For most people the thought of research is like cutting lawns: it
has to be done but other activities get a higher priority. I worry
about the lawns when the police helicopter is called in to find the
kids in the back yard. Probably for many people, "how" to research is
the least understood with some already involved gathering data and
photos via friends, club members and magazines. Is there more than
What is it?
Research is the endeavour to find out information about a certain
topic. For the particular interest of modeling, the information can
be broken into three parts
In combination the three can provide a comprehensive story. One
interesting point is the difference between modeling and historical
focus. The modeler wants diagrams, construction and lettering data,
generally for a specific era. The historian is more concerned with
the total history of the class or vehicle with overviews of traffic,
construction and scrapping.
To conduct this type of activity the hunter / gatherer has the
- Time - How much time are you prepared to devote to the
- Money - How much cold hard cash are you willing to part
- Contacts - Who are you going to ask within your
communication network? These contacts will narrow the field and
provide even more opportunities.
- Attitude - Hot under the collar and frustrated because
"the bloke who knows" won't help you?. Is your posture a
threatening one? i.e. no time, no money but you must have it now.
It shows, believe me. Establish a rapport and long term benefits
will arise. Even trips and effort that yield no data will lay the
foundation for future material.
- Commitment - How determined are you achieve the task?
Many people talk of goals that sound fantastic but never get
achieved. Obviously success was the lowest priority.
Working through the above points will assist in determining your
chances of success for your goal. Plenty of money with no time means
you can take short cuts and copy lots of material. Plenty of time and
no money means research can be a bit more relaxed.
Ultimately the material can be sourced from:
- Rolling Stock owner
- Ledger books, Data files, inventory
- Files from within the Rolling stock department
- Maintenance records
- from work sites
- from main office
- Operation records - crew, train list, circulars
- Personal material from people involved
- Publications - libraries, clubs, subscriptions, newspapers,
special interest books
- Archives - Government, company, society, groups or clubs
- Internet - newsgroups, websites, emails
- Clubs - groups and societies
- People - friends, contacts, memberships
- Personal investigation
- Off site locations
- Yard / track access
- Tagging / stamping
The following influences can change the rolling stock 'scene':
- Upturn - shortages, modifications, new rolling
- Downturn - storage, scrapping, maintenance
- Market forces
- Export - increase/decrease, new rolling stock, load
- Import - ditto
- Government influences
- Monetary influences
- Dollar value affects markets
- Traffic subsidies revalued
- Tax support altered
- Traffic regulations and control
- Safety issues
- Government "influences"
- Equipment vendors
- New technology
- Sales marketing
- Equipment age
- Equipment capacity
- New ideas
- Financial aspects
- Motive power
- Freight movements
- Advance planning
- Management direction
Like all things mechanical, rolling stock has a life cycle. This
can be laid out as:
- Planning / proposals
- Entry to service
- Repair work (as required)
- Traffic modifications (as required)
- Structural changes
- Lettering changes
- Structural upgrade (as required)
- Test modifications (as required)
- Cyclic maintenance
- Cyclic paint / lettering
- Storage (as required)
- Reenter service | Conversion | Scrapping | Sold
With the research, data and scraps of information will be
collected. Ultimately and hopefully it will all be stored, sourced
and easy to find. That's the plan anyway. From any source, the
information must be accepted at face value. The information chain can
be sketched as:
This sketch attempts to graphically show the 'layers' of
- Event - an event occurs
In the life cycle of rolling stock, I have defined each step in
the cycle as an event. Events, such as construction, modification
or scrapping are due to some stimulus or trigger. The rail scene
is a very dynamic environment. Whilst it may not be apparent to
the casual user, a quick review of any fifteen year period will
show many changes. The key is to use that knowledge of change to
understand the significance of what is being observed.
- Company - chain of recording about the event from work
done and local records to correspondence and maintenance of main
- Private - Non company recording of event from sightings
and photographs to maintenance of home records and letters. The
information from this area ultimately depends two things:
- the knowledge the observer has about the event observed and
his 'knowledge base'
- the agenda of the person ( ego, research, information
colation, ie continuity )
- Company Publication - Company publishes timetables,
load charts, diagrams, booklets, data sheets, etc. from internal
- Private Publication - Trade, newspapers and rail fan
magazines collect information from private and company sources -
watch for agenda interests
- Research - Research by a person can touch all the
information sources from event through to external
I guess the biggest problem facing researchers is the validity of
information. 'More of the same' still doesn't make it right.
Initially one must accept all data and sources at face value. Once
sufficient data is on hand then it is possible to discount sources
and/or the data. The key to data validation is to understand where
the data has come from. This is generally provided from the data
itself, by the detail provided and the method of distribution. The
following points should be kept in mind when reading or understanding
the acquired data:
- Does the article/data elaborate and expand details that can be
determined from the photos and diagrams included?
- How does the article/data start and what is it trying to
- Publishing is done for two reasons - what's the angle?
- Ego - What's in this 'wheelbarrow'?
- Teach - desire to pass on information and inform
- Does the article/data provide new information or insight? Or
is it rehashing existing material?
- Does the 'Urban myth' rear its head again?
- How many unknowns has the author laid out and how successful
was the author in trying to understand what was going on?
- Personal observations and notes should be kept separate from
data tables. Discrepancies or assumptions should only be included
- Arguments against specific history viewpoints should have
sufficient information presented to the reader. It is not
acceptable to present diverging views without backup.
- What has been ignored in the article?
- When was the article written? Before passing judgement on the
material can the author be contacted to obtain an update? Quite
often material is published at an early stage with the author
continuing research and gaining much more knowledge that the
- Contact with author - can you contact the author? What the
response to questions and anomalies? Response should vary from
assistance to a position defense depending upon points within the
article. Note: contact may be difficult due to perceived
Most important of all is to keep an open mind.
Type of Data
The type of data generally collected is:
- Class letters and number group
- Attributes - dimensions, tare and load weights, loading
- Vehicle numbers with different structural design
- Construction | Conversion IN date
- Delivery date
- Test date
- In service date
- Modification dates
- Paint scheme change date (logo, colours)
- Special traffic and area dates
- Out of service date
- Scrap | Sold | Conversion OUT date
This information can divided into three main groups:
- Inventory - Built, converted, scrapped, sold
- Maintenance- Paint, lift, repair, modifications,
- Operations - Unusual traffic, unusual locations,
sightings, general traffic use
The information that counts is that which adds to, or confirms,
our sum of knowledge. Traffic sightings and use help confirm the
vehicle in use through the years. Between construction and scrapping
the vehicle is in the system doing work. A data logger on every
vehicle would produce an enormous amount of material. Constant
observation and note taking would generate lots of information. By
looking at the vehicle life cycle and the types of information that
can be recorded it is possible to work out what is important. The key
is to understand what data is useful and what is not so.
The importance of information will in the most part be very
subjective, depending upon the experience of the collector.
Passengers cars are interesting. They tend to have a higher
profile of interest. Fewer cars, more visibility, more information
and more importantly, people ride in them and form attachments.
Please note: These notes were written to present an overview or
'big picture' to the research scene. My concern was not to elaborate
on the mechanics of research within institutions such as record
offices, libraries and archives.
Peter J. Vincent, March 2003