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World War 1 Trench Train

Trench Locomotive, Pechot Materiel System, Artillery Crane and Side Tipper

The WW-1 narrow gauge trench train operation reproduced in 3.75" scale

When rail fans discuss narrow gauge railroads, conversation most often turns to Colorado's famous 3-foot systems or Maine's unique "2-Footers". Most do not realize that the largest narrow gauge operation ever undertaken occurred from 1914-1918 on World War 1's Western Front.

For the first time in history, million-man armies faced each other across a front encompassing multiple countries. This huge endeavor had an insatiable appetite for ammunition, food, and material. A heavy duty road network was years in the future, and cargo trucks were just beginning to be developed. Military planners of the late 19th century turned to lightly laid narrow gauge railroads similar to those used so successfully on plantations in colonial areas of the world. This technology was quickly adapted to the requirements of the Western Front. More than 10,000 diminutive locomotives and uncounted cars moved millions of tons of material forward to the trenches and returned with tens of thousands of wounded soldiers. All the major combatants - The United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany - used very similar equipment and shared the same 60cm (23-5/8") gauge. Many U.S. companies such as Baldwin, Alco, Davenport, Vulcan, Magor, Kilbourne&Jacobs, etc. produced 60cm equipment for all the allied countries in addition to a significant amount of 75cm for Russia. At the end of the conflict, most of this equipment quickly disappeared. Much was scrapped, sold as surplus, or shipped to remote locations.

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The originals may be gone, but you can recreate a bit of this history. RMI produces a select range of this very unique railroad equipment. Since it is all produced in authentic 3-3/4" scale, the units are large and robust. They are accurately reproduced, utilizing original designs and photographs of existing specimens, and assembled with thousands of solid steel rivets.


WW1 Baldwin 50 HP Narrow Gauge Trench Locomotive in 3.75" Scale

Baldwin 50hp Gas/Mechanical Locomotive

While the majority of motive power was steam driven, locomotives with Petrol/Oil burning internal combustion engines made a significant debut. Less powerful than their steam brethren, they had several unique advantages. They required far less maintenance, needed very little water, and could be shut down and easily restarted as the situation demanded. Most importantly, they produced little smoke, thereby presenting a less conspicuous target to enemy artillery.

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RMI offers an extremely accurate and complete model of Baldwin's 50 hp Gas/Mechanical "Trench Locomotive". It can be supplied as either an electric or gas/hydraulic unit. Like the prototype, a nose mounted gearbox drives a jack-shaft which is connected to the rear drivers through steam engine style main rods. The front and rear drivers are connected with side rods. This is a powerful, steady running 0-4-0, comfortably pulling heavy loads on very tight radius curves. It has a very unique character that seems to make friends wherever it goes!

Pechot Materiel Transport System Cars in 3.75" Scale

Pechot Materiel Transport System

Captain Prosper Pechot's concept of a highly modular system was based upon what he called "wagons". (We would call these units completely independent trucks.) They were heavily built with a very low center of gravity, and produced in 2, 3, and 4 axle models with individual footplates, brake wheels and rigging. On the 3 and 4 axle models, the wheels on the inner axle(s) were flangeless, allowing the whole series of trucks to negotiate very tight (25') radius curves. Used in various combinations, these trucks could support 5 to 24 tons. A number of different assemblies could then be placed place on top of or between two trucks. The simplest were swivel bolsters quite similar to logging bunks. Various frames were produced to support pre-made track panels, artillery shells, and even hundreds of loaves of bread! The most widely used combination was an elegantly over-built drop frame well car and 2-four wheel trucks. These chassis consisted of all steel, riveted frames with numerous tie-down rings and stake pockets. The uniquely shaped, forged steel stakes gave these cars a truly different appearance. They could carry staggering amounts of heavy materiel in their basic configuration or, with specialized bodies that dropped into the stake pockets, become box cars, litter carriers, troop transports, etc.

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These units are the ultimate expression of the steel car builder's art. Their massive construction and very low center of gravity make them some of the most stable narrow gauge cars available. The basic unit can be quickly changed into any of its many variants (heavy hauler flat car, troop transport, box car, litter carrier, etc.), adding realism to any operation. This same modularity also makes them very easy to transport.

Artillery Crane

Single Truck Artillery Crane with Live Counterweight

This is one of the strangest and most clever pieces of railway equipment ever devised. The crane was carried on top of a 2-axle Pechot truck. It could swivel 360 degrees, had a fixed height boom, and a hand cranked lifting rigging winch. These cranes were specifically designed to lift a specific load (artillery shells) of constant weight. To keep the unit small and compact, the crane utilized a clever, self-adjusting counterweight. As a load was applied, the weight was pulled farther along a track opposite the boom to maintain balance. When not deployed, this weight rolled back to a position directly over the center of the truck, assuring the most stable configuration for travel.

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All these features are completely reproduced in RMI's model, including the main chain winch with full gearing and ratchet control. Mounted on a prototypical Pechot truck, this unit is a must for those seeking a most unique example of narrow gauge ingenuity.
Note: A number of people have mounted this crane on the deck of our 3-3/4" work cabooses. It's a great application!

Side Tipper Dump Car

2-Axle, 1 Cubic Yard Side-Tipper

Nearly identical versions of these diminutive, man-tippable cars were built by every nation with narrow gauge railways. Originally used in quarries, brick yards, peat bogs, and for road building, these cars found numerous applications at the front. Besides hauling many bulk materials and aiding in the construction of right of way, they were sometimes pressed into service as personnel transport.

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As with other RMI trench equipment, these cars are constructed and operate exactly like the originals and feature all steel, all riveted construction. A string of these little beauties is one of the most attractive and authentic consists available for the military, mining, or industrial narrow gauge operator.

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