At 89 y/o, this senior citizen engineer built a life-size toy train
Nearly two millennia ago, railway engineers in England and France thought of what they call as the “atmospheric railway.” The idea is to use differential air pressure to provide power for propulsion of a railway vehicle, removing the need of the locomotive and its fuel.
The slot is lined with leather to maintain the seal. And that leather is coated with tallow, or rendered cooking cow fat, to protect it from the elements.
But one of the main problems of this system is that the tallow attracted rats. Hence, and for several other reasons, the idea never prospered into a reality, and belonged into a book of engineering fails.
Grabbed from Getty Images
Somehow – perhaps reincarnation – Max Schlienger thought of a similar railway system about 20 years ago. It lingered his mind, “What if trains ran on vacuum power?” without knowing that there was a similar concept ages ago.
Schlienger has always been interested in making things. He worked as an engineer specializing in metallurgy for many decades, eventually putting up his own company. He did this while filing patents in between. Now he holds 24 patents in all.
One of those patents is the “magnetically coupled transportation module,” which is the one I am talking about. This has been Schlienger’s project ever since he thought of the groundbreaking idea. He left the metallurgy business in the 1990s, with tendering of grapes in his vineyard as a hobby.
The project is essentially the modern version of the atmospheric railway – instead of leather and tallow, he used magnets in the system.
Along the process, Schlienger’s son found in a book of failed inventions about the atmospheric railway and told his father about it.
“Had they (railway engineers) had the high-strength magnets that we have today, they probably would have done the same thing we’re doing now,” Schlienger commented. He persevered even more with the project.
At 89 y/o, this senior citizen engineer built a life-size toy train. Photo by The Ukiah Daily Journal.
Video by Flight Rail Corp
Today, there is a one-sixth scale of that system found in Schlienger’s vineyard in the northern town of Ukiah in California, U.S.A. It was developed under his family-run company called Flight Rail Corp starting about two years ago, to demonstrate the benefits of moving the power source from the train to the track.
The “Vectorr” system, as what Flight Rail Corp prefers to call it, uses a propulsion system composed of a PVC pipe, a pump, powerful magnets, and a thrust carriage.
Air can be drawn out or filled in the PVC pipe using a pump. The thrust carriage, like a watermelon in size moving within the pipe, is connected to the train with powerful magnets. This is what makes the Vectorr move back and forth under vacuum power.
Such a train can climb steadily on a 10% grade, and can traverse a 22-degree curve using a banked guideway.
Plus, it isn’t as noisy, as messy, and as energy-intensive. No overhead power lines needed. And Vectorr allows usage of renewable energy to power the pumps, although the prototype right now runs on a diesel generator.
Schlienger ultimately wants to prove that there is a better way of powering trains. He said in an interview with WIRED, “Everyone else is tied into the standard gauge railroad trains that we have today. I think that’s a stagnation point in the way people think.”
It’s unlikely that Schlienger will see the Vectorr become a transportation reality. He is already 89. And the company needs funds for a full-scale testing, not to mention the other challenges which will be encountered along the way.
But he always remembered what his dad said before passing away in 1993: just keep going on it. Now he is depending on his sons to continue the legacy project, to not waste the time and millions of dollars spent so far.
“I think it will be worth it,” he said. “It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will be worth it.”
Top photo and info source: WIRED