Monday, 23 April 2018

The gyroscopic car

This is an interesting oddity I discovered today while searching for something else in the Electric Railway Journal. In 1910, in Brooklyn USA, a monorail railway car was tested that used gyroscopes to keep it from falling over [1]. The Scherl monorail car (built in Germany) was tested at the Clearmont Ice Rink and could carry up to six passengers. The car was powered by a pair of two hp electric motors supplied by 110v DC from copper conductors either side of the running rail. The current being collected by shoes mounted on the bogies - the wheels having double flanges.

The car was kept upright by a pair of gyroscopes, these consisted of a steel wheel rotating in a near vacuum. Emergency props could be deployed by the motorman if the gyroscopes failed!

The car ran on an oval test track at up to 4mp/h and apparently worked perfectly fine with passengers not dumped unceremoniously on the floor!

More about Scherl's gyro monorail cars can be seen here.

Bogie detail, notice the collector shoe and double flanged wheels

[1] "Gyroscopic car in Brooklyn", Electric Railway Journal Vol. XXXV No. 3 (January 1910) p. 116

Saturday, 21 April 2018


On my Mac I have a post-it note (the software app included with MacOS not paper) which lists places I plan to visit. Now I am much better at adding places to the list than ticking them off but today I achieved the latter. I went to Willington in South Derbyshire which is usually a place I travel through when I'm on my way to Derby but i have wanted to visit to walk the canal there.

That canal is the Trent & Mersey and I had a nice walk along the canal in good early sunshine. Willington is a nice village, the cooling towers of the former Willington power station still visible in the distance. However today was all about the canal, and you can see my photos here.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

St Katharine Docks

The Thames in London used to have a number of docks, of which St Katharine Docks was just one of them. Located on the North bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge the docks was named after a hospital, St Katharine's by the Tower, which once stood on the site. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1820s with the hospital, thousands of homes (mostly rather poor slums) and other buildings demolished to build the docks area and large warehouses.

The docks opened in 1828 but were not a rousing success, they could not accommodate large ships which hindered their commercial viability though the docks remained busy. St Katharine Docks was one of the first of London's docks to be closed in 1968. The docks became a marina with most of the warehouses demolished (those which still stood - a number had been destroyed in the Second World War).

The area of St Katharine Docks has now turned full circle with housing once more filling the area - though nowadays the houses are expensive flats not slum houses of course.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The British Bus (2) : Rise of the motorbus

As we saw in part 1 of this history of the British Bus the first buses in the early nineteenth century were horse drawn, being a development of the earlier stagecoach. From 1861 until 1896 government legislation virtually banned the use of self-powered road vehicles but the law was changed in 1896 and within months experimental motor bus services were operating. The first such bus in London ran between Kennington and Oxford Circus in 1899, in 1902 the London Road Car Company began to motorise it's fleet [3]. The changeover in London was dramatic, motorbuses went from just four in 1900 to two thousand, seven hundred and sixty one in 1915 when the final horse buses were withdrawn.

In 1910 London General introduced the B Class which was the first of a long line of standard London motor buses. London General was an early driver of the new transport technology, in 1925 they introduced a double decker with a covered top deck (though the first large scale introduction was in Birmingham, see below) and in 1927 a bus with pneumatic tyres - something the authorities were reluctant to allow for some time due to fears of tyres exploding and harming pedestrians.

As with the horse buses in the mid-nineteenth century, the motorbus market was highly competitive and cut throat in the 1920s. Many bus companies were started up by returning servicemen though as the decade wore on these smaller companies began to be swallowed up by a small number of larger firms such as Tilling and National. In the larger cities municipally owned fleets dominated, such as the fleet in Liverpool which started operation in 1911 [4]. In Birmingham buses were operated by Birmingham Corporation Tramways, which later changed it's name to Birmingham City Transport, from 1913. They introduced the AEC 504 in 1924 the first bus with a covered top deck [5]. This was the beginning of the classic British double decker, a type which still dominates bus fleets to this day.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act bought new regulation to the motor bus market which saw the elimination of many smaller companies. Outside of London and the other cities with their municipal owned networks Tilling and BET dominated the market. In 1933 London bus services were nationalised in all but name with the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board. More nationalisation was to come.
Preserved B Type bus B340 at London Transport Museum

Leyland LB at Tottenham Court Road, public domain image [1]

Milnes-Daimler bus in London, public domain image [2]

Preserved LNWR Charabanc coach at London Transport Museum

[3] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 116
[4] Martin Jenkins & Charles Roberts, Merseyside Transport Recalled (Ian Allan, 2014) p. 4
[5] Malcom Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1924-1975 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 7

Monday, 16 April 2018


The long winter has delayed matters a bit but the first model aeroplane project of the year, Project #081 a Curtis Hawk, has been completed. It has been finished in RAF livery. Next might be a 707...