Saturday, October 31, 2020

Mountain Miscellany

A few more odds and ends from my latest trip out West:

In a Cheyenne park is this nicely preserved UP Ten-Wheeler, an 1890 product of the Cooke Works.

The signage is good:

The old Cheyenne depot has been preserved, and houses a small transportation museum which wasn't open when we were there.

On a somewhat different subject, in the narrow valley of the Big Thompson river are the remains of an early hydroelectric plant that was destroyed by one of the occasional violent floods that roar down the valley.  I can only imagine what it was like when the water was up more than twenty feet and rising.

But it was interesting to examine what's left.

Always good advice:

And then when we were visiting Cuba, we were lucky enough to see a Frisco passenger train roll by:

So Happy Halloween, friends!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Solid Progress

 Time for another Wednesday report, and we have solid progress to report in several places.

First of all, maintenance of the physical structure of the Museum is a never-ending struggle.  Today, the B&G department had a couple of contractors working all day replacing the roof over our historic O'Mahoney diner.  This is an important artifact that needs to be well preserved.

In the car shop, here Pete is applying a nice coat of varnish to an interior door from the 160.

Larry Larson continued to bring us parts of the Van Dorn Company archives, which he has been donating.  Here are some boxes of copper printing blocks, ledger books, and so on.

And also a large, heavy pattern for an anchor casting, I believe, now temporarily stored near the front of the shop.  We really appreciate the donation of historic artifacts like this!

Tim was cleaning up the ticket window grill from the ticket office in the depot.  Round trip to Milwaukee, please!

Finally, I was able to make some solid progress on the 453's roof.  I finished the woodwork on the patch for the Trolleyville hole at the #1 end, and started applying the solid epoxy to smooth it out.  It usually takes several hours to set up, so you basically get one application per day.  But it's looking good, if I say so myself.

And at the #2 end, there was some more solid applied, followed by more sanding.

I also worked on the tack molding at a few places around the car, mostly the northeast corner and the #1 end.  

Also the #2 end:

Also, Pete briefly helped me measure the locations of the screws I placed earlier for the saddles.  It appears that the original saddles were not perfectly aligned on the center of the car, but off by about ¾" to 1" (to the north, as the car is now sitting.)  That was probably thought to be within tolerances, but I'll keep it in mind when the new saddles are finally installed.

Steam on Display

On our recent trip out west we were able to see several steam locomotives on static display in various places.  We'll start with Nebraska.

In Lincoln, CB&Q 710 has been beautifully restored and is on display in front of the old depot building downtown, about a block away from the Amshack.  This is a K4 Ten Wheeler.  Behind the historic steam locomotive is a modern steel waycar.

On the cylinder casing we see that it was built in 1901 at Havelock and rebuilt for display in 1991 at Mt. Pleasant, of all places.

Farther west, we stopped at North Platte again.   Last time we visited the Golden Spike tower, but this time we went to see the Cody Park Railroad Museum.  Unfortunately, it was closed, but I took a couple of pictures through the fence.  The main attraction is one of the only two UP 4-6-6-4's in existence.  The other, of course, is the 3985 which is now stored out of service at Cheyenne.

And there's also a Centennial on display there.  There is presumably an array of artifacts inside the station building, but that will have to wait for some other time.  The museum closes at the end of September.

Next stop: Sidney, where there's an elderly UP 2-8-0 on display, along with a couple of modern freight cars.  There are quite a few similar UP engines on display in the area; how many of them are the same class as our 428 I couldn't say.

This one is behind a fence, but otherwise it appears to have been rather neglected since it was placed here in 1955.  Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Van Dorn Coupler Company - Tight-Lock Couplers

During the 1910s, electric railways began looking at more modern replacements for the link-and-pin Van Dorn couplers that were as much of an industry standard as any. There was special interest in tight-lock couplers, which when coupled were held together tightly with no slack. This lack of movement meant that connections requiring consistent contact - air and electrical connections - could be made automatically through the coupler head itself. Rapid transit lines especially were interested in this, since they generally used third-rail power which meant that going between the cars to make or break air hose and MU jumper connections was hazardous. If all of those connections could be made or broken automatically when cars were coupled or uncoupled, it would be a real improvement.

Ohio Brass was selling various types of Tomlinson couplers (named after their inventor) since before 1910 and these became some of the more common tight-lock couplers. Westinghouse also started offering tight-lock couplers in the 1910s. When William Van Dorn died in 1918, he was said to have been working on development of tight-lock couplers. The Van Dorn Coupler Company did offer a range of tight-lock and multi-function couplers during the 1920s and 1930s to serve the traction industry. A number of patents issued during this period were attributed to Herbert Van Dorn, the son of the company's founder.

The Van Dorn company records donated to IRM by Larry Larson include a number of photographs showing tight-lock couplers, including several photos of these couplers in use on railway equipment. Unfortunately several of the photos that show couplers do not identify them by type; there are also photos of ancillary equipment that is unidentified. But other images are identified and there are some fascinating photos in the lot. All images are the property of the Illinois Railway Museum and may not be reprinted or reproduced without permission.

#400 Tight-Lock Coupler

This is the only tight-lock coupler in the Van Dorn files with a three-digit number. The rest are numbered much higher. It looks like a smaller model designed for street railway use. In this image the #400 coupler is matched with #766 draft gear and a #760 shank. It's apparent that the two air connections made through the coupler were made at a 45-degree angle, which seemed to be a consistent feature of multi-function Van Dorn couplers.

#1050 Tight-Lock Coupler

Here we see a #1050 coupler noted as having a #1207 short top and #1208 short bottom, whatever exactly that refers to. One feature you'll notice with Van Dorn tight-locks is the crosswise hinge pin right behind the coupler head to allow for vertical movement. With MCB style couplers, joined couplers slide up an down to accommodate this, while with older Van Dorn link-and-pin couplers there was enough slack or slop in the joint to permit vertical movement in the draft gear without uncoupling.

This coupler head is marked as a #1050 coupler with a #124 electric coupler attached. This setup appears very similar to what was fitted to the subway cars built by Brill in 1922 for the Market-Frankford line in Philadelphia (see further down in this article). Whereas the Broad Street couplers built a few years later had two air connections alongside the electrical connection box, one on each side of the box, these couplers have a total of four, two on each side of the electrical connection box. Per Bill Wulfert, these small air connections activated valves that opened or closed the primary train line and main reservoir connections.

This is the same coupler head but with the cover in place over the electrical connector box.

Here's a pair of coupled #1050 couplers.

Here's that same pair of couplers but separated.

#1200 Tight-Lock Coupler

This #1200 coupler is shown - from the opposite side as the previous two - with #1160 draft gear.

#1450 Tight-Lock Coupler

The #1450 coupler was apparently designed for city and suburban cars. It's possible that the entire 1000-series was. In this image, a #1450 coupler head (noted as being "old style") is fitted to #1264 draft gear with a #1277 anchor and #1267 carrier. It's also said to have an "unlock cylinder."

This is the same #1450 "old style" coupler with #1264 draft gear, #1277 anchor, #1267 carrier, and unlock cylinder as shown in the previous image. I'm not clear on how the unlock cylinder worked but this coupler does have three hoses leading to it and three air connections through the coupler head.

The previous image was used in a 1921 advertisement in Electric Traction magazine. Various selling points of the design are described.

And here's a crowd pleaser: the #1450 coupler was used on none other than the Chicago & West Towns' quartet of MU streetcars, C&WT 138-141. IRM's own car 141 once wore a #1450 coupler as shown here until it was removed when the car was rebuilt in the 1940s. You can see that the C&WT application lacks the third air connection underneath the coupler head shown earlier, so maybe it doesn't have the "unlock cylinder" feature. But it does have "button boxes" flanking the coupler head to make the electrical connections for MU operation.

Here's a nice view of two West Towns cars coupled. When these cars were new they were designed for two-man operation, so the left-side doors on car 139 are in use, not closed off like the 141's are today to reflect its rebuilding for one-man operation.

This is basically the same photo as above except that the cars are now connected by a jumper via sockets underneath the headlight. With MU connections made through the coupler, this may have been a bus jumper to get power to the second car. Some lines ran MU streetcar trains with only one pole to avoid problems with power-operated track switches being inadvertently activated by the second car. That could get exciting in a hurry!

This photo of a pair of coupler heads coupled together was unlabeled, but "1450" is prominently cast into the tops of the couplers so I can only assume that these are #1450 couplers. They don't look quite like the earlier illustrations that were described as "old style" so perhaps these are "new style" #1450s. One has part of the casting cut away to show the inner workings.

#2350 Tight-Lock Coupler

The #2350 coupler was obviously a much larger and heavier tight-lock. It was designed for rapid transit use rather than street railway use. This image was actually unlabeled but it matches photos shown below of #2350 couplers so I'm pretty certain that it's either a #2350 or #2350A. This coupler does have a box to make MU electrical connections but it's mounted underneath the coupler head, not flanking it like on the West Towns cars shown previously.

This is the same coupler but with the electrical connector box uncovered.

Again, an unlabeled photo but one that appears to show a #2350 or #2350A. The pivot point to allow for vertical movement is quite prominent.

Another unlabeled photo that appears to show a #2350 or #2350A coupler. Here the cover on the electrical connection box is retracted to show the "buttons." The side of the coupler has a removable cover with a hole in it and over the hole the word "TRIP" is cast.

Same deal - an unlabeled photo but one that appears to show a #2350 or #2350A. This is a view of the coupler without that removable cover so you can see what appear to be pistons on the inside of the coupler that presumably "lock" it and/or make or break air connections.

Yet another unlabeled photo that appears to show a #2350 or #2350A coupler head. In this case, it's just the coupler head, with no draft gear behind it.

Another unlabeled photo that appears to be a head-on view of a #2350 or #2350A coupler head. The electrical connector box looks like the same type that the Broad Street cars used.

Another unlabeled photo that appears to show a #2350 or #2350A coupler head. This shot again shows the coupler without its side cover, and you can see where that access point labeled "TRIP" lines up with a small lever or catch that compresses a pair of pistons if pulled.

Here's a photo of a #2350 coupler that's actually labeled as such. It's a photo of a Broad Street Subway car built by Brill in 1927 and yes, it's a car identical to Broad Street #55 preserved at IRM. The electrical connection box cover is retracted and you can see a light-colored armored cable carrying the control wires back under the car. There are two little pistons, it appears, flanking the electrical connection box but I'm not sure what their function was. Anyone know?

This is another labeled photo of #2350 couplers, in this case showing a pair of Broad Street cars coupled up. This is what I used to identify the above photos of #2350 couplers with the backgrounds blanked out, none of which were labeled. This photo is dated December 12, 1927.

Maybe not a great coupler photo, but here's Broad Street Subway #100 when brand new. IRM's car #55 was part of this same order. The original livery for these cars was a dark forest green on the lower sides, ends, and doors, cream on the upper sides, and a tile red roof.

Another photo that doesn't exactly show the couplers well, but who cares? This is Fern Rock Yard on the Broad Street Subway, taken January 6, 1928, "north side from repair shop." The lines were drawn onto the print by the Van Dorn folks, who evidently planned on cropping this one a bit.

For more information on Van Dorn tight-lock couplers used on the Broad Street Subway courtesy of Bill Wulfert, see the bottom of this article.

This photo shows a #2350A tight-lock coupler. The coupler head itself looks pretty much indistinguishable from the #2350, at least to my eye, but the electrical connection box is certainly different than what the Broad Street cars had. There were 39 buttons on the Broad Street connection box but this car has 59 buttons.

And here's the car that is fitted with that #2350A coupler: Delaware River Joint Commission #1001, built by Brill in 1936 for operation over the Delaware River Bridge (renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1955) in Philadelphia. The photo description adds that, in addition to the #2350A coupler, the car has a #2723A strut, #3755 electric coupler (that's that 59-button box under the coupler head), and #3800 switch.

Here's a closeup of the end of #1001. All of the equipment information mentioned above applies here, of course. These were some of the most Art Deco-looking (or maybe just Batman-looking) rapid transit cars ever built. A handful are still in existence including three that are still more-or-less on home rails, two stored at Lindenwold shop on PATCO and one stored at Fern Rock Yard on the Broad Street Subway, where these cars ended their service lives. Photos make it appear that these cars ran MU'ed with older Broad Street cars that had different "electric couplers." Perhaps the fourth and fifth rows of "button" contacts along the bottom of the electrical contact box, which the Broad Street cars lacked, were optional or simply deactivated by that time.

#3310 Tight-Lock Coupler

This isn't the best photo of a #3310 coupler, but it's what we've got.

Here's a weird one: the previously shown image of a #3310 superimposed at impressive size over a mirrored version of the Chicago & West Towns 139 photo shown earlier in this article. The West Towns cars didn't have this type of coupler but you'll note that a smaller copy of the photo has been crudely superimposed over the car's coupler head too. And the car itself has acquired a mask to blank out the background, but not the entire background. Strange.

Here's a car that actually was fitted with #3310 couplers. Lima [Peru] Light Power & Tramways #212 and #213 were part of an order placed in 1930 with Brill for 18 cars. LLP&T had ordered two normal "Master Units" two years earlier and the 1930 cars were similar but were set up more for suburban operation, with pantographs and couplers for MU operation. They also lacked the motorman's sun visor common to most "Master Units" including Lima's 1928 cars.

According to the Van Dorn photo descriptions these cars had #3310 couplers, #3308 anchors, #2906 spring carriers, #1564 radial bars, #3399 and #3401 air pipes, a #3515 electric couplers, and #3292 switches. The "electric couplers," or electrical connection boxes, flank the couplers like on the Chicago & West Towns cars.

Unidentified Tight-Lock Couplers

There are a number of photos of tight-lock couplers with no identifying information. This one shows a coupler that closely resembles the #1450 couplers shown earlier but has a few differences, including flanges or ears on the sides of the coupler head for mounting electrical connector boxes. The labeled images of #1450 couplers note them as "old style" so maybe this is a "new style" #1450?

Head-on view of an unknown coupler, probably a city or suburban type. This looks like it may be the same coupler shown above, potentially a "new style" #1450.

Here's another city/suburban coupler of unknown type. This is quite possibly a Chicago Surface Lines coupler, as it appears that the CSL ordered couplers with a five-button electrical connection box on one side of the coupler head only. Since CSL ran K-control cars pulling trailers, and didn't haul more than one trailer at a time, motor cars could be fitted with the box on one side of the coupler head (shown) while trailers could have the box on the other side of the coupler head to match. A drawing here suggests the CSL used #1450 couplers so this may be that type.

This photo was taken by Frank Hicks and shows the coupler on CSL 9020 as preserved at IRM. The coupler type (likely a #1450) and electrical connector arrangement both appear to match the above photo. Bill Wulfert points out that the CSL used Van Dorn couplers on the trailers it ordered in 1921-1923 but used Tomlinson couplers on the MU cars it ordered in 1924. Perhaps they specifically wanted to avoid even the possibility of coupling MU cars to trailers or to trailer-puller motor cars.

This unidentified coupler is a heavier, rapid transit-style design, but it's not a #2350.

Judging from the distinctive round flange behind the coupler head, I believe this is a head-on view of the same coupler. I'm not sure what that switch, or whatever it is, in the middle of the electrical connection box.

It's another street railway coupler, from the looks of it, this time with electric couplers - electrical connection boxes - on either side of the coupler head.

This looks like the same coupler as in the previous photo, just from the side. You can see an interesting gizmo under the carrier. It looks like an air cylinder that turns a bell crank. My best guess is that this may be a pneumatic uncoupler.

This seems to be another heavier-duty coupler. As with the earlier couplers, without any background or sense of scale, it's hard to tell. This one has an electrical connector box underneath the coupler head; has three of those little air ports (or whatever they are) at the top of the electric coupler; and also seems to have a little square-profile plunger of some sort. There's all sorts of interesting features on these things.

This one looks a lot like the coupler in the previous photo, but without the electrical connector box.

Other Equipment

Van Dorn made a variety of add-ons, as you could tell, that you could fit to your couplers. This is an electrical connector box that appears to match what was fitted to the Broad Street Subway cars, though I can't swear to that. It's got "2725" cast into the top so my guess is that this is a #2725 electric coupler.

Here's the same electric coupler but with the cover closed.

The cover to the box, removed but thoughtfully left in the photo, says "141 cutout" so that's about all I can tell you. This may have been a pneumatic device to make and break MU electric connections between cars when they were coupled, activated by pistons in the coupler head.

This looks vaguely similar, though certainly with a lot fewer contacts, so it may be a different form of cutout.

And this appears to be picture of that last box, just with its cover installed.

This looks to be the cradle for the cutout shown above. You can see how air valves are being opened or closed using that cylinder. A lot is going on in this system and it would be fascinating to see a good diagram of the whole thing.

I assume this is another type of electro-pneumatic disconnect. It's got the number 2387 cast into it so that may (or may not) be the catalog number for this item.

And a cutaway view of the #2387 (?) electrical connector box shown above.

And here's another electrical connector box. It really would be interesting to see some of this stuff demonstrated on the bench.

Field Applications

The Van Dorn files included several photos of cars that used Van Dorn couplers that were identified by type (the West Towns, Broad Street, and Delaware River Bridge cars shown above). But there were also photos of equipment whose couplers were not identified. Here we see Market-Frankford Elevated car #535, which was part of a series of 100 cars built by Brill in 1922 when the Frankford Elevated section opened. The couplers on these cars closely resemble one of the unidentified couplers shown previously, the ones with two air connectors on either side of the electric coupler.

Here's a broadside photo of Market-Frankford #535, though curiously it's lettered "Frankford Elevated Railway." None of these 1922 Brill cars - nor any Market-Frankford cars built before 1960 - were saved. One of the 1922 Brills that had been converted for work service was headed to a museum but was cut up at the last minute instead.

Here's a neat one: a three-car interurban freight train, obviously with a hodgepodge of homebuilt cars, in matching two-tone paint and fitted with Van Dorn couplers. Thanks to Norm Krentel, our resident expert on all things interurban, who identified it immediately: these cars are from Chicago & Interurban Traction and the picture (plus the pictures below) were taken on the north side of the C&IT barn at 88th & Vincennes. I don't know much about C&IT but if you've ever seen a picture of an old wooden interurban car meeting the 'L' along 63rd street, that's a C&IT car bound for Kankakee. This photo was probably around 1922-1923, give or take, and at that time C&IT assembled a three-car train to take overnight LCL shipments between Kankakee and Chicago. It was a last-ditch attempt to save the line but it failed, and C&IT quit in 1927.

Here's the joint between the freight motor and the first freight trailer. These are definitely lighter-weight, city/suburban style couplers, and since there's no need for MU connections there aren't any electric couplers. That freight motor has a pretty elaborate end setup: it looks like it's got big swinging doors across the end, like an automobile car. Then there are steel bars that swing out too and the retriever is somehow hung on those, with a pillar in the middle helping hold it up.

Remember how earlier I had mentioned that pivot point behind the coupler head that allowed it to accommodate vertical movement? This is why that was necessary. This view of the joint between the two C&IT freight trailers is really fascinating and not just because of the angle on those couplers (have fun coupling these with a height difference like that). The freight trailers both seem to have big end doors and they also both have little peanut whistles. Maybe they did a lot of back-up moves.

I'm not sure where to put this so I'll just stick it here: the prominently labeled Van Dorn Coupler Company booth at an unknown convention in an unknown city in an unknown year. In the left foreground there's a circle of couplers on display including a couple of tight-locks and a couple of MCB style couplers. That "cage" in front of and to the right of the big pillar has air cylinders and valves on it, so I'd bet it's a working demonstrator to actually couple and uncouple the pair of tight-lock couplers included. That must have been cool to play with. All the way to the right, behind the couch, there's even a rack with some Van Dorn link-and-pin couplers. The booth in the background belongs to the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company.

The below pamphlet describes Van Dorn's tight-lock couplers, focusing on the #3050 coupler which was recommended for city or suburban use. The cover image is the shot shown earlier of the #3310 coupler superimposed over a mirrored image of a Chicago & West Towns car, so I assume that the #3310 was pretty similar to the #3050 that it is presented as in this pamphlet. 

Van Dorn Couplers on the Broad Street Subway

Bill Wulfert has offered some information from his Broad Street Subway files and memories on that operation's use of Van Dorn #2350 tight-lock couplers (and, later on, the use of #2350A couplers once the Delaware River Bridge cars fitted with that type were moved over to BSS service):

"I believe the North Broad, South Broad and Bridge cars were NOT normally operated in trains with each other in the early days.  The South Broad cars had "NEXT STATION SIGNS". which displayed the next station. When the train stopped at a station (you better have looked at it before it got there!), the lights went out as the doors opened, and the silvered glass kept you from seeing what the roll sign said. When the doors closed, the roll sign would advance to the next station, and the lights would come back on, so you could see what the next station would be.  If for some reason, the conductor had to re-open the doors, there was a button that he could press to keep the sign from changing again. There was also a way to reset them if they really got messed up. I was just looking in one of my books, and it mentions that the conductor would have to change to the switch to either NORTH or SOUTH before leaving the terminal, so that the sign would run in the correct position. When they started running Express trains, they stopped using the signs, and just painted over them. I believe, but don't know for sure that the signal would not go thru when coupled with a different type of car.

"The Bridge cars were used for Camden service, but since the ridership was so light at certain times of the day, the cars ran from Camden to 8th & Market, change ends, and ran to Girard or Erie, via Ridge Avenue spur, which also had rather light ridership.

"However, all of the cars were compatible, BSS cars had 2-210HP motors, while the Bridge cars had 4-105HP motors. They wanted better traction for trains climbing the steep grades of the bridge.  By the time I first rode the trains in 1974, they ran all of the cars together, as the PATCO Line was its own separate operation.

"The one book that I could find today says:


"'The cars are provided with automatic couplers to insure saving in time while coupling cars in train.  The automatic couplers consist of three distinct divisions, namely; mechanical coupler, two air circuits and control circuits.

"'The drum switch connects and disconnects the various train line door and signal circuits when the cars are in either the coupled or uncouples position. The switch is thrown by hand when coupling and uncoupling cars in the train.'

"Later on under OPERATIONS, it says: 'The position of the automatic coupler drum switch or switches should be checked and should be thrown to the "coupled" position when operating cars in train.'  It does NOT say how to do that!

"What I can't find at the moment, is the instructions for coupling or uncoupling cars.  There is a cutting valve in each cab, and a "key" is inserted (it looks like a piece of steel with a notch in it) to uncouple cars. I'll have to look for that.  But it also talks about closing the Westinghouse valve (which is just a standard WABCO brass angle cock under the coupler). That part never made sense to me, as either the couplers are automatic or they are not!

"There is an air operated drum switch behind the coupler, and when you put the "cutting key" in the slot, and move the handle part way, you can hear the drum throw, which I'm sure is disconnecting the coupler buttons electrically. Then you can move the key a bit more, and turn the handle in the cab a bit more.

"I did try the cutting valve when we still had the 126. It did not have power, but I used the key in the 55, and it worked. The cars uncoupled, and there was no big rush of air, so the automatic equipment worked. Hopefully I can find those instructions for you.

"You can also move the lever on the top of the coupler in order to manually uncouple cars, such as cars in the yard. I'm not sure if you have to throw anything else, as when the car is pumped up the air connections may not be closed.

"I did find a copy of  'Instruction Book for Motor man'.  It is dated February 1942, and is a spirit master book! It's not real dark, but I think I can copy the three pages on couplers.  It is in a Q &A format to train motormen. Q.671 Describe the Van Dorn Automatic Car Coupler:

"'The pistons on the side of the contacts actually control check valves which cut off the brake pipes.'

"AND, the last paragraph discusses 'the train cable connector on Bridge cars has two additional rows of studs which do not connect to the Broad Street cars.'

"I'm not sure what extra functions the Bridge cars had. I know they did have fans in the clerestory, and that they had electric route signs. They also had electric track trips, rather than air mechanical, and they had trouble with those in later days, to the point that they did not put Bridge cars on the front or rear of a train."