew, he was ordered to harangue his workmen and persuade them to work for the White Russian authorities. To this they replied that they did not mind working for him or the other British officers but to put themselves under those unmitigated scoundrels their former masters they would not. They then departed to their homes”
It was a harrowing experience for my grandfather, who had a couple of months of sick leave on his return to Britain. What it was like for the ordinary Russian, we can only imagine.