A Return Ticket to Buckingham – Part 3, the Automatic Crispin

Peter Denny’s Buckingham branch was very much an operational layout; for many years Peter’s children – Stephen and Crispin – were his chief assistant operators.  However, as his children grew up they weren’t always available and Peter found himself operating short-handed.   He found this frustrating as the need to cover the missing person interfered with the remainder of the operators.

This provoked the creation of the Automatic Crispin, one of the more famous parts of the layout.  Long before the use of DCC, micro-processors or automatic shuttles, this was an electromechanical computer – and very ingenious (and mind bogglingly complicated) it is too.  This was designed by Peter’s other son – Stephen – and took the place of Crispin to operate a portion of the layout automaticaly, in response to requests and commands from the other operators.

The heart of the system are a pair of disks and a paper chart with holes in it; all powered by motors and the enivitable mechano!  The disks contain a series of metal studs or runners, each of which is connected to either the bell, the block instrument, the track or turnout relays.  Running across these were a series of wiper blades of brass that connected power to the studs or runner as required.

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The operation of the disk was initiated by Grandborough Jct’s signalman.  As he sends a bell code, this sends a pulse of power to initiate the motor to rotate the disks or the paper chart on one segment; this first segment sends power to activate a bell code reply (each stud giving a ping).  When this is answered by Grandborough Jct, in addition to acknowledging the offering forward of a train with a further bell code, it sets the block instrument.  The acknowledgement of the latter being the next command to operate the correct route into the fiddle yard and power up the track in order to allow the train to arrive.  The arriving train would hit a dead portion of track at the end of the fiddle yard to stop it running away, but in the process would send the “train out of section” bell code back to Grandborough Jct to allow the line to be cleared.

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The story always told by Peter was that the Automatic Crispin was required when the real Crispin went to University but I think it is time to share with the world that this was a white lie.  Crispin’s more prosaic explanation was that he had discovered girls at the time and all of a sudden, playing with Daddy’s trainset didn’t seem quite so interesting…….

As can be seen in the pictures, at present the Automatic Crispin is presently in bits, but is all beleived to be complete.  It is part of Tony’s master plan to reassemble this; its orignator Stephen is apparently up for assisting to, so who knows?

To conclude the last of these three posts on Buckingham Central, a few photographs and to give you a chance to see the Automatic Crispen in action, take a look at this link to the BBC News article on Peter’s death and some video from circa 1980 of the layout – enjoy!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cornwall/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8700000/8700293.stm

It is fair to say that Peter Bond and myself were not as proficient as Peter and his sons in this, sounds like we need some more practise Peter……..

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About highlandmiscellany

Just playing trains; my weekday life is a bit more serious though!

Posted on January 23, 2017, in Buckingham Central and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The automatic Crispen sounds like a development of Walker’s train describer, used amongst possibly others, on the lines into London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross. To advise the signalmen in the box in advance of the destination of the train about to pass from the control of one box to another, Charles V Walker, Telegraph Engineer to the South Eastern Railway had invented as early as the 1870s a train describer, which required for its operation only a single wire between boxes. One or more train describers per track were provided in the box at each end of the section, together with sometimes on intervening station platforms for the information of station staff. Both transmitting and receiving instruments consisted of circular glass fronted dials annotated around the circumference with the various descriptions, mounted on white discs, to describe the route and type of the next train. Generally there were twelve possible descriptions available on each instrument, one of which was ‘Cancel’, although twenty four position instruments were subsequently also used. Behind the face of the transmitting instrument was a circular disc upon which were mounted twelve pins, while around the outside of the face of the instrument was a series of small levers, one opposite each description. By pulling one of these forward, the signalman dispatching the train would release the previous lever and initiate the rotation of the pointer, driven by clockwork. As each pin was passed an electrical impulse was sent to the receiving box. Each step resulted in an audible click as each pin was passed and caused the pointer in the receiving instrument(s) to follow suit, until they both (all) came to rest at the appropriate description.

    By 1957 the limitations of this equipment led to the SR/SReg’s worst accident on 4 December, see “St John’s Lewisham, 50 years on, Restoring traffic”, The Oakwood Press (now Stenlake), 2007.

  2. Thanks to Tony Gee for preserving Buckingham Great Central. It is good to know that visitors are continuing to enjoy operating the layout. The photos are excellent. Buckingham was designed to be viewed from operating distance and the taking of close up shots was discouraged. However, I think the photo of the Goods and Grain Warehouse really captures the atmosphere of a railway.
    On operating the railway to the timetable and keeping pace with the speeded up clock – I can tell you the clock is part of the Automatic Crispin. The speeded up clock is sometimes referred to as scale time. When fully functioning with the Automatic Crispin the clock advances the punched hole paper tape every 10 scale minutes. In turn the paper tape sets the storage sidings points, bell code etc. in line with the timetable. At the entrance/exit to the storage sidings there is a detector that identifies if a scheduled movement has taken place. In the event that a scheduled train has been delayed by more than 5 scale minutes the clock will stop until the train passes the detector. Reference is made to the clock stopping in the online BBC video.
    Interestingly, Bond is Peter Denny’s middle name and the maiden name of his mother. How apt it was to see another Peter Bond at the Buckingham controls.

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