G'day, welcome to my thoughts page and other tall stories.
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  1. The Pyramids.   Before we look at the Pharaoh's pet project, a couple of questions for the pyramid experts.

    OK enough of that, lets look at the overall logistics of building a pyramid.

      There's something very odd about the Pyramids. Especially when you start to crunch the numbers. We are told that there are over 2,000,000 blocks of stone, typically weighing 2 tons. If we assume the Pharaoh would have the best medical staff available we could assume that he would live to 60 when most others were dying at 40. If this is so then we could assume that he would probably start thinking about his own death at about 40. This gives him 20 yrs to build his tomb, ie the pyramid.
    So, using ball-park figures:-

    Now looking at the number of people required and the speed they have to move:-

    Now the difficult bit, cutting a block out of the cliff in the quarry and getting it all nice and rectangular with square edges. How long to do that? A day. Now some experts have suggested that the stones inside the pyramid, the ones you cant see, are much more roughly cut and dont have neat sides or edges. These may only take 2 hrs to cut out. Still using ball-park figures there are, on average, approx 10 rough stones blocks for every good one.
    If so then, at any instant, you would have to have 80 good blocks and 150 rough blocks being cut simultaneously out of the quarry for a total of 800 every day, 6 days a week for 4 mths or a big storage area to store 220 blocks per day for 6 days per week for 8 mths and do either of these for 20 yrs. It's hard to believe that's possible.

    Just how did they get those stone blocks up the pyramid?

    Some experts believe that an enormous ramp was used. Some believe it was fitted with uniformly spaced oiled wooden pillars and the ropes from the sleds were looped round them so the men pulling the sleds would actually walk down the ramp to pull the sled up. I have three problems with these ideas:-

    1. There would be more material in the ramp than in the pyramid. What happened to it?
    2. The ropes would have to be twice as long or the ramp twice as wide. If the ropes were longer, there would have to be a greater distance between the groups, and hence the speed would have to be 2.5 miles per hour, not alowing for the time to move the ropes from one set of pillars to the next. If the ropes were not going to be lengthened, then the ramp would have to be twice as wide to let the columns of men, pulling the ropes, get past either side of the sled. This means twice as much material in the ramp, which would already have more than twice the total amount in the pyramid itself.
    3. Wooden pillars and rope, greased or oiled, wouldn't take kindly to all the stone dust that would be flying around. They would wear out in no time. Not to mention the stone dust stuck to the moist rope ripping the peoples' hands to bits. If wooden pillars were going to be used, I believe they would be sheathed in polished beaten copper sheets and not greased.

    What do you think about this?

    If we assume the best people in those days were just as clever as we are today but just had less knowledge, I cant believe they would have had people pulling the blocks up the pyramid on sleds and wasting all that energy if there was an easier way. I believe there is an easier way and they already had all the technology to do it. All they would have needed were:-

    1. Sleds
    2. Long ropes
    3. Thick tree trunks
    4. Polished sheet copper
    5. A lot of happy teenagers
    6. Some stone blocks with one side cut at 52 degrees instead of 90. This side also has a vertical slot cut in it.

    Just to get the idea rolling, assume the pyramid is at the 20 ft level. That probably means it's got 4 or 5 layers of stone blocks already laid.


  2. Hit or Myth?   Are the following just Myths or is there a hint of truth hidden in there somewhere?

    1. Australians are the most balanced people in the world. We have a chip on both shoulders.
    2. History is just a myth that everyone agrees on.
    3. During WW2 German-made ball-bearings were used in British tanks.
    4. An open bowl of sodium bicarbonate placed in a refrigerator will remove any strange smells therein.
    5. During WW2 British-made EF50 radio valves were used in German military radios.
    6. An open bowl of water, placed in a room with an electric radiator, will prevent the air from drying out.
    7. More WW2 fighter pilots were lost by showing off and accidents than actually shot down, on both sides.
    8. Before the P51 Mustang was barely off the drawing board, an Australian designed and built fighter with a 2500mile range was turned down by the Australian Government.
    9. The Japanese Zero was based on an Australian plane rejected by the Australian government pre WW2.
    10. Countries that have the Eagle as their emblem believe in world domination, Rome, Nazi Germany, .....?
    11. After its population blew the fifth planet to pieces, remnants of said population travelled to Mars and Earth. The Mars group died out long ago. The Earth group are getting ready to repeat the exercise.
    12. An open bucket of water, containing crushed onions, placed in a freshly painted room will remove the paint smell.
    13. Global warming is caused by natural phenomona and not human activity.
    14. White egg-shells placed on the top of Tomato stakes will keep away the moths.
    15. The Earth has been infested with humans more than once.
    16. Global warming is caused by human activity. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is due to the billions of fizzy drinks consumed every year.
    17. It's amazing just how much coolness can be generated by a few hot words.
    18. If you take a baby out on a windy day, it will get colic.
    19. Doing more with less is actually impossible, but it sure sounds good.
    20. The difference between the good ol' days and now is that we have a lot more technology.
    21. To bring back the good old days, just remove the technology.
    22. Bigger usually means worse.
    23. It's who you know, not what you know, that counts.
    24. The people who have the power to fix a problem usually dont see the need to.
    25. Progress is just the destruction of all the good things our parent's generation left us.
    26. It's people who say "It's not good enough" that cause progress to occur.
    27. Nobody knows what they dont know until they know it.
    28. People seem to enjoy doing things more if they think they are the only ones doing it.
    29. New doesn't automatically mean better.
    30. People who say that all men should act like brothers obviously dont have any.
    31. A Communist is a person who thinks no one should own anything of value.
    32. A Capitalist is a person who thinks no one else should own anything of value.
    33. If you owe the bank a thousand and you cant pay it back, you have a problem.
    34. If you owe the bank twenty million and you cant pay it back, the bank has a problem.
    35. People become politicians for the good of the country.
    36. It's the Opposition in parliament that stops a democracy becoming a government of bullies.
    37. Light travels faster than sound. That's why politicians appear bright until you hear them speak.
    38. A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.
    39. In democratic governments the kettles are always in power while the pots are only in opposition.
    40. Politicians, like nappys, often need to be changed for the same reason.
    41. The winner in an election is the political party that has the least votes against it.
    42. Australia is a lucky country.
    43. If a lie is repeated often enough everybody will begin to believe it.
    44. A democratic country is one in which you can say what you like as long as you do what you're told.
    45. In Australia, due to defamation and vilification laws, you can say what you like as long as no one hears you.
    46. People who haven't fought for their freedom are the first ones to give it away.
    47. One thing we can learn from our history is that present enemies may become future friends and more importantly present friends can become future enemies.
    48. Be wary when your enemy congratulates you.
    49. A democracy only works correctly when the voters are intelligent, well educated and well informed.
    50. Maybe the above explains the lack of statesmen in Australian politics.
    51. Societies where the government tells its citizens to spy on each other are among the worst in the world.
    52. Societies where the people tell the government to go to blazes are among the best.
    53. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    54. The NSW Govt changed to a 4 term school year so that the tourist industry would have the best time of the year to itself with no holidaying school children cluttering up the place.
    55. There's no such thing as an honest politician, just ones who haven't been caught yet.
    56. When politicians commit the heinous offence of lying to the Parliament, they are punished: when they lie to the voters, its called a non-core promise and we let them get away with it.
    57. The voters get the politicians they deserve.
    58. To help in deciding who to vote for, mentally dress the relevant politician in the black Nazi SS uniform. If the politician looks like they were born to wear it, think very hard before you decide.
    59. By their recently passed legislation, Australian politicians act like a lot of old women.
    60. The Government is pricing higher education out of the reach of the average person because their friends in big business cant find anyone to do the mundane jobs.
    61. A Politician calls his answer to a problem, a solution, because he knows it will be watered down before implementation.
    62. In days of old, the most used Australian catch-cry was "She'll be right mate." Nowadays it's "We used to but we dont any more."
    63. Vacuum-tube technology was used to entertain and inform the masses.
    64. Solid-state semiconductor technology is being used to control and enslave the masses.
    65. The movie "Rain Man" started a chain of events that led to Qantas's safety record taking a nose-dive.
    66. When interest rates fall, money is taken from the savers and given to the borrowers.
    67. When interest rates rise, money is taken from the borrowers and given back to the savers.
    68. Peace is just the period in which countries restock their armories.
    69. Propaganda is the art of deceiving your friends rather than your enemies.
    70. Diplomacy is saying "Nice doggie." while looking for a big rock.
    71. War occurs next time the dog hears "Nice doggie."
    72. Do-gooders end up doing more harm than good.
    73. A bore is anyone who talks more than you do.
    74. The Great Pyramid of Egypt was built in 20 years.
    75. Eating carrots is good for your eyesight.
    76. The more cockroaches in the kitchen, the better the restaurant.
    77. Some families can trace their ancestors back over 200 yrs but dont know where their children were last night.
    78. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
    79. You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time.
    80. An ordinary person can make a difference, that is a truly lasting difference.
    81. There's no more satisfying form of power than to do what you want without others being aware of it.
    82. When people start attacking the messenger you know the message must be true.
    83. Many a true word is spoken in jest.
    84. If you can make people laugh in a serious discussion they wont take the discussion seriously.
    85. Just because someone utters the words doesn't mean they really believe them.
    86. Nice people finish last.
    87. Ever notice how modern business managers all say that their staff are their most important resource, then try every possible way to minimise the number of these very same employees, sorry, human resources.
    88. There's nothing like a rigid hierarchy to whet one's appetite for breaking the rules.
    89. There was a time, if a few people broke the rules, they got punished. Now when a few people break the rules, we all get punished.
    90. A conclusion is what you come to when you get tired of thinking.
    91. The quickest way to find something you've lost is to buy a replacement.
    92. Walking under a ladder is bad for your health.
    93. Moth balls attract moths.
    94. Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.
    95. People who have a watch know the time. People who have two watches are never sure what the time is.
    96. The person who changes the toilet roll gets to choose which way it goes on.
    97. To relive your schooldays, get a piece of real leather, an apple and a freshly sharpened pencil, and smell them.
    98. A person with money to burn has a good chance of finding a perfect match.
    99. In marriage, people neither get what they want nor want what they get.
    100. Some wives think if you give them an inch it makes them a ruler.
    101. The reason women live longer than men is because paint is a great preservative.
    102. A man is incomplete until he's married - then he's really finished.
    103. As soon as most women have a drink or two, they start looking for a chaser.
    104. When courting, a man spends so much on a girl that he ends up marrying her for his money.
    105. A Priest always tells people they should be married knowing fullwell he'll never have to.
    106. Wisdom often comes with marriage but by then it's too late.
    107. The ideal marriage is one between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
    108. Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is somewhat similar.
    109. A financial genius is any man who can make money faster than his wife can spend it.
    110. The word most favoured by women is usually the last one.
    111. Any man, who thinks he's more intelligent than his wife, is married to a smart woman.
    112. Before marriage a man yearns for a woman. After marriage the "y", like the husband, is silent.
    113. Nothing reminds a woman of all that needs to be done around the house like a husband who is taking it easy.
    114. God created Adam, took one look and thought he could do better, so he created Eve.
    115. God made men fools so that women wouldn't become old maids.
    116. Women used to marry for better or worse. Now they marry for more or less.
    117. Gentlemen prefer blondes because they think blondes are dumber than brunettes ; in reality they just act dumber.
    118. Women have sex until they become mothers, then they have headaches.
    119. Senior citizens have as much sex as newlyweds. Newlyweds have it as often as he can rise to the occasion. So do they.
    120. A monologue is what you call a conversation between a husband and wife.
    121. It's ok to pray in your sleep, but beware the man who says Grace in his sleep, when his wife's name is Violet.
    122. One wife's view of retirement: Half the money and twice the husband.
    123. Many older women say they dont like young women wearing backless frocks, but what they actually dont like is the perfect frockless backs.
    124. The aim of any woman is to find a meal ticket for her children then bury him.
    125. The aim of any man is to find a woman he can bury his head in.
    126. The aim of any private enterprise is to separate you and your money.
    127. The aim of any government is to stay in power.
    128. Television programs are the result of asking the public what it wants.
    129. To relive your last motel holiday, slip a slice of bread in the toaster, turn up the heat and smell the nostalgic aroma of burnt toast.
    130. Egypt's tourist industy is in ruins.
    131. Ever noticed that nobody has enough time to do a job properly the first time but there's always enough time to come back and do it again.
    132. Nothing travels faster than light,  except bad news.
    133. The person you see in the mirror is seen by nobody else.
    134. All things spoken by an Expert are just words coming out of a drip under pressure.
    135. If you want to appear as a natural born leader in any situation, just keep your head when all those around you are losing theirs.
    136. There's no sicker person than one who is actually sick on their "sickie".
    137. No matter what happens, there's always somebody who knew it would.
    138. The truth should never get in the way of a good story.
    139. Ignorance should never get in the way when voicing your opinion.
    140. Barking dogs rarely bite. It's the quiet ones you have to look out for.
    141. People, who complain about a problem verbally, rarely do anything about it.
    142. People, who say I'm gunna do this or that a lot, rarely do anything at all.
    143. When the past is worse than the present the people in power make sure you hear all about it.
    144. The most important thing wrong with the NSW Railways is that the Ruling Class doesn't travel on them.
    145. When the past is better than the present they make sure you dont hear about it at all.
    146. Pre-packaged biscuits have pretty pictures on opaque packaging so you cant see if they're broken.
    147. You have to wonder what express means when you see a magazine rack in front of a supermarket express checkout. Maybe that's what ex-press really means.
    148. The good things you bought in the past are not made anymore but the rubbish still is.
    149. Cynics are disillusioned idealists who have had their eyes opened.
    150. Optimists tell pessimists that there's no point worrying about things you can do nothing about. Pessimists say that's exactly why they do worry.
    151. People who are happy just dont know what is really going on.
    152. The human race has not yet gained the wisdom to not always do everything it has just learnt how to.
    153. Throwaway plastic bags have become an intrinsic part of our garbage system by reducing flies, smells and disease from six day old rotting food scraps in our warm climate, and less trees cut down for newspaper to wrap rubbish.
    154. It's not the actual truth that matters but rather what people will believe is the truth.
    155. Various Newspaper Companies are getting behind the push to remove plastic bags. They think the public will have to buy more newspapers. (to wrap the rubbish in)
    156. It's the media which controls public opinion , not the public.
    157. What we can learn from history is that we never learn from the past.
    158. A good workman never blames his tools. That's why you should always borrow someone else's.
    159. When searching for something it is always in the last place you look.
    160. Owning a pet makes old people live longer.
    161. When searching for something it is always in the last place you can look.
    162. To reduce a major portion of the world's pollution, clean up the film and television industry.
    163. Roads would be safer if the curves were only outside the car, not next to the driver.
    164. All the petrol saved, by having a large wind-tunnel-optimised sloping windscreen, is completely wasted running the necessary air-conditioner.
    165. Cars with large sloping windscreens will increase the number of skin-cancers on the back of the drivers hands.
    166. Pedestrian crossings and refuges are designed to protect the car-drivers, not the pedestrians.
    167. When another driver breaks the rules there's never a cop in sight. When you do there's one right behind you.
    168. Ever notice Cab drivers are different to the rest of us. They put their foot on the brake coming up to a green light.
    169. It always rains just after you wash the car.
    170. In a traffic jam it's always the other lane that moves faster.
    171. The best way to make your old car run better is to learn the price of a new one.
    172. Driving an automatic car with your right foot on the accelerator and your left foot on the brake is good as your stopping time will be half a second quicker.
    173. Dont drink when you drive. You might hit a bump and spill it.
    174. Driving an automatic car with your right foot on the accelerator and your left foot on the brake is bad as you will most likely drive with your foot resting lightly on the brake pedal continuously, thus overheating your brakes and overheated brakes make your stopping time much longer.
    175. A simple way to reduce the number of road accidents would be to call major collisions, "accidents", and minor ones, "incidents".
    176. The automobile pollution problem can be easily solved by having the exhaust pipe at the front of the car.
    177. Road Rage is a bigger problem than the people who cause it.
    178. Now that the general motorist population have paid for the roads, they will be conditioned to use public transport.
    179. There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. (Isn't this a description of Communism?)
    180. If the Media was banned from using the words "could, may, might", newspapers would be much thinner, the TV news would last only five minutes and lottery ads would be impossible.
    181. Knowledge is plentiful these days but the wisdom to use it properly is very scarce.
    182. AIDS is a man-made disease designed to reduce the drain on civilised societies by uncivilised societies.
    183. Year for year, the chain-saw has extinguished more life than the gun.

  3. Great lines and moments from Film & TV.

  4. UFOs & ETs. The only thing I can say about this subject this side of the sane barrier is:-



  5. Sour Grapes. And whats wrong with sour grapes? I believe they can be quite natural.

    In the TV station where I worked in the 60s there were vision switchers in each studio. As there was no electronic switching available at that time, they were based on mechanical relay switching. Being large and solidly made, the relays operated rather slowly and produced a rather large black flash on the picture as they changed from one camera to the next. In an effort to minimise this flash a rather clever idea was employed. The main cut row push button switches operated two rows of pre-selecting relays and there was a very high speed relay which changed over between the preselectors. This high speed relay was very expensive but cut the flash down to just a few lines long but it still appeared anywhere on the picture.

    It operated thus:- If we start with the switcher on camera 1.
    1. The cam1 push button would be latched down on the cut row. The cam1 relay on the preselector row "a" would be operated and the high speed relay would be sitting on the "a" row side. So camera 1 vision signal will pass through cam1 row "a" relay then the "a" side of the high speed relay and out to the transmitter.
    2. Pressing cam2 button on the cut row would operate the cam2 relay on the preselector row "b" and the high speed relay would change over to side "b". Camera 2 vision would pass through cam2 relay on row "b" and through the "b" side of the high speed relay and out to the transmitter.
    3. Pushing cam3 pushbutton on the cut row would operate the cam3 relay on row "a" and the high speed relay would change back to side "a". Camera 3 vision would pass through cam3 relay on row "a" and through the "a" side of the high speed relay and out to the transmitter.

    Just around the time I became fully qualified, Field Effect Transistors were coming onto the local market. It didn't take long to find out how to make them work. They made brilliant electronic switches. I wondered whether we could make them work in place of the high speed relay in the studio vision switchers. Working with a young trainee engineer whom I got on well with, we figured out a circuit to switch a vision signal and built it up in a temporary fashion. Being electronic it could switch in the blanking time and produced no flash whatever in the picture, and we would be the only TV station with it.

    Being the days of Black & White TV the main test signal of the period was the Pulse & Bar. It came in 2 flavors, 1T & 2T. The 1T signal had a bandwidth of 10 Mhz (Megacycles in those days) and the 2T had a bandwidth of 5 Mhz. The idea was you fed a good Pulse & Bar vision signal into a piece of equipment and monitored the output on an oscilloscope with a special graticule. As long as the wriggles on the output pulse & bar were less than the allowed limits as drawn on the graticule the equipment was pronounced fit and well. If it wasn't then the equipment was pulled out of service and fixed. All equipment within the station had to pass a 1T signal. The transmitter had to pass the 2T signal. The station equipment had to pass the tougher test signal as the vision passed through many pieces of equipment on its way from the camera to the transmitter and the errors were cumulative.

    Unfortunately our FET switcher would only pass the 2T properly, the 1T was just outside the graticule limits. We thought that the kudos from being the only TV station with flashless vision switchers would outweigh the small 1T Pulse & Bar error so we invited the chief engineer to come and have a look. He said interesting but what's it like on P&B. We showed him and he said bad luck, it's outside the specs for station equipment. We said as you could only see the error on an oscilloscope and not on the picture what about being the only station with a flashless vision switcher. To our amazment he said the invisible error was more important than the black flash on the studio output every time a camera was selected and there could be easily 300 flashes in a 90 min programme. We said couldn't we just try it and we would fit a bypass switch in case anything untoward happened. The answer was again no.

    We were flabergasted but knowing what engineers are like we had a backup plan. The camera matching operator, whose job was to get the cameras looking the same on the same shots by looking at a picture monitor and adjusting iris and vision gain while rapidly switching between cameras all the way through the program, would just love to get rid of the continuously annoying black flashes on his monitor and as this is just monitoring, no program signals actually flow through his switcher so our electronic switch cant wreck anything. We floated this idea to the chief engineer and his answer was no. And he didn't really give a good reason either. My trainee engineer friend saw which side his future was buttered on and beat a strategic retreat. I continued jousting at the windmill. I could wear the Pulse & Bar excuse for the main program vision switcher but the monitoring switcher was another matter. After bashing my head against the brick wall for another half hour I gave up but I have disliked engineers ever since, especially as crummy Hi-8 video is now put to air. I doubt it would pass a 5T Pulse & Bar test. I've come to the conclusion that some, if not all, engineers suffer from the "not invented here" disease. There's no point in naming this engineer as it appears they all change, anyway, after becoming chief engineer so it wouldn't really matter which chief engineer it was. It seems that they must maintain their status at all costs. My trainee engineer friend finished his training and left for greener pastures. I stayed for 30+yrs. Stupid wasn't I?

    Twenty years later I tried again. Different proposition, different chief engineer, same outcome. The station was buying new colour cameras. A number of manufacturers showed interest and submitted their cameras for appraisal. As far as the 'techs' were concerned one camera stood out from the rest, better pictures and easy to fix, a technician's dream. It was expensive but you get what you pay for so we put this one at the top of our want list anyway. There was another camera, made in a different country, which only cost about 2/3 the price of the first one. This cheaper camera didnt produce as good a picture, but still just within specs, and was much harder to fix so we put this one almost at the bottom of our list.

    Just to give an example. The expensive camera was delivered to the studios. The manufacturers technical people spent about 30mins setting it up, then left it with us for a few days to let us put it through its paces and give it any test we liked. In contrast, the cheaper camera was not left at the studios at anytime but stayed at the manufacturers reps offices and was only shown to us after the manufacturers technical staff spent a long time setting it up and then refused to let it out of their sight. Its optical sensitivity was one F Stop less than the dearer one and its noise figure was 6db worse. You get what you pay for.

    It didnt take long for the 'grape vine' to let us know that the station was going to buy the cheap cameras. What a disaster, pictures only just good enough and hard to fix as well, we had to do something about this. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. As colour cameras were generally insensitive, the studio sets had to be lit rather brightly, around 100ftcandles and that's a lot of light. This meant the studio had to have a lot of big lamps, mostly 2000watts, some 5000watts and even some 10000watts. These consume a lot of electricity and generate a lot of heat, which means a large airconditioning unit was necessary which also consumed a lot of electricity. I thought if we bought the expensive cameras and ran them with their lens half a Stop more open and turned up their gain 3db we could reduce the light requirement to 50ftcandles. This would save a mass of electricity and reduce the heat load on the airconditioning unit saving even more electricity and also extending the life of the unit as well. A win win situation I thought. It turned out that the savings in electricity alone would pay for the difference in cost, between the dear cameras and the cheap ones, in seven years. If we take into account the fact that 1000watt lamps last longer than 2000watt ones and the extra life of the airconditioning unit, the difference in payoff time would drop to 5yrs. That is, after we had the dear cameras for 5yrs they would actually start getting cheaper than the cheap ones. If you take the rising cost of electricity and the depreciation of camera value in to consideration, after 12yrs the cameras would have cost us nothing , zero dollars. Now you cant get cheaper than that. The rest of the 'techs' said what a good idea, lets put it to the chief engineer.

    We put it all on paper with all the calculations and the actual cost of electricity to the station and sent it to the chief engineer. After a while he called a meeting. Three of our techs could attend and he would bring his entourage. To cut a long story short he said no, we would still buy the cheap cameras. He didn't believe the dear camera could possibly be that much more sensitive than the cheap one. He didn't believe that the studio staff would light the sets to the lower level and open up the lens as I had suggested. He believed we shoud be chastised for wasting everyones time. We were flabbergasted.

    Subsequently we found out that the expensive camera had a new type of optics block which had been patented and wasted less light. On close inspection of the specs, the dear camera used the standard test chart which had a reflectance of 60% and was illuminated by a standard amount of light, 1000lux I think. The cheap camera used a special test card that had 90% reflectance and needed more light on it as well, 1500lux I think. The studio staff were upset, even though they wanted the cheap cameras for different reasons, that the chief engineer thought they were not competent enough to follow the lighting-practice standard layed down by the chief engineer.

    After having bought the cheap cameras, we found out something else about them which actually made them more expensive in the long run. Some of the parts used were very small and were stressed so much that they have to be changed every 2to3yrs, otherwise strange faults start to show themselves. The dear camera used normal sized components and only required maintenance when it failed, not regular scheduled replacement of large numbers of miniature components.

    And a final indignity, I found out that other studios, which bought the expensive cameras, are using my idea to save themselves money. And you wonder why I dont like engineers. Boy, those particular grapes sure tasted sour.

  6. And On a Lighter Note.

  7. The Old Red Book.  

    Once upon a time, and it doesn't seem that long ago now, I was poking around in a second hand bookshop, looking for old electronics books. Not being able to find any on the shop shelves, I looked round for the shop keeper. "Where do you keep all your old books?" I asked the little old lady behind the counter. "Through that arch and down the hall. It's the last door. It's on the right." she replied.

    The arch she indicated was one of those lattice frameworks with a beaded curtain seperating the bookshop from the hall and all the rooms therein. I parted the curtain and walked down the hall to the last room. An old threadbare carpet muffling my footsteps. That's funny, the last room is on the left and I could swear that she said right. Oh well, I grasped the door handle and pushed. It didn't budge. It felt like it hadn't moved in a long time. Using more elbow grease, I gave it a good shove. It creaked open and a wave of musty air hit me.

    It was dark so I ran my hand up and down the wall for the light switch. I finally felt a cold metal circular object with a small lever poking out of the centre. Pulling it down caused a dim light to spread round the room from a small bulb in what looked like a homemade paper-shade, complete with tassles, hanging from the high ceiling on a braided cable made of cotton covered rubber coated wire. The bulb itself, which was one of those little 15w pilot lights, was plugged into a metal socket which also supported the frame of the shade.

    I turned to look at the switch. It was a very old metal tumbler switch mounted on a circular wooden block. These haven't been used for at least 50 years. I guess when the book shop was renovated this room was missed somehow.

    The walls were completely covered in shelves. Each one groaning under the weight of many dusty old books. Scanning the titles I came across a thick volume called "Radio Today". Pulling it out of the shelf sent a cloud of dust into the air and up my nose. Opening the stiff red cover, faded now but must have been bright red when new, I found the publishing date, 1931. Thumbing through the pages showed all sorts of interesting circuits for radio sets and amplifiers, using electronic glass valves of course.

    I took my selection back through the arch to the old woman to get a price. She took it from me and peered closely at the covers, inside and out. Looking up sharply she said "Did you get this book from the last room on the right?" I replied that indeed I did, not wanting to correct her poor memory, re her left versus her right. She looked at me again sharply then back at the book. Various looks of consternation and puzzlement crossed her face. Finally she said "That'll be five Pounds please". I said "Five Pounds! What's that in Dollars". She looked up a bit bewildered and suddenly her face became more business like and she replied "Sorry, that'll be ten Dollars". I got the impression she had been reliving the past but had finally returned to the present. She wrapped the book carefully in brown paper and tied it up with string. Parting with my 10 Dollars, I collected the brown paper parcel and wondered if her present was the same as mine.

    Later that night I unwrapped the brown paper and spread the book on the table. Little puffs of dust eddied round with every movement of the pages. A swift once-over with the handheld vacuum cleaner made short work of the years of collected dust and grime and the old book began to look a bit more respectable. Unfortunately the title "Radio Today" had been pressed into the red cover in gold leaf but now most of the gold had gone and the title was only visible in relief.

    I settled down to some solid reading, which wasn't going to be easy. The book had many pages printed faintly as if the printing machine was running out of ink.

    After a few hours I came to marvel at just what those old timers had learnt about radio, seeing as they had very primitive test equipment and only an array of simple Triode, Tetrode and the then new Pentode valves to work with. I came across an interesting circuit for a Radio called a Spectrodyne. It used five of the then new fangled pentode valves numbered AC/S2/Pen. Three were used as RF amps, the fourth as an Anode bend detector and the fifth as an audio amp and headphone driver. The circuit designer must have made a bulk purchase.

    There were a few unusual quirks with this design. There was only one main tuning condenser. It was connected, along with it's coil, between the grids of the first two valves. Their outputs were combined in the third valve forming what we would call today a differential amplifier. There was a secondary condenser in series with the aerial connector to correct for an unknown length aerial wire. The output amplifier was wired as a very unusual triode, in that the audio was fed to the screen grid as well as the control grid. The heaters, which were rather hefty at 4volt 1amp, were all connected in series and the string was connected to two high power rheostats in series. Both were mounted at the back of the cabinet but one was operated by a long shaft from the front of the cabinet. It seemed to be used as a rough volume control. The other was used as a preset range control so that when the volume control was at maximum the heaters were run at 4.5v each and when it was right down the heaters ran at 2v each.

    It would appear that this wireless set was meant to run from a 32v lighting battery as used on a farm. The HT was generated by feeding the 32v into a suitable transformer via a buzzer. The whole works, that is, the buzzer, transformer and smoothing condensers and chokes, were mounted in a metal box, hopefully keeping the radio frequency hash to a minimum.

    I decided this was the one I would like to reproduce but where was I going to get a bunch of valves that were already obsolete in 1939 ?

    As it just so happened, sometimes you can be lucky, very lucky (and of course you then get the balancing burst of bad luck to even things up).

    While attending a collectables fair I came across a plastic bin full of valves and other sundry electronic components. After a short haggling session I became the proud owner of an assortment of electronic leftovers from an deceased estate. Amongst the valves were, would you believe, 6 off AC/S2/Pen. That was the easy part. These valves need a very strange socket. It has 7 pins in a egg-shaped oval, not a circle like most valves. Hmmm! Who needs sockets anyway. I'll just hard wire straight to the pins and use electrolytic clamps to mount the valves.

    After bashing a sheet of metal into the approximate shape of the chassis, all the components were assembled into some resemlance of the circuit in the book. Now came the big moment. Applying power from a motley assortment of second hand motorbike batteries adding up to 30v (close enough in my book), it was gratifying to note that smoke was conspicuously absent and there was a satisfying glow from the portly shaped valves. The glow varied with the volume control so at least the heater circuit was working.

    Putting on the headphones, I adjusted the tuning condenser and the balance control until I heard a station. Rap music came belting out of the 'phones. Yuk! How can they call that music? I tuned round for a more sedate station. Ah! Dean Martin, now that's more like it. Good old radio station 2CH.

    Adjusting all the various controls, that is, the tuning condenser, the aerial condenser, the balance control, the regeneration control, the RF attenuator control and the coarse volume control was quite a handful but the set produced a beautiful tone in the modern headphones. I'd cheated and was using low impedance 'phones with a small matching transformer. The original circuit showed high impedance metal-diaphragm 'phones.

    Dean Martin came to an end and the next record was some modern offering by Neil Diamond so I went dial twiddling again. Somewhere round the middle of the dial I began to hear some really old music. It sounded a bit like music from the 1930s. One tune after another for at least an hour with no ads or announcements of any sort. Not even station breaks where the callsign of the station is announced. That's funny, I thought every station must announce its callsign at least every 10 minutes.

    The old music came to an end and a Radio-Play began. Now Radio-Plays were very popular from the inception of radio right through to the late fifties when Television came to Australia and Radio-Plays didn't seem as good after that. I hadn't heard a Radio-Play since the 1960s.

    A second Play followed the first then it was back to the music. This time a selection from the roaring Twenties. It was terrific hearing all the old stuff and I wanted to find out what station I was listening to so I fired up my latest whizbang receiver with the digital frequency read out. I scanned the dial from one end to the other but I couldn't get a whisper of the old music on the new receiver. I retuned the old spectrodyne receiver to the nearest station and found the matching station on the digital receiver. I then tuned the old receiver to the station on the other side and found that one on the digital receiver. Now that I at least had the correct range, I retuned the old set to the old music and slowly moved the digital one from one station to the other. There was still no old music to be heard on the digital receiver. This certainly was strange. I'd heard of SCA signals piggybacked on to FM stations but had never heard of it being done on an AM station and I'm sure the old set could not pick up and demodulate an SCA signal anyway.

    I listened to these transmissions every day for a week. The same music and Radio-Plays were repeated in the same order every day. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I just had to find out where these signals were coming from. As the Spectrodyne was battery powered, I decided to put it in the car and do a bit of tri-angulation to see if I could find the location of the transmitter. I'd have to build a loop aerial first, though.

    With the Red Book on the backseat, in case a fault developed in the Spectrodyne due to the car's vibration, and the loop aerial suitably mounted on the roof-rack with a couple of ropes coming in the window to turn it, I sallied forth to do the other two bearings. I'd already done one from the house. It didn't take long to get the remaining two angles and plot them on a street map of the city. The three lines crossed in a rundown section which was earmarked for demolition.

    I cruised slowly past each building looking for any tell-tale sign. I needn't have worried. I soon came across a small double storey building with a large steel lattice tower on top. This had to be it. Funny, I thought! There's no red light on the top of the tower. Isn't that one of the many regulations surrounding transmitter towers?

    The old style music was still coming softly from the little speaker I had wired up to the headphone connection on the set running on the seat alongside of me.

    I got out of the car and approached the only door the building seemed to have, a full length glass door with a wooden frame. Etched in the centre of the glass was a lightning symbol through a lattice mast. There was no door knob, just a key lock. I pushed on the door. It didn't budge. Locked! Above the door was a small fan-light window which was open. Alas it was a bit on the small side, however I jumped up and got both hands on to the sill. Wonder of wonders, my fingers felt a key sitting just at the back of the sill. Dropping to the pavement, I tried the key in the lock. It turned.

    I gently opened the door and was faced by a flight of stairs covered by a faded burgandy carpet that had seen better days. Closing the door behind me, but keeping the key in my pocket just in case, I quietly tiptoed up the stairs to the background sounds of a palm court four-piece band playing "Whispering Grass" and a muffled whine from some sort of machinery. I had only gone a few steps when I realised that I knew what that muffled sound was. It was just like the whine a DC motor makes and it was coming from under the stairs. The commutator segments make the brushes give out a raspy high pitched whine which you dont get from AC motors. There was a small door leading to the space under the stairs. A quick look revealed a large electric motor driving a centrifugal water pump. Strange thing for a radio station. Then again, maybe not, as some transmitters were water cooled.

    At the top of the stairs the hall continued on for a short way and ended in a stout wooden door. Thank God this one was slightly adjar. I gingerly pushed it open.

    Stretched out before me was the whole first floor of the building, what there was of it. At one end were four racks of electronic equipment. Incredibly, for though this is the twenty first century, this equipment was all valve; heaters glowing merrily, symbolising a time long gone by. As if this wasn't interesting enough, in one corner was a large metal cabinet with a metal mesh cover, the transmitter. Behind the mesh was the biggest glass valve I've ever seen. It was a little bigger than one of those very large soft drink bottles. In the dimly lit room I could just make out that the plate was glowing dull red. This glow varied slowly with the volume of the music. To my way of thinking, either it was being thrashed beyond its ratings, or the aerial it was connected to (I assumed the tower on the roof) was badly mismatched. A large fan in the lower section of the cabinet whirred quietly, blowing cooling air on to this monster.

    At the other end of the room a small section had been glassed in to form a sound proof room. No light was showing through the glass.

    It was around this time something, which had been grating on my subconscious, floated into my mind and I remembered that there were no electricity wires coming into this building. In fact, as the whole area was to be demolished, the power poles and all the wiring had been removed, yet here was all this electrical equipment running, somehow. I decided to switch on the light and follow the power cables from the large powersupply in the bottom of the transmitter cabinet. The light switch didn't seem to do anything to improve the situation so I went back to my car and got the torch I always carry in the boot.

    There were six power cables and they ran in a metal conduit from the transmitter cabinet, through the racks, out through the wall, into the hall, down to the ground floor and into the space under the stairs. There they connected to the electric motor which drove the water pump. This seemed an impossibility as there were no other connections. The power had to be coming from somewhere.

    One interesting point was that there were six power cables connected to the motor. That's a lot of cables even for a large motor. I looked more closely at where they were connected. There was a curved flap over that section of the motor. Pulling it back revealed three separate commutators, each with its own pair of brushes. No wonder it made such a whine. It must be one of those multi-voltage motors which can run on 32v, 120v and 240v. But why would all six be connected?

    I had originally thought that the water pump could have been used to cool the transmitter but there were no water pipes anywhere near it and it was air cooled anyway. The twin two inch pipes, connected to the pump, went straight down into the floor. Obviously there must be another room below where I was standing. A search with the torch revealed a trapdoor in the floor at the very end of this cramped area. Lifting it exposed an iron ladder. Carefully treading very lightly, in case the ladder collapsed, I made my way to the bottom. This lower room was about as big as the space I'd just decended from but was very dank and damp. The two pipes from the pump connected to a six inch pipe which came through the wall from the direction of the street and, after doing a U turn through a large water-valve, dived back through the wall whence it came. The two small pipes were connected either side of the large water-valve.

    This was rather puzzling. Electricity, which came from nowhere, pumped water from a large pipe through two little pipes and back into the large pipe which was fitted with a large bypass valve. It still didn't make any sense.

    Suddenly the penny dropped. I had been looking at this from the wrong end. The motor wasn't driving the pump. The pump was driving the motor, or to be more accurate, the pump was actually a water driven turbine and the motor was a DC generator. The six cables were carrying tree different voltages up to the equipment. The bypass valve was adjusted to get just the right RPM and the water flowing through the water main provided all the energy for free.

    The power problem solved I went back up to the Radio Room. Now to solve that glowing plate.

    Having a good look at the TX cabinet I surmised which was the output tuning control and grabbed the knob and began to turn it. The plate did not reduce its colour. In fact it got a bit redder. Obviously the output was already tuned so I put it back where it was. I then went searching for the final valve HT control.

    The actual control turned out to be a Variac feeding the primary of the high voltage transformer in the transmitting valve's power supply. Now what were AC devices doing in an all DC installation? After following more cables round, I found that the DC coming up from the generator below fed into what appeared to be a free running electric motor, but this was an odd motor as it had no shaft. The DC was connected to one end and the Variac was connected to the other. It appeared that DC went in one end and AC came out the other. The nameplate said "Rotary Convertor" and the power rating was 500 watts. A number of softly glowing Barrettors in the powersupply provided regulation in conjunction with a very large spiral wound rheostat.

    I grasped the large Variac knob and backed it off a little. The plate current meter slowly fell and the plate itself dropped back to what I reckon was its normal black colour. I was just patting myself on the back when the dim light in the room got a little less dim.

    I spun round and saw that now a small bulb had clicked on in the glass room. There was a figure sitting at a control desk. It was wearing a sports coat and a felt hat of the type men wore in the 1930s. I couldn't make out the face but as I tried, it rose and walked straight through the glass, past me to the TX cabinet and reset the HT control to its original position. Having checked the plate current meter and that the valve plate was again glowing red, the figure turned towards me and wagged a bony finger in reproach for my having fiddled with its transmitter. Dreading what I was going to see, and with much misgiving, I finally managed to drag my eyes from that wagging finger to the face. My blood ran cold for there were no eyes in those eye sockets and no skin on that face.

    Suddenly my knees felt as if they weren't going to hold me up. Moments later a burst of adrenaline stiffened my knees and my feet ran full tilt towards the door. I flew down the stairs, almost tripping and breaking my neck. I fumbled with the etched glass door and beat a hasty retreat, throwing the key back into the fanlight window as I went. By force of habit I had locked the car door and now my hand was shaking so much I couldn't get my carkey into the lock. I heard the glass door open. I turned to find the figure standing behind me with its bony hand outstretched as if waiting for me to give it something. At last I got the key in the car door and opened it. I felt a tap on the shoulder. The figure was now pointing to the Spectrodyne on the seat and indicating that's what it wanted. Reluctantly I disconnected the batteries and handed it the heavy chassis. Surely those bony arms could not hold the weight, but they did so with ease. Now the figure pointed to the back seat where I had put the old Red Book. Oh! No! Not the book. I contemplated whether I could jump in the car and make a getaway. But no, I chickened out and gave it what it wanted. Once it had the Spectrodyne and the book, the figure turned and shouldered the door open and disappeared from view. But not without giving me one last withering look with its eyeless sockets. I jumped in the car and put as many miles between me and that ghostly console-operator as fast as I could.

    Back home, after I had calmed down, I went to my little cubby-hole at the back of the garage and had another look at the photocopy of the index of the Red Book. I always make one so as to save wear and tear on the original. Unfortunately, the index was one part of the book which had very poor printing and the photocopy turned out not much better. I could just make out the printing. Scanning down the list for the Spectrodyne, I realised that, due to the poor original print quality, I had misread the name of this particular radio circuit. I thought it had said Spectrodyne but what it actually said was Spectredyne.

    The End
  8. Dont break it off.  A true story of the good ol' days.

    Back in 1970 I went for my first railfan trip with 3813 up front. The trip ran from Sydney's Central Station to Lithgow, about 97 miles, where the 38'er was removed and one of the local Standard-Goods shunting engines came on to take us the 9 miles to Wallerawang, thence the 5 miles to Wallerawang Colliery. As we were the only train on the colliery line, photostops came thick and fast. We arrived at the colliery to find the rail-lines looked just like tram-lines as over the years so much coal dust had accumulated in the rail yard, only the rail-tops were showing and I dont think there was a straight rail in the place.

    After an appropriate break for lunch, the TF was run round the train and now faced the correct way for the run back to Lithgow. If we thought the run to the colliery had a lot of photostops, they were nothing to the number now that the engine was facing the right way. At every possible photo vantage point, the train would stop, the photographers would run up the hill and the TF would perform for the shutters. As the photostops progressed, I noticed less and less people were climbing the hills until on one stop, no-one got out. I never thought I'd see the day when not one photographer would get out at a photostop, but this was it. From then on there were no more stops and the 2-8-0 settled down to a steady slog as it climbed from Wallerawang up to the Marrangaroo Tunnel. A smart run through Bowenfels with plenty of whistles finally brought us to Lithgow where our trusty steed 3813 was waiting to take over the reins.

    Unfortunately these were the days when steam-engines were being blamed for accelerated degeneration of the insulators on the overhead catenary when inside tunnels. As a result all steam-trains running uphill through tunnels had to be towed by a 46 class electric loco. So after the 38 coupled on, an oblong box sidled up and took over the whole train. With the steamer in neutral, the Wallerawang power station took the load and the train was pulled effortlessly up through the ten tunnels and in no time at all we were slowing to a stop at the stationless platform of Newnes Junction. Itself a left-over from the days of Shays running up and down the 1 in 25 grade of the line to Newnes, long since ripped up.

    The humming-box finally got out of the way of the 38 and as we departed with great gusto, the driver of the 46 shouted out to the steamloco driver, "Dont break it off." At the time I didn't know what he was alluding to. We shortly found out.

    The 38'er roared up the remaining grade as only a 38 can and we just went faster and faster. We pulled up at Katoomba Station and I'll bet the fireman was on his knees by then, praying to the driver to slow down. We started again, and even though the line ahead is down 1 in 33, the driver was in such a hurry he caused the 38 to slip as it pulled away from the station. We flew down the Mountains and arrived at the next stop at Penrith.

    After a short stop, we powered out of Penrith, up the 1 in 66 Kingswood Bank and over the top. The regulator didn't move and the 38's sharp clipped exhaust accelerated until it sounded like a sewing machine. We had to be doing at least 70 mph. I wouldn't be surprized if we hit 80 mph or more. The check-rails on all the points we passed over were really earning their keep and complained loudly. There were a number of crossings with crossing bells and as we passed them, we only heard one "deeeooong" from each bell. On approaching Seven Hills road-crossing, the longest blast I've ever heard of a 38 chime-whistle rang out for a good 9 seconds. If there had been any car stalled on the crossing, we would have pulverised it. The next stop was Strathfield Station and I think the brakes started coming on at Westmead to make sure we stopped in time.

    After depositing a number of railfans at Strathfield, the big pacific, pulsating with energy, blasted its way up the final decent grade to Burwood and settled down to a fast, but not spectacular, run to Central.

    Now we knew what the 46 driver was telling the 38 driver. Dont break the regulator handle off in an effort to go even faster.

    That was my only run behind 3813. What a great engine it was. I say "was" as it is now only a collection of rusting bits spread all over Sydney and Thirlmere.

    May it Rust-in-Peace.
  9. The Ultimate Temptation?  Another true story from the good ol' days.

    Have you ever seen a movie where the main character has to make an important decision in a few seconds but the movie stretches this out into 5 minutes as all sorts of thoughts race through their mind? Well, exactly this happened to me.

    Back when I first started "tracing chains", the Department of NSWGR was in charge and lucky for me it was somewhat patriarchal in its operation. The Dept. realised a fair slice of the public loved trains so much that they would want to get up close to the objects of their desire and take photographs, record sounds etc. A system had been put in place that allowed you to front up to a particular room in the "Green House" (the NSWGR admin building in Sydney), sign an indemnity form and receive in return, a piece of paper that was better than Gold. It gave the holder permission to go anywhere on NSWGR property as long as you obeyed the standing rules of the NSWGR. I wonder if you can still get it now?

    Having had to do a mechanical workshop course back in 1960, I had already bought a blue boiler suit which by now was showing slight signs of wear. With my audio recorder in its carry case, which looked remarkably like a lunch bag, and a beanie on my head, I sallied forth onto the hallowed ground where my beloved steam engines lived. In this case it was Broadmeadow Loco Depot at Newcastle, about 100 miles north of Sydney. Some of you may think that this is a long way to go but in the vast expanse of Australia it's really just round the corner.

    We were really lucky to have two steam loco depots right on Sydney's doorstep so to speak. The second steam depot was at Port Waratah, just a few miles from the one at Broadmeadow. While the Pt. Waratah depot was all steam, the Broadmedow one was partially dieselised. The NSWGR management were wise enough to let the Broadmeadow steam fleet run down gradually as most of the locos were less than 20yrs old. You must remember that steam locos were built in an era when there was honesty in manufacturing. They were built to last. The engine that hauled the last regularly steam hauled passenger train in NSW was well over 70yrs old when it retired in 1971. This was a C32 class. No better mid range passenger engine had been designed and built for what it did best. Unbelievably, this engine survived 70+ years at the coal-face so to speak, outliving numerous politicians, general managers, CEOs, etc. and managed to escape any accidents bad enough to cause a writeoff in around a million miles of travelling. It retired and was promptly treated as a collection of spare parts for other C32s and within a couple of months was just a frame with a set of cylinders and running gear. Who knows what passes through the collective mind of a museum? I'm sure I dont.

    Suitably attired, as previously discussed, I parked my car in the Broadmeadow loco carpark and walked into the admin building, up to the loco roster blackboard. Scribbled in chalk were the trains running that evening, between Broadmeadow and Gosford (about 50 miles south of Newcastle). Along side the train numbers were the loco numbers allocated to that train. I was just happy to see a 60xx in front of a few of them. I'd jot down the departure and arrival times and beat a hasty retreat to my car and away into the night. I forgot to mention that the steam ran mostly at night so my train chasing occured mostly at night.

    I didn't fully realise it at the time, but the clothes I had chosen to wear were just like all the other NSWGR employees in the depot, so I blended right in and effectively became invisible. One night I pushed this to the limit. I couldn't make out the numbers on one particular train written on the blackboard so I looked round for someone to ask. The only person around was sitting in the glassed-in office with carpet on the floor. The nightshift boss. With my heart in my mouth I strode right in and asked him what the number was. He told me with no hesitation. I thanked him and skedattled as fast as I could without looking like I was running. I then realised that he thought I was just another employee. Security? No one was going to hurt the NSWGR. It was a different time and Australians were a much better people than they are now. I guess too many now, dont have the country's best interests at heart.

    Time passed and I got a bit bolder. One night I walked out the other exit of the building. This led into the depot itself. I wanted to make a few recordings of the goings-on in the depot. I was soon wandering around between rows of massive Garratts, the mighty AD60, the worlds heaviest. I had discovered the departure road, where the engines, allocated to trains that night, waited for their rostered crews. Some would be going to Gosford, others to Liddel Electricity PowerStation and the mine nearby. I walked past one particular Garratt with its driver hanging out the cab window waiting for the green signal to leave. I asked him was he going to Gosford. He said yes did I want to come? Now what would you say to a question like that? I wasn't planning to go anywhere that night but this opportunity for my first ride on a Garratt was too good to miss. Of course I said yes. He said climb up. I did and spent the next couple of hours in the noisest enviornment I've ever been in. The powered stoker fed crushed coal into the bottom of the firebox, just under the door, but then it had to be spread out all over the firebed. Steam jets accomplished this with a maximum of fuss. I've always wondered why drivers and firemen spoke very loudly, even when in the admin building. Now I knew. They were driven partially deaf by the incessant shrill roar of steam jets in Garratt fireboxes.

    When the train got to Gosford, the Garratt was uncoupled and run up to the parking bay just north of the small Gosford loco depot and then watered. The train continued on with an electric loco and with the same crew. The Garratt was moved by a local passed-fireman who was nice enough to let me stay in the warm cab, it being 1am and cold with it. Now came the downside of my sudden decision to ride to Gosford. I was 50 miles away from my car and I had to rely on the generosity of the crew of the next arriving goods train which would have the Garratt as its loco. Would the new crew be upset that they had to drive a dirty old steam engine instead of a nice clean diesel? If they were I couldn't see my return journey eventuating.

    So I'm sitting on the top step of the Garratt with my legs hanging over the side. It gets hot in a Garratt cab. My mind was occupied with all these thoughts of possibly being left in Gosford and no passenger trains back to Broadmeadow at that time of the morning. No money to buy a ticket anyway. What a fool I was to get myself into this situation in the first place. Suddenly the stillness was shattered by another Garratt arriving from Newcastle with the next southbound goods train. Wow, soon there'll be another Garratt in the little parking bay. Things will be getting crowded.

    Sure enough within a few minutes the second Garratt came up behind the one I was sitting in and pulled up. The driver saw my legs hanging out the cabdoor and yelled out "Move it up a bit will you mate, I need to get to the water-column?"

    It was my turn for time dilation. In the next few seconds, which felt like minutes, all sorts of questions were running through my mind. Will I? Could I? Should I? I saw pictures of me operating the appropriate controls (I knew which was what and in what order to operate them). I saw the Garratt move and then accelerate down the line and I couldn't stop it. All hell broke loose. Then I was back sitting on the cab floor with the driver of the other Garratt waiting for an answer. Common sense reigned and I shouted back "I dont work for them, Mate." The temptation had passed. He climed up into the cab, moved us up a bit, then moved and watered the 2nd Garratt and then walked back to the loco-yard building. I could imagine the conversion. "Hey, there's a member of the public sitting in one of the Garratts up in the parking bay." "Yeah we know, he's a rail fan from Broadmeadow." "Well, we shouldn't leave him alone. He might get up to mischief." "No he wont, he's already been there for 15mins and the engine was alright wasn't it?" "Yeah, but I still think we should have somebody there, just to cover our backsides." "OK I'll go but I think its a waste of effort." "Well, you're not doing anything else right now, are you?" "I s'pose not."

    Right on time I hear footsteps crunching on the ballast and a young bloke climbs up into the cab, settles comfortably on the drivers seat and goes to sleep. He didn't say one word other than "G'day mate". I assume he thought that I was smart enough to figure out what had happened. We sat in silence for another half an hour till an electric pulled up with the next north-bound train and hopefully my lift back to Broadmeadow.

    My heart sped up again as the new crew climbed aboard and I explained the situation. They never batted an eyelid and said "OK mate" as if it had all happened before. Maybe it had, though I was still glad when we rolled into Broadmeadow yard later that morning and I hopped off before we got too near the admin building. Night shift was one thing but day shift people can be somewhat less understanding and I didn't want to get anyone into trouble. I had several more rides after that, all the more enjoyable in that I knew the crews would never kick me off the train at Gosford. I imagine most of those nice blokes have retired by now. I wonder if the current crop are just as nice. From the number of fences and locked gates that now seperate railway property from its owners, I assume the current crop of pencil pushers are not as nice as the ones from yesterday.

    What would you have done if put in the same situation?

  10. Are American Mallets better than our Garratts?

    It is often quoted that American Mallets are better than Garratts as they have constant adhesive weight, whereas the Garratt has high adhesive weight at the beginning of a journey, when the water & coal bunkers are full, and this drops as the fuel & water are consumed during the journey.

    I would like to put in my two bobs worth, so to speak, in the Garratts defence. This is only my opinion and I'm probably biassed. I'm sure I'm about to open my mouth and put both feet in but I've got my Ned Kelly suit on, so here goes.:-)

    I will assume we are not comparing apples with oranges but this will be difficult, with the original Mallet being designed to allow easy compounding and the original Garratt being designed for use on lightly laid, twisting and winding rail lines. Laying those obvious differences aside for the purposes of this discussion, I will assume both locos are being used on the same gauge lines with the same loading gauge. I will also assume we are talking only about American Mallets with a seperate tender, not tank engine Mallets. As throwing enough money at it can solve any problem, I will also assume our railway does not have bottomless pockets. Given the above I believe the American Mallet has NO practical advantages over the Garratt.

    Dont get me wrong. I think the Americans built some marvelous Mallet machines and given how difficult it is to build a large boiler which is not very well supported over the front half of its length, I think it's a tribute to their expertise in working metal that they could build such large locos.

    I believe the only disadvantage, the Garratt might have, is that its steam-pipes are longer than the Mallet's and the steam temperature at the cylinders will be a bit lower but I suppose a slightly better superheater would overcome this.

    The supposed problem with varying adhesive weight is a bit like the " Is the glass half empty or half full? " scenario. It really depends on which way you look at it.

    At first glance the Mallet seems to be ahead, in that it maintains the same adhesive weight regardless of the amount of coal & water in its tender but lets look more closely at this.

    If you were designing a loco to have two engine units, you would end up with a particular tractive effort, given a certain boiler pressure, piston diameter and travel, driving wheel diameter and weight thereon.

    When it comes to fuel & water containers, the Mallet is dragging a dead-weight behind it, while in the Garratt, these containers increase the adhesive weight to automatically compensate. Similarly, the weight of the actual coal & water is dragged behind the Mallet, whereas in the Garratt this weight is placed on the drivers once again automatically compensating.

    I hope you can see that the weight of the Mallet tender and its coal & water must be subtracted from the train load whereas with the Garratt, it has no effect on the train load as it automatically increases the adhesive weight, as required.

    Getting back to the obvious differences, the compounding efficiency of the Mallet comes at the expense of route flexibility whereas the route flexibility of the Garratt comes at the expense of fuel efficiency. You cant have your cake and eat it too.

    One solid advantage of the Garratt is that it can travel at the same speed in either direction. Can the Mallet?

    It is highly likely, the USA probably didn't need a Garratt but I believe they never even thought of it. Usually, when the Americans think of something, they patent it but as they apparently didn't patent the Garratt .....

    A lot of American Mallets were built without compounding so they threw that particular solid advantage of the Mallet, away.

    I remember that at least one American railroad company had a triple Mallet which started to look like a triple Garratt would have, if one had been made, so......

    One wonders what American Garratts would would have been like had they built some. Possibly their TE1, better known as "Jawn Henry", can give us a clue. Remove the turbine/generator and fit a water tank and you can get an idea. It was 112ft long but, as its body was not articulated, we can be sure an American Garratt would have been longer again.

    My conclusion is that:-
    Sometimes what appears to be an advantage, isn't.

  11. Trust.

    One interesting thing I noticed, on the few occasions I was lucky enough to be riding on a Garratt footplate at night, was the fact that the driver and fireman did not look out the window at the line ahead very often. After having got the firebox working well and entering a reasonably level section of line, they would sit sideways on their seats, looking, for most of the time, at the gauges, the floor of the cab or each other. Every now and then one or the other would lean back and look out the cab-side-window and yell "Greens" or "Clear". They obviously knew where they were and where the signal posts were.

    I asked the driver why weren't they looking up ahead in case there was something on the line. The driver invited me to look out his window at the line ahead. "What can you see?" " Nothing," I replied. "Sorry," he said, reaching up to turn on the big headlight. "Now what can you see?" " I can see the line up ahead for about three engine-lengths (about 300ft)." "If you saw something on the line, and we slammed on the brakes, would we be able to stop this 1200ton train in time?" Sensing a trick question I answered, "Probably not?" " Right," said the driver. "The Westinghouse brake system is good but it cant work miracles. It would take at least half a train-length or maybe more to stop and we would have definitely run over what ever it was you saw so there is no point watching the line ahead."

    While standing in the centre of the cab, I felt somewhat blind as we were rushing through the dark at about 45mph. I looked at the back of the big, hot, auto-stoked firebox and hoped that all the other employees of the NSWGR were doing their jobs as well as they could. That the signals worked properly and the signal men operated them correctly. That the rail-line maintenamce people had done their job well. I then realised that these two men, sharing their footplate with me, did it night after night, week in and week out, placing their trust in the system. In the past, mostly overseas, there had been horrific accidents where both the driver and firemen had, at best, been burned on the back of the firebox and at worst, been killed. This placement of trust was no small thing. Their lives depended on it, and tonight, so did mine.

    The NSWGR system wasn't the only thing they placed their trust in. As most of the rail-lines only had rudimentary fencing, they place their trust in the population at large not to do anything stupid on the rail-line. The small number of rail accidents up to that time showed that this trust was not misplaced and the Australian population at large did the right thing.

    Sadly this is not the case anymore and now high barbed-wire fences stretch for at least 30 miles from each city into the bush and are necessary to protect the rail-lines from mindless vandals who should have been drowned at birth.

    I afraid Australia's best time is behind it. Our parents knew how to balance freedom with responsibility. We dont.

  12. Railway Security.

    I previously mentioned security not being very obvious when visiting various railway locations. I didn't know it at the time but I was under surveillance by various security personnel most of the time I was on railway property. The following story will show that back in the old days security was applied with some common sense. That is, it was not the hamfisted approach which applies now where your nose is rubbed in it and you are made aware of any security with over-the-top flamboyance.

    After steam died on the NSWGR in the middle 1970s, most train-chasers turned their attention to the private steam railways. The best of these was the "South Maitland Railways" which hauled coal from the Cessnock area to the main NSWGR rails at Maitland.

    This line had been set up in the late 1800s to service a large number of collierys in the Maitland/Cessnock area. By the 1970s only 5 collierys were left. Weston, Neath, Caledonia, Bell Bird and Pelton. A few years later, the Weston and Bellbird collierys shutdown, leaving only three still in operation. Each colliery had its good & bad points with regard to sound-recording but for spectacular operation you couldn't go past Pelton.

    The trains from Pelton had the farthest to travel and, as well, had to climb the total length of the Caledonia Bank. One seemingly odd thing about steam-engines is that two can pull more than twice one can. It seems to be due to the pulsing nature of the torque applied to the rails. Two engines have eight pulses per revolution in two non-synchronous lots of four and hence have a smoother shape to the torque curve and hence actually slip less than one large engine would. If one does slip, the other engine fills in the gap till the slipping enginge regains grip. Thus the Pelton trains were made double headers and had bogie BCH coal wagons instead of the wooden 4 wheel hoppers used on trains from the other collierys. This allowed the Pelton trains to get up to maximum speed for their run at the Caledonia Bank. Under full power they would fly up the lower part of the bank but would be down to walking speed by the time they got to the top.

    These double headed trains were very long and hence it would take a long time to pump up the westinghouse air brakes on the BCHs. In order to get the trains facing the right way for the loaded return journey, a balloon loop would have been built in Pelton, if there had been room, but there wasn't, so a "Wye", large enough to take the whole train, was built instead. In normal operation the train would come to a fullstop in the "Wye" and then reverse out of it to the coal loader. If the train-brakes had been used to stop the train in the "Wye", it would take a long time to pump the pressure back up again. So to circumvent this waste of time, the trains used to pull up using LocoPower only. The engines were put into reverse and slowly more and more steam was applied until they lost traction and slipped with mighty roars from both stacks. A few more slips occured to get the train moving in reverse and a lot of time was saved but at the expense of the loco tyres.

    So this was the place to go to see steam's last spectacular show. The gate to the colliery was always open and, like all good train-chasers, I ignored the "No Trespassing" sign, drove straight in and got as close to the "Wye" as possible, about 50yds away. I walked the rest of the way and set my mics and tape-machine up at a suitable spot to record all the action. I had done this at least 30 times over the intervening years. This brings us to the week before the steam-locos were to run for the last time.

    I had spent quite a few days crawling over almost every inch of the SMR during that week and quite a few nights sleeping in the car. On the second last day I thought it would be nice to get a souvenir of some sort or other before I went home. I pulled the car up alongside the line near Neath and was walking along the rails looking for something to take home that may have fallen off a train or been left by the fettlers.

    A ute, with I think a small SMR sign on the side, pulled up behind my car and the male driver came over to the fence and said,
    "Hey, what are you doing up there?"
    I said, "Looking for a souvenir to take home. Tomorrow's the last day." He looked across at my car and said, "Is that your car?"
    I said "Yes."
    He said, "Were you in Pelton colliery yesterday?"
    I answered, "Yes."
    He said, "Keep your eyes open and dont get run over." Then turned round and walked back to his ute and drove off.

    Obviously he had seen me the day before and seen what I had been doing and considered me no threat and so left me alone. However, today I was in a possibly more dangerous position and he asked me questions that he already knew the answers to. He then weighed up the possible threat to the SMR and considered I was no threat, other than yet another railfan who may get run over. He did not tell me to get off SMR property.

    Now that's what I call real surveillance, or more accurately, intelligent surveillance. Check up on people but dont necessarily stop them from what they are doing if it doesn't harm the organisation being protected.

    With the current flap on about terrorists, what's the chances of driving through that large power station, right now, to get to the railfans' favourite place, Hawkmount.   Probably Buckleys.

  13. Security, Navy style or just a case of bad PR?  A true story that makes you worry about the quality of some navy personnel.

    Way back in the 70s the Royal Australian Navy decided to have a birthday party and do a bit of good PR at the same time. One lovely warm weekend, they threw open the gates of Garden Island navy base to the public. Entry was free and all the paraphenalia, you'd expect a navy to have, was on display. There were even a number of warships tied up at the wharf and one or two were open to the public for kids to climb all over, if someone didn't stop them.

    My wife and I decided to go with our kids and see what our tax dollars were being spent on. We took our camera of course. It's not every day you get to see Navy ships up close. Nothing was mentioned about whether cameras were allowed or not.

    So in due course we arrived at the main gates which were wide open with Navy personnel welcoming the public on board, so to speak. So in we trotted, 35mm camera hanging round my neck, like a lot of other families. There were no signs about cameras, one way or the other. We had a great day wandering round, going on to the open ships, my youngest spending some time on my shoulders getting the best view.

    Unfortunately we were so close to the ships and they were so big close up, I couldn't really get any good photos of my family in front of one. Until we were going home.

    We were wandering towards the gate, possibly not the same gate we came in, when I spotted a ship tied up at the end of the wharf. This particular wharf finished at this point with a large concrete apron in front of it and fortunately for us, the ship was moored nose in. This meant we could get in front of it and finally I could get a photo of the family standing in front of a warship.

    With the kids standing and my wife crouching down, I could, by also crouching down, frame up the shot so the family was in the bottom of the picture and the ship was looming over their shoulders behind them. I was just about to take the photo when a uniformed person, who happened to be walking by at that moment, said "Hey you cant take any pictures in here, its off limits." Well we were dumbstruck. Thousands of people were wandering round with cameras. And more to the point we were only anout 50 yards from the gate and a public road. On the other side of the road were units, 3 or 4 stories high and the occupants would have had a better view of this boat than I did down at ground level. I never did get a picture of my family standing in front of a warship.

    This officious person had enough buttons on his uniform to be a commander but I'm sure with the amount of intelligence he was showing at that moment, he could have only commanded a desk. Whatever good PR the Navy had achieved throughout the day, this person evaporated with one sentence.

    This is an example of security of the worse kind, the bureaucratic kind. It achieves nothing but bad PR.

  14. Security, RAAF style.

    Some time ago the Royal Australian Air Force had a birthday and seeing an opportunity for some good PR, threw open the gates of RAAF Richmond air base, near Sydney. There were excellent displays, both on the ground and in the air. Various aircraft were parked here and there all round the aerodrome. They even had the humungus Russian Antinov flying truck which its daring but capable pilots threw round the sky like a cessna. One of the planes, fully get-attable by the public, was a Mirage fighter. If you just happened to have a very large potato, you could have rammed it up the jet's tailpipe. Now that's trusting the public.

    Once again my wife and I decided to take the kids and see what our tax dollars were being spent on. Parking was offsite and a section of the fence on the main Richmond road had been removed to provide an access gate reasonably close to the parking area. A large roped-off walking track ran down around the end of the runway and back up the other side to the main buildings. The were tons of RAAF personal suitably attired with smiling faces and ready answers. They had to withstand the millions of questions thrown at them by an inquiring public eager to absorb as much of the airforce culture as possible in the short time available.

    We spent all day wandering round the very large base, looking in all the allowed buildings and queueing up to walk through some of the planes on display. All the time jets and piston engines were roaring over-head in a never ending spectacle as all the airworthy planes were put through their paces. By the end of the day we all had cricks in our necks from looking up.

    At about 15min before closing time, my wife had had enough and said she would take the kids back to the car. I had one more exhibit to see which was down the end of the base furthest from the gate. It took me almost all the 15min to get there and as I approached the display, the loudspeakers announced that the open day was finishing and would all the members of the public please make their way to the gate. I was almost at the exhibit I wanted to see and only had a little way to go so I kept walking towards the display in question, a plane. Just as I reached it, a line of RAAF personnel, each about 20 ft apart, complete with attack dogs and sunglasses, appeared from behind the plane and slowly walked towards the other end of the base. The nearest one to me said "The base is now closed, could you make your way to the exit, please". This was said in a business like manner and with no smile on his face.

    I soon got the message that the welcome-mat had been pulled up and now the RAAF had to get all these pesky civilians off the base as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The line of enforcers slowly swept the base clean until all the remaining civilians were corralled into the roped-off walkway and on their way to the gate.

    It was interesting to see how fast the welcoming, smiling faces could be switched off. It was all only a PR exercise and now it showed.

    However to give the RAAF its due, as far as I know, nobody stopped anyone taking photos.

  15. Security, Maritime style.

    Recently, the Star Princess, the largest cruise ship ever to enter Sydney Harbour, came to Sydney on a flying visit. She arrived at Sydney Heads at 4am, berthed at Circular Quay at 5am, and departed again at 9pm the same day.

    Being interested in all modes of transportation, my wife and I went down to the harbour to see the Star come in. We were the only people waiting at Bradley's Head when it passed by at 4.30am, trundling along through the rain at jogging speed. The only other boats in motion were two small ones bringing up the rear. One appeared to be the Pilot's boat travelling behind the Star on the RHS and the other even smaller one only appeared as a moving red light on the LHS rear of the Star. Security seemed to be minimal. I guess the powers-that-be reckoned that no terrorist would be about at 4am on a dark rainy morning.

    However at 9pm it was a different story. A flotilla of at least 8 small boats, all sporting red lights, completely surrounded the Star, escorting it as it made it's way back down the harbour to the Heads. Now that all the vantage points along the harbour were crammed with people, the powers-that-be seemed to think an attack was imminent.

    Or was there actually no security threat and the flotilla was there solely for show and only put on to impress the observing public. Security, not only must be done, but must be seen to be done. Or maybe the latter is all that is needed.

    No point in having a security flotilla at 4am if there was no-one there to see it.

  16. The Twilight Zone?  A strange occurrence that actually happened.

    Back in the late 1970s I used to make recordings of steam locomotives at various locations around NSW. Portland, in the Blue Mountains about 112 rail-miles west of Sydney, was one such site. The Portland Cement Company had a short steeply graded line worked by two ancient tankengines, one a 2-6-2 and the other an 0-6-0. The line has a hump in the middle of it and the grade into the works was about 1 in 40 and out of the works about 1 in 30.

    One fine weekday evening I was driving from Sydney to Portland. At around 9pm I was traveling between Newnes Junction and Lithgow on the Bells line of road. The road was fairly flat and straight and ran along the left hand edge of a narrow valley while the old single mainline railway earthworks ran along the right hand side. It was exactly where the main Lithgow Zigzag Steam railway platform is now. Of course back then there was nothing but bush and the ghosts of the past. The Moon was a thin crescent and the surrounding area was barely discernible. I was rolling serenely along in my little tin can of humanity in a vast sea of darkness, full of vague shapes and even vaguer shadows.

    I had the radio on listening to some music from, I think, the local radio station. At the end of the record the announcer started talking about an accident that had just happened on the Great Western Highway at Marrangaroo, just west of Lithgow. Apparently a semi-trailer had overturned and was partially blocking the highway, which was only two wide lanes at that time. The announcer requested that the listeners keep an eye out for the accident if they were driving past Marrangaroo. I had to drive past there to get to Portland so I made a mental note to do just that.

    About 30min later I was driving along the Great Western Highway, which is pretty straight and slightly undulating as it parallels the main railwayline just before the Marrangaroo Tunnel. I slowed down and drove that whole section with my eyes wide open looking for the overturned semi. It wasn't there. Either the announcer got it wrong or the the wreckage had been cleaned up very smartly. I continued on to Portland and settled down for the night. I had to be up bright and early next morning to get the first run when the engine takes a full load of empties from Portland Station into the Works.

    The morning progressed and I had a number of satisfying recordings in the can, so to speak. Lunch time rolled round and the loco crew had their break so I took mine and drove back to Lithgow to buy my lunch. As I was driving past Marrangaroo, over the bridge across the railwayline, the Police were flagging cars to slow down as there was an overturned semi at the bottom of the sweepimg curve that comes off the bridge as the road swings to the right towards Lithgow. Now, there were definitely no semis there the night before, so how did I hear a radio report of an accident before it happened?  Strange, huh?


  ©  Gary Yates   Locofonic Recordings Australia  
This page first written 20-2-2000 last updated 9-9-2007.
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