Those of you who have visited Pittsburgh or have seen the Steelers play on Monday night know of the two preserved inclines that ply Mt Washington and overlook the city. The Duquesne Incline was the earliest, built in 1877. In 1962 it was going to be just another one of those Things That Aren't There Anymore, but some extraordinary people rallied to save it. This is what it looks like For a long time I wanted an incline to call my own. When I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh a crude wooden home-made incline showed up at local antique store but had a $325 price tag on it. For a graduate student in 1988 on a $650 monthly stipend this might have just as well been $32,500. A few years later it resurfaced in another antique store for $125, and at that time my stipend has increased to $900 a month. But that still represented about 1/3 my York money, and about 1/10 my yearly train budget. After looking at it long and hard, I decided I had to pass and stick to "real" trains. Also it wasn't anything I couldn't have made myself, and I vowed to make one someday. Of course I still regret that decision, especially since my wife spends that amount at Starbucks on a weekly basis. And it has taken me 20 years to get around to making one.
The beginning of the process was to determine what I wanted mine to look like. I really wanted something that looked like it was made by Voltamp or Carlisle and Finch. That meant it had to be simple and even somewhat crude, perfectly complimenting my modeling skills. I had some existing examples: Carlisle and Finch had made an incline toy around 1897. It had simple flat cars, and it only had a head house which looked like a garage with a smokestack. This actually was prototypical as Cincinnati had inclines which were flat cars with rails which carried the streetcars up the hills. Imagine if Carlisle and Finch had done that for their trolleys! Don't think I wasn't tempted, but I had no interest in seeing my Finch #42 trolley take a header off a mountain. The one I saw in Pittsburgh would have been easy to reproduce: the cars looked like smaller versions of the Lionel 2-7/8 gauge #100 but using perforated metal sides instead of solid tinplate. The headhouse was a simple arched roof on four posts. There was no foot(?) house or mechanism; it looked like it was meant to be hooked up to a steam or electric engine and hand reversed.
I was well on the way to doing something like this, when I realized that if I was going to all this bother, why not go all out and make an interpretation of the Duquesne Incline? I still wanted it to look like something that was made 80 years ago, but I put a lot more detail into the cars than Voltamp or Finch ever would have, including Joe Mania repro people. For the head and foot house, I decided to use paper labels like Finch used on their stations and early trains. Here it is < If you want to see a crappy video of it, use the youtube link below or click on the video:
The mechanism is simplicity itself: a DC gear motor turns a giant pulley and a relay is activated when the incline car wheels span a gap in the track, completing a circuit and reversing the cars. The headhouse has lights that alternate with direction showing which car is going up and which car is going down - a simple thing American Flyer used to do with their standard gauge engines.
To my amazement, all the work I did figuring out the desired linear travel speed and back calculating the pulley rotational speed, motor speed and pulley diameter actually worked out and on the first try the thing ran exactly as I had intended it. So maybe I wasn't able to afford the one in Pittsburgh because I was in graduate school, but that ednucation sure come in handy.
I made the stations out of sheet metal, and did the labels in Powerpoint. And here we have the problem. The paper I used was, well, paper thin and I had a hell of a time getting it on without wrinkling or bleeding the adhesive. Also after I was done and looked at it for awhile, I noticed that the entire station is completely wrong. It has all the styling cues of the real thing (good to have in a toy) but the proportions are all wrong (real bad to have in a toy). The real one is all cute and chubby, like a castle. Mine is lean and mean, like a fortress. It will have to be redone. Totally. The foot house was made as a quick mock up and I always intended to remake it.Also I need to do something about the mountain to make the station look like its built into the hill instead of hanging over it. That is way down the list of priorities.
I am not sure if I am going to stick with the paper label effect or go with painted metal, or even all-wood structures. I have been thinking about getting repro Ives lead windows and making the stations similar in construction to the the first series Ives stations. I could use some opinions on this.