Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Letters -

There are some very in­ter­est­ing com­ments from your reader in your June is­sue lead let­ter, re­gard­ing any thoughts of changing South Africa’s rail gauge.

Just to side­track a lit­tle (pun in­tended). a lit­tle in­ter­est­ing his­tory about rail­way gauges, which many of your read­ers may not be aware of.

Ge­orge Stephen­son built the first pub­lic trans­port steam lo­co­mo­tive, fol­lowed sev­eral years later by his son Robert, and his world fa­mous “Rocket”, thus in­tro­duc­ing the rail gauge of 4 foot 8½ inches. This gauge is the stan­dard through­out Bri­tain and many parts of the world to this day.

Of course, many years pre­vi­ously, coal mines in the north-east of Eng­land were us­ing var­i­ous steam-driven trans­port­ing con­trap­tions on var­i­ous gauge tracks. I have de­lib­er­ately omit­ted men­tion of the nu­mer­ous other ex­per­i­men­tal trans­port sys­tems at the time.

Stephen­son was do­ing his thing in the north-east; an en­gi­neer named Isam­bard Brunel (to many, and to me, the finest en­gi­neer of all time) was busy in the south of the coun­try with a rail gauge of 7 feet. It took a Royal Com­mis­sion at the time to ad­ju­di­cate which gauge should be the Bri­tish Stan­dard. Stephen­son’s was se­lected on the ba­sis that there had been con­sid­er­ably more track laid, this de­spite the fact that Brunel’s gauge pro­duced a lower cen­tre of grav­ity of lo­co­mo­tive and car­riage, re­sult­ing in su­pe­rior sta­bil­ity, higher speeds and bet­ter all-round ef­fi­ciency.

As an in­ter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal foot­note, the orig­i­nal min­ing rail­ways fol­lowed the gauge of un­der­ground tim­ber tracks for pit ponies to trans­port coal wag­ons to the sur­face, and gen­er­ally fol­lowed from the net­work of rut­ted roads for horse-drawn car­riages. This very rough stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of gauge was to elim­i­nate un­nec­es­sary dam­age to carts, axles and stage­coaches that trav­elled the roads of Eng­land, thus keep­ing them on track. This stan­dard­i­s­a­tion had fol­lowed the paths of the pre­vi­ous in­va­sion forces of the Ro­man Em­pire, and its many horse-drawn char­i­ots.

How did the Ro­mans ar­rive at their char­iot gauge? Well, rather nat­u­rally, it was the de­creed and adopted stan­dard wheel cen­tres to ac­com­mo­date two warhorse back­sides.

More re­cently, the space shut­tle booster rock­ets are trans­ported from their Utah fac­tory to their launch­ing site on a rail net­work, through sev­eral tun­nels that have the clear­ances of the orig­i­nal rail­way gauge of 4 foot 8½ inches. So, it seems, that solid rocket booster sizes were restricted by the pre­vi­ously adopted “Ro­man War Horse Back­side Gauge”! IAN J GIL­MOUR CAPE TOWN


A new toaster? Come off it, I have seen them all.

A new toaster, re­cently patented though not on the mar­ket yet, holds the prom­ise to be­come one of the most pop­u­lar patents ever to leave the shores of Africa. With an out­side ap­pear­ance very much the same as a con­ven­tional toaster’s, the in­side dif­fers in the sense that the heat­ing plates are rec­tan­gu­lar-shaped, with a loose and re­mov­able in­ner sec­tion that is sim­i­larly shaped. This re­sults in two slices of bread toasted to­gether on three sides – a cav­ity be­tween them and an open­ing on one side.

Un­like with con­ven­tional toast­ers, fresh veg­eta­bles – think toma­toes, onions, let­tuce – can now be added af­ter the toast­ing process. With three sides toasted to­gether, it is very much gravy- or sauce-friendly. Help your­self to the max­i­mum, be­cause once in­side, it stays in­side. Be­fore fill­ing, the in­sides of the bread can be used for any spread; it all adds up to the taste of fresh­ness.

Any meat left­overs, which are nor­mally not very tasty, can now be trans­ferred into a meal fit for a king. Freshly made fill­ing op­tions are un­lim­ited, and ham­pered by your imag­i­na­tion only. Be it break­fast, lunch or sup­per time, this new cav­ity toaster is sheer en­joy­ment. You don’t dish up, you dish in.

Need­less to say, this will lead the way to a new and ex­cit­ing “cav­ity burger”. (Just be pa­tient, it is com­ing your way.)

I have spent quite some time on de­vel­op­ing the toaster and was able to make it more user-friendly. Af­ter hav­ing con­ducted an in­de­pen­dent search, noth­ing sim­i­lar could be found. As far as le­gal pro­tec­tion is con­cerned I am cov­ered well into next year. Funds will be avail­able be­fore the ex­piry date for fi­nal fil­ing in a few coun­tries, in­clud­ing the USA. Mar­ket­ing is now my main aim. AL­BERT STAN­FORD BUFFELSPOORT, NW

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