Dr Lary Shaffer SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor

With deep sadness and great reluctance, I applied for an early retirement incentive and left the college and the Plattsburgh area in the Fall of 2002. I now live in coastal Maine where I am President and CEO of a furniture and cabinetry company: Scarborough Marsh Fine Furniture.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I have developed high level management skills since you last saw me, I should point out that I am the only employee of my company.

If you need to contact me, I will occasionally check my Plattsburgh email: lawrence.shaffer@plattsburgh.edu If you send me an email, be sure that your name is in the subject line or is recognizable from the sender designation. I do not even open emails from people with sender names such as buffbutt@hotmail.com unless there is some evidence that it is from someone I know.

I was an undergraduate at Plattsburgh from 1964 to 1968. During that time, I was very lucky to be mentored by Dr. Henry Morlock and Dr. Noel Smith. I doubt that I would have made it through my undergraduate years without the unfailing camaraderie of my roommate Jamie Herrick. Jamie was also a psychology major and we tackled the curriculum together. I met Tom Bromley and Al Howard at breakfast on my first morning in Plattsburgh and we still hang out when we get the chance.

From Plattsburgh, I went to Oxford University and earned my doctorate in Zoology working under the Nobel Laureate Niko Tinbergen. There is no way to decribe that experience in a few words. It was amazing to be in a world class university with support and friendship from people like Pat Searle, Tim and Carolyn Halliday, the late Jamie Smith.,the Late Mike Cullen, Sean Neill, Michael and Barbara MacRoberts, Hans Kruuk, Dave McDonald, Heather McLannahan, Richard and Marian Dawkins, and Desmond and Ramona Morris. These people were just the tip of the iceberg and I loved a whole lot of people not listed here by name. I developed a very close relationship with Niko and Lies Tinbergen. My friendship with Niko has been described by others as like father and son. I certianly felt that way about Niko. At Oxford, one has a department, mine being the Department of Zoology and one also has a college. By a stroke of staggering good luck, I was accepted to join Wolfson College in Oxford, an all graduate student college, in the first year that Wolfson accepted students. There were 20 of us and about 40 fellows. We all knew each other and that was very special. There are times now when I think about those days. Tears come to my eyes and I simply ache inside to be back there, surrounded by the fine people at Wolfson and at the Animal Behaviour Research Group in the Zoo Department.

Niko and his film director Hugh Falkus taught me to make films. After some years making TV documentaries, I returned to Plattsburgh in 1976. I was fortunate to land back in the Psychology Department. The outstanding scholars in the Psychology Department embody the supreme standard for intelligence, collegiality, civility, and warmth. Over the years, I got to know some of the members of the department very well--often owing to chance factors such as office proximity. Others I knew less well, but I count all the department members, past and present, as friends. There are not many work situations like that.

By a somewhat conservative estimate, I taught about 15,000 students in classes during my Plattsburgh career. For 19 years I addressed upwards to 1000 new admits on their first evening on campus. For many years I also addressed new students and their families in summer orientation. I was the commencement speaker at the college three times. For years I coordinated the Freshman Experience Program with Cheryl Hogle. I was proud that Bill Laundry (at that time the Dean of Students), the fine people in his office, and the Residence Staff Association always treated me as an honorary member of their teams. While I was teaching, I co-authored two psychology textbooks, one with Matt Merrens. Matt and I have been close friends for years and we had a terrific time teaching together. I wrote the other book with Alan Morrison, who at that time, was a very talented undergraduate student. After Plattsburgh Alan did a number of things and is now a highly skilled professional computer geek. I edited four books of reprinted developmental psychology journal articles with another highly talented undergrad, Josh Duntley. Back when Josh and I worked together we co-designed a new teaching approach to go with the books. Subsequently Josh went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Texas and is now a college professor. Josh has now taken over as first author of the introductory psychology book that Matt Merrens and I wrote.

I shared hundreds of miles of academic discussions during early morning bike rides with Bryan Hartman, now the Vice President for Student Affairs at the college. Former Plattsburgh Vice President and Provost Tom Moran and I were undergraduates together and his friendship and support always kept me on track. I shared many inspirational discussions with Professors Rich Robbins and Doug Skopp. These guys also joined me in wonderful sessions of laughing until I could not sit up straight. Our department secretary, Judy Dashnaw, kept me sane. Looking at all this, it is obvious that I had an academic career of enormous privilege. I will always be thankful for opportunities such as these. I consider myself lucky indeed to have worked so long at a place where there are so many dedicated and hardworking people. I worked pretty hard myself, but I had quite a bit of fun. I loved the college.Borrowing a phrase from the late Dan Fogelberg, coming to Plattsburgh was, for me, the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.


When I got my computer upgraded a while back, the software that I was using for my college website, Dreamweaver, had to be replaced by a new version. I cannot understand the fricking thing, even with the "Dummies" book for the new Dreamweaver. (Stupidly) fooling around with this website, I lost the whole thing, with all its outdated and useless information about my time at the college.

Because the rest of this is new, it probably has typos. I will clean them up as fast as I can.

Instead of replacing all my old course policies and stuff like that, I thought I would focus on my current life. I will leave my bicycle stuff available. People do still ask me for advice about long bike trips because I biked across the country in 1987. I once told my friend Professor of History Doug Skopp that history is bunk. Nevertheless, I find myself once again doing history. I don't know to what extent I am permitted to use this site to talk about a new research project that interests me. Let's try it and we will both find out:



Rebuilding a Sheffield No 1 Railroad Handcar

If you want to cut to the chase where the fun might be, have a look at these little UTube videos of my rebuilt and functioning handcar. I made the clips with my kid's GoPro on my head and on the deck. Getting started: https://youtu.be/XwY7ppSWF1M Going across a potentially busy crossing. looking both ways carefully: https://youtu.be/wM62zgc_ufw and riding on the deck https://youtu.be/YpXZgeOCFJw



This could be a long boring story. If you are not up for that, I would go somewhere else if I were you. Of course I don't think it is boring. However, it is my wife's opinion that the story is boring. She is not alone in this view, as I can see by the faces of people I meet at parties.

When I was a kid in upstate New York, maybe 12 years-old, childhood buddies John Hine and Tom Loveday and I used to hike along the rails of our local short line railroad, the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville RR Co. It was a friendly little railroad, where the train personel would wave and blow the horn, rather than call the cops. One day while we were taking a rest next to the collapsing Broadablin section house, I noticed some rusty metal in the grass. It was the remains of an old railroad handcar with the wood mostly rotted away and the metal spread out like a dinosaur skeleton.



bkyard I went to the railroad offices and they sold me the pile of scrap iron for $2. I wish that I had been smart enough to take pictures of it before I moved anything, but, after all, I was a jerky 12 year-old kid. My dad kindly drove to Broadalbin in the station wagon and helped me load the metal into the car. I scrounged some pieces of track from a local leather mill and rebult the handcar with lumber yard 2 X 4s as best I could with hand tools and my 12 year-old skills. It worked. Friends and I played on it in the yard. I grew up and left home. The handcar sat outdoors for about 25 years until I had a home of my own with a cellar where I could store the parts. By then the lumber yard wood had rotted and I was almost back to where I had started in Broadalbin.


I had always thought of my hand car as THE handcar of the F .J. & G. which shows that I don't know much about railroads. F. J. & G. expert Paul Larner tells me that the F. J. & G. Steam Division had six working section gangs with no less than one handcar each. The Electric Division had seven sections with at least one handcar each. Western Union workers had their own handcars. In addition to that there were some extra track gangs that had their own handcars. In short, mine was not the only one. This is not mine riding on the F. J. & G. train in 1938 because this one has steel wheels. Paul also kindly dug out the other old F. J. and G. pictures that I am using here. fjghdcar


fjgoldcars Here is another picture that Paul supplied. It shows New York Central locomotive quite a distance from home in the West Yard of the F. J. & G. in Gloversville. In the foreground there are three handcars that look to be retired. They have no wooden pump handles and they appear to have weeds growing up through them. Behind them there were probably several more rows of handcars if this was the F. J. & G.'s handcar graveyard. Luckily mine escaped the scrap pile that was probably the fate of these three. Motor cars had replaced some handcars by this time. Paul says that in 1928 the F. J. & G had 3 motor cars, 12 handcars and 13 pushcars. The handcars were valued at $50 new.

And here is what I consider to be astounding among the photographs that Paul Larner has unearthed. He and I both believe that this is my handcar . The road is NY Rt 29 near Vail's Mills, NY, not far from Broadalbin, NY where I found the handcar decomposed in the weeds. Paul's careful research indicates that that the dirt road was macadamized in 1912, so the picture is older than that. There is a slightly odd shape to the alignment of the handle eyes of the walking beam that is probably unique to my handcar. I discuss that odd alignment in detail a bit farther down this page so you can look for yourself and see what you think.

She has a pretty good load of tools on board and some stuff covered by a blanket. One can clearly see a blacksmith's pin vice laying across the deck. I have one of those and it is very heavy




Paul Larner tells me that the Broadalbin line, leased until 1930, generally received the hand-me-downs from the rest of the railroad. Any story that I might tell about the working history of my handcar is pure speculation. However it is pretty easy to imagine that the Broadalbin boys had this shagged-out old handcar and when the motor cars became available they were eager to get rid of their hard-rolling handcar. They set it in the grass beside their section house. Over time, as the weeds grew taller and as the handcar dissolved it was forgotten. That saved its life.


Fast forward 50 + years after I first found the handcar. I have moved a couple of times and I am now living in coastal Maine. Each time I moved, I faithfully moved the handcar parts intending one day to rebuilt it. On a bike ride I happened to meet a professional associated with the Maine Central Railroad Mountain Division Trail. It is a state rail-trail that still has the rails on it. She told me that I would be allowed to run my handcar on those rails. Coincidentally, I have become a cabinetmaker and I also do some welding to make parts for some of my furniture. My handcar needed both woodwork and welding. I have the shop and the equipment to rebuild my handcar and to do it right. All I need is some time. Time? Holy crap. I have been waiting for this opportunity for 50 years. I guess I can find some time here and there.





sheffpat1.jpg The first thing I did was to hit the internet to see what I could find out. Almost my first find there was Mason Clark's handcar site. Mason is a thoroughly amazing man. As a high school student he has built a number of handcars that are beautiful. He is very knowledgeable about handcars in general and he has helped me a great deal. From the material on his website, I quickly identified my handcar as a Sheffield No. 1. It was made by the Sheffield Velocipede Company, later the Sheffield Car Company, a division of Fairbanks Morse. The company was located in Three Rivers Michigan. Here is one of the patents that cover aspects of my handcar. The origin of the handcar as an object is murky. It is a story that I plan to pursue at some point. As far as I can find, there was not ONE inventor of THE handcar. From the birth of railroads, highly skilled machinists in railroad shops spent a great deal of time working on steam engines where the conversion of reciprocaing motion to rotary motion was right in their faces. One would have to be a complete idiot not to imagine a small hand-powered vehicle that would use the same principle. Far from being idiots, many of these men were mechanical geniuses and it is almost certain that they started to build handcars.
Recently the Baker Library at Harvard was kind enough to scan in a 114 page Sheffield Car Company catalog in the their collection. The scan of this catalog is now available free on the internet. There is no date on the catalog, but it includes an 1894 price list, so that is a pretty good hint. You can see this entire catalog at : http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HBS.Baker.GEN:10849854-2013 shefcat


If you have any interest in handcars, you really should have a look at this catalog on the Baker Library website. It has a number of interesting handcars. Take this one, for instance. I would want to be somewhere else when four people were sitting on each side on the benches and the railroad was looking for someone to be the motive power. canopy


There is another wonderful Sheffield catalog, this one from 1917. Rich Harner enlisted the kind people at the St Louis Mercantile Library to scan it. It is aailable as a PDF that I will post here as soon as I figure out how to do it. s1
The earliest human powered rail car that I know of was kindly brought to my attention by Jacqui Thomas who edits a velocipede newsletter in the U.K. This newsletter also has information about other hand-powered cars: www.velocipedes.co.uk There is a pile of interesting stuff in this newsletter and in the back issues. As the piece below suggests, it seems that the earliest date we know of hand powered rail cars can now be set at 1813, thanks to the discovery of this information by Mike Grocock.


clay.jpg The earliest mention that I can find of people in the USA riding on a hand-operated railcar was in 1832, when Henry Clay, who eventually served in important roles such as Congressman, Senator and Secretary of State, had a ride on a flat pushcar belonging to a railroad running from Lake Ponchartrain to New Orleans. The railroad was five miles long and might have been the first railroad in the USA to employ T shaped rail. The car had wooden wheels made of pecan. The car was polled by six carpenters. "greatly to the amusement and gratification of Mr. Clay."


1848 This old girl might qualify as the earliest mechanically driven handcar in America. Just looking at it, I would guess that one would have to push the big wheels by hand--after the fashion of a wheelchair--to get it moving. Once rolling, pulling back and forth on the vertical lever might keep it going. Someone should build one of these to see how well it would work.


Although it is not known for sure, it is likely that the first mechanically powered handcars produced in quantity did not use reciprocating motion to achieve rotary motion. Rather they had various sorts of rotary devices where the section crew drivers turned big cranks. Some of these used gears to transmit power and some used belts or chains. Various ratcheting safety handles were eventually patented so that when rolling down hill the riders would not get their teeth knocked out as the cranks flew around on their own.

This is the earliest picture I have found so far of one of these crank handcars. It is from an 1851 issue of Scientific American that was found for me by the late and great railroad section car expert Leon Sapp.




The handcar that is most familiar to people now involves a walking beam. That is one of the names that is given to the horizontal metal arm that gets pumped to drive the handcar. The walking beam sits upon a wooden structure called the gallows frame. This walking beam is pumped up and down and the reciprocating motion is transferred by a connecting rod to a cranked shaft attached to a big gear. This drive gear engages a small pinion gear on one of the axles. The earliest image that I know of showing one of these handcars is this patent from 1859.

Although this car has a double walking beam, the drive train basics are the same as on later handcars. This patent was mainly concerned with a foot operated treadle-assist to the power provided by the walking beam.

As I have said, the origins of the handcar are unclear, but my interpretation of this patent is that by 1859, the walking beam and drive train basics were in such common use that they were not patentable. I am continuing to do research into the early history of the handcar and if I find out anything else, I will report back. I have developed an unhealthy obsession with handcar patents.


Here is a well-known picture of a handcar taking part in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad. It was taken at Citadel Rock Wyoming in 1868 by Andrew J. Russel, photographer of the Transcontinental Railroad project. Handcars must have been essential to the completion of this incredible piece of engineering. Railroad-Union Pacific-Construction Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming


Here is a walking beam handcar and a crank handcar outside the offices of the Jackson and Sharp company in Wilmington Delaware. Jackson and Sharp made all sorts of railroad cars, freight and passenger. They were known for the high quality of their work. The finish details inside and outside of their cars were superb. Although no one in the picture looks too excited, it is a reasonable surmise that these handcars were also built to the highest standard. The date is unknown. Photograph courtesy of the friendly and helpful Delware Public Archives.


Civil War

Here is a puzzle for you. Handcars were supposed to have been very common in the American Civil War. I know that the military had both crank and walking beam handcars because I have seen an inventory of railroad parts assembled by the Union Army after the war accounting for all the railroad parts that were in stock. There are lots of handcar parts including walking beams and cranks. I have also read numerous accounts of Civil War incidents involving handcars. I suppose some of these accounts might really be about push cars, but not all of them are. Anyway, the mystery is why are there not lots of pictures of handcars in Civil War railroad photographs? I would think that they would be everywhere as track gangs worked to repair track. Further, I would think they would be laying around in the background of pictures of shop complexes and stations. The only one I have found, and this requires some imagination, is this one where there appears to be a crank handcar sitting on the ballast between the trains. This picture is from the Library of Congress.

Here is that handcar-like thing blown up as much as I can without having the image degrade so much as to make it useless. I think it IS a crank hadcar. What helps to convince me is that I can see the well between the wheels which was common on crank handcars to allow the crankers to be as low down as possible. You can see an example of this well on the Jackson & Sharp crank handcar that is just above this section.

I believe that the thing sticking up above the deck is the crank mechanism broken off or otherwise removed from its usual position and placed head down into the well of the car with its base sticking up in the air.. The rounded part that disappears into the well is the housing for the crank itself. Just in front of the removed crank part there is a dark slot in the deck where it used to be attached. Probably the shop guys had better things to do than to fool around with a broken handcar.

Civil War CU

I have collected over 270 patents relating to handcars. If you have any interest in mechanical things, you might enjoy looking at a few of them here. I have chosen one crank car and several that display the ingenuity of inventors in finding new ways to achieve rotary motion at the wheels with a walking beam driver. There were also lots of patents for devices that had levers that were perpendicular to the deck of the car and were pulled back and forth to achieve power. Perhaps I will post some of those eventually. I do not know if any of these five patented handcars were ever actually built. If not, someone spent a great deal of time thinking it through anyway.



In this one the central rod (G) pistons up and down when the car is driven. It would be important to keep one's fingers well away from exposed drive gears "E" while this car was in motion.


This one is trickier than it first appears. The center point of the walking beam slides up and down, rather than being in a fixed position. Although I have a hard time imagining it, I think the path of the wooden handles at the ends walking beam might be more straight up and down, rather than following the gentle arc of other walking beam handles.


This one has a ring-gear on the axle and it looks quite clever to me.


This one, like many other handcar patents I have seen, has ratchets in the drive gear so that the gear only moves in one direction and idles when the power from the walking beam is moving backwards, winding up for another power stroke. I guess the effect upon the drivers would be that one side would be easy to pull up and the other side would be easy to push down.


The workings of this one are too obvious to need description.


hinckley.jpg adrian
Here is one old patented handcar that apparently was built. Adrian Michigan, where this handcar company was located, has a long railroad history. It was one terminal of the Erie & Kalamazoo Railroad, the first railroad to be operated west of the Alleghenies. In 1836 a horse-drawn car made the first trip from Toledo to Adrian on this railroad made of iron straps nailed to oak rails. In 1837 the line acquired a steam locomotive. Passengers had to de-train to scavenge for firewood and water when needed. The Adrian Patent Hand-Car company was organized in the early 1870s. Patent holder James D. Hinckley was one of the principals of the company. Circa 1872 a "high speed section handcar" fitted with Hinckley's double crank gear cost $80.00. A regular single crank car was also available from Adrian for $75.00. Adrian offered to sell patterns "at a reasonable price" so that railroads could produce their own handcars with the Hinckley Patent gearing.
wykoff There were a large number of companies building handcars in the early years, after the civil war. This ad is from The Car Builder's Dictionary of 1877. The Wykoff predecessor company was building handcars earlier than the takeover by Josiah Clark. Although the railroads were building them in their own shops, the railroad-built ones were probably made of whatever they had around and they were heavy. Weight is the enemy when it comes to operating a handcar. After the mid-1880s, the number of handcar companies were reduced to a handful and, eventually, three emerged as the survivors: The Buda Foundry and Mfg. Company of Harvey IL, The Kalamazoo Railway Velocipede Company of (surprise)Kalamazoo MI and The Sheffield Velocipede Company of Three Rivers MI. These companies changed their names over the years.
As I have written, the birth and early history of the handcar seems to be lost in a lack of records from the 1840s and 1850s. It has also been interesting to try to find the other end of the life of the handcar, the end of their production and sales. I have said in a frame above that Sheffield was taken over early by Fairbanks Morse. For a long time FM continued to use the Sheffield name. In searching for handcar catalogs, I went to the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, VT. This museum was established by Franklin Fairbanks in 1889. Along with being a leading industrialist, he was also an avid naturalist. He collected all sorts of natural objects and the museum was built to house and augument his collections. It is a wonderful place but its centre of attention is the natural world, not the industrial achievements of Franklin Fairbanks or Fairbanks Morse, whose headquarters was in St. Johnsbury. In spite of that, I found on the web that the museum had three boxes of Fairbanks Morse catalogs. The contents of these boxes were not separately cataloged. They had seemingly been among the Fairbanks papers when these were deposited at the museum. I drove up to the museum and they very kindly allowed me to look through the boxes. They were small library boxes. All of the catalogs except one were to do with other things, mostly scales. One general catalog, however, had railcar stuff. Fmuseum1
Fmuseum2 Problem for the historian: as with many Fairbanks Morse catalogs, this one has no date. I suppose the company did not want the catalog to appear dated quickly, since it was a serious, hard cover item with glossy pages. However, in this case posterity and I were very fortunate that a museum associate named Frank "Andy" Braman had taken the trouble to lend this catalog to Kenneth Hammer, then President of the Fairbanks Weighing Division in St. Johnsbury, to see if they could work out a date. As you can see from Mr. Hammer's letter, the catalog was studied and they concluded that it was printed in December, 1949. This would, then, have been the FM 1950 catalog. It is a wonderful thing for us that these people took the trouble to try to date the catalog. It is also a testament to the care of the archivists at the museum that this letter was carefully kept and stored with the catalog.
There was one handcar in the catalog and here it is. I think it might be reasonable to conclude that by 1950 Fairbanks Morse only made one handcar. I think the amazing thing is that they still made one handcar. These things must have been dinosaurs by then. I can only imagine the looks on the faces of a 1950 section crew when the railroad presented them with a brand new handcar in this time when motorcars were the standard. Equally astonishing, FM was still selling two velocipedes. I will not put pictures up at this time but there were also a couple of different handcar or pushcar wheels on other pages in this catalog. There were three pushcars in the catalog, also called "trailers" because, by 1950, surely the main use of these would be to tow behind motor cars. The Sheffield company was founded in 1883 so I guess that might be considered the start of handcar-making from this firm. Fmuseum3
buda The Buda Foundry and Manufacturing Company was founded in 1881 and lasted to be acquired by Allis-Chalmers in 1953. They made all sorts of railroad equipment. I do not know when they started to manufacture handcars but the ad here is from 1894. A 1939 advertisement says that the company still made handcars and pushcars at that time. Probably they made them later than that but I have no evidence of it at this time.

The Kalamazoo Company had a long run making handcars. We have an 1886 handcar catalog from the company but the firm was probably making handcars earlier than that. I have a completely undocumented idea that Kalamazoo evolved from the Patent Handcar Company of Adrian, MI, described above. My reason for thinking this is that the earliest Kalamazoo handcar I have seen, which is this one from their 1886 catalog, used a drive mechanism that looks superfically like the Hinckley patent shown above.

I have seen a Kalamazoo price list from 1955 that offers standard gauge and narrow gauge handcars, complete or only the iron work, with a choice of Timken or Hyatt roller bearings or plain brass bearings.


To use an old phrase, I come by my handcar interest honestly. On the right in this picture is my grandfather, Ernest H. Moody, who worked for 55 years on the Portland Passenger Division of the Boston & Maine Railroad. I am very proud of him and I am going to brag a bit. He was a very loyal company man, but was also active in the union. He was a stickler for everything on his trains. At work he would never be out of uniform so I have to assume that the big floppy tie he has on was regulation for brakemen in 1905, when the picture was taken. Maybe that tie was hazing for the new guys. One of Grandpa's signal achievements was that in 1935 he was the conductor on the groundbreaking diesel stainless steel streamliner The Flying Yankee on its first scheduled run from Portland ME to Boston.

Handcar expert Rich Harner opines that the handcar is a Kalamazoo based at least upon the wheels.



Now, back to the story of rebuilding my old handcar. One of the first things I needed for my handcar rebuilding project was wood. On a trip to Old Mystic Seaport with my high school chum nd railroad guru Jack Keene, we saw a gigantic chain saw mill operating. I was already thinking about handcar wood at that point and seeing this mill in operation reminded me that years ago I had bought a little chain saw mill from a catalog for my own chain saw. When it arrived it looked so pathetic and puny that I never actually used it. Emboldened by the Mystic Seaport experience, I dug this little Alaska Mill out of a bunch of other hopeless junk that I had been carrying around for years. I re-filed an old saw chain at 90 degrees across the saw's bar to make a rip chain. The first cut is made by screwing a board to the log to create a flat surface for the mill to follow. mill.jpg


wetmaple.jpg After that, the mill slides along the flat area created by the first cut. I cut down a couple of maple trees from my own woods and sawed them up. To my astonishment, it made pretty good slabs. My friends Terry and Wiil Bergen showed up at just the right time (for me and the wrong time for them). They helped me saw some of my maple and man-haul it out of the woods. Right after I took this picture I painted the slab ends with some old exterior latex paint in order to prevent rapid drying and cracking at the ends of the slabs. I left them outdoors for several months during the spring and into the summer, covering them with a tarp when it looked like rain and uncovering them afterwards.


In July, my daughter Grace and I horsed them up into the loft over my shop. They were still extremely heavy because of their moisture content and it is a wonder that neither Grace nor I was killed in this process. That loft is as hot as all bloody hell in the summer because it is uninsulated and the sun beats down on its dark grey roof. While it is not a professional dry kiln it is the next best thing. It also had the virtue that it was free (unless you add in the risk that Grace and I might easily have been squashed like bugs trying to get the wood up there.) loftmaple


shopmaple.jpg After a summer of cooking in the loft, I brought them down. This was much easier because they were down to about 10% moisture content and much lighter. I squared them up with the planer. I racked them up on a high shelf in my shop so that they could adjust to their new dimensions. Sometimes directly after planing, wood will twist or bow because some fibers that were holding it straight have been removed. I will gradually plane these new square pieces down to the sizes required for the handcar. They are the thick white pieces sharing the rack with wood for my work. Work? Oh, I forgot, I guess I am supposed to be working too...


In the rebuild of the handcar that I did as a kid, the most difficult part was to make new wooden centers to replace the rotted ones in the wheels. I had some hand tools and each wheel took a long time to make. A local factory, Peters Toy Company, kindly gave me some thick planed ash to use in the wheel rebuilding. In those days one could easily get creosote, a superior wood preservative that otherwise wrought havoc on people and the environment. We did not know better in those days so I soaked the wheel wood in creosote. The result is that those wheel centers have lasted well while the handcar waited for me to get back to it. oldwheel.jpg


stlwheel.jpg I am sure, right about now, you are asking yourself why in that old picture, above of the handcar in my back yard in the winter, the handcar seems to have a steel wheel on the left. The answer is that when I collected up the scrap metal in Broadalbin there were only three wooden wheels. Somewhere along the way one wooden wheel must have been damaged and the railroad boys put on a steel one to replace it. I had always planned to do something about it and now I found myself with the tools and skills necessary to take that on. First I marked out the part of the steel wheel that needed to be cut away.


Then I torched the steel center out of the wheel. Next, I had to heat up the rim and flatten it out. Because of the design of that wheel, the rim was dished in. Luckily I own an anvil that was given to me years ago by my dear friends Bill Laundry and Cheryl Hogle. I think of them whenever I use the anvil, which is quite often. stlwhlcut.jpg


newwheel.jpg This is the new wooden wheel I made out of the old steel one. I am pretty pleased with it. While working on it I thought back to my youthful efforts to rebuild the others. Each spoke had to be cut out with hand tools. It took me weeks to make the wooden centers for those three wheels. A single spoke took more than an hour to craft. With my current shop, I could easily buzz out 20 spokes in an hour.



The axles for this handcar are 1 1/2" thick solid steel. When I got a close look at them I discovered that they were both bent in several places. The drive axle was quite severely bent. How did this happen? If the railroad boys had to move whole sticks of rail, they sometimes hung them from the axles with chains, greased the chains a little and carried the rail that way, hanging under the handcar. My friend Jack Keene thinks he remembers that the F. J. & G. RR used 70 pound rail. That means it was 70 lbs per yard. A full stick of rail was 39 feet, so we are getting near a half ton per stick. That might bend the ol' axles. Acting on Mason Clark's suggestion, I bent them back with a homemade press I had built for something else. axpress.jpg


axlath.jpg Because the axles had been used in the bent condition for quite a while, the bearing points on the axles were worn into a spindle shape. In order to true them up a bit I welded up a shopmade axle lathe. Mc Master Carr, suppliers of almost everything in the world, provided me with a V belt pully that could slide onto an axle and be tightened in place. At each end of the lathe there is a little post that has a hard steel center punch through it. The point of the center punch goes into an original lathe hole in the end of the axle. I held a file against the bearing points and I was able to square them up quite a bit. This, by the way, is how I discovered that the axles were bent: I put the drive axle in the lathe first and when I turned on the motor the axle wobbled so severely that it nearly became airborne.


While I was lucky to find almost all of the handcar parts, I was missing three of the covers for the axle pillow blocks, Sheffield part no. 169. The one I had is far right in the picture. I took it to Mike up the road a piece at the Auburn Stove Foundry and he used it as a pattern to make me three brand new ones. At the time, they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen, with apologies to my wife and daughters. I had been worrying about how to solve this problem for 50 years. Well, not continuously but on and off. covers


The next problem involved the wheel bearings that go into these pillow blocks. In the pile of handcar pieces in the weeds there was one bronze bearing. It was worn to a frazzle. Where does one go to get bronze bearings for one's 130 year old handcar? Amazon, of course. One day it occurred to me to see if Amazon had anything that would do. They have some surprising things, I knew that. Among those things were pages and pages of big bronze bearings. I found some that were the correct length and the correct outside diameter. For the inside diameter, I measured the well-worn bearing points on my axles and I was chuffed to find just the correct bearing to accommodate the wear.. They were $8 each. In 1922, Sheffield sold them for 40 cents. Inflation can be outrageous. newbear


halfbear.jpg All I had to do was to saw the bearings in half. Here is the completed pillow block (upside down compared to its position on the handcar.) On Amazon I also found bronze bearings for the shafts at each end of the big drive gear. They were a perfect fit as well.



Next, I decided to build a mock-up of the drive train in my shop. I did ths to locate the positions of the drive train elements. Mason Clark had sent me Sheffield's measured drawing for the No. 1 handcar and some other drawings he had. Something was wrong somewhere.

As I mentioned above, as a kid when I got the handcar home in about 1968, I did a rebuild with lumber yard 2 X 4s. I faithfully used the dimensions that I took from the rotted wood frame that came with the handcar. The gallows frame for that rebuild was angled at 30 degrees. I still have the wooden top piece, so I am sure of that. The top of the gallows frame had not rotted because there was so much oil on it from the rock boxes that support the walking beam. The actual angle of Sheffield gallows frames should be more like 21 degrees: much steeper. You can see the difference easily in these pictures. The angles of the rebuilt gallows frame members are quite a bit more relaxed than in the Sheffield picture. The 30 degree angles made my handcar wheel base significantly longer and, also made the deck much bigger.

Because my rebuild was dimensioned like the wood I found with the handcar, it is my opinion that the F. J & G. railroad boys rebuilt my handcar at some point with the specific goal of making it bigger. Sheffield made a bigger handcar, the No. 2 Special, but it had a longer walking beam. My handcar has the shorter walking beam so I think it was born as a No. 1. In my current rebuild of the handcar I am going to go back to the original Sheffield No. 1 blueprint dimensions.

The walking beam of my handcar is from a Sheffield No 1 and so is the connecting rod, the part that connects the walking beam to the drive gear. In order to make connecting rod reach the gear crank on the stretched frame, the FJ & G had to lower the top of gallows frame so that the connecting rod could reach the gear. That is probably what changed the gallows frame angle from 21 to 30 degrees. Here I am on my little rebuild circa 1958 in the back yard with a couple of chums. I had begged a cuple of lengths of light rail form a junk pile at a gravel quarry. bkyard1
262 Another piece of evidence that the FJ & G stretched the handcar is the one brake toggle rod that was with the handcar parts. It was Sheffield part No. 262, made for the long and very heavy duty Sheffield bridge gang car, rather than Sheffield part No 259, the mallieable part made for the shorter base standard handcars. The F J & G could adapt my short walking beam and connecting rod by lowering the gallows frame. However, with the wheels so far apart on the stretched frame, the only way to make the brakes work was to lengthen the brake toggle rod. I suppose they had spare longer toggle rods in the big shop in Gloversville where they probalby did the rebuild. If not, the bridge gang car brake toggles cost 15 cents each from the Sheffield catalog in 1894. Here is the one that came with my handcar. It is about 11 inches center to center. The part for the Sheffield No 1 handcar and most of the other Sheffield handcars is 6 1/2" center to center, reflecting the short wheel base of these cars. Ultimately, I would make a new pattern for the short toggles and have them cast at the foundry.
axlekey I discovered another problem or two on the way. The drive wheels are supposed to be keyed to the axles with a square key in a slot. When I got the handcar as a kid, there were no keys and one drive wheel was rust-welded onto the axle. It seems that the F. J. & G. boys had been using it like that with only one drive wheel fixed to the axle (with rust) and the other one just spinning free. The spinning one had worn so much of the hub and axle, that it could slide right over the bearing point when the axle is not in place. The keyways in the axle as you can see in this picture, look as if they were cut by someone with a hammer and a cold chisel. I had to custom make odd tapered keys for them because the keyways are so irregular.
Railroads are typically, in my experience, covered in grease and oil. I know that the old Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad was no different because as a kid I routinely got all covered with grease climbing around on the railroad's equipment. I guess probably the only places on the entire railroad that were not covered in grease and oil were the bearings of the handcar assigned to the section house near the little village of Broadalbin. They were dry as a bone and clean as a whistle when I found them. Here is the one wheel bearing that was left with my handcar. On the other three axle bearing points, there was no bearing left at all. It must have been terrifically hard work to use that thing in its last days, with one drive wheel and pratically no axle bearings left. What is this about? In the section house 10 feet away there was almost certainly some oil and grease. Probably buckets of oil and grease. wornbear


My next task was to set up a working mock-up of the drive train. That way I could try out the steeper gallows frame and find the dimensions of the spatial relationships between the elements of the drive train. The pivot point of the walking beam has to be in the center of the top of the gallows frame, so that is a given. After that, I put the drive train pieces in one at a time, drilling them into the mock-up frame as I went. When my shop mock-up of the drive train was finished, it was a thrilling sight to see the mock-up running so many years after it last operated. My kid Alice took a little video of it and it is on YouTube. mkdrtrain.jpg
As a handcar expert of considerable gravitas, Mason Clark thinks that my handcar may be a particularly early Sheffield. While the wooden wheels were offered for years as an option they may suggest early manufacture. Also, later cars were more typically fitted with roller bearings. Mason says that this change happened around 1890. Further, the walkling beam on my handcar is what he describes as a "Play Doh" walking beam. It looks like it was made of that substance then hardened. It looks like that because it was probalby made by some guy standing at a forge, hitting it with hammers and welding it in the fire. It looks very hand made. If you look at the eyes for the wooden handle on one end, you can see that they are not very symmmetrical, although they have been twisted arround so that they are in line with each other. walkb.jpg
planebds A bunch of time has gone by while I worked on other things and waited for the maple that I cut down to dry. By early summer, after the wood had spent more than a year in the shop loft, I checked the moisture and it was about 12 percent. This is probably as low as it will ever get here, practically sitting in a large tidal marsh. Rather than carry the enormous slabs down the stairs, I cut them with a hand-held circular saw. I looked carefully to see that my cuts would produce the best chances for a long board. Using a hand plane I flattened one side of each board and put them through the power planer.

I used a little portable planer that I have so that I could just let the chips fly. I will clean them up later with a snow shovel. If I had done this planing inside with the big planer the chips would have gone into my dust collector and I would have had to empty that two or three times. That little planer is a beast and happily flattented one side, then the other side, of each board.

thickbdss I did not plane the boards to handcar wood thickness outdoors. I removed material from the top and bottom of these boards until I had lightened them up a bit and planed off some knots and checks. I let them sit for a few days because when a lot of material is removed from wood it will tend to warp or twist. I wanted to give these boards a chance to do that before I finally squared them off
When I took them inside I first ran them over the jointer in order to get two flat sides that meet at a square corner. Next I ran them down to handcar-sized boards by sawing them on the tablesaw. I choose my cuts carefully to remove any remaining flaws. I came to appreciate the wood I buy for my cabinetmaking business because it is all high grade, with very few flaws of any sort. I now see how difficult it is to get that stuff out of a real tree. longbdss
gf1s While the long boards for the main frame were having a chance to adjust to their new shapes, I started work on some shorter pieces that had been on the wood rack in the shop for a long time. My first project was to make the gallows frame. This is the trapezoidal frame that holds the walking beam (sometimes called the pump handle) up. The gallows frame sides are set into their top pieces with long tenons. There are also long tenons where they set into the main frame of the handcar.. Once assembled, the top of the gallows frame is pulled down tight to the handcar frame with some angled tension rods. The pull of these tension rods drives the tenons tightly into their mortises creating a structure that will withstand the rigors of the pumping action but at minimal weight. As I have noted above, it is not known who was the first person to actually build a gallows frame for a handcar but it is a brilliant piece of engineering.
I don't want to get too far afield from the frame building project but there is one other thing that I should put up here concerning the gallows frame. Most of them looked about the same from the beginning to the end of handcar manufacture. However the fertile mind of James Donovan had figured out that the gallows frame could be made of pressed steel. James Donovan lived in Three Rivers Michigan. Three Rivers was home to at least three handcar manufacturers: Sheffield , James Morse and Roberts Throp. I do not know if Donovan worked for any of these firms or if, surrounded by handcars, he simply had a new idea on his own. I thought it was just another patent that was never produced but Master Handcar Detective Rich Harner unearthed a Sheffield catalog from 1907 and there it was: ststgf

While we are speaking of old catalogs, here is something interesting. The left hand page is the only handcar page from a 1905 Buda Foundry and Manufacturing Company catalog. The right hand page is from a gigantic Fairbanks catalog. It appears that in 1904 Fairbanks was selling Buda handcars. If you compare the details of the left page with the upper left No 1 handcar, it is pretty obvious that they are the same handcar. A website that seems to know what it is talking about says" Though Sheffield had been firmly in control of Fairbanks Morse & Company since 1888...in 1918 if (sic) formally became part of the Fairbnaks Morse Company." (Sorry about the vague reference to this quote, sites come and go so there seems little point in copying the reference. This makes me crazy but I will just have to suck it up.)

In the 1394 page1904 Fairbanks catalog there are many things that Fairbanks was selling that were made by someone else. Handcar expert Rich Harner likens it to a hardware store, rather than being a catalog of Fairbanks products. Perhaps even though the Sheffield Division was making handcars and printing their own catalogs, there was some economic benefit for Fairbanks in selling Buda handcars in their big catalog? Another puzzle is that this big general Fairbanks catalog is exactly that: a Fairbanks catalog. There is no mention of Morse.

This is a disease. I blew this up and compared the best copies I have of each and it is clear that it is not just the same handcar, but the same the same printer's block that printed this and the Buda handcar above. The details in the ballast match perfectly. 1904FMNo1

Also on this page in the Fairbanks general catalog is this little sweetheart. This is a Buda car (based upon the wheels, at least). It has a steel gallows frame. As discussed a few sections above, Sheffield produced a steel gallows frame that was patented in the same year as the publication of this catalog. This one is different as it seems to be made of T metal, rather than one sheet of pressed steel. It has X braces across each end as well.

Another interesting thing about his car, which I hope you can see, is that the walking beam is odd. It is made of two separate pieces of steel bolted together with a space in between them. It looks like the connecting rod pivot is attached to the walking beam piece on the nearside. A pressed steel walking beam was also patented by someone as discussed below, but this is not it.

This car also has the brake pedal located in the center of the deck. As long as we are looking at tiny little things, this car has Sheffield-type truss rod clips (Part No 138 handcar or 139 pushcar) holding the ends of the truss rods onto the frame. With this clip, each rod gos through a hole on one side of the clip. Compare, if you are fascinated by truss rod clips, with the Buda clip in the frame above, where there is only one rod and it goes into the frame member and ends in the center of the clip. By 1906 and maybe earlier, Sheffield had ceased to fit handcars with truss rods. That may be a useful way to date Sheffy handcars as pre or post 1906, at least. I may have said that somewhere else on this site, I forget stuff these days.


The kind people at the Baker Library at Harvard University have made another 1907 Fairbanks Morse catalog available on line and it also features the steel gallows frame: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HBS.Baker.GEN:13614226-2015

This 1907 catalog only has one handcar, a Sheffield No 1, not a Buda, as was featured in the 1904 Fairbanks catalog as noted above. It is also possible that the printer of the general catalog also printed Buda catalogs so re-used the Buda block. Given the level of detail given about each object in the general catalog, this seems unlikely to me.

The little catalog 1907 catalog at The Baker also features a pushcar, the incredible hulk track laying car and several velocipedes including one of the four-wheel bicycle type. If you are interested in Fairbankis hammers, this is your catalog. It also shows a somewhat rare index to other Fairbanks catalogs. It is dated, which was not often the case with Fairbanks publication.

ststwb Steel stamping may have come into its own in the early 20th Cntury because in 1903 Perry Garrison, also of Three Rivers Michigan, designed a pressed steel walking beam. I do not know if Garrison was employed in the handcar industry or if he was an independent inventor. In the patent he says that his walking beam would be strong but would save weight over cast iron or steel forged walking beams. Much of handcar design was aimed at reducing weight, partly because these cars had to be lifted off the rails to be clear of trains. Additionally, more weight meant the need for more effort in pumping. The ideal crew would be people who were strong as hell but very light. Hmmmm.
In order to cut the mortises in my gallows frame, I needed to design a jig that would hold the boards at the desired 21 degrees while the chisel mortiser cut the mortises. I had thought about this , on and off, for a long time so it went quickly when it actually came to doing it. Usually the mortiser is botled to a bench but, for this, I had to take it off and bolt it to a sawhorse. I had made some VERY sturdy sawhorses years ago . I liked them so much that I submitted their design to Fine Homebuilding magazine and they honored me by publishing it. [FH September 2004 No.165 pg 28) gf4s





I cut the notches in the frame pieces with a radial saw. Mine is a wonderful old Dewalt from back in the days when these things were made of steel and cast iron. I got it for $40 on Craig's List from a guy who was moving and did not want to have to horse this thing into a truck. It is perfect for the notch-cutting because I can see what I am doing and the wood is stationary. Neither of these would be true of doing this on a table saw, which was my other alternative.
Once the notches were cut, I was able to tap the bottom two layers of the frame together. There are clamps at some of the junctions that I used to press them together.. I cut the notches so that they would be as tight as I could get them. For some of them, the easiest way to get them together was to press them together with a clamp. Now, at least to me, it is beginning to look like a handcar. I am not going to be able to actually do the final assembly in my shop because there simply isn't enough room. I am going to build a new building on the edge of my shop yard that will be modeled after an old railroad section house. The handcar can share that space with the lawnmowers and other crap from the garage. I will probably do the final handcar assembly in the section house, which means I had better get started building it. frames
frame1s Here, at last is the frame bolted together. I also put on the vertical tension rods to pull the gallows frame down into place. Then I put the drive train parts in postion to be sure that the hole marks for them are in the correct place. Next, I will take the frame apart, drill those holes and paint any of the areas where wood will be touching wood. After that, I can put the frame back together and get it ready for all-over paint.
Of course, all this could not happen without another surprise. In order to check that the postion of the drive gear was in line with the frame, I measured from the frame over to the gear edge in several places. There was almost a one half inch difference in those measurements: the gear was wobbling. I put the gear flat on the flat top of my tablesaw to be sure that the problem was not the gear itself. Nope. I set up the gallows frame from the mock up that I made with some wooden pillowblock halves, so that I could turn and closely observe the crankshaft. I could see the wobble. I set it up with a dial caliper that I use for aligning saw parts. Yup, it was bent. I pressed it back to a better alignment with the hydraulic press that I used for straightening the axles. It is better. I wonder what the railroad boys did to bend that thing? crankshafts
halfroofs I needed a place to build the handcar for real. There was not room in my shop, if I was going to get any other work done. I decided to build a section house in my shop yard where the handcar could be built and could live when when was finished. With the help of friends Jack Keene and Will and Terry Bergen it went up quite quickly. I had to pause briefly in order to have cataract surgery. Here it is during that pause, with the snow and ice shield on the front roof and a tarp on the back roof. As soon as I got the roof finished, I moved the handcar parts out there.
My section house came along when I had bits of time to work on it. I wanted a big door that would look like the section houses of old, so, of course I had to make that. I cheated and used CDX plywood for the panels to try to keep the weight under control. I put the panels over a molding head on my table saw to run grooves in them, simulating the small boards that were typical of sectiion house doors. door
doortrack Of course, the sliding door track had to be custom made. It turns out that the track and rollers are not very complicated. I looked up "sliding doors" on the web and found that barn door-type sliding doors are coming back into style in high end homes. I borrowed elements from some of the designs I found on the web to build my own track. For the time being, the rollers are V belt pulleys, but I will replace those with something better sometime when I have nothing else to do. If you build a section house like mine, put the human door on the end then you won't have to solve issues of how to get the big door to slide past the doorknob of the human door and the big door will not block the human door when it is open. NOW, when I look at the pictures of the old F J & G R.R. section houses, I see that the ones with human doors have those doors in the end, not beside the sliding door. Duh.
Once the big door was in, I moved the handcar parts out to the section house. That was a big day. I should have made myself finish the siding on the section house first, but I have waited 50-odd years to put this hadncar together and I simply could not wait any longer. Because everything had been drilled in my shop, it went together quickly and I primed it with a spray gun and my compressor. primed
reds I have an original spoke with, I believe, original paint on it. The paint store made me some Sheffield Red that was a great match to the best part of the paint left on that spoke. On a beautiful day, I sprayed the first coat of that onto her. Another day I top-coated her.

Next I had to cut and thread the tension rods for the gallows frame. Later Sheffield cars may not have had the center rod however mine had a casting to hold it at the top. The bolts through that casting go up through the rockbox and end by holding the rock box top in place. Some very early images, such as one from 1887, show only the center tension rod with no dagonals. By 1900, catalog pictures showed center and diagonal tension rods. In 1922 the cast piece that holds the top of the vertical tension rod (Part No. 150--seen here below the red square nut in the top of the gallows frame) was still in the ordinary parts list for the handcar, not in the special list of parts only for older cars.

There are nuts down in the bottom of the rock box that do not show in this picture. They function to keep the rock box fixed to the car when the rock box top is taken off.

I have five of the original angled washers for the diagonal tension rods. I made the others by sawing angled pieces from a big piece of round steel bar and drilling them. The rods are tight where the three intersect. I did my best to ease that by offsetting the drill holes for the diagonal rods slightly to one side or the other.

trussrods Here she is with her tension rods and her truss rods. There are two nice Sheffield parts that come with the truss rods: end caps and cast pieces that protect each frame member where the truss rod crosses it.

When I was a kid grovelling around in the weeds looking for the last of the handcar parts I was very lucky to find one part in particular. There was one out of the four original caps to cover the oil line from the top of the frame to the wheel bearings. The one I found is sitting on top of the frame, here. It will be screwed to the frame and swing away from the oil tube. It is Sheffield part No 272 and Mike, my foundryguy made me three more from the original. In real life this part became obsolete, at least as standard equipment, very quickly. I think they probably dropped this tube and its cover quite early on because the cap would get knocked off while tools were being loaded and dirt would go down the tube directly to the wheel bearings. I have the caps so I want them to be functional.


I put 3/8" tube between the frame members, as Sheffield did, but I am using a smaller diameter tube to actually carry the oil to the wheel bearings. It is a repurposed piece of truck brake line. You can see the the little silver-colored flare on the top of it here in the oil tube hol.e

pedal The top of my brake pedal, a cast iron item, was mostly broken off. Mason Clark kindly supplied me with one of the ones that he casts for his cars. Originally the pedal shaft for my pedal was tapered and came up through a tapered hole in the top of the pedal where it was peened over like a mushroom to hold it there. I filed a tapered hole in the new pedal top and then brazed it onto the shaft. When painted it will look neater than all that peening.
My handcar had lost the bracket that supports the shaft of the brake pedal. When I found the handcar, this bracket had been replaced by two square brackets that were almost like staples. I wanted something that would look and work a bit more like the real thing, so I made a pattern and had a new one cast at the foundry. I was also missing the appropriate brake toggle rods that push the shoes against the wheel, so I had to make those. I used to have what was left of an original brake shoe with the hook that attached it to the brake rod. Unfortunately, that must have been lost in one of the many times the handcar parts were moved. I have remade the brake shoes and I will make the clips for them. brake cu brakeclip  
hook Here is the pattern I made for the brake hook. I copied the dimensions from the drawings for the clip that Rich Harner found for me in old N & W RR handcar plans. They are a bit different from the Sheffield hook but I had no dimensions for the real Sheffield hook.  
And here is the pattern I made for the 6 1/2" brake toggle rod. It was a slightly complicated pattern to make. The toggle rods were not made of regular cast iron in the originals. The needed to be harder. My options at the foundry were regular cast iron or bronze. The bronze is harder and stronger, so we cast the new toggle rods in bronze. toggle  
brakemodel Here is a mock-up that I made of the side of my handcar in the area where the brake stuff will be. The wheel is in the postion that it will be on the handcar and the position of the other wheel is marked. The pedal goes half way between them. The rest is reconstruction. I have the original pivots for the brake shoes and I made a brake shoe pattern by looking at the pictures of the original, such as the Sheffield drawing above. The Sheffield catalog says that the brake toggle--the arm that connects the pedal to the shoe, is 6.5 inch centers, so that is the measurement I used to make mine. If it does not work right either the pivot is in the wrong place or the shoe is wrong.
I had to stop fooling around with the handcar to get back to work because unifinshed work at my business was piling up. As soon as I got that cleared off, unfortunately Project No. 1 became to finish work on the section house. It has vinyl siding. I hate vinyl siding, but I hate to paint even more, so I am putting on the vinyl. In these parts, that is best done before it gets too cold. In the cold the vinyl loses its flex and, also, can crack if it is hit squarely with a hammer. I also needed several hours to clean up outside the section house and to store leftover building materials in appropriate places. shdones

I had one more wheel that needed some welding to repair rust from years of standing water in the flange. I have done that and painted it while doing finish work on the section house. Next, I put that wheel back together.

The next task was to put the wheels on the axles for good. As I relate earlier in the story, one of my drive wheels had been run by the railroad boys without the key in it, causing the wheel to turn on the axle. That wheel needed to be shimmed so that it would be tight before I reinstalled the key. Because the one drive wheel had been spinning and had worn the axle to the point that it there was no limit to its ability to slide toward the center, I welded a washer onto the axle to stop the travel of the wheel. Then I shimmed it with some sheet aluminum. This tightened it up to the extent that it was difficult to press the wheel on by tightening the wheel nut. The combination of this tightening and the insertion of the key into the key slot makes me think that this wheel will operate as it should, remaining tight on the axle. If you are following all this detail, I hope that you are not neglecting important things elsewhere in your life.


Here she is, At last, with her wheels on. I have worked a long time for this.

My idea was to put the wheels and axles on their bearings under the car, then set the car down on it wheels. Next I would build up from there, installing the metal parts as I went. This way the handcar would get heavier after it was already down on its wheels so that I would not have to lift it off the jack stands after it became heavy. In the condition that was for this picrure, it was quite easy for me to lift it, one end at a time, by myself. I wonder how long that will be the case as I add things to it. In 1890, Sheffield believed that this car would weigh about 500 lbs when complete.

onrails This was a great moment. The wheels are tightened on with their wheel nuts, the car is down on some 4 X 4 "rails" and I have put the drive train on. I would love to have short pieces of rail for inside the section house as well as some rail stubs for outside but I do not have them yet. Frustratingly for anyone wanting a couple of pieces of rail, in my area of Southern Maine there is old lightish rail laying all over the place, abandoned and ignored. The former Boston & Maine and Maine Central railroads are now amalgamated with others under the puzzling name Pan Am (that's right PAN AM, like the old airline, resulting in odd-looking rolling stock carrying the old blue and white globe logo from the airline.) I don't think Pan Am ever picks up old rail. Recently the corridor from Brunswick ME to Boston was replaced with welded rail for Amtrak traffic. Riding on the train looking out the window it appears that every stick of old rail was simply tossed out of the way and is laying in the weeds. There are also longish sections of Pan Am that are completely cut loose from the railroad, some with trees six inches in diameter growing up between rhe rails. For my part, I have done nothing to try to find a couple of bits old rail. I must start to ask around.
Time for the deck. I used white ash for decking. I bought it as dry, rough sawn 1" thick--so-called "4/4" in the wood biz. It came from Atlantic Hardwoods, in Portland ME. I buy all the wood for my cabinet making business there. The ash was so straight and nice that I was able to get both sides planed and it was still 7/8" thick. I left it that way, rather than creating a lot of wood chips taking it down to the more-usual 3/4" thick. I tongue and grooved it with a set of shaper bits I owned that make the tongue qute hefty. deck
wbdowns While I had it in this state, I slid the pinion gear on the drive axle off to one side, lubed the pivot points and spun the ol' drive gear around a few times pumping the walking beam. Problem. The pumping action was VERY asymmetrical, almost touching the gallows frame on one side and stopping a long way above the deck on the other side. I don't know if it was like that in the mock up I made. Quite probably but since it was only the drive train that was mocked up, I might not have noticed. Here is the situation with the walking beam at one end of its travel. It would be a bending-over back breaker to have to drive the handcar like this.
I thought about this for quite a long time. How it got that way, who knows? As I noted way at the top of this diatribe, the F J & G boys rebuilt this handcar at some point to be much longer, changing the angles of the gallows frame. Perhaps at that point they also shortened the connecting rod. In any event, making the connecting rod longer was the obvious solution. In order to try to figure out how long the connecting rod SHOULD be, I put a piece of cable in its place. Then I could easily micro-adjust the cable so that I could get a length that resulted in a symmetrical travel for the ends of the walking beam. cables
connectingrods This exercise resulted in the information that the ideal length of connecting rod for this handcar as reconstructedwas one that would make the pivot points 35" center to center. The old connecting rod had pivot points that were 33" center to center as seen at left. That is a significant difference. Luckily the connecting rod is an easy part to make. It is a 7/8" diameter rod with a block of metal welded on at each end. Each block has holes for a U bolt that secures the bearing. It might be the easiest part to fabricate on the entire handcar. Lucky for me. It took me about half an hour to make the new one which worked great.
Another issue that arose as I was putting the decking on is that the decking hit the oil well on top of the crank bearing pillow block or bearing box, depending upon what you want to call it. You can see it here, through the spokes in the drive gear. Probably the deck was an inch or so further up in the air on the original Sheffield No 1. That would be easy to achieve but I did not see this problem coming when I was buildng the frame. All it would take is making the cross members that support the deck a little thicker. That would not affect the geometry of the frame in any other way and I would do it if I were doing this over again. crankbearlong
crankbear Here is a close up of this situation. The way this ended up, it would not be possible to remove the top of the pillow block to service the bearing. I took the deck boards above those bearings off and routed a little space in them to permit access to the bearings, should I ever need it. The original bearings were made of babbit. That was a soft metal white-colored metal ( not be to be confused with the substance called "white metal.") Babbit has a number of surprising characteristics that make it ideal for bearings and it was widely used in railroad bearings in the age of steam. The babbit bearings on the handcar were cast into the pillow blocks and I did not have a way to do that, so I replaced them with bronze bearings from Amazon.
I wanted to letter the handcar . I sincerely doubt that the railroad boys of the old F. J. & G. would have ever bothered to letter a handcar. As far as I can tell, there was no consistant logo typeface that was used by the railroad on any equipment across the years. I like the one found on the tender of this locomotive so I copied that font as best I could. oldlogo
deckfinish I first saw the lettering actually on the handcar the day I rolled it out to put deck sealer on the decking. The letterboards were not yet screwed down but I set them on there for the picture. I wanted to seal the deck before I put the signboards on for good. I contemplated deck finishes other than ordinary deck sealer but I suppose as the handcar is used, as I hope it will be, the deck will get scratched and dirty, coming to look more the way it would have looked when it was in service. That is OK with me.
The big day finally arrived in October 2014: the day for which I had been waiting about 55 years. It was time to take my handcar out on real rails and see what this baby could do. It may not be appropriate to call a handcar that first hit the rails in the 1880s "baby" but the wood is new, even though most of the metal work is over 100 years old. Here she is leaving her section house on her way into a trailer for her ride to the rails. She seems to roll very easily and it is no work at all to roll her right into the trailer. The magnificent enclosed trailer belongs to one of my crew members and he kindly let us use it for this trip. Ride1

To stop her from rolling around in the trailer, I cut some blocks to go under her wheels. I also tied her down very tightly with ratchet straps, pinning her against the front wall of the trailer, so that she could not get a start at moving around.

At the other end of the trip, we were able to back almost parallel to the rails. Once again, it was easy to maneuver her. We rolled her down the ramp and then lifted one end to point her at the rails. This is crew member Mark, who not only owns the wonderful trailer but who was eager to be on the crew right from the beginning.


Here is Mark and his son Caleb, my trusty crew members about to set off with me. We had expected a fourth crew-person who was unable to join us at the last minute. Those of you who care about handcars, and that is all of you because otherwise you would not be reading this, will probably be deeply disturbed by the very non-handcar-looking bell hanging from the tool rack. We needed a noise-maker for level crossings and I happened to have the bell. It attaches easily, so I can take it off if I simply want to sit and admire the handcar. Even though the bell looks odd, I would take it again because it is such fun. It makes a very train-like sound and we had a good time ringing it at level crossings and, more particularly, at people who waved as they saw us going past.

Mark took a little video with his phone of Caleb and me giving the handcar a little roll right at the beginning of the trip and I have posted it on UTube: http://youtu.be/Yuvf1LoL2so I presume the fact that this address has "lol" in it is not UTube's comment about handcars and the people who ride on them.

I did not know if the handcar would be fun to ride or if it would simply be very hard work or something in between. The video is on a downgrade and handcars are fun while rolling downhill. I have already been reminded of the danger of having someone ride backwards as we are doing in the video because they might fall on the track and be immediately hit by the handcar. You do not need to email me about that. Don't try this at home.

I said that the handcar went well on downhills and believe it or not, I guessed that this would be the case before we set out. With all the appropriate permissions we travelled on a 16 mile stretch of abandoned rail. I chose this secrtion because it was mostly downhill. Mostly. However there were some upgrades, such as this one. It looks steeper in the picture than it really was. It felt steeper on the handcar than it looks in the picture. Simply put, pumping a circa1880s handcar that has bronze axle bearings up any significant grade is very hard fricking work. Maybe it would have been better if we had been able to have a fourth power unit, one that was light weight and strong.

As I have said before, weight is a real issue with a handcar and the ratio of the weight of a power unit to his or her strength would really matter. At least that is my guess. Someone should do the math. Not me. I failed math in high school and had to go to summer school. I have never recovered from that traumatic experience.

For me, slightly younger than the handcar but feeling as if we were born the same year, the upgrades were terrible. I am not exaggerating when I say that it required all the effort I could possibly emit. If my life had depended upon pumping any harder or faster, it would have been bye, bye for me.

Old time section guys who worked on handcars did shorter runs, stopping more often to struggle with a new tie or something that perhaps used different muscles. Speaking of muscles, those section crew guys must have looked like The Incredible Hulk.


Here we are on a break after an upgrade so that I can stand and pant for a while. My lovely wife sent us off with some food and some drinks. Lucky. I did not even think about that--Duh--and I was mighty glad of it once we got going.

It is difficult for me to describe the relationship of strength to weight in pumping a handcar. I set off hoping that weight, which I had to spare, would count for a lot because I would be able to really put my weight behind pushing the handle down. I do not think that was the case. I am not an expert in biomechanics and someone may be able to correct me but my anecdotal experience suggests that my weight, centered around my middle, was too close to the handcar deck to be of much advantage. Sheer weight in the upper torso, arms and shoulders--usually called "muscle"--might have been of some advantage because one could get it above the handle while pumping. Of course upper body muscle would have had other uses aside from being mere dead weight. It could also be used for pushing the handle down and pulling it up.

The bottom line seems to me to be that muscle, and lots of it, is what one needs in handcar crew, at least on my old Sheffield.


Another break just beyond one of the level crossings. The crossings were often preceeded by nasty little upgrades and followed by wonderful little downgrades. It seemed as if when this railroad was first surveyed the decision was made to save fill by simply ramping up to road crossings that were higher and ramping back down on the other side. Maybe that was standard practice elsewhere when the road crossings were a bit higher than the natural railbed. I don't know. Much of this line runs near or along a road and although we did not cause an accident, drivers who saw us were certainly doing what I believe the police call "distracted driving" looking at us while trying to drive. Ride7

Here I am on a break to check the tightness of the bolts on the axle boxes. Expert handcar builder Mason Clark advised me to do this. On the first run of his first handcar he had gone a distance and axle box bolts had actually dropped out. Mine would have done that as they were coming a bit loose the first two times I checked them.

I greased the drive gear teeth with black lithium grease back when I was lubricating the handcar for the trip. That stuff is very slippery indeed. I do not know if there is a solvent for it. If so, I have not found it. Caution is urged when you crawl under your lithium-greased-drive-gear handcar. Stay away from the gear if you care at all about your clothes. I got a whole lot of that grease on me rolling about under the handcar. I have tried everything I own to get it out without success. I even tried an array of things from my shop such as lacquer thinners with fumes that kill brain cells. The grease tattoo that I got on the back of my hand when I bumped against the gear started to fade a bit after two weeks.

Here are Mark and Caleb on one of the bridges as we neared the end of the trip. They are still able to stand up and to smile. In contrast, I was leaning against a bridge girder using a high camera shutter speed to deal with the fact that I am panting like a steam engine under load.

Gotta stain that new wheel center someday.

The water under this bridge eventually becomes the source of the drinking water at my home. Reminder to self: take piss stops somewhere else along the route.


I knew that you would notice it: the drive wheel in the picture above has lost its wheel nut. When I was crawling around checking axle box bolts, I should have given the wheel nuts a little twist. It was staggering good luck that the wheel did not fall off. This axle was made before Sheffield tapered the ends of drive axles. The axle is straight and the wheel and axle have a keyway, as I discuss a bunch of frames above here. The key is tapered and is tapped (driven) in so as to be secure. I think the key is what held the wheel on. I do not know how stupid it is possible for me to be but--wait for this--the drive axle has a hole in each end for a cotter pin to keep the nut from falling off. I don't know what I thought about that hole. I have had 55 years to ponder it. Cotter pins cost about 79 cents. Perhaps this thing about losing the nut was noticed by Sheffield and that is why they put a hole in the axle for a cotter pin. It was not enough hint for me. Next time. I walked the whole route a couple of weeks later looking for the nut. No luck. It will have to be made because its thread is 1 5/16"-7. Not common.

It was a great trip even though at times it almost killed me. Now that I have finally stopped panting, I am even beginning to contemplate taking the handcar out again for another little ride. No pain, no gain.


It seems as if one of the biggest needs that I might help with at the moment is in making patterns out of wood. These patterns will be the best copies that I can make of obselete missing, worn or corroded trolley parts. The patterns will go to a foundry and be used as models to cast new parts that are like the pattern. I am eager to give this a try. I always considered pattern makers to be highly skilled artisans and I don't know if I am qualified to join their ranks. I did not have to wander around the museum for very long before I came upon the museum's handcar. It is nicely sheltered in a shed but it could use a bit of work. I asked if I might be able to rebuild it and they seemed eager to have that happen. The eventual idea is that it might be used for tourist rides.

The walking beam is similar the design used for a while by the Buda company. It is made of cast iron. Looking at the rest of the parts, however, they appeared to be quite similar to my Sheffield part, even down to having the same part numbers cast into them. The parts were very similar, but not identical, to mine. My first thought was that the handcar was a Frankenstein, made of parts from several handcars.

When I got home I looked more carefully at a couple of Buda catalogs and started to pay more attention to one of their handcars that I had hardly noticed before. It is an oddish thing that they called the "Harvey Handcar" presumbably named for Harvey IL, where the company was located. The Harvey has different parts than all of the many other Buda handcars and the Harvey seems to have been made in only one model: the No. 1. The Harvey may have been a short-lived thing because it is not in the 1906 or 1907 Buda catalog but it is in the 1909 Catalog. I am hoping to find some newer Buda catalogs to see when the Harvey stopped being made.

Unlike the other Buda cars, the Harvey part numbers in the Buda catalogs are identical, part for part, to the Sheffield parts. Buda even warns customers to be careful in ordering because the Harvey parts are different from the rest of the Buda handcar parts.

The bearings on the Harvey connecting rod in this picture look to me like an infringement of the Sheffield patent, the drawing for which is near the beginning of this site. The Harvey ordinarily comes with a walking beam that is of the forged Sheffield type, not the cast Buda type, but one of the Buda catalogs suggests that the Harvey can be ordered with a standard Buda walking beam if so desired.




insignia I have taken the museum handcar apart and I have discovered several things that I did not know before. A voting majority of the parts were cast with this small insignia, as well as a part number. This indicates the maker but I do not know which maker. Someone will know and I have put the word out as best I can in other places. The one in the picture is probably the clearest one I have. It was on the underside of one rock box, the piece that is the pivot for the walking beam. It was probalby covered in grease for most of its life and that is probably why it is in such good condition.
After a close look, I think the museum car is a Frankenstein with quite a variety of parts from diferent companies. I am making guesses about their sources based upon whatever information I have at the moment. I suppose when handcars went in for service the railroad shop boys were not always particularly fussy about parts being mixed, particularly where the parts were so similar that mixing them caused no problems. Here are the parts that have the small insignia above. Until that thing is identified, I am going to consider that we do not know the maker of these parts. They are the cast iron walking beam, two rock box bottoms and one rock box top and all four strain plates--the little plates that go under than handcar to protect the timbers from the truss rods. I set the strain plates in various orientations so that one can see the profiles. insignia parts

The museum car has five parts that I consider to be Sheffield. Two of the wheels look like Sheffields to me. The tops of the crank axle boxes, are as near as I can tell identical to the ones on my handcar and I think they are Sheffield part 135. One crank axle box bottom is very nearly identical to mine, the only difference being that the part number is cast as H134. It is on the underside of the part and cannot be seen in the picture. On my handcar the part number is simply 134, without the "H". The Sheffield catalogs called these parts H134 and perhaps parts made later than mine all had the "H" cast into them. I don't know. A rival hypothesis is that Sheffield never added the "H" to their part castings and the part with the H cast into it is a Harvey copy of a Sheffield part. If this crank axle box bottom is a Harvey copy, it is an excellent replica of the Sheffield original.


Speaking of replicas, the other crank axle box bottom is most likely a Buda replica of the Sheffield part. It is different from the one pictured above with what I suppose to be the Sheffield parts. Among other things, the corners are not rounded off and the outside holes are not square to grab the head of a carriage bolt. The biggest indication that this is a Buda part is that it carries the Buda catalog number for this part: 17.

If you look on the right side of this part you should be able to see the 17 facing sideways adjacent to the last bolt hole. The interesting thing to me is that this part fits perfectly well a with Sheffield-type top. It fits so well that it took me a while to discover that it was different. Before this, I did not know that at least this Buda part was interchangeable with the Sheffleid part. I believe that Buda-made Harvey parts were designed to be interchangeable but this has a Buda part number, not a Harvey number. The Harvey crank box base number is the same as the Sheffield (134) , as I have noted before.

part 17
bronze bearings I discussed with the museum people whether or not we should leave the babbit bearings in the crank shaft boxes, as above. The babbit was worn in an irregular pattern because the crankshaft was bent quite severely out of line. If this were going to be a restoration to try to make the handcar exactly as it was when new, we would have to re-pour and keep the babbit. Our goal is slightly different. It is to rebuild the handcar in ways that are sensitive to its antiquity, but to make it a working device that can be used and enjoyed by visitors to the museum. Without going to high-tech modern roller bearings everywhere we want it to run as smoothly and roll as easily as possible. With these factors in mind, we decided to de-babbit the crank shaft bearing boxes and to install bronze bearings obtainable from good old Amazon.

The wheel bearings for the museum car were roller bearings, so-called Hyatt bearings I was told by Mason Clark. They were very dirty with sand and grease that had been rolled in there years ago and dried out like concrete.

They were not a matched set. The oldest one came apart easily for cleaning by removing 3 bolts. The others would have had to be pressed apart and back together and I did not want to take that on so I did the best I could with soaking and scrubbing through the axle hole. The oldest one also had the odd little foundry mark discussed above that appeared on a number of other parts.

The little oil tubes had been used by sand wasps for making nests and we eliminated them and replaced them with grease fittings. A bearing is not a good place for sand.

Time to start frame building. The cuts were made in the same manner as for my Sheffield. Once the pieces are cut, I tap them together to check the fit. Even being very careful with really good machine tools, it is still difficult for me to achieve what I consider to be a perfect fit on all the joints. I do the best I can. Here the frame is upside down. The wide top rails that can be seen underneath were crafted so that there would be no space between the wheel flange and the frame top. This car will be used for tourist rides and we thought that it might be safer that way. The handcar companies made frames with high sides like these such as the Sheffield No 20. mus1


After drilling the holes in the tedioius way of drilling the top ones, marking the next layer by tapping a bolt into the holes, then drilling those, reassembly and marking the third layer, it is ready to be bolted.

For me, the best way to get straight holes through the frame is to drill them in this way, one at a time with a drill press.

Once the basic frame was bolted, I hung the drive axle up into its bearings and assembled the drive train for a trial set up. The connecting rod that came with this car was a piece of wood so, among other things, I had to make it a new connecing rod. I needed to have the drive train set up to determine the proper length for the rod.


The strain plates from the museum handcar did not match in an odd way. Each of them had the little insignia cast into it and that insignia was above the "3" on three of them and above the "H" on the other one. Certainly different molds. Cast in different time periods? Don't know. I put a center set of truss rods on this car. I then needed to add a third pair of strain plates and used ones from my own handcar as casting patterns. Handcars did not always have a middle set of truss rods but there was room for one here and I was doing my best to build the car to last. mus5
mus5 The wheels on one axle of the museum car did not match the wheels on the other axle. The Kalamazoo Company drive wheels, one of which is pictured were, as far as I am concerned, the nicest of all the handcar wheels ever made. My judgment is based upon robustness of the wheel, although it violated one of the primary mantras of the handcar builder: this wheel was rather heavy. These wheels were pressed in such a way that the flange and adjacent area were thicker than the rest of the wheel and that permitted the flange to be open, not curled back around in a "U" shape. That part of the design insured that water did not stand in the wheel flange when the car was left outside in the rain or brought inside from the rain. George Miller, President of the Kalamazoo Company had patented a die for pressing a handcar wheel in 1887 (US Pat No. 373084) but this wheel looks to me as if it were pressed with a die patented by Henry F. Mann in 1889 (US Pat. No. 480891). I do not know if Mann had any connection to the Kalamazoo Company. He lived in Allegheny, PA and had quite a number of other patents for handcar wheels leading me to think that he might have been an independent inventor.
This is the other side of the wheel. Someone cared a bit about the design here too. The detail on the hub of the wheel is impressive. Early Sheffield Steel wheels, such as those in the catalog at Harvard that we believe to be from 1894, were quite similar in appearance on this side of the wheel. However the Sheffield wheel would have had a "U" shaped flange rather than the open flange like this one. They both had 12 teardrop holes. By at least 1906, Sheffield had abandoned the very crinkled hub and moved to a much flatter, and probably cheaper, version. In 1905, the hub on the Buda handcar was a bit crinkled and the 12 teardrops were slighty stretched on one direction, perhaps to suggest speed. There is room for someone to assemble a field guide to the identification of handcar wheels and I seem to be in danger of starting it here. Handcar detective and expert Rich Harner and I are talking about writing a book about handcars. We have a lot of information and the task is to decide how to organize it. We recognize that this book would only be on the New York Times Best Seller List for a short period of time so we might only need a few copies. That is possible owing to modern printing technology. mus6

This is an ad for the Kalamazoo wheel that is pictured above. I do not know when this wheel first appeared. This ad is from 1922. I strongly suspect that this wheel might have appeared fairly soon following the 1889 Mann patent of the die to press it--if I am correct that the Mann die was used to make this wheel. If it appeared as early as that, this wheel had great staying power in a company that had already tried a whole bunch of wheels without success.

The non-drive wheels on the museum car looked to me like later standard Sheffield steel wheels. The museum kindly offered to sandblast and paint them for me. When the rust was blasted from them, there, low and behold was a pretty clear indication that they were Kalamazoo. They have 8 teardrop holes and a flat hub on the outside and look very much like later Sheffields. They have even reverted to the Sheffield-type "U" shaped flange. I have not studied them side by side but I think it might be a bit difficult to tell this wheel from a Sheffy uness one could see the name stamping, which may be why it is there. The "Y" in the circle on this wheel it might indicate that it is a freewheel that spins on its own bearing within its hub, independently of the axle. This was the free wheel and the other nondrive wheel was fixed to the axle and had no "Y" mark.

The non-drive wheels on the museum car are later versions of the Kalamazoos, even though they came along later they add to my growing certainty that the entire car was originally a Kalamzoo onto which a few other parts found their way.


mus8 This is really a side excursion but if you have read any of this, you are used to it. Perhaps someday it will be possible for me to organize all the handcar information I have in some sensible way. Not yet, apparently, but some of it might be organized in the book that Rich Harner and I might write. This is a truss rod clip that is on a handcar in Windsor NY. It has a little keystone with a "K" in it. Is this another Kalamazoo mark vaidating my notion that Kalamazoo liked to put ID marks on things? Much of the rest of this handcar appeared to be Kalamazoo. This truss rod clip may be an import anyway as it is part number 139. Among the very standardized numbers that were shared for handcar parts across companies, 139 was a pushcar truss rod clip, whereas 138 was the usual handcar truss rod clip number. I do not know why the same part would not have sufficed for both types of cars. A simiiar situation exists for other parts, such as axle boxes.
This handcar is thought to be a Kalamazoo and it probably is. The wheels have the Kalamazoo stamping along the rim. More interesting to me, the walking beam has the same semicircular "Y" where it branches to the wooden handles as the museum car. Even though I can talk on about them for pages, I really do not know much about handcars. I have not seen a lot of them. However, I look at them when I can and I study pictures of them. So far, I have only seen this semicircular "Y" three times: this picture, the museum car and on a picture of a handcar that the Colorado Railroad Museum had but has misplaced. I do not think that the walking beam is particularly rare or anything like that but I simply have not seen many of them. Because it is on this putative Kalamazoo car, it adds fuel to my suspicions that the museum car is largely Kalamazoo too, including the parts with the odd little insignia. Kal1
kal1886 The Kalamazoo Company was interesting for its public admissions that some of their ideas did not work too well. This is a page from one of their catalogs, believed to be from 1886. They laud their double cranks, which are a holdover fomr very ealry handcars. They would disappear within a couple of years.


In a picture that I have already used once, here is the Kalamazoo car of 1886. The wheels must have made problems because they were discontinued in the next year. The gas pipe gallows frame was still in use here and bit the dust in the following year. I simply cannot believe that it would be rigid enough to withstand the stresses handed out to walking beams. With its double walking beams this thing was already a dinosaur in spite of all the bragging about it.


There is a really lovely 1888 Kalamazoo catalog in the Baker Library at Harvard which touts the company's then-newest wheel, patented by George Miller in 1887 made of plywood and tar paper. (US Pat. No. 363,839) While light in weight, that wheel must have been an almost immediate faliure and the response to its problems may have been the superb steel wheel discussed several frames above this. The paper wheels are pictured on the cover of this 188 catalog. Note also that the double crank and split walking beam have melted away. Now they belong to the ages.

To see that Kalamazoo catalog, go to the Baker Library link: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HBS.Baker.GEN:12942332-2014

Here inside the 1888 catalog is he announcement that they are dumping the gas pipe gallows frame. Suddenly, they have "perfected" a design of handcar that had been in production by Sheffield and Buda for years and that probably dated back to the dawn of handcars. One might think that they would consider the wheels to be having a trial run but no such luck. One can only imagine what was about to happen as all those paper and wood heels begain ot fail at once. The company went through some hard times and their handcar design may have been a factor. kal1888

Here is the ode to the paper and wood wheel. They note that the wooden wheels from other sources were not durable. These other wooden wheels must have had something going for them in terms of durability because they continued to be offered as an option from Sheffield well into the 20th Century. Aside from saving weight, another benefit of the wooden wheels was that they provided elecrtical insualtion so that handcars would not set off crossing gates and other railroad signals which depend upon wheels making a metal connection from one rail to the other.

It is an outrageous claim that these Kalamazoo wood and paper wheels were superior to "any yet invented." Sheffield and Buda both had excellent steel wheels by this time many of which are still around over 100 years later. I wonder if there is a single surviving Kalamazoo paper and wood wheel?


Following this little sidetrack about The KalamazooCompany, the museum hancar saga continues.

I painted the undercoat on the museum handcar with grey Awl Gript. It is a two part epoxy type paint that has to be mixed together to use. Next the car was top coated with other two part paints in read and black. These paints are very tough and they set quite quicly after they are mixed. Their useable life an be extended greatly if they are kep in a freezer after mixing. I poured mine from the cans into screw-top glass jars and put a piece of kitchen plastic wrap under the cover before I screwed it on. That prevented the top from becoming bonded to the jar and the paint could be used as soon as it was warm enough.Fresh out of the freezer, it was still useable after a couple of months. Here is the handcar ready to have the deck put on. You can see the cut-out that is required for the brake pedal in designes with high sides. I decided to put a center set of truss rods on this car for no particular reason. All of the end caps for the truss rods were missing so that are foundry duplicates of the ones from my handcar.

mus11 Here is the new brake system for this handcar. It had no brake parts at all, so the cast parts were made at the foundry. My own hancar was missing most of its brake parts so I made wooden patterns for these and had them cast at the foundry for both handcars. I fussed a lot about the shape of the brake shoe for the handcars, then I discovered a very good way to make a pattern for the wooden shoe. I cut out a rough verson that was far too thin in profile but where I considered the back of the shoe to be properly shaped. Then I cut out a shape that would conform to the curve of the wheel. I put the thin shoes on with their hardware and held piece shaped like the surface of the wheel where it should be in order to have the shoe be the correct width. Then I screwed this wheel shaped cutout to the thin profile shoe in the correct position and that combo became my pattern. I wanted a little space between the shoe and the wheel when the pedal was at rest, but not very much. There are good measured drawing of a N & W RR handcar brake shoe on the web and that is where I started.
Underneath. I took this more or less because the handcar was still up on sawhourses, so it was a good chance to get a good picture under it. In the upper right handc corner you can see that the truss rods only just barely clear the diagonal brace. On this handcar I used pieces of 1/4" X 1" steel botlted diagonally to make the diagonal braces. Usually this diagonal brace is a board, in which case it would not clear the center truss rods. Perhaps that is why center truss rods were not very common. mus12
mus13 This picture shows the offsetting of the gallows frame diagonal tension rods to the inside or the outside. I mention this issie above in building my own handcar. These rods are 3/8" diameter and they are rather stiff. If they were all centered, they woud be on a direct collision course because all three intersect about 8" below the top of the gallows frame. They would have to be severely bent in order to get past each other if the diagonals were not offset to the inside or outside a bit. I took them out as far as I could and still have the angled washer bases completely on the wood. This offiset is repeated where the rods go through the bottom frame.
The deck of this handcar is made of tongue and groove red maple. One day I was wood shopping at my wonderful Portland, Maine wood store, Atlantic Hardwoods, and I noticed quite a bit of rough sawn red oak that looked to me to be particularly straight. I bought it and it stayed on the rack in my shop waiting to become handcar decking for about 8 months. When I was ready for the deck I planed it flat and then ran it acorss the shaper to tongue and groove it. It was so straight that even though it was 4/4 (about 1") rough sawn, I could get flat faces on both sides at just a little thicker than 7/8". I stopped planing there and left it thick. It seemed a pity to keep planing the faces, making planer chips out of this beautiful wood. It will be a bit heavier than a normal handcar deck, but that is OK. I screwed it down with big No 12 slotted brass screws from the museum to give it a period look. As far s I am concerned, the best way to drive big slotted screws is with a screw driver bit in a bit brace. The gigantic torque it can produce is useful and it can also be pushed down with significant force to stop it from slipping out of the screw slot. My old bit brace used to be my dad's and that always makes it fun to use. mus14
mus15 Here she is done and ready to deliver. While I was sad to see the project come to an end after so much work, I was also ready to move on with other things.
As I finished the museum car, it happened that I had another handcar visiting me in temporary storage. It was hand-built in far Northern Maine with only the wheels being real handcar parts. It was to be shipped to its new owner later. However, for a short time I had three handcars here and I could not resist lining them up for a picture. There are not too many places in the world where one can see three handcars together anymore. mus16
mus17 Here it is coming off the UHaul trailer onto the rails at the Trolley Museum. The guy with the big smile is Randy LeClair, the shop foreman.
Here is Randy and one of the volunteer motormen taking it for a little spin up the rails, after getting permission fomr the dispatcher. Their verdict was that it rolled along very well. Eventually, the plan is to use it to give tourist rides as part of the museum's regular operations. mus18

I like to build things and I guess I sufficiently recovered from the ride on my handcar to want to do it again. For this purpose, I decided to build a handcar trailer. While my gracious crew member Mark kindly offered me the use of his trailer anytime, I would not want to take advantage of his kindness so often as to wear it out. It had been my plan to make a handcar trailer anyway, so maybe that would be the next thing to do. Ordinarily, one cannot improve upon the prices for whole trailers offered by some of the national chain stores but a handcar trailer has to be almost 6 feet wide but does not have to be very long. That aspect ratio is difficult to find in trailerland.

Anyway, it might be fun to build one. For years I have bought steel for various projects from Goldstein Steel, here in Scarborough Maine. They usually have a very good selection of used steel at attractive prices. They are also very helpful with suggestions. I was told that lots of people who make trailers around here, usually for snowmobiles, use 1/4" X 3" X 1 1/4" channel. Goldstein has lots of this which has come from warehouse pallet racks. It is very strong, being able to support 4000 lbs over its length. It is the yellow stuff in the picture. The stick that is rectangular in section will be the tongue. The orange piece will be the back frame member as it is wide enough to encase and protect the tail lights.

I have this old reciprocating hacksaw. It saws through thick things very slowly. However, one if its nicest features is that it hits a little toggle switch when it is done and stops itself. That is a cool feature because, in the classic definition of "to know", I can feed it a piece of steel and it knows when it is done and it quits. It and its usual food are too big to fit in my little welding shop area, so it has crept out into the wood shop, but it does not make any mess that affects woodwork.

I could have cut this steel to length with the acetylene torch, but that makes ragged cuts and I wanted smooth cuts and I also wanted the steel cut to lengths that were as precise as possible.


This is the kind of joint that I made for each place where the steel had to be welded. As you can imagine, the part of it that inserts into the channel took a bit of hand grinding with the right angle grinder. I made a template pattern for it out of a piece of wood, then I could draw the outline on the joint with a Sharpie. That line was easy to see while grinding and produced fairly good joints. Of course, I have shown one of the best ones in the picture. I prefer to keep the others, representing various versions of sloppy work, to myself. I would not want anyone to think that I ever do slipshod work. Ever. Imperfections were not a big deal because as my welding instructor Robbe Baer used to say, "If you can jump across it, you can weld across it."

Tnis joint style is nice because it offers a large seam upon which to weld. When both sides of these joints were welded, I could be convinced that the trailer would be as strong as I could make it.

Mason Clark pointed out to me that there is a type of trailer suspension called a torsion half-axle. It is a cool thing. It has a large square section housing. In that housing is a very tough piece of rubber with a square hole in the centre of it. The part of the device that holds the wheel is attached to a square shaft that goes into the hole in the rubber. When the wheel bounces up and down, its movement is buffered by the rubber material into which the square shaft from the wheel is inserted.

The torsion half axle looks like this. I built a box of steel channel to go under it so that there could be bolts in the correct positions, down each side of the torsion half axle unit. I marked and drilled this frame member on the drill press before I welded the rest of the frame together. The holes are half inch and I would find it difficult to drill these straight by hand, to say nothing of the force required behind the drill in order to drill these holes.


Here is the frame clamped together while I am in the process of tacking it with the welder. The frame member for the torsion units has already been painted with primer. I thought it would be much easier to get paint intio the nooks and crannies of that thing before it was welded onto the rest of the frame. I plan to use brush-applied Rustoleum as the primer for the trailer. My experience is that this paint lasts much better full thickness, rather than in the thinned version that I would have to use in order to spray it on. Much of the steel is already painted and I plan to scuff that while I wire brush the rusty areas.

I do not have an indoor space big enough to build something like this so I was forced to do it ourdoors, but near enough my shop door so that I could reach it with the welding leads. In order to set it up, I first, levelled some bricks at each corner, so that the frame would be flat when it was welded. This was a process that took a bit of time but I think there is no alternative. I would have done the same thing if I had been building the frame on a "flat" concrete floor. Those floors are rarely flat. My general approach to building things is to work hard to control all the variables that I can. Error variance will be introduced by factors I cannot control. An example is here is that this was used steel so it was not all perfectly straight. I chose pieces of steel that were as straight as I could find. Even new steel is not always straight, so that will always be an issue.

The day I was welding this, we had a forecast for the first snowfall of the season that was to fall late in the day. It was supposed to be about 8" and that amount here in Maine in late November can be the start of the winter snowpack, not fully melting away until spring. I pushed along at the welding to try to get it done before the snow started. I only really weld with any quality when I am welding things that are parallel to the ground. I am not good at vertical welds and I would not even try to weld overhead.

Thie meant having to roll the frame around as I welded to keep the unwelded bits flat on the ground. I squared the frame by measuring the two diagonals and being sure that they were the same. Then I tacked the frame together on the top and on the insides of the bottoms with small welds, checking the diagonals every now and then because hot steel deforms and, until the frame was fully tacked, it was still possible to adjust the square of the frame by hitting a corner with a hammer. When finshed tacking, I welded all the seams that were flat, stood the frame on an edge and did it again, rolled it again, welded, rolled it again, and so on. This thing is extremely heavy and it was difficult for me to muscle it around. I could just barely lift one edge of it. It was dark by the time I finished. When I was done, I lifted it, one edge at a time, up onto my welding table and some saw horses so that it would not get buried in the snow.


I tried hard to think ahead as I was building the trailer because of the fact that my welding is limited to things that are flat on the ground. I plan to have a little railing around the sides and front of the trailer and I considered putting that onto the steel frame members before I did the primary frame welding. I decided that this structure would be in the way to an extent that it would be easier to put it on later, even though that would involve some more heavy frame rolling, with the frame getting heavier as I added the railing. I did put the railing on after assembling the frame and put up with the frame rolling involved. It is 1 1/4" square section steel.

I also wanted to put a tail gate on the trailer so I welded a couple of places for hinges on the back frame member and, also, a place for its license plate. I did these things before I started to weld the back frame member onto the trailer. I hope that there are not a bunch of other things like this that should have been welded on before the pieces were assembled. You can see the hinge points and plate holder here. The holes in the hinge points are nothing to do with their function. They were cut offs from the other frame members and happened to have holes in them.


I had to move the frame inside to paint it because it is winter and I need temps above 50 degrees in order to use the paint. In spite of all the grreat new paints available, I used traditional Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer and Rustoleum Gloss Black enamel on the trailer. I brushed them both on because I cannot spray indoors without making a mess and I think the paint performs better when it is full strength, rather than diluted for spray. This, of course, involved turning the frame over again because I did not want to paint overhead with the paint running down my arms and dripping into my face. Even though the frame is very heavy, I can just barely turn it myself my lifting it in stages and sticking appropriately lengthed boards under it at intervals as props. Here it is, only needing the black top coat on the top. In this picture I am also trying on the suspension units.

The suspension units, trailer hitch receiver, wiring, lights and rims all came from etrailer.com.They have been a wonderful company with whom to do business. They have almost everything traileroid. Unlike so many websites, their website really works and is easy to navigate. They are quickly and thoroughly responsive to any questions before, during or after purchases. At the point where I was buying things that are very heavy, such as suspension units and wheel rims, they had free shipping for items over the total cost of my order. They are very concerned with customer satisfaction. On small items they have real economy shipping, as opposed to other sites that reflexively use expensive shippers that make the shipping cost much more than the order. In short, I love them.


I got the paint pretty well finished, the torsion units bolted on, the wheels on and then I needed to get the frame out the the garage where it was in the way of my snowplow truck. We had a snowfall and then a bunch of freezing rain that turned the truck into a snow cone because it was sitting outside. I had to literally chip the ice off it to get going. All the windows were iced so that I could not see. This is exactly why I like to have the garage bay for the truck. When snow is predicted, I back it in and then when I want to plow, I can come out plowing and I do not have to wait for iced windows to thaw. I attached the truck to the trailer and pulled it out of the garage, parking in front of the handcar section house. This is a pretty big deal for me because it was the trailer's first trip.It will have to go back in so that I can do the wiring and put the deck on, but I can do that anytime.

This is getting a long way from handcar information. Sorry. I will be back soon, I hope, with something more handcarogenic.

The trailer did not get back in before it REALLY snowed. We had a monumental winter, getting over 8 feet of snow across the season. The trailer was quickly buried in snow. On top of that, literally, I had to plow snow onto the trailer because I ended up using every square inch of extra space around the yard as a place to pile snow. I was busy enough that I figured I could wait for the snow to melt before I worked on it again. When, at last, the snow melted I started to work again, making the fenders first. The only way I have to cut sheet steel is a torch, so I torched out the back and front sides of the fenders and then bent the piece of steel that would become the top arund these pieces. I did this gradually clamping and welding the edge for an inch or two, then bending and welding the next bit of edge and so on. This was the result and it seems to have worked fine. They are about 40,000 times stronger than the filmsy trailer fenders that one can easily buy commercially. tfender
tgate Next I built the tailgatge and put it on with big hinges that I got from McMaster Carr. I bought the hinges with no holes so that I could drill my own. The hinges are welded onto the the gate and bolted onto the trailer. I bought LED tail lights for the trailer from etrailer.com The brackets for them are the oval things looking through the tailgate in this picture. I bent a piece of 1/2" rod and welded it onto the trailer to protect the lights from things they might hit while backing up
For the deck I used pressure treated yellow pine deck boards. I bolted them down with stainless steel carriage bolts. These boards are always very wet when they come from the lumber yard. I have learned to jam them together when installing them. They will dry and open up a bit to permit rainwater drainage within a week or two. You can see here the way I am packing these boards together. It may look as if they will never fit. I put two loose ones up like a tent with their edges touching and jumped on them to spring them down into place. tdeck
thandcar I added a piece of steel on the front of the trailer to hold the spare tire in place and I put a boat winch on top of it to help haul the handcar up ramps onto the trailer. I backed the trailer up to the section house and using a couple of 2X4s that were there as ramps, winched the handcar up onto the trailer for the first time just to try it. It seems to work.
For the real ramps, I used 2X6s. I bolted a piece of angle iron to the edge to hook over the tail gate. tramp
trampstore In order to store the ramps, I made some little clips out of scrap angle iron and other metal scraps. The ramps can slide down the sides of the trailer and be held securely unitl needed. It is easy for me to get the handcar on and off the trailer without help. The trailer works wonderfully.
In the early summer of 2015, I had a visit from master handcar builder Mason Clark. He has been building handcars for years, starting as an amazing kid. When I first found his handcar website, I started calling him "Handcar Kid" and although he is no longer a kid that is the way some of my friends know who I am talking about. He and I had a couple of handcar days on the rails and we had a super time. Mason and I paced ourselves, taking breaks to enjoy the scenery and to recover from upgrades. One of the more amazing things is that we found the wheel nut that I lost along the rails on my first trip last year. In the meantime, handcar detective Rich Harner had found someone who could make a replacement. I am going to continue to use the replacement and keep the original as a spare. Mason and I share a slighly odd sense of humor and spent a lot of his visit laughing about thngs. mason





Later in the year, I was treated to a visit from Rich Harner. At that point Rich and I were very good friends but I had never met him. About 2 years ago he somehow stumbled on this handcar site, tracked me down and called me. We talked for a long time about handcars and, since that time, have talked a lot about handcars on the phone and in emails. Rich has a way of digging into topics with a ferocity that is extraordinary. As I have mentioned several times above, he is a great detective and can track down crumbs of knowledge until he has them pinned in a corner with their little hands up. We had a lot of fun while he was here. It was a pleasure to get to know him face to face. He is a very generous guy and has been a great friend.

After Rich, my friend from high school days Jack Keene visited and also went on a couple of handcar rides. Jack is not only a good buddy, but he is a railroad expert whose knowledge is both deep and wide. One reason riding with him was fun was because he knows so much about railroads in general that he could point out interesting things to me as they went past. He always leaves me with a number of good ideas about how to do all sorts of things. Jack and I go back such a long way that we always have things to talk about. He is the paradigmatic example of a loyal friend.

I should mention that these guys wanted to ride on my handcar, I did not force them to do so. My visitors are not required to become handcar section crew members. If they choose not to, I can always dump them and find other friends to visit who will be more cooperative.




After the gigantic blast of expertise in various domains that these guys brought to me, it was a bit difficiult to settle down to just being my old know-nothing self.

I have now had my handcar out many times on my own. The good news is that one elderly power unit is enough to move the handcar along the rails, even with its old-time design including bronze bearings. When I first went out, I had greased all the bearings with expensive waterproof grease. Jack Keene earlier suggested that the turning shafts might not be turning fast enough to liquify the grease. I cleaned all the grease off the bearings, transferring a great deal of it to me and my clothes, and relubricated everything except the gear teeth with oil. I think the car rolls a bit better with oil. It was, after all, designed for oil and Sheffield clearly had grease available too and could choose. Here are links to little UTube videos that I made with my kid's GoPro on my head and on the deck. Getting started: https://youtu.be/XwY7ppSWF1M Going across a potentially busy crossing. looking both ways carefully: https://youtu.be/wM62zgc_ufw and riding on the deck https://youtu.be/YpXZgeOCFJw

I plan to use these clips and others to make something longer and better when I have time.

As I have used the handcar more, it seems to roll more easily. It might be that the bearings are bedding in, beginning to fit themselves to the axles. The axles themselves, as mentioned somewhere above, are pretty severely worn and it may take a bit of time for the bearings to begin to really fit well. If that is the case, then I am about to screw it all up by putting in new bearings. I soldered "shoulders" onto the bearings I bought on Amazon so that they would look like the originals. One day I found one of these shoulders broken off, laying on the trailer. I worried that this might become a trend and decided to have proper berings made which would look like the original Sheffys. I made a pattern by turning a block of wood on the lathe and sawing it in half. Here it is turned and glued to a board, ready to be slid through the table saw and sawn in half. bearpat
newcast I made the pattern so that the bearing was thicker than the originals because my axles are worn and I wanted to get the best fit I could. I took the pattern to Mike at The Auburn Stove Foundry (mentioned above) where I have had lots of parts made. The new bearings were cast in bronze. This is one of them. I will wait until winter when I cannot run my handcar anyway to put them in. While I do that my plan is to make new wooden centers for the wheels to replace the ones I made when I was a kid. The new ones can all be painted red, the way they originally were.






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