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.