ATTENTION ! This website does NOT sell cards anymore. Site content is for informational purposes only, NOT for commercial use!

Steam Trains
Steam trains represent an age most of us have a desire to return to. Endless summers, fields of golden wheat moving gently in a warm breeze. The nostalgia industry is keen on a soft focus steam train moving through England's green and pleasant land.
Wonderful Railway Travel
For those of us with a nervous disposition and do not want our rail journeys to resemble fair ground terror rides

It has been a long time since I was last sitting in a train carriage. In fact apart from one brief journey in 1993 my last locomotive experience can be traced back to the early 1980's.

1993 served as an object lesson in why I do not travel by train.

The country station was deserted, the waiting rooms locked, no toilets and there was snow on the ground. More importantly there was snow on the tracks. The train was an hour or so late.

Getting on the train was uneventful but soon one of the heaters was spewing out smoke, rubbish had got caught in it and was starting to ignite. As the train seemed deserted I was left to tackle this small matter of carriage fire.

A little time later the guard came in and things did not go well. I should have moved from the carriage rather than keep a watchful eye on the heater. I suspect he thought I had either been smoking in the carriage or trying to set light to it myself. The age difference between myself and the guard was such that it was entirely possible in his mind I would ignite the carriage and then sit in it for my own warped needs.

Anyway it got worse, I did not have a ticket. The fact I would have had too commit breaking and entry to obtain a ticket was not really good enough. When I could not remember the name of the station I had got on at then my fate was just about sealed. I was treated like one of the great train robbers (without the public adoration).

Anyway I had to shell out good money for a rubbish service, sitting in a carriage that was dirty and smelly long before the fire and surly public servants giving me grief because the rail system was not properly manned.

Things might have improved, although it is likely the small country station has been closed since I rode on the train, which I suppose is like saying a broken leg got better because it was cut off.

Once more we can thank the Victorians for our rail system and the world can thank the British for their rail systems. Almost from the moment we had finished building the rail system we started dismantling it. Now it is seen as the green transport of the future.

I do not have anything against the rail system, if I want to spend a lot of money and take all day to travel twenty miles in carriages which might have been state of the art 40 years ago but have not been cleaned since so I can have the pleasure of a drunk button holing me then I would choose the train every time.

Lets forget the present and wind that clock back to the time when the carriage was new and that conductor was a young man and I had not been born and then go back a bit more just to make sure things were good.

It is against this backdrop I present the set, Churchmans, Wonderful Railway Travel 50 cards produced in 1937 when the title of the set was perhaps not as self-conscious as it appears today.

There are a good many sets which deal with the theme of the railways, during most of the cigarette card age the average man was more likely to travel by train than by car. Unlike most of the sets though this one does not deal directly with the metal monsters spewing forth steam and sentimentality. This set deals with the track, or at least the bits in between the stations. That said the illustration is of the train passing through the particular bit of the journey being described so it makes the set most appealing. Combine that with the fact it is one of the least expensive sets of railway theme cards and you have a recipe for success.

In Victorian England just about anything you could think of was a new invention. Nothing was small scale and card one is a good place to begin. In all honesty it could be a good place to end as well there is just so much to be said about the Britannia Bridge, Menai Straits. Its full title being the Britannia Tubular Bridge. The card gives the overall dimensions of the bridge which links Anglessey with the Mainland. Opened in 1850 the masterpiece of Robert Stephenson it used a revolutionary technique of rectangular wrought iron tubes which finally proved the superiority of wrought iron over cast iron.

One of the pleasures of this set is the fact it takes the whole world into its grasp but before we start going further afield let me make a quick mention of card 5, Snowdon Mountain Tramroad, North Wales. 2 foot 7.5 inch gauge rail it is the only example of rack railway in the British Isles.

I only wish I had this card to hand a good few years ago when an argument broke out about the speed record set by the Mallard. One of my number claimed the Mallard was going downhill when it broke the speed limit, I was not sure, but soon factions broke out about the viability of a rail track built on anything other than a totally flat plain. Funny what you argue about when you have got nothing better to disagree about. Anyway card 5 sorts it all out when it says adhesion between smooth rails and smooth track fails at around 1 in 14.

Apparently rack railways can maintain adhesion at 1 in 2 (but I would not want to be on it) whereas the Snowdon... is only 1 in 5.5 at its steepest. Steam trains built in Switzerland do the work on this rail.

You might think 2 foot 7.5 inch is pretty narrow gauge but cards 3 & 4 show gauges of 15 inches on miniature railways. Capable of moving 176 passengers at 25 miles per hour. Fast enough balancing on a ruler I'd say.

In the UK we always marvel at the seemingly endless open spaces countries like the US and Australia possess. Roads that stretch into the vanishing point without need for a single movement of the steering wheel. Card 7 show the longest straight run of track, Australia. The measurement of this track was in dispute so the card played say and gave it as no less than 300 miles in length. It travels across the Nullarbour Plain ('tree-less'). The lack of rainfall meaning the engines have to take water from various stop-off points along the route if they want to get from one end to the other. For the average Brit the thought of travelling 300 miles in a straight line without seeing anything so much as a tree is quite impossible to imagine. Travelling a couple of miles without seeing a Burger Bar is pushing the bounds of reason.

In England the rail system is renowned for its feeble excuses as to why a train runs late. A sprinkling of snow will bring the system to a grinding halt with headlines about 'The wrong type of snow.' Autumn causes chaos when leaves fall on the tracks. Legitimate but lets face it ever since man has been about snow has fallen and leaves drop off trees this should not be news to the railways.

Anyway in the Rockies snow and avalances were something of a problem for rail communication. Not content with the idea they had the wrong type of snow Canadian Pacific built snow sheds which were designed to keep the snow, right or wrong kind, off the tracks. The card shows a train about to enter a gap in these protective sheds. Why? Well in the summer there was a constant danger of fire and to have a line completely enclosed in wooden structure was not seen as a clever idea so fire breaks were left.

Card 26 shows a different approach in Norway. There the average winter fall of snow is 15 feet in some parts and snow will fall every month of the year. The Oslo-Begen lines shows just what a difference the coming of the rail network meant and the engineering feats which made it possible.

You see not all the line is covered with snow for the simple reason large parts of it were built through mountains. The 306 mile journey has you going through 180 tunnels. The tunnels total 24 miles blasted out of the granite mountains. Lovers must have been exhausted at the end of this tunnel marathon, but those in the know would have saved their best efforts for the tunnel at Gravehals, being 3.3 miles in length.

Before the coming of the rail link the journey took 54 hours but once the rail link was opened it was cut down to 10 hours 30 minutes, so an average speed of under 30 miles an hour.

In between the tunnels is the snow and this has to be cleared as the train moves through it. You can only just see the plough on the front of the train in this card but you get the idea. Forget the idea of a shoe arrangement pushing the snow aside this is more like something used to mine through solid rock. A huge rotating fan full covers the front of the train, the sort of thing which would chew anything up and spit it out (I think I saw it do that trick on a James Bond movie once.)

Snow, tunnels and mountains are something of a feature of Switzerland and so it is not surprising fully ten cards are dedicated to this country within the set.

Details from Card
Bietschtal Bridge, Switzerland
The Lötschberg Line is one of Switzerland's main routes, several of the international expresses using it between Thunand Brigue. Though no more than a brook, the Bietsch has cut a narrow ravine in the Bernese Alps, and is crossed on a curve and between tunnels by this fine steel-arch bridge. From the bottom of the ravine to the level of the rails is 255 feet. Between Goppenstein and Brigue (15.5 miles) there are seven bridges of this sort, and no less than thirty tunnels, the longest of which is 3279 feet. Only electric locomotives are employed on this route, which includes the famous Lötschberg Tunnel, more than 9 miles in length.

Actually snow does not feature on any of them but scenery does. Card 37 has Pilatus Railway which is a rack system which hauls the 32 seater steam coach up the steepest mountain line in the world. The average gradient being 1 in 2.8 over the 2.85 mile journey. Four braking mechanisms are employed on the way down which might make people less nervous than I feel happy. Anyway if all goes well the round trip takes 75 minutes. If it goes wrong probably about 75 seconds for the descent.

Not content with blasting through mountains or travelling up the side of them the Swiss also seem keen on getting railways across mountain ranges, so a good number of the cards deal with bridges. Card 32 Bietschtal Bridge seems to have it all. For sheer extravagance though the Lanwasser viaduct (card 34) has to take the cake. Not only is it 213 feet above the valley floor, linking two sheer mountain faces it is built on a gradient (1 in 50) and set on a curve of 328 feet radius. The entire structure being 426 feet long.

For those of us with a nervous disposition and do not want our rail journeys to resemble fair ground terror rides the Swiss have thought of us on card 31. Basically a gradient is scaled in the same manner as we deal with wheelchair users. When faced with steep climbs we do not expect wheelchair users to join a rack rail system, nope a series of gentle slopes are (hopefully) provided. Such is the idea with this where large open spirals of track are used to combat gradients.

Building railways was not east work and I am not going to make any jokes about that particular fact. Card 28 reminds us just how grim it was. The Viscas bridge is the focus of the card. It mentions this was the highest railway bridge in the world. It does not say its altitude but does say the line reaches the height of 15,665 feet. The rail length is 138 miles, one 57 mile stretch having 50 tunnels. 7000 men died whilst constructing the rail link. Now that is a link created by human endeavour and sweat with the sort of casualty rate we are no longer happy to accept even in major conflicts.

The final nine cards of the series are dedicated to the US rail system, where everything is bigger and better (natch <g>) Card 43 shows The Horseshoe, Deschutes Canyon USA. Running through Oregon it neatly demonstrates the role nationalisation has to play in natural monopolies. A rail track runs both sides of the river (the only way a track could be laid was along the river). The reason for this huge waste of resource was the companies laying the lines were rival companies. That was until one was bought out by the other. It notes the line as going to go on to San Francisco but this was not achieved the track stopping abruptly at Bend. Perhaps if they had not spent all the money fighting each other the link could have been made.

So there you have it a brief run through some of the most spectacular railway journeys that were possible during the late 1930's. It almost makes me want to get a rail ticket and join in the fun. Only problem is there is nobody manning our local rail station, partially demolished by a rail accident a few years ago vandalism and neglect has done the rest. Get five miles down the road and the first chance of getting off the train arrives so you can wait on a dreary platform waiting for a missed connection so you can travel another 20 miles and do the same again. It might only take 3 hours to travel that 25 miles. No tunnels, no spectacular bridges, just over-priced poor service.

On reflection I am going to save the fare and buy another set of Churchmans, Wonderful Railway Travel., you can't blame me.

Related pages
Train Sets
Close up

Set Details:

Issuer: Churchman

Title: Wonderful Railway Travel

Date: 1937

Number in Set:

Railway facts:
The adhesion figure on the card is directly contradicted by the 1 in 11 gradient found on the Chamonix line, France.
The worlds steepest railway is 1 in 0.82 which is hauled up and down the tracks by large steel wires
The longest straight remains Nullarbour but it has been measured at 297 miles.
Widest gauge is 5 foot 6 inches used in Spain, India and other countries
Narrowest in public service is 10.25 inches in Norfolk, UK
The longest rail tunnel is The Seikan Tunnel, 33.46 miles long. opened on 13 March 1988.

Thursday, 20th December 2007