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Things that seemed a good idea at the time, but in practice are pretty useless.

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by Eightpot, Oct 3, 2019.

  1. ross

    ross Member

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    When I worked on the Western Region I had many difficulties with things IKB did. Dealing with the contractors trying to maintain some of his station buildings-all listed, obviously, where iron rainwater down-pipes are built into ashlar walls, fine for 150 winters but.......That old chestnut about not meeting your heroes sprang to mind.
     
  2. Smokestack Lightning

    Smokestack Lightning Member

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    Agreed. I wonder if a successful project will ever happen? I'm not sure I would ever climb into one!

    Dave
     
  3. RalphW

    RalphW Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Administrator Friend

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    Isn't hindsight wonderful, when the computer was unknown, the only real way to find out if your idea would work was to built it. If it didn't it was back to the quill and parchment so piling criticism and scorn on those who tried but failed is a bit harsh.
     
  4. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I disagree. Brunel was a visionary and, at his best, capable of genius. The GWR billiard table is a great example of this.

    But those qualities made him over confident in his own abilities, and richly merit his mention here. His ships were tremendous, vital for developing the art of the possible - and ruinously expensive for his backers. The atmospheric system was a dead end, IMHO predictably so, which was relied upon to avoid massive engineering round Dartmoor. We still bear the costs of that today. And sometimes, let’s remember, he just wasn’t very good.

    All of which makes the comparison with Elon Musk rather apt.


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  5. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    All great engineers had their failures. RJ Mitchell will be remembered forever for the superlative Spitfire but even he had failures. E.g. his fighter prototype that was powered by an engine that was cooled by steam. That was a dead end. But take Thomas Edison, after repeated failures to design to manufacture an incandescent light bulb, he considered that each failure wasn't a waste of time but simply proof that a failure was valuable information on how not to design a light bulb.
     
  6. Martin Perry

    Martin Perry Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I think that the Deltic Diesel Engine is deserving of a mention in this thread; whilst it did put out a decent amount of power for its size, its need for almost constant attention and the consequences of failure, which generally wrecked its internals, and wasn't uncommon, must make any 'success' questionable. Overcomplicated and expensive. Its weaknesses all too apparent to this day.
     
  7. 5944

    5944 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Like a lot of diesel engines really. Great for constant power output in industrial or marine applications, not so good with the constant full power - no power - full power cycles of locomotive use.
     
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  8. Martin Perry

    Martin Perry Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    You think rail applications are bad, you should see the power-cycles for offshore drilling; min-full 30seconds-min, all day at times.
    The only diesel engines that really stand up to that seem to be Caterpillar or EMD, plus Wartsila of the more modern engines.
     
  9. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I agree with most of that, but the broad gauge was technically far superior and had to be abandoned only because, when unification became unavoidable, far more standard gauge lines had been built.

    Except that the main Bristol-London line has two 1-in-100 banks, one of them in tunnel. Locomotives that could get up those could have maintained reasonable speeds up, say, 1-in-250 gradients on the rest of the line.
     
  10. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Just on the question of gauge, I remember reading recently of a line engineered by Brunel where he chose standard gauge because the speeds would be too low for broad.

    Regardless of whether broad was superior (and let’s remember that standard has coped with speeds he couldn’t have imagined possible), the obsession with making things bespoke and ignoring the benefits of consistency at the least mark Brunel out for criticism.


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  11. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I’d grant you that for the ships; their worth was in what they foreshadowed. But his locomotives?


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  12. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Well, he didn't actually design them did he. He issued a specification, and it worse still approved the designs before construction, and that specification led to some pretty dire locomotives, but if you design and deliver a dreadful locomotive to a poor specification isn't some of the blame down to you?
     
  13. LMS2968

    LMS2968 Part of the furniture

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    Rather a weak argument, I feel, Jim. If you choose to buy a very cheap item, and it proves to be a poor purchase, is it down to you for choosing it or the shop's for selling it?
     
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  14. Eightpot

    Eightpot Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    There is another reason why the broad gauge was a technical dead end, although not recognised at the time. Locos of the time were quite small and if more power would be needed it would mean more cylinders. Three inside one would be possible, but how long would an axle with three cranks last in service? The ones in the Bulleid 'Leader' of nearly 60 years later only lasted 6000 miles before failure. The only other option would to put the cylinders (if using 3 or 4 of them) on the outside, which if carried out in later GWR times would mean locos being some 2' - 3" wider, thus a 'King' or 'Castle' would end up something like 11' - 3" over cylinders, way outside the load gauge. To have these sort of locos on broad gauge would involve a very extensive reconstruction of the whole system involving platform to track clearances, bridge abutments and opening out tunnels, to mention just a few items.
     
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  15. 8126

    8126 Member

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    Since Bulleid and the Leader has come up, along with unreliable diesels, I feel there should be a special mention for....

    Sleeve valves!

    The theoretical advantages are there, lovely close and direct ports without having to worry too much about clearance volumes, admission straight from the valve liner port to the cylinder, a very compact cylinder and valve chest combination, they were proven to work on some highly effective internal combustion engines of the time. Chapelon was I believe very interested in Bulleid's work on them...

    And then the downsides; the need for a standard of accuracy in fit and finish rather beyond steam age cylinder machining practice, the lubrication difficulties inherent with a double acting arrangement, the veritable labyrinth of seals, the absence of the "no hot exhaust valve" advantage so appealing in I.C. engine practice.

    I do wonder if some of the contemporary figures expressing hope for the work's success did so in a slightly Sir Humphrey-esque way. "That's very bold, Bulleid."
     
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  16. LesterBrown

    LesterBrown Member

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    But why would you necessarily need 4 cylinders? If building for the broad gauge a very different design would have resulted to the Castle etc. Admittedly a pair of large diameter inside cylinders would put more stress on crank axles but there would also be more width available to make them more robust.
     
  17. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    You might be able to build a viable compound though, with Castle sized outside cylinders and a pair of monsters inside.
     
  18. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Well, the locomotives in question were clearly not of merchantable quality...[grin]
     
  19. LesterBrown

    LesterBrown Member

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    When looking those very early days it is perhaps easy to forget the rapid developments in technology and experience at that time. When first surveying the GWR Brunel expected stationary engines to be necessary on the two inclines. Again when ordering locomotives he interfered too much based on already outdated experience when he should have just let the builders get on with it, though why he had so little confidence in the ability of his baulk road to bear any significant weight is difficult to understand.

    Even Stephenson made mistakes, the Stars were a considerable advance on that firms earlier Patentee design (which they continued to construct, e.g. the broad gauge De Arend for the first Dutch railway) but the draughting was totally wrong so it performed worse than the 'freaks'until Gooch took it in hand.
     
  20. ross

    ross Member

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    I'd like to point out that Brunel was, is, and probably always will be one of my greatest heroes-look at his bridges which ended up happily carrying 1000% more than they were envisaged as carrying, but:
    the piling under the baulk road suggests a considerable lack of understanding of how a ballasted road bed behaves.
    the stipulation of maximal piston speed made it inevitable that locomotives built to his specification would be veritable turkeys.
    the request for a ship which could steam from Britain to Australia without needing to coal up was re-interpreted as steaming from Britain to Australia and back, despite the fact that the ship would spend weeks offloading and reloading passengers, mail and freight and Australia is full of good coal.

    I wish I could have been at Swindon to witness the meeting between Franco-Brizzle Brunel, Geordie Gooch, a puzzled Wiltshire farmer and the chief of the Irish navvies.....subtitles, anybody?
     
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