Monday, December 26, 2005

Can we talk?

OK, maybe it's because Christmas is behind us and I'm looking for the missing stimuli. I'm thinking about flanges this morning.

That got your interest, right?

Specifically, I'm thinking about flanges on the wheels of model railroad cars.

Feeling narcoleptic yet?

A few of my "friends" have tried to make this a big topic of conversation. I'm just as big a glutton for punishment as the next nut but I have to wonder. Let me set up the question in a few words.

Big railroad cars run on big railroad track which is two metal rails. Believe it or not the wheels and rail are designed to minimize contact. That's right, unlike say the tires on your car which sit flat on the surface, sort of like slugs on a brick, railroad car wheels are shaped with a certain profile. The rail has a profile. The object is to minimize the points where these two steel surfaces meet.

Why? Friction. The less contact the less energy required to move the train. Unlike model railroad folks, the the railroads want to use the fewest locomotives to move the most cars. Profit!

But.. there is the issue of the tires staying on the track. That's where the flanges come into play. Flanges keep the wheels on the track. The flanges have a shape to keep forcing the wheels to ride on the rails. Again, with hopefully, the least friction.

Now, when you start shrinking things to model railroad size a few things aren't shrinking the same. Take car weight. Physics is physics. Gravity is gravity.

With model railroad wheels we have what some folks refer to as "pizza cutter" wheels. That's because the wheels have oversize flanges that resemble pizza cutters.

I'm one of those nuts that believes it is my responsibility as a citizen of the United States to have my model railroad look as close as possible to the real railroads. So naturally, I wouldn't want to have pizza cutter flanges on my railroad.

Well, that's not exactly true. I realize that a few sacrifices have to be made.

I'm not filling my cars with real coal and real corn oil. I'm not loading box cars with minature auto parts or pallets of paper products. So my cars aren't weighted quite th same. My basement isn't big enough to have track with the same types of curves as the real railroad. Heck, even my rail doesn't have the same profile.

But I'm even more of a realist. Real railroads are in the business to make money. If they can make more money my having a certain shape to their rail and wheels then do it!

Model railroads are not in the business of making money. Model railroad manufacturers ARE in the business of making money. If they can make MORE money by designing wheels that look wrong but don't come off the track under a Christmas tree or under the speeding gaze of a child racing a train then that's what they are going to do. Remember, they are in the business of making money.

Now if someone wants to try to make money making exacting rail and wheels more power to them. Guess what? I probably won't convert my railroad. It's not that I don't appreciate the authenticity. I just don't think it will add that much to my railroad.

Aren't you glad to know all of this minutiae.