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Train Blogging: Movies

by asdf Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 09:12:59 AM EST

Ok, I went on a binge this weekend and watched a couple of classic train movies. First, "The General" with Buster Keaton, and then "The Train."

In the 1927 silent epic, Keaton is an engineer on the Reb side during the Civil War who is rejected by the army because engineers are valuable to the Cause. He loses the girl, but then gets her back. Or something. Who cares? There's tons of old steam train footage! Stunts, crashes, all sorts of train-related excitement. And it's available online.

The plot of "The Train" has something to do with saving French art from the nasty Nazis at the end of the war, but the important stuff is the train action. Lots and lots of pictures of the French railway system, with locomotive interior shots, details of lots of the operating practices, yard management, blown up engines... It's great!

Great action for steam train addicts! Some questions arise, however:


What's the big crank that the French engineers are always turning? I'm guessing it's the valve gear control, but it's wierd in comparison to American locomotives that are controlled by a big reversing lever, usually called the "Johnson Bar." Most American engines used the Walschaerts valve system, and as the engines got bigger the bars got bigger and really hard to manage. Eventually a power assist was added, so there was never a need for cranks. This was the result of a labor action, actually: Time Magazine

Anyway, the result of this is that on an American engine, you can yank on the reversing lever and spin the wheels backwards, but in the movie it becomes apparent that the French engine drivers have to crank and crank on their handle in order to get maximum braking. Not as impressive as wheels spinning desperately backwards!

The other interesting thing is the way the French trackage system is designed. When the hero is preparing to derail the art train, he unscrews the bolts holding the tie plates to the ties, then knocks out a wedge-shaped thingy to release the rail. This is totally different from American track, where the tie plate is simply spiked into the wooden tie. Can I assume that the wedge is to allow a small change in gauge if an adjustment is needed? Over here, to do that you pull the spikes and use the other holes (there are four holes per tie plate and you only use two of them). You can slip a new tie plate in any old tie if needed.

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The Train

was a great action movie, for sure.

The bombing of the marshalling yard was pretty spectacular, and apparently allowed the French Railways to demolish said time expired marshalling yard at nil cost...

Burt Lancaster was in finest determined form....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 09:28:08 AM EST
For even more an inside look on war and French railways, there is of course La Bataille du rail. Many of the actors were actual railway workers.
by Francois in Paris on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:15:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You remind me... I only saw 15 minutes of that film once, I should get it somewhere.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:31:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For me, The Train = Le Train is THE train action movie, a film in its own leage. And that both as a train film and as an action drama.

As a train film, it is unrepeatable: it shows the rail steam age in all its complexity (including infrastructure and workers) in action, brutally showing its raw power and 'dissected' parts in real derailments and crashes, trashing an amount of rolling same-era stock you won't find on all the museum railways. (It would cost two Waterworlds and a Titanic as well as years to build all the replicas for a remake today, and then they would not look properly 'in use'.)

As an action drama, it establishes tension with the dilemma, "is art/national treasure worth more than human lives?", and is then bold enough to abandon genre rules and NOT resolve the dilemma at the end.

Those who believe that art/national treasure is worth more than human lives are the fast dying side characters from the French Railways and the Resistance, as well as the German captain who is the bad guy of the film. But Burt Lancester's character first believes human lives are worth more, then fights on so that all who died didn't die in vain. But after the massacre at the end, he is still a loser, and the final scene of him shooting the German captain foreshadows the ending of Se7en.

I suspect just this less than pleasant ending is the reason that the film is less widely known.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
rolling same-era stock

same-era rolling stock...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:32:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 07:19:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Francois in Paris on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 09:53:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a great scene! Note that on this locomotive, the engineer is on the right hand side of the engine, and he has a conventional "Johnson Bar" reversing lever. (The big one coming out of the floor that he moves back and forth.)

Also note that the explosives are placed on the track in the manner taught to the Bedouin by Lawrence of Arabia in the First WW, which causes the rails to bend so they can't be used again.

Why is there a concertina on a train loaded with tanks? And where do I get this movie in the U.S.?

by asdf on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 12:12:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Check out this Belgian page (in French but with diagrams) for reversers used in Francophone areas.

You can download La Bataille du rail with BitTorrent (which I shall do too).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:34:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can embed that.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:08:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks! Is this towards the end, with some air bombing scene not lon before? I recall the jumping loco and the trashed tank replicas.

The only unrealistic part in this scene is the German soldiers not noticing that the locomotive drivers jumped off. Indeed between Nazi reprisals for supporting the Resistance, allied bombing and gunfire from fighter planes, and sabotage by the Resistance not always with a tip-off, French locomotive drivers had a hard life during WWII. (Le Train shows all that, I suspect La Bataille du rail does, too.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:21:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Night Mail

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 11:04:50 AM EST
I imagine you'll have to wait for Dodo for the technical answers.

In the UK engines were largely driven on the cut-off (valve-gear control) with regulator on full (exceptions for Bullied engines which preferred 80%)and so minor adjustments were always being made. Drivers, generally being conservative, would probably have preferred not to lose that direct feel for the engine.

But French engines... 'sais pas.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:03:07 PM EST
No, I guess you are right: simple screw reverser. No nose-diving with them.

I must admit however that I am less of an expert on steam (being a latter-day railfan focused on electrics), and have my difficulties with English (not to mention American English) rail terminology there: first 'decoding' asdf's question, then translating my answer... (My first language on this is German, often I don't even know the Hungarian terms...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 05:11:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have a boy friend?  :-)

I agree with you; most steam engines are normally operated at full throttle, with the power adjusted by controlling the valve cutoff timing...

by asdf on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 12:14:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, being transgendered puts people off. My repellent personality doesn't help.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 06:19:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You need to move to Colorado Springs. Since we have a huge reputation for Evangelical-driven intolerance, the American GLBT community dumps tons of money into local support groups. You should see the hair on fire at our Saint Patrick's Day parade when the Dykes On Bikes (motorcycles, big Harley-Davidsons) drive by...  :-)
by asdf on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:16:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Move to colorado Springs ?? Are you kidding ?? Being a liberal leftie cheese eating surrender monkey european, especially a loud-mouthed repellent atheist one, would get get me lynched in NYC or LA, let alone some repugnican evangelical dominated outpost.

Sides, I'm barred from US citizenship and probably on the no-flight register

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 09:07:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe, but the perception and the reality of the town are somewhat distinct... Besides, what could be more fun that going up to Focus on the Family and badgering the wingers?  :-)
by asdf on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 09:42:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think staying alive would be a lot more fun. them's guys are armed and think atheist european transgenderism is an office meriting death (in the name of the love of Jesus of course).

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 09:50:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lynched? You might get some dirty looks from guys who fantasize about blowing you away with their hand cannons, but they'd never do it.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 04:50:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe, maybe not. However, I feel more comfortable on a continent where I can just be and not be considered a provocation by existing.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:07:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On rail fastenings: there are a bedazzling array of different types on European railways, and while I do remember the scene you mention, I don't remember exactly what system it was. A wedge may either serve for adjustments or elastic fixing, or both. I recall the latter, so I wenture the guess that you saw an off-shoot of the old British system, (...checks English terminology...) that of chairs (elements atop base plates 'embracing' the side or base of the rail [ = tie plates]) and keys (the wedges, which fixed the rails in two directions).

Most modern European track, usually on concrete sleepers, uses clamps and angled guide plates:

(Incidentally, to rile the French rail-chauvinists here, the common name for the clamps - Pandrol - is from their first and still top maker - from Britain. Tho' Germany et al did more to the development of the angled guide plates and whole systems.)


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:05:26 PM EST
Does it leak oil?

I can't believe it could be conceived in Britain if it doesn't leak at least a litre/quart of oil a week.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:07:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This was NOT conceived in Britain:



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 07:16:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
steam train to find something french that leaks oil like that.

In Britain its a rule that things need to do this as new, they need to be designed that way. I think the official organism for licencing design engineers in England, the Royal English Analytical Design Institute for Engineering Sciences (READIES), actually requires that all accredited English enigneers design things to leak oil as a built-in obsolescence factor. Aids economic growth when financial bubbles fail.

That's why the British stopped making computers- couldn't figure out a way to get 'em to leak oil. (In fairness, in France computer manufacturing was stopped because the marketing was crap - none of the enarques running the state-owned hopeless drain on the public purse could figure out the brand name in english was more than a little bull shit. Sort of like the problem General Motors had with its Chevrolet Nova product in a Mexican market which had hitherto been dominated by Chevrolet products...) But at least the French computers didn't leak oil.

I have it on good authority (can't quote my protected source of course, not part of the deontology of journalism dontcha know) that the engineers of Jaguar were livid when told by new owner Ford to start making the XJ6 to stop leaking a quart of oil per week as had been required by prior management. (The XJ12, which leaked two quarts per week, suffered a similar fate.)

As for transportation goods, I know from personal experience the superiority of French engineering, at least in comparison to the outre manchies. I sold my 1970 Citroen DS just three years ago here in the US. 320,000 kilometers on the original motor, didn't leak oil not one bit. A little hydraulic fluid, but no oil. As for my uncle's Jaguar, it was in the garage more than it was out. And as you know, the plural of anecdote is bullshit...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 07:58:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I always parked my motorbike far from my friends who had BSA's and Bonneville's, because after the "café pause" there was always a slippery oil puddle under those engines. My flat twin R 50-3 was my age and didn't leak on the pavement nor in the exhaust pipes :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:05:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's why the British stopped making computers

Actually no, my home computer is British. Tho', it is crap, even if it doesn't leak anything.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:09:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you had to find a 100-year old coal-powered steam train

It's nothing proper maintenance could not stop today... But what's this? A steam-powered TGV? :-)

I know from personal experience the superiority of French engineering, at least in comparison to the outre manchies. I sold my 1970 Citroen DS...

Hah, then it must have been a clone, older Citroëns (up to the nineties) are famous for rusting...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:19:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it safe to hose it with water ????

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:22:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect the catenary was switched off, and it looks like they are hosing it merely to cool the carbody (they hose it below the coolers), presumably to be able to approach it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 09:29:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They must've been driving it too fast.

No risk of that of course with British-made trains. What's the top speed of those Hornby trains? 80 kmh?

older Citroëns (up to the nineties) are famous for rusting

Maybe so. Which is 35-year old car only had 320K on the odo, never saw a salted road.

But that was here in the US. No problems in France though maybe up east they do have problems.

You want to see rust problems? Buy a Fiat. Want to completely avoid rust problems? Buy a Volvo. But the problem with buying a Volvo is that you're then going to be seen driving that Volvo. Not cool.

 

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 08:27:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... the engineers of Jaguar were livid when told by new owner Ford to start making the XJ6 to stop leaking a quart of oil per week as had been required by prior management. (The XJ12, which leaked two quarts per week, suffered a similar fate.)

Yeah, and that's how you ruin a perfectly good brand. Jags went from very fun leaky crap to perfectly un-fun non-leaky crap.

I want the leaks back !

by Francois in Paris on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:25:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who? What? That's not a nice thing to say.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 06:47:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In case you don't mean that tongue-in-cheek, too, I shall point out this is an allusion to an earlier fun exchange with redstar (who seemingly got it :-))

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 06:51:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean this.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 06:54:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Modern American railroads also use concrete ties, but there are lots of long sections of wooden track...
by asdf on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 08:31:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Works on wood, too.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:56:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Fri Mar 7th, 2008 at 05:49:18 PM EST


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