THE BRENNAN MONORAIL CAR





BY PERCEVAL GIBBON



It was November 10, 1909--a day that will surely have its place in

history beside that other day, eighty-five years ago, when George

Stephenson drove the first railway locomotive between Stockton and

Darlington. In the great square of the Brennan torpedo factory at

Gillingham, where the fighting-tops of battleships in the adjacent

dockyard poise above the stone coping of the wall, there was a track

laid down in a circle of a quarter of a mile. Switches linked it up with

other lengths of track, a straight stretch down to a muddy cape of the

Medway estuary, and a string of curves and loops coiling among the

stone and iron factory sheds. The strange thing about it was that it was

single--just one line of rail on sleepers tamped into the unstable

"made" ground of the place.



And there was Brennan, his face red with the chill wind sweeping in from

the Nore, his voice plaintive and Irish, discoursing, at slow length, of

revolutions per minute, of "precession," and the like. The journalists

from London, who had come down at his invitation, fidgeted and shivered

in the bitter morning air; the affair did not look in the least like an

epoch in the history of transportation and civilization, till--



"Now, gentlemen," said Brennan, and led the way across the circle of

track.



And then, from its home behind the low, powder-magazine-like sheds,

there rode forth a strange car, the like of which was never seen before.

It was painted the businesslike slatyblue gray of the War Department. It

was merely a flat platform, ten feet wide by forty feet long, with a

steel cab mounted on its forward end, through the windows of which one

could see a young engineer in tweeds standing against a blur of moving

machine-parts.



It ran on the single rail; its four wheels revolved in a line, one

behind another; and it traveled with the level, flexible equilibrium of

a ship moving across a dock. It swung over the sharp curves without

faltering, crossed the switch, and floated--floated is the only word for

the serene and equable quality of its movement--round and round the

quarter-mile circle. A workman boarded it as it passed him, and sat on

the edge with his legs swinging, and its level was unaltered. It was

wonderful beyond words to see. It seemed to abolish the very principle

of gravitation; it contradicted calmly one's most familiar instincts.



Every one knows the sense one gains at times while watching an ingenious

machine at its work--a sense of being in the presence of a living and

conscious thing, with more than the industry, the pertinacity, the

dexterity, of a man. There was a moment, while watching Brennan's car,

when one had to summon an effort of reason to do away with this sense of

life; it answered each movement of the men on board and each inequality

in the makeshift track with an adjustment of balance irresistibly

suggestive of consciousness. It was an illustration of that troublous

theorem which advances that consciousness is no more than the

co-relation of the parts of the brain, and that a machine adapted to its

work is as conscious in its own sphere as a mind is in its sphere.



The car backed round the track, crossed to the straight line, and

halted to take us aboard. There were about forty of us, yet it took up

our unequally distributed weight without disturbance. The young engineer

threw over his lever, and we ran down the line. The movement was as

"sweet" and equable as the movement of a powerful automobile running

slowly on a smooth road; there was an utter absence of those jars and

small lateral shocks that are inseparable from a car running on a double

track. We passed beyond the sheds and slid along a narrow spit of land

thrusting out into the mud-flanked estuary. Men on lighters and a

working-party of bluejackets turned to stare at the incredible machine

with its load. Then back again, three times round the circle, and in and

out among the curves, always with that unchanging stateliness of gait.

As we spun round the circle, she leaned inward like a cyclist against

the centrifugal pull. She needs no banking of the track to keep her on

the rail. A line of rails to travel on, and ground that will carry her

weight--she asks no more. With these and a clear road ahead, she is to

abolish distance and revise the world's schedules of time.



"A hundred and twenty miles an hour," I hear Brennan saying, in that sad

voice of his; "or maybe two hundred. That's a detail."



In the back of the cab were broad unglazed windows, through which one

could watch the tangle of machinery. Dynamos are bolted to the floor,

purring under their shields like comfortable cats; abaft of them a

twenty-horse-power Wolseley petrol-engine supplies motive power for

everything. And above the dynamos, cased in studded leather, swinging a

little in their ordered precession, are the two gyroscopes, the soul of

the machine. To them she owes her equilibrium.



Of all machines in the world, the gyroscope is the simplest, for, in its

essential form, it is no more than a wheel revolving. But a wheel

revolving is the vehicle of many physical principles, and the sum of

them is that which is known as gyroscopic action. It is seen in the

ordinary spinning top, which stands erect in its capacity of a gyroscope

revolving horizontally. The apparatus that holds Brennan's car upright,

and promises to revolutionize transportation, is a top adapted to a new

purpose. It is a gyroscope revolving in a perpendicular plane, a steel

wheel weighing three quarters of a ton and spinning at the rate of three

thousand revolutions to the minute.



Now, the effect of gyroscopic action is to resist any impulse that

tends to move the revolving wheel out of the plane in which it revolves.

This resistance can be felt in a top; it can be felt much more strongly

in the beautiful little gyroscopes of brass and steel that are sold for

the scientific demonstration of the laws governing revolving bodies.

Such a one, only a few inches in size, will develop a surprising

resistance. This resistance increases with the weight of the wheel and

the speed at which it moves, till, with Brennan's gyroscopes of three

quarters of a ton each, whirling in a vacuum at three thousand

revolutions per minute, it would need a weight that would crush the car

into the ground to throw them from their upright plane.



Readers of MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE were made familiar with the working of

Brennan's gyroscope by Mr. Cleveland Moffett's article in the issue of

December, 1907. The occasion of that article was the exhibition of

Brennan's model mono-rail car before the Royal Society and in the

grounds of his residence at Gillingham. For a clear understanding of the

first full-sized car, it may be well to recapitulate a few of the

characteristics of the gyroscope.



When Brennan made his early models, he found that, while the little cars

would remain upright and run along a straight rail, they left the track

at the first curve. The gyroscope governed their direction as well as

their equilibrium. It was the first check in the evolution of the

perfect machine. It was over ten years before he found the answer to the

problem--ten years of making experimental machines and scrapping them,

of filing useless patents, of doubt and persistence. But the answer was

found--in the spinning top.



A spinning top set down so that it stands at an angle to the floor will

right itself; it will rise till it stands upright on the point of equal

friction. Brennan's resource, therefore, was to treat his gyroscope as a

top. He enclosed it in a case, through which its axles projected, and at

each side of the car he built stout brackets reaching forth a few inches

below each end of the axle.



The result is not difficult to deduce. When the car came to a curve, the

centrifugal action tended to throw it outward; the side of the car that

was on the inside of the curve swung up and the bracket touched the axle

of the gyroscope. Forthwith, in the manner of its father, the top, the

gyroscope tried to stand upright on the bracket; all the weight of it

and all its wonderful force were pressed on that side of the car,

holding it down against the tendency to rise and capsize. The thing was

done; the spinning top had come to the rescue of its posterity. It only

remained to fit a double gyroscope, with the wheels revolving in

opposite directions, and, save for engineering details, the mono-rail

car was evolved.



Through the window in the back of the cab I was able to watch them at

then; work--not the actual gyroscopes, but their cases, quivering with

the unimaginable velocity of the great wheels within, turning and

tilting accurately to each shifting weight as the men on board moved

here and there. Above them were the glass oilcups, with the opal-green

engine-oil flushing through them to feed the bearings. Lubrication is a

vital part of the machine. Let that fail, and the axles, grinding and

red-hot, would eat through the white metal of the bearings as a knife

goes through butter. It is a thing that has been foreseen by the

inventor: to the lubricating apparatus is affixed a danger signal that

would instantly warn the engineer.



"But," says Brennan, "if one broke down, the other gyroscope would hold

her up--till ye could run her to a siding, anyway."



"But supposing the electric apparatus failed?" suggests a reporter--with

visions of headlines, perhaps. "Supposing the motor driving the

gyroscopes broke down; what then?"



"They'd run for a couple of days, with the momentum they've got,"

answers the inventor. "And for two or three hours, that 'ud keep her

upright by itself."



On the short track at Gillingham there are no gradients to show what the

car can do in the way of climbing, but here again the inventor is

positive. She will run up a slope as steep as one in six, he says. There

is no reason to doubt him; the five-foot model that he used to exhibit

could climb much steeper inclines, run along a rope stretched six feet

above the ground, or remain at rest upon it while the rope was swung to

and fro. It would do all these things while carrying a man; and, for my

part, I am willing to take Brennan's word.



Louis Brennan himself was by no means the least interesting feature of

the demonstration. He has none of the look of the visionary, this man

who has gone to war with time and space; neither had George Stephenson.

He is short and thick-set, with a full face, a heavy moustache hiding

his mouth, and heavy eyebrows. He is troubled a little with asthma,

which makes him somewhat staccato and breathless in speech, and perhaps

also accentuates the peculiar plaintive quality of his Irish voice.

There is nothing in his appearance to indicate whether he is thirty-five

or fifty-five. As a matter of fact, he is two years over the latter

age, but a man ripe in life, with that persistence and belief in his

work which is to engineers what passion is to a poet.



The technicalities of steel and iron come easily off his tongue; they

are his native speech, in which he expresses himself most intimately.

All his life he has been concerned with machines. He is the inventor of



the Brennan steerable torpedo, whose adoption by the Admiralty made him

rich and rendered possible the long years of study and experiment that

went to the making of the mono-rail car. He has a touch of the rich

man's complacency; it does not go ill with his kindly good humor and his

single-hearted pride in his life work.



It is characteristic, I think, of his honesty of purpose and of the

genius that is his driving force that hitherto he has concerned himself

with scientific invention somewhat to the exclusion of the commercial

aspects of his contrivance. He has had help in money and men from the

British Government, which likewise placed the torpedo factory at his

disposal; and the governments of India and--of all places--Kashmir have

granted him subsidies. Railroad men from all parts of the world have

seen his model; but he has not been ardent in the hunt for customers.

Perhaps that will not be necessary; the mono-rail car should be its own

salesman; but, in the meantime, it is not amiss that a great inventor

should stand aloof from commerce.



But, for all the cheerful matter-of-factness of the man, he, too, has

seen visions. There are times when he talks of the future as he hopes it

will be, as he means it to be, when "transportation is civilization."

Men are to travel then on a single rail, in great cars like halls, two

hundred feet long, thirty to forty feet wide, whirling across continents

at two hundred miles an hour--from New York to San Francisco between

dawn and dawn.



Travel will no longer be uncomfortable. These cars, equipped like a

hotel, will sweep along with the motion of an ice-yacht. They will not

jolt over uneven places, or strain to mount the track at curves; in each

one, the weariless gyroscopes will govern an unchanging equilibrium.

Trustful Kashmir will advance from its remoteness to a place accessible

from anywhere. Streetcar lines will no longer be a perplexity to paving

authorities and anathema to other traffic; a single rail will be flush

with the ground, out of the way of hoofs and tires. Automobiles will run

on two wheels like a bicycle. It is to be a mono-rail world, soothed and

assured by the drone of gyroscopes. By that time the patient ingenuity

of inventors and engineers will have found the means to run the

gyroscopes at a greater speed than is now possible, thus rendering it

feasible to use a smaller wheel. It is a dream based on good, solid

reasoning, backed by a great inventor's careful calculations; H.G. Wells

has given a picture of it in the last of his stories of the future.



Practical railroad men have given to the mono-rail car a sufficiently

warm welcome. They have been impressed chiefly by its suitability to the

conditions of transportation in the great new countries, as, for

instance, on that line of railway that is creeping north from the

Zambesi to open up the copper deposits of northwestern Rhodesia, and on

through Central Africa to its terminus at Cairo. Just such land as this

helped to inspire Brennan. He was a boy when he first saw the endless

plains of Australia, and out of that experience grew his first

speculations about the future of railway travel. Such lands make

positive and clear demands, if ever they are to be exploited for their

full value to humanity. They need railways quickly laid and cheaply

constructed; lines not too exacting in point of curves and gradients;

and, finally, fast travel. It is not difficult to see how valuable the

mono-rail would have been in such an emergency as the last Sudan War,

when the army dragged a line of railway with it down toward Omdurman.

Petrol-driven cars to replace the expensive steam locomotives, easy

rapid transit instead of the laborious crawl through the stifling desert

heat--a complete railway installation, swiftly and cheaply called into

being, instead of a costly and cumbersome makeshift.



The car went back to her garage, or engine-shed, or stable, or whatever

the railway man of the future shall decide to call it. Struts were

pulled into position to hold her up, the motors were switched off, and

the gyroscopes were left to run themselves down in forty-eight hours or

so. When the mono-rail comes into general use, explained Brennan, there

will be docks for the cars, with low brick walls built to slide under

the platforms and take their weight.



While his guests assembled in a store-shed to drink champagne and eat

sandwiches, he produced a big flat book, sumptuously bound, and told us

how his patents were being infringed on in Germany. On that same day

there was an exhibition of a mono-rail car on the Brennan principle

taking place at the Zo├Âlogical Gardens in Berlin; the book was its

catalogue. It was full of imaginative pictures of trains fifty years

hence, and thereto was appended sanguine letter-press. While there

sounded in our ears the hum of the gyroscopes from the car housed in the

rear, I translated one paragraph for him. It was to the effect that one

Brennan, an Englishman, had conducted experiments with gyroscopes ten

years ago, but the matter had gone no further.



"There, now," said Brennan.



* * * * *



(_Everybody's Magazine_)





THE BLESSEDNESS OF OBEYING GOD'S WORD. THE CAUSE OF THE TROUBLES facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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