Minimum Gauge Railways

Minimum Gauge Railways

bart. Sir Arthur Percival Heywood
bart. Sir Arthur Percival Heywood

Author: Heywood, Arthur Percival, Sir, bart., 1849-1916
Local and light — England
Minimum Gauge Railways
Transcribed from the third edition by Peter Barnes.

Minimum Gauge Railways:

Being an account of the origin and evolution of the 15 in. gauge line
at Duffield Bank, near Derby; also of the installation of a
similar line at Eaton Hall, near Chester; together with
various notes on the uses of such Railways, and
on the results of some experimental
investigations relating thereto.


Preface 5, 6
Introduction 7
Objects of the 15 in. Gauge 9
Construction of the Duffield Bank Line 11
Details of the Eaton Hall Line 15
Locomotives 25
Wagons and Cars 32
The Duffield Bank Workshops 36
Scientific Considerations 38
Remarks on Narrow Gauge Railways 42
Appendix 46

Preface to Second Edition.

In the year 1881, when the Royal Agricultural Society held their show in Derby, it was represented to me that, as many of the members were interested in the cheap transport offered by narrow gauge railways, it would be appreciated if I opened my experimental line at Duffield to inspection during the week.
In order to facilitate the comprehension of the objects of this little railway, the late Secretary of the Society suggested that I should draw up a short descriptive pamphlet to place in the hands of visitors. This was done with success and much saving of verbal explanation.
Thirteen years later, having added considerably to the rolling stock and improved many of the details, I decided to give a three days exhibition, and to issue a general invitation to all interested in the promotion of such lines, at the same time taking the opportunity to revise and amplify the first edition of this pamphlet.
A. P. H.
August, 1894.

Preface to Third Edition.

Some four years have elapsed since the second edition of this pamphlet was exhausted. During this period I have constructed and equipped at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, a line which has been in regular use since May, 1896, exactly similar to my own at Duffield. This railway having been made wholly for practical purposes and on strictly economic principles, I am in a position to present more reliable data, both in regard to cost and working, than I could obtain from my own experimental line, which has been continually altered and only irregularly worked.
I desire to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to the Duke of Westminster for the free hand accorded me in regard to the arrangement of all details of the Eaton Railway; a liberty which has resulted in a symmetrical and entirely successful carrying out of the work.
What I am now able to advance will, I trust, amply demonstrate the really solid advantages which, under suitable conditions, may be reaped from the installation of little railways of the kind described.
A. P. H.
July, 1898.


At the outset I must offer an apology for making use, throughout this pamphlet, of the first person. I do so partly for convenience of expression, and partly because almost all that I have to advance is derived from my own experience.  In doing so I am far from desiring to undervalue the work of others in the same direction. I have, however, little hesitation in saying that, with the exception of the late Mr. Charles Spooner, the able Engineer of the Festiniog Railway, most of those, so far as I know, who are responsible for the design of plant for these small lines have been manufacturers whose productions, though often of fair workmanship, are clearly indicative of a failure to grasp many of the leading principles involved. This shortcoming is the natural result of a want of sufficient time for the consideration of details, and a consequent tendency to imitate established customs in regard to railway work which by no means apply with equal advantage to very narrow gauges, where the conditions involved are wholly different. This is especially true of small locomotive building, the specimens of which evidence in their design not only ignorance on important points, but also a deplorable absence of the sense of well-balanced proportion.
I venture to think that, in the twenty-five years during which I have devoted much of my time to the subject, I have succeeded in bringing to considerable perfection both permanent way and rolling stock suitable for these diminutive lines, and more especially the locomotives, which are probably, for their weight, the most powerful and flexible ever built to work by simple adhesion. Whether this conceit be well founded or no I leave to the judgment of those who may be at the pains to acquaint themselves with the details and result of my work, which has been undertaken wholly as a labour of love with the sole desire to promote improvement in what I believe to be an entirely special branch of engineering. I have never wasted my money on patents, and, so long as my designs are not imitated in a bungling manner, I am glad to see them made use of by anyone to whom they may be of service.
It must be understood that I do not here attempt to enter upon the comparative merits of narrow gauge railways generally, but merely to give particulars of what has come within my own experience. To facilitate a comprehension of the conditions under which I have worked, it will be well to explain that I make no pretension to be considered a professional engineer, and that I speak rather as a self-taught mechanic and surveyor.
My father possessed a beautiful Holtzappfel lathe, with elaborate tools for ornamental turning in wood and metal. As a boy of seven or eight I can recall watching him as he worked. At ten years old I was promoted to stand on a box and turn candlesticks, but, a year or two later, a few lessons—the only direct practical instruction I ever had—from an old fishing-rod maker in chasing metal screw-threads begot in me an ardent desire to construct machinery, particularly anything pertaining to railways, for which from my childhood I had an absorbing craze.
By my father’s kindness I, by-and-bye, fitted up a workshop in which the tools were driven by a half-horse steam engine; and at eighteen had completed my first locomotive, weighing 56 lbs., which, with a dozen or so of small wagons, made a fine show on some 40 yards of brass-railed permanent way of 4 in. gauge. Locomotive driving was my hobby when I went up to Cambridge, and many were the tips that I learned in my illicit journeyings on the footplate. The new degree of “Applied Science” had just made its appearance, in which, in 1871, I had the doubtful credit of appearing alone in the first class. Doubtful, because the papers were absurdly simple, and the examiners hardly educated beyond the bare theories of the mechanical processes; for it was long anterior to the days of Professor Stuart and his engineering laboratory, where, by-the-bye, I once remember seeing the “demonstrator” supervising the reduction of a 4 in. shaft on a stout 9 or 10 in. lathe by a young turner whose nervous and thread-like shavings would have ensured his speedy dismissal from any commercial machine-shop.
When I settled at Duffield in 1872, I at once began to put into practice the views I had formed in regard to the possibility of advantageously superseding horse traction, in cases where a traffic, though heavy, was wholly insufficient to justify a more costly railway, by a line of the narrowest and consequently the cheapest gauge compatible with safety. It is to a setting forth of the results of my experiments during the years that have since elapsed, that the following pages are devoted. My claim to a hearing is chiefly based upon having always been my own draughtsman, and, for my first two larger locomotives, also moulder, machinist, and fitter. Owing to the increasing number of experiments, and to other calls upon my time, assistance eventually became necessary, and, though I am still conceited enough to keep the more delicate manipulations in my own hands, so far as I can find time to execute them, it has gradually come about that I have seven or eight artisans in the little workshops. Practical acquaintance with every detail both in survey, design, and construction of narrow-gauge railways has given me something of a pull over the professional engineer. Thus it happens that, without the credit of any exceptional ability, I have had advantages that fall to few of acquiring information which I desire to lay before those who are interested in the rapid and economical transport of a moderate annual tonnage.
The first three sections of this pamphlet comprise a brief sketch of the purposes, origin, and construction of my own line. In Section IV. is given a detailed account of the construction, working, and cost of the similar line which I made to connect Eaton Hall with the Great Western Railway. Sections V., VI., VII., and VIII. are more technical, and may be passed over by those not interested in the mechanical details, although it is to the care that has been bestowed on these that my success is chiefly attributable. Section IX. deals, from such experience as I have acquired, with the conditions under which these small railways may be profitably installed. In Section X. I have appended a few further items of possible interest.


When, in 1874, I started on the construction of my experimental railway, the more notable narrow-gauge lines in our own country were those of 18 in. at Crewe, Woolwich, Chatham, and Aldershot—the latter a sad failure and the admirable 23½ in. from Portmadoc to the Festiniog Slate Quarries. The Festiniog Railway, which owed its success as a locomotive-worked line to the persistent energy and ability of the late Mr. Charles Spooner, opened the eyes of the transport-interested world to the extraordinary capacity of a very narrow gauge. But here the marvel lies in the manner in which the work was adapted to the gauge, not in the suitability of the gauge to the work. No one but an enthusiast would dare to contend that a two-foot gauge was the ideal width for a line employing twenty-ton locomotives and hauling about 100,000 passengers and some 150,000 tons of minerals and goods per annum. If this development could have been foreseen, the selected gauge would doubtless have been wider. Such a traffic, however, is quite outside the scope of this pamphlet, the logic of which is directed to shewing how a much smaller annual tonnage than has been hitherto deemed worthy of a railway may be profitably thus conveyed.
An 18 in. line, such as one of those above referred to, would, if of not more than three or four miles in length and tolerably level, be capable of transporting, with one locomotive, 60,000 tons of minerals annually, reckoning the traffic as in one direction only. There are, however, up and down the country, a number of cases where a traffic of from 5,000 to 10,000 tons is annually hauled between two fixed points over the public highways by a single employer. Such cases may be classified as large mansions, public institutions, mines, quarries, &c. Now it is clear that, unless there is a prospect of large increase in the traffic, it would be absurd to employ for a maximum of 10,000 tons a railway equal to 60,000 tons, and so the question arises:—What is the smallest and therefore the cheapest railway capable of being practically and advantageously worked? This is the question to which I venture to think I can give a reliable answer.
In the year 1874, after various preliminary trials, I determined to construct a line of 15 in. gauge, as the smallest width possessing the necessary stability for practical use, although I once laid down one of 9 in. gauge for my younger brothers, which proved by no means deficient in carrying power.
The stability of this 9 in. line was perfect enough so long as persons did not attempt to ride on the ends and edges of the carriages and wagons, but man being an article of approximately standard size, it is clear there must be a minimum gauge which will be stable enough to be independent of such liberties.
Rolling stock properly proportioned to a 15 in. gauge seems the smallest that will thoroughly insure safety in this respect, and indeed in France the late M. Décauville, who did so much to develop lines of this class, arrived at nearly similar conclusions in adopting a minimum width of 16 in.
It must not, of course, be understood that gauges of such small proportions are to be advocated except where the traffic is unlikely to increase beyond their capacity, and where the material to be moved can conveniently be loaded in moderate sized wagons.
Feeling, however, convinced of the eventual recognition of the utility of lines of minimum gauge, I took some pains to become acquainted with what had been already achieved in this direction, with the result that, excepting only the Festiniog railway, where every detail was most ably worked out by the late Mr. Spooner, I found generally both road and rolling-stock constructed as mere imitations of those of the standard gauge, and showing a want of apprehension of the totally different conditions to be satisfied. To endeavour to solve the various problems involved in the successful design of engines, carriages, wagons, and roadway for a minimum gauge is, therefore, the main object of my little railway. The chief ends in view are the application of such lines to agricultural or commercial purposes on large estates, or where quarries, brick yards, and other industrial establishments need better connection with the pier or railway station from which their productions are forwarded. An excellent example of such a line is now to be found in the one I have constructed at Eaton Hall, particulars of which are given in Section IV. There were also problems relating to adhesion and friction, particularly from the narrow-gauge point of view, which I was desirous of solving, some remarks on which will be found in Section VIII.


The construction of my line of 15 in. gauge was commenced in 1874, and various additions were made up to 1881, when the length laid amounted to a little over a mile, inclusive of sidings. Since the latter date there has been no material extension, but the permanent way and its accessories have been gradually improved.
The line runs from the farm and workshops, up a gradient varying from 1 in 10 to 1 in 12 about a quarter-of-a-mile long, to a level 80 ft. above, where the experimental course is laid out in the shape of a figure 8, so as to admit of continuous runs. This part, somewhat more than half-a-mile in length, has a level stretch of a quarter-of-a-mile, the remainder consisting of gradients, of which 1 in 20 is the most severe. The minimum curve on the main line is 25 ft. radius, but in the sidings some occur as sharp as 15 ft. radius.
The permanent way was at first laid with 14 lb. rails, without fish-plates, spiked to elm and Spanish chestnut sleepers fallen and sawn on the premises, 5 in. wide, 2 in. thick, and 2 ft. 6 in. long, set at 1 ft. 6 in. centres. The maximum load did not exceed 12 cwt. per axle, but, although the work was well done, the road was not equal to the weight, and required incessant attention. The line was then re-laid on sleepers 6½ in. wide, 4 in. thick, and 3 ft. long, with various sections of rails, 12 lbs., 14 lbs., 18 lbs., and 22 lbs. per yard. These were all fitted with fish-plates, the joints being on a sleeper. The spacing of the sleepers was varied with the rails, from 1 ft. 6 in. for the 12 lb. to 3 ft. for the 22 lb. section. Any part of this road carries comfortably 25 cwt. per axle. The fish-plates and larger area of sleeper more than doubled the original carrying power of the rails.
Six years being about the life of these small sleepers, it soon became necessary to renew them. Seeing that the rails, owing to the light traffic, remained perfectly good, to have to pull the road to pieces for the sake of new sleepers only was a serious annoyance. I then determined to try a light cast-iron sleeper with the same bearing area. After some years of experiment, a thoroughly satisfactory one was perfected, in which the rail is held to its place by a curved steel spring key that cannot work out. The greater part of the line is now laid on these cast-iron sleepers, which weigh 28 lbs. each, inclusive of the chairs, which are cast on. This pattern has now had some eighteen years’ test, and has proved entirely satisfactory. With a 14 lb. steel rail, the sleepers being spaced 2 ft. 3 in., and at the suspended fish-joint 1 ft. 3 in., the road, under the load of 25 cwt. per axle, requires very little repair, some parts having stood for five or six years without being touched, though constantly run over.
The length of the sleeper is a very material point. It should project beyond the rail a distance of rather more than half the gauge of the line thus the rail is equally supported inside and out. When the projection is reduced, the centre of the sleepers cannot be packed up solid, because the support would then be greatest between the rails, with the result that the ballast below would assume a convex form lengthwise of the sleepers, and thus produce an unstable road. On lines of the standard gauge, if sleepers of this proportion were adopted, and of sufficient thickness to distribute the load more widely without bending, a great saving in repairs would be effected; but it is not likely that any permanent way official will be bold enough to suggest such a radical change. On the Festiniog Railway of 23½ in. gauge, a sleeper 4 ft. 6 in. long has been adopted with excellent results.
A detail of importance in laying rails is that the joints should be opposite one another. For this purpose it is necessary to order a proportion of the rails 3 in. to 6 in. shorter than the rest, according to the gauge and radius of curves. In this way the joints can be kept practically square. A cross-jointed road is not only unpleasant to travel on, but is also exceedingly difficult to set up true, particularly on sharp curves.
Steel rails are now almost universally employed, but it is worth attention that on any part of a line that is either very damp or rarely used, iron rails will long outlas

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