Monday, 27 March 2017

Wrightscale at Peterborough 8th April

Malcolm and Sarah are looking forward to the 16mm Association AGM. As well as discussing progress on the latest batch of locomotives, we are unveiling our new design, a slab wagon kit.
A 16mm Wrightscale quarry Hunslet poses beside a quarry slab truck which will be available at the 16mm AGM on 8th April 2017
We are totally committed to putting more wagons on to your layouts! All too often, enthusiasts, whether in 16mm scale or another, concentrate on the locomotive. They boast about its head-shunts, its zigzag doubles and its American triangles. Yet all this locomotive activity, this showing off even, is quite meaningless without rolling stock, which I see as the female yin to the locomotive yang. One complements the other.  Running a locomotive around the track makes no sense if it is not ‘on the pull’ so to speak. No wagons and carriages, no sense.
In spite of this common-sense observation, most books concentrate on locomotives. Rather typical is the comment on an Ivo Peters photograph taken at Dinorwic (Dinorwig) quarry in 1956. A Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0T built 1889 is pulling at least seven four wheel ‘three a side’ wagons, filled with quarry waste. They are coming out of a tunnel with a neat ‘locomotive chimney’ cut out of the rock. The caption (by Cliff Thomas) tells us all about the locomotive, nothing about the train of wagons.
Even Thomas the tank engine knew that his trips were in vain if he were not accompanied by Annie, Clarabel and the rest. J.I.C. Boyd is an enlightened commentator. ‘Wagons carried supplies not only to ensure the survival and well-being’ of inhabitants of remote communities but their ‘overall purpose was to carry away the products’. The Talyllyn Railway WSP Oxford 1988. The book even describes such wagons as a ‘shy, coy species’. So let’s say it for rolling stock! A world that consists only of locomotives will last as about as long as one inhabited solely by men.
For years, Malcolm has been known for locomotives on the lines of Peter Pan, Guy, Hummy and King of the Scarlets. But his very first project was the WD bogie, that versatile base for the thousands of wagons which supplied troops in the trenches of the Western Front 1916-18. Some of these War Department Light Railway bogie wagons did return to Britain to be used on narrow gauge lines such as the Ashover but there were already thousands of wagons in Britain, already working on 2’ nominal 60cm gauge track.
A Wrightscale 0-4-0 Quarry Hunslet pushes a train of slate wagon. The pattern of 'three bar' slate wagons and 'flats' were seen in various quarries. Photo by Malcolm Wright on a slate quarry layout he created.
The slate quarries of North Wales were early in using narrow gauge as an economical way of transporting heavy materials. Indeed, they were using wagons long before locomotives were available. Like the coal mines of North-East England, they were situated conveniently above the sea. Once rails were in place, trains of wagons could run down to a port using gravity. A horse was merely required to pull the ‘empties’ back up. That was the theory anyway. Obstacles lay between the slate and the sea. Locomotives were needed so that loads could be pulled uphill. As these were commissioned, the world came to admire. Paul Decauville for example visited the Festiniog (Ffestiniog) Railway more than once in the 1870s. Although Prosper Péchot 1849-1928 never came in person, he used ideas from Festiniog in his Péchot system. Years later, this French field railway system inspired the WDLR mentioned above.
Thus the narrow gauge quarry railways of Wales cast a long shadow over world history.
Bryneglwys slate workings, situated above the Talyllyn Railway, have a historythat is typical of slate quarries. There had been some quarrying for local needs, but in 1847, advertisements appeared in The Mining Journal for subscribers to a company which would extract ‘beautiful light blue slate’. Engines for truck haulage and a mill for dressing slate would be powered by two local streams. A road would transport the slate to the river Dovey thence to the port of Aberdovey’.
When the Tallyllyn Railway was proposed in 1864, it made more sense to use it to transport freight. (Confusingly for the anglophone, there is a Brynglas Halt well below the Bryneglwys workings. The Welsh would not be confused. Brynglas means Blue Hill. Bryne-yr-Eglwys means Church Hill.)  Another ‘health warning’: the Talyllyn Railway was built to 2’3” gauge compared to the 2’ gauge of many other quarry railways.
They say that a mine is a hole with a liar at the top but John Pughe the promoter of Bryneglwys uttered one truth. The ‘mine’ had the potential to produce £15,000 worth of slate for the next 15 years. The only trouble was, it required much capital, both for the workings themselves and the ingenious series of inclines taking material down to the railway. Boyd in ‘The Talyllyn Railway’ has an excellent account.
Originally, there were over 100 slab-wagons used in Bryneglwys Quarry - by the time the workings closed only about 8 remained.  They were also known as bogies, cradles or sleds. They were mainly used within the workings to bring out slate as far as the mill where it was split, sawn and dressed. The slab trucks were therefore mostly to be seen emerging from the slate workings, waiting at the mill or around the upper sidings of the Talyllyn Railway. A few cheeky escapees might hitch a ride down the valley or ‘peep shyly’ from sidings along the way.
Small but mighty! 16mm scale slab wagon from the front, made to a pattern used on the Bryneglwys Quarry /Tallyllyn Railway. Though tiny in comparison with the compact Quarry Hunslet, it could carry nearly two tons of slate.
The slab truck itself consisted of a wooden frame on four wheels, with coupling hook. Frame members were extended beyond the stretchers to form rudimentary buffers. On top were four cross-bearers, also protected by iron strips. The bolt heads on the bearers of the model in the photo show how the protecting strips were fixed. The wagons were very small, length 6’ x 3’6” (1.8 by 1.05 m) and the wheelbase only 2’ (60cm). They carried 1.8 Imperial tons (about 1.7 tonnes).
Historians have struggled with lack of information, but it is believed that, unlike the carriages, these slab wagons were built on the site, using standard parts eg wheels, axle boxes and coupling hooks. There was a saw-mill on site which could supply finished timber. It is just possible that some were originally fitted with hand-operated brake, like the slate wagons that were used on the Talyllyn railway itself. If such hand-brake slab-trucks ever existed, they had all perished by the 1940s.  On page 297 of the Boyd book is a photo of slate wagon - it shows how a brake might have appeared. Contemporary accounts are also silent about colour. When asked, people who remembered the railway tended to say ‘Oh, red!’ Further research suggests iron-red undercoat for the slate truck with, perhaps a top coat of the cheapest and most durable pigment – black – certainly for wooden under as they served remote communities. A train coming up-valley might carry flour and beer for human consumption, engineering supplies and timber. Down trains would certainly carry slate but also ‘empties’. People, on varying errands often hitched rides on freight trains. The wagons are half the fun and all the story of one of these little railways.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Colonel Péchot, a melancholy centenary

One hundred years ago this month, Prosper Péchot retired. This was for the second and last time he returned to his civilian home in Paris.
1917 is full of melancholy anniversaries – Passchendaele, the Chemin des Dames, Caporetto, Russia. Why should the retirement of a French artillery Colonel matter?
We believe that although his youth was behind him and he served for only part of the War, he was a significant figure in a hugely important war. Without the ideas that he had promoted back in 1882, the ‘industrial’ scale of warfare 1914-18 was not possible.
Prosper Péchot in 1907 with his Légion d'Honneur. Photo courtesy Raymond Péchot
While still a junior officer in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1, he realised that a modern army needed vastly updated transport. The Prussian breech-loading gun, with a range of up to 2.5 kilometres and its percussion-cap shells, was generally considered a war-winner. In fact, it was only as good as the supply of such ammunition. Getting guns within range of the enemy meant that they were usually at a distance from railways and canals. Transporting ammunition by road was a problem. In the days before metalled roads and tracked vehicles, those last few kilometres were a real headache.
The Prussian gun 1870-1, manufactured by Krupps of Essen. This took 4 kilogram shells and could fire at the rate of two per minute. It was superior to the equivalent French 4 kg gun because it had a longer range and a percussion cap rather than a fuse. Firing at the rate of twice a minute, it required 480 kg of ammunition a hour! Photo courtesy Hachette/SM Wright
At Staff College, Péchot had come up with his system of 60cm portable track and special rolling stock. These could be rapidly laid and take large volumes of freight. Between 1882 and 1888, he fought hard, at the expense of his career, to have it accepted. It was, to be known as artillerie 88. For the next 26 years, there was little further investment. In 1910, Colonel Péchot was retired.
Before 1888, the Germans had been flirting with other gauges. In that year, they suddenly adopted 60cm gauge portable track and very similar rolling stock. In fact, by constant practice and training, they improved their feldbahn system. Portable track, for example, was only used in initial stages. They produced the splendid 0-8-0 D-Lok. In 1914, these were more modern and more numerous by far than the French artillerie 88 locomotives.
D-lok Built in thousands. In 1914, the French had a maximum of 60 ageing locomotives for their equivalent system. Photo courtesy MD Wright - taken at Apedale Staffs.
In August and September 1914, the German invaders streaked through northern France. Paris itself was under threat. In the general mobilisation, Prosper Péchot was recalled. General Gallieni had been impressed by his work - in 1896, he had designed a 60cm railway for Madagascar. Though never built, Gallieni remembered the earnest artillery officer and invited him to help modernise the defences of Paris, the camp retranché. Forts and guns were all very well, but the defenders needed supplies in vast quantities. The Péchot system could help.
In fact, by October/November, the German army was withdrawing. Both sides dug in and the Western Front was formed, stretching from Belgium, through northern France as far as Switzerland. Millions of soldiers, entrenched at an average of ten kilometres from the nearest railway station, needed supply. The Germans started the War with a large Feldbahn system. The Allies had to create their own.
Hundreds pf steam locomotives were ordered, but under trench conditions, internal combustion engines were safer. The Baldwin works of Philadelphia produced 600 of these 50hp locotractors for front-line duty. A smaller 35hp version was also produced for the AEF. Photo taken at the museum at Froissy, courtesy Jim Hawkesworth.
Orders were placed for more equipment but there was a need for trained staff. A school was requested on 15th December 1914 and formed early in the new year. Prosper Péchot was to be its director, the school being at Jouy en Josas, south-west of Paris. In fact, by January, two were actually started, one specialising in construction of 60cm railways, the other in how to run them. The construction school was to be directed by acting-major Marcel Prévost, the other by Péchot. Unfortunately, though they had staff and students of several hundred, there was no equipment!
Somehow Péchot got the blame and as early as February 1915, his place was taken by his second-in-commend Lt Col Tricon. The new school of railway management opened in March 1915 at Boissy St Léger south-east of Paris but gradually extended towards Sucy.
Ever eager to justify themselves, Péchot’s seniors – especially General Miquel-Dalton claimed that he did not appreciate the big picture. ‘He did not understand that above all else, he should be satisfying the needs of the army. He followed routines as if it were peacetime.’
Were such comments justified? No; in quick succession, Prévost, the director of the school at Jouy en Josas was fired and then Péchot's successor, Tricon.  Tricon was described as ‘good with reinforced concrete and nothing else’, Prévost as a ‘brilliant writer and academic but…’ (Source Alain Meignier 'Vie et oevre du Colonel Péchot' Do Bentzinger Colmar 2007) Prosper Péchot was reemployed as a Technical adviser – the others, so far as we know, were put to different duties. A cynic would note that as material and rolling stock were gradually supplied by manufacturers, so the service life of the staff at the Schools increased.
In June 1915, Péchot set about re-editing the old cahiers – instruction books – which he had written more than 20 years previously. By July 1916, he was completely rewriting the vital section on tracklaying. To take the traffic required by a modern army, some ballast was required, especially when staff cars and lorries developed the tiresome habit of using the track. He checked this with careful experiments.
The voie sacrée, the road link to Verdun 1916/17. There seem to be as many road-menders as troops. Parallel to the road ran a metre gauge railway, carrying at least half of all supplies. Photo courtesy MD Wright
To carry freight by road, an army of workers was in constant employment, plus a quarter of all the tonnage the lorries carried. To ballast railway track, one cubic metre of gravel was required per five metres, plus occasional maintenance.
Most tellingly, it was Prosper Péchot that the politicians consulted. Abel Ferry, a député (member of the French parliament) recognised his unique skill and took him on his tours of inspection. The French Senate (upper house) asked his advice. He reported to them on December 15th 1916. In 1919, Marshal Franchet d’Esperey, hero of the Bulgarian campaign, sent Péchot a special letter of thanks.
But Péchot had already returned to civilian life. He was informed that he had reached the definitive age of retirement on 4th February 1917 a couple of days before his 68th birthday.

The Péchot System at work in 1890, transporting 32 tonnes of gun across a field. Prosper Péchot is just to the ;eft of the gun barrel. Photo courtesy Raymond Péchot