VGN Ry, 100 Car Test Train in 1918

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Sun Apr 12 23:29:23 EDT 2020

Papa Abram,

Please help me, as I'm clearly in over my head.  If you compare the article
you posted with the booklet, that I'll wager you have, of the 1921
Demonstration of Heavy Tonnage Train Handling put out by the Virginian
Railway and the Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1921, a mere 3 years
later, does this help or make matters more mystifying.  I'm looking at the
capitalization of Straight Air and Plain Automatic in the 1921 book, and
the way Westinghouse writes about adjusting the braking pressure.  From
what I can gather one of the newer(?)adjustments of the braking pressure
was a manual valve/lever on each car for Load and Empty, because the test
train for one demonstration was made up of 75 of the "120 ton" "battleship"
gons, and this adjustment was necessary because of the major difference in
weight and rolling characteristics between an empty gon and a loaded gon.
And I would also wonder if Automatic Straight Air Brake was one of those
corporate names created by merger or buyout that, in retrospect, made as
little sense as Seaboard Coast Line, which one wag referred to as Seashore
Seashore Line.  I wonder if the ASAB got bought out by Westinghouse in the
intervening 3 years.  So I'm baffled, and hope that I've helped more than

The truth, I hope, is out there.

Frank Bongiovanni

On Sun, Apr 12, 2020 at 9:35 PM NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>

>  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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