VGN Ry, 100 Car Test Train in 1918

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Mon Apr 20 16:06:30 EDT 2020

Gordon, I was finally able to find that issue of the Arrow, and sit down
and read it.  Thank you for providing quite a bit of light on this
conversation.  Well done.  One of these days you and Abram might be able to
discuss this further down there in Virginia.  Of course I'd like to be
there.  I should mention that there's always next year's convention.
(subtle plug).

Frank Bongiovanni

On Thu, Apr 16, 2020 at 1:17 PM NW Mailing List via NW-Mailing-List <
nw-mailing-list at> wrote:

> Gentlemen,
> Attached is the title page of a report I have about tests on the Vgn in
> May 1921. This probably has nothing to do with what you have been talking
> about, but wanted to make you aware of the report.
> YD Bkm
> Attachment at bottom of page.
> On Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 1:07:48 PM EDT, NW Mailing List <
> nw-mailing-list at> wrote:
> Abram,
> I had an article titled, "The Automatic Straight Air Brake --- An
> Oxymoron?" published in the Vol. 21, No. 4 (July -- August 2005) issue of *The
> Arrow.*  The bibliography included the article that you cited plus nine
> more on the ASAB.  In addition to the 1918 tests of the ASAB on the
> Virginian, the article in *The Arrow* also covers the 1921 ASAB tests on
> the N&W, including four pictures of the N&W test train, one of which was a
> posed picture along New River just west of Potts Valley Junction, plus an
> interior view of the N&W's dynamometer car.  The article also covers the
> February 1923 ICC hearings on the ASAB, and the ICC mandated ASAB tests
> later that year on the N&W.    This was followed by American Railway
> Association (later AAR) tests of the ASAB on the 100-car test rack at
> Purdue University.  The test rack results were not supportive of the ASAB,
> and, although documentation had not turned up for the article, the ASAB
> Company apparently faded away soon after that.
> Gordon Hamilton
> On 4/12/2020 6:38 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:
>  Attached is a PDF of an article entitled **Virginian 100 Car Test
> of Automatic Straight Air Brake,** from Railway Age, vol. 65, July 26,
> 1918.
> The title of the article itself raises a problem.  How can a train brake
> system at once be both **automatic** and **straight air** ?  Those two
> terms are mutually exclusive when to comes to air brake lingo.
> The article states that the equipment was manufactured by the Automatic
> Straight Air Brake Company.  Now, why would anyone in his right mind
> combine mutually contradictory terms in the name of his company?
> So, what was special about the brake equipment which was being tested
> here?
> The cars were outfitted with the K-2 triple valve, which was the industry
> standard in 1918.  Type K brake equipment had come out in the 1890s and was
> only supplanted by the AB brake equipment in the 1930s.  So, what is
> different with this train?
> One hint may be in the mention of the fact that the equipment under test
> could be set up for both Graduated Release and Quick Release  (**quick
> release** probably meaning nothing more than a standard all-at-once
> release.)   I think this might be the key to what was under test.
> Since the 1870s, train air brake equipment, while quite efficient at
> stopping trains, had been plagued with two problems which remained unsolved
> for decades:  (1)  a brake application could not be partially released,
> termed a **graduated release,**  and (2) air pressure leakage in the train
> line caused an application to become stronger and stronger, until the train
> stalled out.  (For passenger equipment, graduated release was incorporated
> in the UC control valve equipment, which I think came out around 1916, but
> it was deemed dangerous for long freight trains.)
> For the two reasons cited above, prior to Westinghouse's introduction of
> the air brake pressure maintaining feature in the 1950s, the method by
> which trains were handled on long sustained down-hill grades was with a
> method called Cycle Braking.  In Cycle Braking, an air brake application is
> made, held for a certain period of seconds or minutes, then released for a
> required period of time while the brake system recharges (... hopefully.)
> Then the cycle is repeated:  apply for a predetermine time period, then
> release for a predetermined time period.  And then the cycle is repeated
> again and again, until the train reaches the foot of the grade.
> Most major railroads which operated over long, sustained grades had Time
> Table Special Instructions specifying the particulars of how they wanted
> trains Cycled Braked on their various bad grades.  They did not leave it to
> the guesswork of the individual engineman.  Also, this is why you will find
> Time Table Special Instructions, which otherwise make little sense,
> requiring that trains stop before entering a sustained heavy downgrade, and
> be gone over by the brakeman or the car inspector, looking for leakage, and
> changing the gaskets or tightening the unions as required.  Excessive
> leakage would cause any application of the brakes to **leak on** with more
> force than desired, quicker than desired, and the Cycle Braking periods of
> application/release would not work.
> I think the equipment being tested in this article was an attempt to
> address the two air brake conundrums mentioned above:  leakage stalling out
> the train, and no provision for graduated release.  But the article does
> not state well or clearly how this new equipment differed from equipment
> already in use on the road.  And the clowns who chose to name their company
> with a contradiction-in-terms, **Automatic Straight Air Brake,**  also get
> a lot of blame for the unclarity of this article.
> Perhaps Judge Hensley of Kenova, who fired for Casey Jones and drank
> cognac in George Westinghouse's private car, can concoct a better
> explanation.  As for me, I'm done.  Mark me off until further notice...
> -- abram burnett,
> Automatic Straight Air Turnips, LLC
> Walton Wye, Va.
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