Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Making paper model trains

These paper steam trains (printable files here, here, and here) were easy to make, since they are basically just paper boxes. But they started a larger trend. I told the boys I had seen more complicated paper models, but they took more time and precision to make, so we weren't going to do them right then. After they begged and begged, I finally said maybe we could try them another day. 

These more complicated models are of the TGV (high-speed train in France and other parts of Europe) and building them took a little more supervision from me at first. They are really cool, once built---much more detailed and realistic than the other paper trains we'd made.
Abe's TGV
Sebby, especially, became more and more obsessed with them. Once he had built a few, they weren't too hard, although he used tape instead of glue for the trickiest folds. For several weeks he was working on one of the TGV cars during every spare moment! He even added the pantograph to the top (the paper model omits that detail, to Seb's disapproval) . . .
and made a system of track and catenary wire for them to run on.

He experimented with making his own models too.
But eventually, he came back to printing out model after model from this site, which has dozens to choose from.
The models have all the different cars to print for each type of TGV, so eventually he got an entire train assembled, and then another. I think now he has made nearly every type on the website. It was really fun to watch him getting better and better at it as he went along.
Eventually Seb made a display case (with informational panel) to hold his favorite TGV power cars. He includes the proper pronunciation (we pronounce it the French way, "tae-zhae-vae") since he does NOT approve of saying "tee-gee-vee"! :)
Here are the power cars resting on their high-speed track, with lovely mountain scenery in the background.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Circus Train craft

On the day we talked about specialty trains, we also made this Circus Train out of butter boxes. (We also watched a Circus Train episode from Extreme Trains---very cool.) Each child made their own train car (and Seb also made the locomotive). We just cut out squares from both sides of each butter box, then drew animals to put inside. Last, we taped on straws to make bars so the animals wouldn't get out!
We read Curious George Rides A Bike to remember what circus train cars look like (although in that book, they are actually trailers pulled by a truck, not train cars):
Circus Bear
Circus Birds
Circus Monkey and Snake
Circus Penguins (Daisy made these---the Daddy Penguin, on the right, is working at his computer and wearing headphones.)

Train Play

As you can imagine (and as if they needed any further encouragement), the children did a lot of playing centered around trains during this unit. It was fun to see what they came up with in their free time!
(This was a failed attempt at making a high-speed train---Seb thought he could reduce the friction between the train car and the ground by getting everything wet. The cardboard didn't hold up to that very well.) :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Freight Trains; Specialty Trains

This cool picture shows Bailey Yard, the largest railroad classification yard in the world. How trains are sorted and assembled is a question we'd never even thought to ask, but we loved learning about it!

This shows how the "hump" helps to separate and sort train cars

We also really liked looking through these pictures of types of freight cars.

We talked about some specialized trains like cable cars (we've always loved cable cars!) and trams (we've always loved trams!). Trams and Cable Cars are basically the same thing, in fact (though aerial trams can't usually ungrip from their cable), which is why aerial trams are sometimes called "cable cars" (like the one that goes across the Thames) . . . and streetcars are sometimes called "trams." See here, here, and here.

Just to keep things interesting, there is also the term "funicular"---a train which works the same as a cable car, except there are two cars that counterbalance each other as they go up and down a slope. Here are some beautiful pictures of a very steep funicular railway.

A video about how cable cars work

A video showing the cable car museum in San Francisco where the big motors are housed (we didn't get to go here when we visited SF, unfortunately---next time for sure!)

Rack-and-pinion railways, also called "cog railways," are different still (they are also used for steep slopes, though)---here's a video about rack-and-pinions.
And some beautiful pictures.

Monday, March 17, 2014

ATK Rocket Display

As we were driving toward Promontory Summit, we saw several signs with pictures of rockets and "ATK" on them. We wondered if we were near some sort of explosives or rocket factory, but we'd never heard of ATK and didn't see anything that looked recognizable. We thought no more of it until we were driving back from the Golden Spike historic site, and Sebby said, "Look at that long white rocket!" I was not inclined to believe there would be such a thing, out in the middle of the desert, but after we went around a few more bends in the road, there it was! Something long, white, and pointy. We decided we had to go investigate.

It wasn't difficult to find, as there were road signs that said "Rocket Display--2 miles." We just followed them and soon arrived at a large, office-building-y facility, with a bunch of rockets strewn around in front. We parked in visitor parking and went to look around. The rockets and motor casings all have signs in front of them, and helpful diagrams showing you which components they are. It was awesome! 
It was so windy and there were tumbleweeds everywhere! We passed a million of them on the road.

Later I mentioned this place to a couple people, who both said, "Oh, Thiokol?" in a knowledgable way. Which I'd never heard of either, but I guess that's its parent company, or what it used to be called, or something. ATK stands for Alliant Techsystems, apparently, and they have several facilities in Utah. What we had run into was the ATK Propulsion Systems facility. It's nice of them to put out their rockets for people to look at, way out there in the middle of nowhere! The other thing you should do while in the area, I've heard, is look at the Spiral Jetty (if it's not underwater, that is). But we didn't do it, regrettably.
Patriot Missile
Motor casing
And our very favorite (Malachi was ecstatic to see this in person!)---the reusable solid rocket motor. (This picture shows the exit cone.) This is one of the motors that goes on the outside of the space shuttle, like this:
It was so enormous! We loved it. And it was the perfect place to eat our lunch. :)

Golden Spike National Historic Site field trip (and the Transcontinental Railroad)

I've always felt like we were kind of special because we lived in Utah, where the two sides of the Transcontinental Railroad met. But I'd never actually been to Promontory Summit where the last spike was driven. So I was happy to have this opportunity to finally visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site!

We postponed our trip for what was supposed to be a warm(er) day, but when the day came, it was cold and windy! As it was our last free day for some time, we decided to brave the elements and go anyway. The last half hour of the drive was beautiful, through rocky, desert-y country like this:
It was interesting to think about how wild and untameable it must have seemed to people crossing it for the first time by rail! The picture above shows a cutting near Promontory Summit---you can see the chisel marks in the rock, and the stacks of cut rock on top of the hill.
Here you can see a huge embankment the railroad workers built up to cross a low-lying area. First, they tried a (hastily and badly-built) trestle to cross the area, but it was a hazard, and they eventually replaced it with this fill instead. It must have been an enormous undertaking!
Because it is not the summer season, the locomotives (replicas of the original Jupiter and 119 locomotives) were being worked on in the engine house. Starting in May, there are re-enactments of the Golden Spike ceremony and they run the steam locomotives, which we would like to see sometime. But we enjoyed being able to look at everything up close in the engine house, and being there off-season meant we had everything to ourselves (a private tour!) so we quite liked it anyway. It was fascinating to see all the workings of the engines up close. Everything looks so powerful---even when it's not running!
We enjoyed turning this little model and watching how the steam pushes the pistons, which push the driving rods and turn the wheels.
The details are beautifully done on the locomotives---the 119 had these lovely little pictures on its corners
Huge driving wheels
Seb was really fascinated with this enormous piston

The park ranger that gave us the Engine House tour was really nice, and back at the Visitor's Center (the Engine House is just across a field from it) they had some good movies for us to watch, including Thomas Edison's "The Great Train Robbery." There's also a small museum area, which we liked.
Coupling pin
This display showed all the steps involved in making the railroad, from surveying to hammering in the ties.
Outside, we stood on this section of original rail while almost getting blown away. It was REALLY windy! (Look at Daisy's hair!) Junie, immediately upon setting foot outside the door, felt the strong wind and started crying. She thought she was going to blow away.
It gave us quite a thrill to see the spot, the very spot, where this photograph was taken---the meeting point of the two rail lines.
We re-enacted the historic handshake.
You can see the telegraph lines where they sent the message to the nation that the railroad was finally complete!
The golden spikes, of course, were never left on the rails in the first place, and the special laurelwood tie had to be removed and replaced also. But you can see the gouges (above) in many of the surrounding ties, where people hacked out souvenirs to take home from the ceremony.
And Sebby presents . . . the Transcontinental Railroad!
On our way out of the area, we drove on a couple of scenic routes to see some cuttings and embankments done nearby. We also stopped at the "Chinese Arch," which is named for the Chinese Railroad Workers. It's a naturally-formed arch, but it doesn't look like it with that squared-off underside! Very interesting.

We really liked this field trip in spite of the cold and windy day, and in spite of all of us forgetting it was St. Patrick's Day and realizing to our horror that none of us had worn green! *gasp* That has never happened before. We had to eat our picnic lunch in the car, but luckily we found a great place to do it, on the main road just a half mile past where you turn to get to Golden Spike National Monument. It was something we never expected to see out there in the middle of nowhere . . . but it will have to wait for another post! :)
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