Retrotechtacular: 6207, A Study In Steel

If you ever encounter railroad or railway enthusiasts, you may have heard the view that at some point in the past there was a golden age of rail transport that has somehow been lost. It’s something that’s up for debate as to when that age was or even whether with a selection of new super-high-speed trains snaking across our continents we’re in a golden age now, but it’s true to say that the rail business has had its fair share of decline in the last half-century.

It’s quite likely that when they talk of a golden age, they really mean a golden age of steam rail transport. At which point depending on where you live in the world it’s easier to put your finger on a decade. For UK residents a good candidate would be the 1930s; steam locomotive design had reached its peak, the rail network hadn’t been worn out by the demands of wartime, and private car ownership hadn’t eaten into their passenger numbers. The country was divided up into a set of regional rail monopolies, each of which had their own locomotive works and designers who were in fierce competition to show that their machines were the best and the fastest.

The LMS, the London Midland and Scottish railway company, served the northwestern segment of the country, North Wales, and the West of Scotland. Their high-speed express trains were in hot competition with those of the LNER, the London and North Eastern Railway, who served the eastern side of the country, to offer the fastest service from London to Scotland. It’s difficult to grasp through an 80-year lens, but this battle was one of national excitement, with the fastest locomotives becoming household names nationwide. The railway companies were justifiably proud of their engineering expertise, and so featured their locomotives as a key part of their marketing to the general public.

And so we come to the subject of today’s Retrotechtacular piece, a film below the break from 1935 following the construction of a high-speed express locomotive from start to finish in the LMS’s Crewe railway works. 6207 was one of a class of thirteen 4-6-2 Pacific locomotives designed by the company’s chief engineer [William Stanier], built between 1932 and 1935 and known as the Princess Royal class, all being named for princesses. In the film we see the various parts of the locomotive being cut, cast and forged from raw metal before being assembled in the Crewe plant. All the machinery is human controlled, and one of the surprises is sometimes the number of people involved in each task. The level of skill and experience in precision metalworking to be found in plants like Crewe was immense, and in some cases it is very difficult to find its equivalent in our own time.

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Decoupling Lego Trains Automatically

Lego train sets were introduced almost 50 years ago, and since then, one thing has been constant: the trains connected with magnets. While this is a supremely simple means of connecting locomotives to rolling stock, there is one big disadvantage. Building decouplers – devices that will separate one car from another – is difficult.

Now, with a clever combination of racks, gears, and wedges, trains can disassemble themselves. They can even do it with an Arduino.

wedgeThis decoupler works by effectively wedging cars apart from each other. With a motor from an old Lego Technic set, a few gears, shafts, and a rack, a device can be constructed that fits between the rails of a track that raises into the undercarriage of rolling stock.

Because this rolling stock is moved around with a locomotive, all that’s needed to separate two halves of a train is to move the locomotive forward. Yes, it does mean that the connection with the weakest magnet is disengaged – not necessarily the connection you want to decouple. However, with only one car and a locomotive, there’s only one connection to break. Simple enough.

This Lego decoupler can be further improved with an Arduino, a few ultrasonic sensors, and an IR detector to make a fully automatic decoupling siding for a Lego train layout. You can see all this below operating with a full state machine that perpetually switches rolling stock behind a locomotive.

A great use for Legos.

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The model engineer

engineer

 

As a child, [Mike Chrisp] saw a film featuring one of the great narrow gauge English locomotives. While the story was inordinately heartening, as soon as he walked out of the theatre, [Mike] said to himself that he had to have one of these locomotives. Thus began a lifelong adventure in model engineering.

[Mike] builds model locomotives and other steam-powered means of motive power. Everything from five-inch gauge locomotives to small steam tractors is liable to come out of his small workshop, all built with the machining and engineering excellence only a lifetime of experience can provide.

As for what drives [Mike] to stay in his workshop for long hours, he says his shop is just a place to be, a place to tinker, and a place to simply think about things, even if his hands aren’t getting dirty.  There’s something beautiful about that, even if [Mike] were to hide the products of his skill away from the world.

Preserving locomotives with 3D laser scanning and 3D printing

[Chris Thorpe] is a model railroading aficionado, and from his earliest memories he was infatuated with the narrow gauge locomotives that plied their odd steel tracks in northern Wales. Of course [Chris] went on to create model railroads, but kit manufacturers such as Airfix and Hornby didn’t take much interest in the small strange trains of the Ffestiniog railway.

The days where manufacturing plastic models meant paying tens of thousands of dollars in tooling for injection molds are slowly coming to an end thanks to 3D printing, so [Chris] thought it would be a great idea to create his own models of these small locomotives with 3D laser scanners and high quality 3D printers.

[Chris] started a kickstarter to fund a 3D laser scanning expedition to the workshop where the four oldest locomotives of the Ffestiniog railway were being reconditioned for their 150th anniversary. The 3D printed models he’s able to produce with his data have amazing quality; with a bit of paint and a few bits of brass, these models would fit right in to any model railway.

Even better than providing scale narrow gauge engines to model railway enthusiasts around the world is the fact that [Chris] has demonstrated the feasibility of using modern technology to recreate both famous and underappreciated technological relics in plastic for future generations. There’s a lot that can be done with a laser scanner in a railway or air museum or [Jay Leno]’s garage, so we’d love to see more 3D printed models of engineering achievements make their way onto Kickstarter.