Category Archives: Editorial

Editorial: November 2012

Alan O’Rourke

 

I sometimes find myself buying books for the completeness of my library, advertised as having some Irish material, but often very disappointing: a chapter or two, which says little, or merely cribs both text and illustrations from earlier books. But, I recently hit lucky with a volume on mono-rails by Adrian Garner*. The book is substantial: 288 pages, lavishly illustrated with photographs, facsimiles of sketches; and scale engineering drawings. I suspect it is the result of years, if not decades of painstaking research, with extensive reference lists showing good use of the primary sources, often contemporary scientific journals and newspapers. For the Irish content, there is a detailed chapter on the Listowel & Ballybunion. This line already has several books to itself, but Adrian provides some new material, with drawings of nearly all the rolling stock, more detailed and to larger scale reproduction than those already published. There are also some extra pictures of the coaches, but I suspect these represent skilful enlargements from the National Library of Ireland’s glass plates rather than a previously unknown hoard of negatives.

But, I was tempted to read the rest of the book, and was well-rewarded. Early on, Adrian attempts to classify mono-rails: he gets as far as four types: post-and-rail; A-frame (as used on the Ballybunion line); bicycle (see below); and suspended from an overhead guide. However, the sheer fecundity of nineteenth century inventors means he has to fall back on a catch all “unique” category for a whole host of other odd and eccentric systems. It seems there was a never ending supply of ideas for mono-rails, but to paraphrase Dr Johnson, the good parts of these were rarely new and the original parts rarely worked! Some of the lines ran foul of legislation, which specified maximum or minimum gauge, since a mono-rail, by definition, has no gauge! The Boynton Bicycle systems had a vertical gauge of between nine and fifteen feet, measured between the ground level guide rail and an upper rail on which small balancing wheels ran. In practice of course, except for lines suspended from above, most “mono-rails” required more than one point of support to maintain balance.

Many systems never got beyond a few drawings and a patent registration; others existed only as scale model or short demonstration lines. The few which were built rarely provided more than a few years of public service. In Adrian’s terms, they were ”technically successful” (i.e. they did at least work), but financial failures, or in modern language they were effective but not efficacious. The Ballybunion line, in spite of its failure to generate a profit, was remarkably long-lived. The only line in the book which has lasted longer is the Wuppertal system in Germany, still thriving today. One can only assume that the mechanical advantages offered by the use of smooth wheel on smooth rail, and the economy of using a single rail system, powered this diversity of ideas, but that once the pneumatic tyre and the internal combustion engine arrived, the idea had had its day.

The basic motto of mono-rail designers seems to have been: “Originality before practicality!” this extended to propulsion where all sort of muscle and mechanical drives (and in one case a hot-air balloon!) were proposed, including electrical motors from the Daft [sic] Electric Light Company of New Jersey, founded by one Leo Daft. The illustration from side on often look like a fairly orthodox engine and coaches, but the head on or plan views show just how elongated and etiolated the machines were, maybe another version of the old joke about Harcourt Street station having length but no width. Although many were proposed as purely local street tramway type systems, there were grandiose plans for high-speed (up to 150 mph) inter-urban lines. Many of the illustrations are from contemporary journals, often of the “artist’s impression” variety, and some of these are a bizarre mix of the Victorian and futuristic, producing a sort of Dan Dare meets HG Wells life in the twenty-first century panorama. One of the oddest is Captain Meig’s elevated mono-rail, one of the relatively more successful design which did get as far as a one mile demonstration line. A rather conjectural picture shows what this might have looked like if Boston had ever sanctioned a commercial version: space age cylindrical carriages, but a smoking chimney and serious men in top hats and frock coats in the cab. I have a feeling the Steam Punk gang would love this!

*Garner A (2011) Monorails of the Nineteenth Century Lydney: Lightmoor Press

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Editorial: November 2009

Alan O’Rourke

What is the ideal design for a model railway layout? I suspect that there are as many answers as there are modellers, both active and armchair, and that for most, design is constrained by available space. But what if we narrow the question down to general types, rather than down to the position of each point and siding? To adapt Dean Swift’s terminology, maybe we can divide modellers into two camps: the Endists and the Rounabouters. The first group tend to be the purists, championing end-to-end layouts, on the grounds that “real” trains go from somewhere to somewhere else, and disparaging the circuit as a glorified train-set oval. The second group can retort that most end-to-end lines provide very limited runs and operating potential. Both camps are of course subdivided, and although the classical Endist design is the terminus-fiddle yard, with the hidden sidings representing the other 99.9% of the prototype network, with more space one can develop refinements like intermediate stations or even an independent branch. Some modellers will favour a through station, with fiddle yards at each end, especially if they have a very long, thin space, such as the top of bookcases. However, at this stage some two thirds of the layout may be hidden behind back-scenes, and a neater solution may be for the “snake” to swallow its tail, producing a continuous line, with one set of hidden loops at the back. Indeed, this is a common exhibition layout, but rather than tail-chasing, most operate with a sequence of alternating clockwise and anti-clockwise services.

In the early model railway press, a fair amount of space was devoted to layout designs, and at one stage, I think the old Model Railway News offered its readers a guinea for any of their ideas it published. Three things strike you about these designs of fifty years or more ago.

First, they set out to invert the old Euclidean rule about a line being the shortest distance between two points, by deliberately devising the longest run in a restricted space, typically six or eight feet by four feet. The resulting “point to point” design was often a sort of spiral, with the two termini close, or even adjacent, but possibly on different levels, and the train completed a sort of two-twist cork screw to get between them. Other variants were the “out and back” where a reverse loop (assuming you knew how to wire such a device), or a line diagonally across the circuit, allowed a train to leave the terminus in one direction, and come back pointing the opposite way. Incidentally, although in full size practice true circuits are limited to such oddities as the Circle Line, there are a number of “out and back” loops, such as the Cathcart suburban line and the North Kent. Another common design, was a circuit with a junction and a terminus, possibly high level over the fiddle yard, or if space permitted two termini, with the junctions arranged do that a train could run from one to the other, with as many runs round the circuit as the operator desired, plus “short” working (on many of these designs very short workings) between terminal and junction stations. Similarly, the classic end-to-end scheme can be twisted unto L and U configurations to fit specific sites.

The second observation is that many of these schemes were quite complex, in terms of laying out curves, calculating gradients and building embankments and bridges, to carry one line over another. Edward Beal produced a very sophisticated design in the Railway Modeller for May 1950, which packed a 00 system, incorporating a terminus, medium sized locomotive depot, out-and-back circuit, reverse loop, passing station and intermediate sidings to a factory, into 12’ x 8’ folding baseboard. Which brings me to the final point: although occasionally the magazines might feature a layout of the month which was derived from an earlier published plan, these projects rarely progressed from paper to construction. I suspect that the designs, however sophisticated and tempting they might look in terms of operation, were just too daunting in civil engineering terms for most modellers who stuck to their orthodox terminus-fiddle yard or circuit layouts.

Alan O’Rourke

 

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Editorial: May 2009

Alan O’Rourke

It is now ten years since I took over the post of editor of New Irish Lines, and I am rather aware that my little musings are usually of a retrospective nature, so it may be rather refreshing to have a future orientated editorial for a change. In short, the newsletter is joining the twenty-first century, maybe just a few years late, by going on-line. For some years, we have had a web-presence courtesy of Allen Worsley and Stephen Johnson, and these have brought many enquiries and quite a few confirmed subscriptions over the years. However, we now have our very own website, the url for which will appear on the cover from now on: https://newirishlines.org/

Most of the November 2008 issue is now up. I am very grateful to our member Patrick Conboy, who is the author of our web-pages and has spent a great deal of his time over the last few months developing the site. Please pay it a visit, look around and leave comments. As you will see, we have several add-on features, such as the chance to leave comments on specific articles and to start discussion threads.

However, to allay any fears, this does not mean that we are abandoning the printed version of the newsletter. While not wishing to create a two tier system of membership, there simply are some things that can be done on-line and which are impossible to achieve in a paper-based journal which only comes out every six-months, such as up to date press releases and notices of exhibitions. You may also note the option for paying by PayPal, which I hope to have running soon, which may solve the problem of paying in currencies other than Sterling or Euros. For this year, we will run the website along side the paper version. I will send on Patrick the text from this issue: please let me know if any of you who have kindly contributed material for this issue object to your work going on the website, and from now on, unless other wise informed, I will assume that all contributions can duly go on our website.  Just to be sure, I did check with all our authors for November 2008 before forwarding the material to Patrick! Also, in case anyone worries that we have broken the bank going on-line, the cost of registering the domain is less than £20 per annum, and not much more that the telephone expense of running the newsletter, in answering enquiries and chasing up articles.

However, as any of you who look at our annual balance sheet which appears in the November issue will know, some 90% of all the newsletter’s expenses go on just two items: postage and printing. The University Print Unit here in Sheffield has proved very competitive over the years and the cost of each issue has proved very stable. But, post is quite another matter: despite all the claims that the British economy is now entering a period of deflation, the Post Office has just increased most of its charges by about 8%. The revised subscription rates do allow us some leeway, but another substantial increase will probably require another rise in subscriptions to balance the books. But, since the main costs of the newsletter are on printing and stamps, if we move to a state where some members choose to download the newsletter from the website, we could offer a much lower subscription rate to such folk. This is not favouritism: it just recognises that we have by-passed the post-man and shifted the cost of printing to the subscriber. The other overheads for the newsletter are very modest. You will note that the website is not pass-word protected. Patrick and I discussed this, and we felt that using passwords might be un-necessarily complex; they can get shared and abused anyway. Moreover, I would like the website to be open to all, including the casual browser who may or may not want to become a regular subscriber. Again, since if at all possible I send enquirers a complementary specimen back number, access to an on-line copy will actually save me work and the newsletter postage. We do hope that most subscribers will be willing to make a small payment, either by the current means or via PayPal, to offset the annual fee for the web site and the other modest overhead for the newsletter.

So, for 2009 we will run paper and website along side. Please visit the website, explore and send comments to me or to Patrick at newirishlines@gmail.com. From 2010 onwards,we may be in a positon to offer alternative paper and web-based subscriptions, but rest assured that there are no plans to discontiue the “hard copy” for all members who prefer to continue to receive New Irish Lines in that format.

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Editorial: November 2008

Alan O’Rourke

 

I used to buy secondhand model railway magazines for specific articles, particularly drawings or construction products.  However, when browsing them now, I find myself drawn at least as much to the editorial sections.  I have to admit that the older volumes of Model Railway News are my favourites.  It is quite fascinating to look at the very first issue for January 1925.  Until 1939 the cover used a line drawing, rather than a photographic illustration, the design passing through three versions, the last being a non-descript, but vaguely “Baby Scot” 4-6-0, partly obscuring the name board at a station that could thus only be identified as “…North Junciton” and pulling past a lower-quadrant starter.  Until 1939 the cover also included the slogan “steam – electric – clockwork,” reminding us that for most modellers, there were still several means of propulsion to consider.  That first issue included an interview with the legendary GP Keen, an article on the “possibilities” of OO gauge by Mr Stewart-Reidpath and letters of support from a baronet and a colonel reminding us that railway modelling was not quite yet a mass hobby.  Pre-war contributors also often used pseudonyms such as engine numbers or the names or initials of railway companies, especially the pre-group concerns, which had just lost their independence and which still enjoyed fierce partisan loyalty.  Thus correspondents signed themselves Churchwardian, LSWR, Vulcan, Terrier or 9903.

It is also interesting to read some of the social commentary.  So, for instance, the June 1926 editorial decries the General Strike.  June 1929, on the eve of a general election, produced some speculations on politicians’ plans for the railways, such as the abolition of private owner wagons in the interest of greater efficiency, and the introduction of new American style 40-ton high capacity wagons.  The adverts are of course also period pieces now and some of the items in that year’s commercial sector, such as huge lead-acid accumulators, seem more appropriate to heavy industry than an indoor hobby, although an earlier editorial (January 1927) had warned of the very real risk of electric shocks to children from model railways.

October 1939 brought a gloomy editorial, apologising for the reduced size of the magazine and the small number of illustrations, and even wondering if the ensuing war publication could continue at all.  In fact, although reduced to 20 pages and a 5″ by 8″ format, the Model Railway News managed monthly publication throughout the War, despite being bombed out of its office in October 1940, the first of three such direct hits on its premises.  Even the Railway Magazine went down to six modest sized issues each year from 1942 to 1949.  Paradoxically, the enforced blackouts of the “Phoney War” may have increased the amount of modelling activity in the early part of the conflict.  March 1942 brought appeals for the wartime scrap metal drive, and later for other material like waste paper, but with the caveat of saving useful modelling material and historical documents.  In July 1945, the editorial could mark the end of the Second World War, although shortages continued, and in 1947 John Ahern reminded readers that everyone actually had a right to buy £1 worth of new wood each month, and that this could be augmented with salvaged timber.  Prices were then of course more stable.  Having sold initially at 6d per month, the MRN had risen to 9d in 1944, but kept the price for another seven years.

As the 1950s wore on, there was news of the modernisation plan for British Railways; “standard” designs of steam locomotives; and the Atomic Age, with reports of plans to build 12 new nuclear power stations.  These items lead to debate about large-scale railway electrification and the preservation of more traditional equipment.  By December 1955, some enthusiasts were already bemoaning the end of the Steam Age, but even on BR that took another 13 years. Beeching cast a shadow in 1963, the same year that saw the arrival of Minic Motorways, for a while regarded as a serious threat to the popularity of model railways, and with obituaries like the one for William Stanier in 1965, one could only feel that an era was passing.  However, the end of revenue-earning BR steam in 1968, although acknowledged, was not specifically mourned.  By then, however, I feel that the days of the old Model Railway News iteself were numbered.  It published its last issue in August 1971, went into a chrysalis and emerged the following month as the big glossy, brightly coloured Model Railways.

 

Colm Flanagan's model of Newcastle station building, which will be finding a new home at the Downpatrick Railway Museum later this year, when Colm commences work on a new layout (Photo: Colm Flanagan)

Colm Flanagan's model of Newcastle station building, which will be finding a new home at the Downpatrick Railway Museum later this year, when Colm commences work on a new layout. (Photo: Colm Flanagan)

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