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Building the Traverser

Ian Simpson

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In the early 1840s architects, engineers and managers were still grappling with the problems thrown up by a new technology that could pick up, transport and deliver hundreds of passengers at the same time. As a result early station track plans often look cumbersome with their long rows of wagon turntables, their separate platforms for arrivals and departures and their rows of carriage sidings crammed in between the platforms.

 

One early problem for the engineers was moving locomotives from one end of the train to the other at a terminus. Crossover points at the end of the line would have taken up valuable space in the small stations of the time. At some termini the problem was solved by uncoupling the locomotive at the entrance to the station and then rope-hauling the carriages into the platform before the loco ran in after them. At other stations a turntable, a section plate or a traverser was used to move locos (and sometimes coaches) between tracks inside the station so that they could run around their trains.

 

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On a previous layout I built a satisfactory turntable on a CD disc with very basic electrics - simply a wire soldiered to each rail, with enough play to allow the turntable to be rotated through 180 degrees by one of my trusty coffee-stirrer rods. But a turntable would not fit onto my current layout (early locos plus their tenders are around five inches long in HO, and my baseboard is only four inches wide). So I decided to build a traverser instead.

 

The bed of the traverser was easily built from lottery cards: they are rigid and easy to work, but because a card is only 8 cms wide and I needed a traverser 12 cms long to take the Norris loco I used three overlapping layers to produce a sturdy, reasonably heavy bed 2.25 mms deep. I used four lengths of Peco Code 75 flat-bottomed rail for the runners supporting the traverser, and recycled some of the sleepers from the flexitrack as guides stuck beneath the traverser to keep it in place as it slides along the rails. As with my points, a long pin through the centre of the traverser connects with a coffee stirrer rod beneath the surface, allowing it to be slid between the two tracks by pulling and pushing the stirrer. The groove cut in the foamcore to allow the pin to move also acts as a stop when the traverser is in place at each end of its run. Lead tape (used by golfers to adjust the balance of their clubs, but also ideal for adding weight to rolling stock) provides extra weight on the underside of the traverser.

 

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I did mess things up a bit when it came to powering the traverser. My first thought was to run the power through the supporting rails, with copper strips resting above them on the underside of the traverser to pick up the current and feed it to the track. I still think that should work well, but I decided connecting the track on the traverser directly to the controller was a simpler solution which meant I wouldn’t have to keep cleaning the supporting rails all the time.

 

My soldering is barely adequate on a good day, and I wanted to make sure the wires to the track were strong enough to cope with any stresses and strains as the traverser slides backwards and forward. I had planned to investigate ready-soldered fishplates for some time, so building the traverser gave me a good reason to buy a pack of Peco's PL-81 pre-wired fishplates. So far I'm very impressed and I can't see myself trying to solder a wire to a length of rail again in a hurry!

 

But then I decided to be clever and run the two wires horizontally under the traverser and into a groove cut into the baseboard at an angle. It works now, but the friction of the wires dragging on the underside of the baseboard meant I had to hack chunks out of the foamcore beneath the board to allow the wires sufficient play. In retrospect it would have been easier to simply drop the wires vertically down into a groove directly beneath the traverser bed to keep friction to a minimum.

 

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My next job is to build a platform to sit between the tracks, and also to add some sort of backscene. But my next post will probably be my long-promised blog on altering the Bachmann Prussia coach. I have been doing some work on this, as the photo below shows. (BTW the north-eastern style cauldron wagons in the foreground are Smallbrook Studio's 4 mm model, adapted for HO scale by removing the top plank and replacing the 12 mm wheels supplied with the model with 10.5 mm ones.)

 

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Thanks, Gary. Pressure of work means it's likely to be the middle-to-end of next week before I can post another blog entry.

I might also post it in two separate parts to get something on the blog asap: the first one on the Anglicisation process and a second, later post on adapting them to produce first, second and third class carriages.

All the best

Ian

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Fascinating stuff Ian!

 

Your explanation of early practice regarding solutions to train formation within the confines of the station is interesting. At Bricklayers Arms the carriages were pulled as far as the 'Ticket Platform' which was outside the station itself. The loco was detached and driven to the coke shed to be re-fuelled and turned whilst all the tickets were inspected. The engine then returned (or a new loco rostered) to the rear of the train to push it into the station where passengers were allowed to alight. Carriages were then hand shunted over to the departure platform using small turntables at each end of the concourse and the train re-arranged for collection perhaps mixed with different carriages from the massive carriage shed.

 

This must have been an immensely time consuming and exhausting procedure and all because engines were not allowed into the station.

 

I haven't worked out exactly how I'm going to reproduce this ludicrous activity at exhibition but I'm working on it!

 

Chris

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Anglicisation and adapting to different classes! I'm gonna need more coaches!

 

Really looking forward to it.

 

Gary

 

PS. I wish I could design and build a traverser that easily

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That's a very interesting description, Chris! It can be a real challenge to try and recreate early operations accurately at some stations and goods depots (although of course that's part of the fascination), and I fully sympathise about Bricklayers Arms. I think things were even worse at London Bridge, according to Ronald Thomas (1986) in "London's First Railway" on page 101:

 

"Until they were dismissed in September 1838, the company [the London & Greenwich] had a grade of employee known by the curious name of 'Hook Rope Men'. They had no distinctive uniform, but were supplied with rough weather coats, as were the drivers and firemen. One was stationed at each end of the line, and their job was to detach the engine from its train, upon its arrival at London Bridge or Deptford [the original terminus for Greenwich], and to re-couple it by means of a tow-rope. The engine then proceeded to tow the carriages into the station, running itself on the adjacent line to which it had been diverted, the points afterwards being restored before the train at the end of its rope reached them. This arrangement left the engine free to take another train back immediately, and superseded that of fly-shunting. The practice was fairly general at that time; on the London and Croydon Railway the men were called 'Tail Rope Men', and in June 1840 one of them, with the driver of the engine 'Sussex', was held responsible for damaging two carriages of a train borrowed from the Greenwich Railway, by getting the rope caught on the water-crane."  

 

The London and Croydon did have traversers at London Bridge and Croydon, but at least at the former station they were only used to move carriages between the lines.

 

I've never really understood why early railways were so reluctant to let their locos run into train sheds. I suspect it might have been a fear of fire rather than just the fumes and pollution (and in the fires that occurred during the 1840s at Nine Elms, New Cross, Croydon etc we can see how combustible the early stations were.)

 

The ticket platform outside the main station is an interesting feature. The Birmingham and Gloucester had one outside its Birmingham terminus as well, which was only to collect tickets rather than a platform where passengers could get off the train. I think they were quite popular with other railways as well. I've always assumed they were designed to stop fare dodging, as any time saved at the main terminus would have already been lost at the ticket platform.  It's interesting how early in the railway records the fare-dodger, the anti-social passenger and the stroppy commuter make their first appearances!

 

Some modellers have found fascinating ways to reproduce rope-shunting with threads and bollards, but that's not going to be very easy inside a train shed!  Because I use 5mm foamcore as a baseboard, I've sometimes toyed with the idea of using a magnet beneath the baseboard to move single coaches and wagons around the layout as if they were being pushed around by invisible members of staff ...

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I have the Thomas book and recall laughing with incredulity at the description of the poor rope mens work! As the station on my Bricklayers Arms layout will sit against the back scene, I was considering making the four tracks under the station roof as a 'pull back' section so the first operator could fumble around forming a new train for departure whilst a second operator could distract the viewers with some action around the coke shed and turntable, or some shunting at the goods shed.

 

It will either work well or be a comedy of errors!

 

Incidentally, I hope to be making some kits for Birmingham & Gloucester goods wagons over the summer holidays. They'll be 4mm scale but once you've fitted smaller HO wheel sets they might be useful for you? I'll keep you posted.

 

Chris

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Many thanks, Julie. I think the plan for Holloway Goods looks really good, and I look forward to following your progress. (And I particularly liked the GIF showing the train sequence, very clever!)

 

Thanks for the kind words, Gary. I think I might have got the idea for the traverser from a plan in Samuel Charles Brees’s 'Railway Practice', a book already mentioned by Chris in an earlier post. I certainly nicked it from some early engineer! And John Bourne's drawing of the traverser in Swindon engine shed helped a lot: http://www.heritage-explorer.co.uk/web/he/searchdetail.aspx?id=3003&crit=gwr  Talent imitates, but genius steals …

 

BTW I’m not a good modeller! I’m clumsy, I lack any patience and I swear like a trooper when I superglue small components to my fingers. But I just look on my failures as learning experiences, and after I’ve messed up a job a few times I generally suss out a way around the difficulty. One of the reasons I like using cheap or free materials like card to experiment is that I don't feel quite so bad when I'm making mistakes left, right and centre. So please do have a go at the things you fancy, and if your first attempt isn’t perfect just think about all the valuable experience that you have gained!

 

I do like the idea of the pull back section under the station roof, Chris. Perhaps I’m a bit fixated at the moment, but I can’t help thinking about it as a super-traverser!

 

And I’ll definitely buy some of the B&G wagons, especially given the very high quality of your kits. British HO modellers are used to adapting 4 mm items (and there’s a really good example of this on the marvellous Shelf Island blog this week:  http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/blog/1762/entry-18065-iow-e1-Dapol-00-terrier-modified

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Do you have a copy of 'Railways and the Victorian Imagination' by Michael Freeman? My copy arrived today so I've only had a chance to flick through but I can report that it has a lot of great illustrations. Plenty to inspire when it comes to capturing the ambiance of an 1840s railway.

 

Chris

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Do you know, the title sounded vaguely familiar but I definitely don't have a copy. Turns out I did read the chapter on urbanisation at some time (an odd choice in such a rich book, but I work in housing and urban regeneration). For some reason I didn't read the the rest of it - I probably came across it in a library where I don't have lending rights and forgot to follow it up. 

That's something I'm going to rectify asap. You're right, it's a great visual resource as well as a fascinating study of the social and cultural impact of the railway age. (For anyone wanting to have a look at it, there are sample sections at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=u3urDgAcyksC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%27Railways+and+the+Victorian+Imagination%27+by+Michael+Freeman&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjBm--B9YbOAhUqAZoKHRBJAlIQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=%27Railways%20and%20the%20Victorian%20Imagination%27%20by%20Michael%20Freeman&f=false )

 

Many thanks, a really useful suggestion that I will follow up! 

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Hi Ian

 

I am very impressed with your modelling skills. I've never finished anything as my standards outweigh my ability, but I like your "just do it" attitude. Cheap materials and a positive spirit - a great combination.

 

Neil

 

 

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Many thanks, Neil. Whenever I'm struggling I always console myself with the best modelling advice I ever heard: "after all, you don't have to show your failures to anyone".

And I think modelling British HO does help encourage adventurousness. When there's so little available off-the-shelf, something botched is always going to be preferable to having nothing at all.

BTW I loved your status update about the Connoisseur starter kit! I know that feeling, too.

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Ian - It's obviously a family trait! The trouble is I now DO have an unfinished loco in 7mm.   Neil

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LOL, that doesn't surprise me at all. Given your extensive collection you might as well add 3.5 mm to the set as well! After all, the Prussia coach is very similar to some early LSWR carriages.

 

Don't forget you were the person who introduced me to coarse modelling when you built a narrow-gauge Shay on a N gauge Bo-Bo chassis all those years ago! I am still very impressed with that one :yes:

Ian

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Hi Ian, I must have missed this during the hols. Lottery cards, coffee stirrers and golfers lead tape - now that is railway modelling to me. Highly ingenious and inspiring. Apart from that it's also very useful, I may be needing a small simple traverser soon and I like this design for being so "flat". 

 

The discussion in the comments is also very interesting, sounds like there's a lot of modelling potential in some of those early solutions.

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I wish RMWeb would give me an extra button to Like comments as kind and generous as that, Mikkel!      [EDIT 6/3/19: and now it has ... :) ]

 

You're absolutely right about the potential of early railway operations for modellers. Because regulations and technology were so different then, even a very basic micro-layout like this takes on extra interest when one tries to work within the mindset and practices of the period. 

 

There are many very good reasons why the railways evolved newer, more efficient ways of working as soon as they could. But for micro-modellers, it is always the constraints and limitations that turn a simple little layout into an interesting challenge.

 

I will write a post discussing operation of the layout fairly soon - but first I need to spend a bit more time finding out the hard way what does and doesn't work!

 

Ian

Edited by Ian Simpson
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On 21/07/2016 at 13:28, 5&9Models said:

 

This must have been an immensely time consuming and exhausting procedure and all because engines were not allowed into the station.

 

 

"... an immensely time consuming and exhausting procedure"? That sounds just the thing for a plank layout:

 

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Hello Ian,

This is all fascinating stuff! 

As has been mentioned before, I like your "can do" attitude, it's most refreshing! When I read of some folk who want HornBach etc to release a loco with XYZ number, I roll my eyes and think "just renumber a different one"! It's great to read of someone who can turn everyday, even free, materials into useful modelling, I simply have to applaud.

To go back in time rather, I follow a chap who is building a Swiss station (maybe Zurich?) in around 1840 and he has numerous turntables and traversers included on his track plan and my own Leberecht (Prussian) uses a turntable release at the platform ends. In fact, I believe that in parts of Germany, you can still find examples of such things or at least evidence of them.

Cheers,

John.

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Many thanks, John! Funnily enough one of the things that sparked my interest in the period was seeing a  wonderful museum model of a very early Swiss station (Lucerne, I think, but it may have been Zurich) back  in the 1970s.

I think I will build this layout, even if it's just to find out why fly shunting went out of fashion so quickly! I'm thinking of using two boards, one for the slope and one for the station, so that the station can also be used as a normal loco-worked terminus.

The only question is whether I can get the coaches to roll far enough to get into the platform without building  a ridiculously steep main line, and I'll report back on my experiments. Writing that has reminded me I'll also have an excuse for a banking engine to help trains leaving the station :)

Your turntable release sounds a wonderful idea. I think we even had one or two British stations using end-of-the-line turntables into the 20th century, e.g. Bembridge  on the Isle of Wight and Seaford in Sussex.

Edited by Ian Simpson
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