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Quainton Virtual Stockbook - Miscellaneous Vehicles and Railway Plant

Velocipede Car

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Tim Cook - Velocipede Car in Permanent Way Exhibition in Buffer Depot

This three wheeled inspection bike, called a velocipede car, has engineering links to our pump trolley, vehicles which were once common on the railways for permanent way work. Built by the Sheffield Car Co., Three Rivers, Michigan, USA, it is still in their livery. This company has a complex history , with an origin in E & T Fairbanks, St Johnsbury, Vermont in around 1824. One of its employees, a Charles Morse set up, a sales agency to promote the Fairbanks scale, known by 1872 as Fairbanks Morse and Co. This sales division overwhelmed the manufacturing side of the business, and it began to take over other companies, including the George S Sheffield Co., Three Rivers, Michigan, probably in 1883, though full takeover was not until 1918. It then merged with Colt Industries in 1964. The Three Rivers factory was closed in 1960.

It was known as No. 1 Velocipede Car, they were designed to be light enough to be lifted off the track quickly and easily. Our machine has wooden spoked wheels and a push away, pull towards frame, that creates the motion with linking pedals. The outboard wheel carries little weight and so tends to mount the rail on curves with uncertain consequences to the driver. Due to its geometry it will not move in the reverse direction without derailing. It was built not earlier than 1887, and is believed to be part of a batch purchased by the Great Eastern Railway.

Quainton's 3 wheel velocipede is not the oldest example in the world. It is predated by an earlier design where the brake handle is mounted centrally and is actioned by pulling towards oneself, carefully! Our brake handle is mounted under the seat where it can only squash fingers on application. Quainton's velocipede is believed to be the oldest in UK. A similar one is located at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum which is in better condition, and is slightly older.

An original Sheffield Car Co. catalogue is available online at Baker Library at Harvard University. There are two other websites which cover velocipedes and related vehicles. velocipedes.co.uk is run by Jacqui Thomas of the Churnet Valley Railway, Staffordshire. Jacqui delights in holding rallies of these machines and in building old, vanished designs as well as restoring sad cases. She is building up a library of CAD parts to spread the word and encourage others. Quainton's 3 wheeler has been to a few of these rallies, though it is never used as it is too fragile. These machines derail remarkably easily and it is not uncommon for some wooden parts to break, a fate we do not wish on ours, as it bears dates suggesting it is 140 years old.

A second website was built by an American, Lary Shaffer, who has restored one early 4 wheel car and was embarking on a second for a local museum. The website is no longer accessable, so it is not clear what progress was made. Lary is working with Jacqui to produce patterns for these machines and has contacted us for detailed information on our four-wheeled version, which is why it is now believed to be a Buda Harvey No.1 Car and not a Sheffield machine.

Both websites have links to other sources of information and include original sales and catalogue documents. Jacqui has also compiled a list of all known 3 and 4 wheel machines. Its on its 4th version and, no doubt, will run to a few more yet - should you know of machines not listed please contact her via the website. Certainly, the human mind has designed a staggering array of different designs of machines to propel oneself.

Miscellaneous Vehicle - The Inspection Tricycle - Quainton News No. 44 Summer / Autumn 1981
Pump Trolley Marathon - No. 58 - Autumn / Winter 1985 / 86
Railroad History No. 127 - October 1972 - The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society

Origin :- GER ? Date Built :- c1889 Number :- No. 1
Type :- Inspection Trolley Builder :- Sheffield Car Co., USA Owner QRS
Status :- Static Exhibit Location :- Buffer Depot Accession No.:- TBC
Arrival Date :- TBC

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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Page Updated: 28 September 2017