What Keeps a Train on the Track?

At first, it may seem very simply and obvious: the flange keeps the wheel on the track, right?

Nope, that’s not the answer!

To understand why, let’s first get some background on how train wheels are made:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O6-Cwawq44

The primary take away from the above video is that train wheels are big and come together with a joined axle — that is, they don’t have a differential. If you don’t know what a differential is, or want to be impressed by an awesome video from 1937, take a look-see as this:

That still doesn’t explain what keeps a train on the track though. If you haven’t been able to figure it out yet, Feynman will explain:

…and that’s called rail adhesion.

via Kottke

Empire Builder 8

Rachel’s grandmother passed away last week, so we’re making the trek to Montana for the funeral service. We were going to visit Portland this weekend, but that trip has been preempted by this.

Since the funeral isn’t until Monday, we decided to inject some fun and take the train to Montana and then fly back.

We’ve never ridden on a train for travel, except when I was in Europe. So this will be a first for both of us in the US, which Rachel calls Darjeeling Limited-style.

The train ride takes 23 hours, so I’m hoping to provide some updates en route.

Cheers!


4.3 mm || f/2.4 || ISO160 || iPhone 4S
Seattle, Washington, United States


Free booze? Yes please!

Dateline: Krakow, Day 3 – Schindler’s Factory

Krakow, Poland
29 July 2009

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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Krakow, Lesser Poland, Poland

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Dulowa, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Dulowa, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Dulowa, Lesser Poland, Poland


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Dateline: Prauge, Day 1 — Getting There

Prauge, Czech Republic
20 July 2009

The thing that sucks the most about traveling by train is that it can take all..

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…day…

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…long.

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Dateline: Arbon, Day 2 – Lazy Tuesday

Arbon, Switzerland
14 July 2009

Today, I did nothing. And it was great. It was nice being in a, somewhat, familiar settings and just being lazy and sleeping in, watching TV, and getting laundry done (although, that was more of a challenge than I was hoping for).

From the album: "Andrew_Quinn_on_Europe_Tour" by Guenther Breu

After Remo and Günther got back from work, we walked around and had some dinner before departing for our train to Vienna.

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From the album: "Andrew_Quinn_on_Europe_Tour" by Guenther Breu

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We actually tried to get tickets for our train to Vienna before dinner, however the station was closed. So like all good travelers we winged it and ended up just talking to the conductor and buying tickets from him, which worked well enough. We shared a couchette with some fellow travelers from the USA, although they were much older.

Dateline: Paros, Day 1 – 24 Hours on Paros

Paros, Greece
1 July 2009

We (Charlie and I) bid our farewells to Finn and Cecilie and then made our way down to the ferry terminal. The ferry boats they use to island hop are something else and not anything like the ones we use in Washington. They are specially designed and highly manuverable cruise ships with space for vehicles inside. To dock, the ferry will head straight for the dock, and then, only minutes before docking, will execute a 180 degree turn and back in. It’s pretty insane. Several ramps on the back of the boat unseal and lower for passengers and vehicles alike to disembark. Within 30 minutes, an entire boat can be unloaded, loaded, and on its way again. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the Greek ferry system is the Russian train system.

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Samos, Aegean, Greece


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Samos, Aegean, Greece


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Samos, Aegean, Greece


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Paros, Aegean, Greece


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Paros, Aegean, Greece

When we got in to Paros, we were inundated with people at the dock with signs for hostels, hotels, and camping sites. We had done our research and knew the price range for most hostels this time of year, about €20, give or take 5. Unfortunately, most of the hostels were full up, so we went with Hotel Francisco, at a ghastly €25/person/night (so far the highest we’ve paid for a room).

After settling in, we headed back into town to try and rent a scooter. We were able to rent a 50cc scooter with my Washington State Drivers License, and so off we went to explore Paros!

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Paros, Aegean, Greece


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Paros, Aegean, Greece


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Paros, Aegean, Greece


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Paros, Aegean, Greece

We made it to the back side of the island to one of the beaches, Charlie went for a dip in the Aegean Sea while I relaxed on my beach chair and edited photos. It was actually pretty awesome. Also, please take note of my amazing farmers tan.

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Tsipidhos, Aegean, Greece


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Tsipidhos, Aegean, Greece

Photo by Charlie Wyman.
Photo by Charlie Wyman.

As we rode back, we stopped on the side of the road to admire yet an other amazing sunset. It’s really too bad this was our only night on Paros.

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, Aegean, Greece

Dateline: Moscow, Day 7

Moscow, Russian Federation
9 June 2009

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really do anything today. Mostly because I wasn’t feeling to well. I dragged my feet in the morning, but eventually made it to breakfast and a shower.

I packed my bags and cleared off my bed. Then promptly crashed on the couch for a couple of hours.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

In the afternoon, Jared invited to be to coffee and beer at Cafe Pushkin, a restaurant akin to The Metropolitan Grill in terms of classiness and price.

You may be wondering how we managed to get in wearing out travel grub if Cafe Pushkin requires dress slacks, shoes, and a collard shirt (I’m assuming). The answer is we didn’t. We were turned away at the door and went off to find our beer and coffee somewhere else.

We settled on a small outdoor restaurant and got a couple half-liter glasses of beer. I also grabbed a sandwich that involved salmon in either a smoked or raw state, hoping for the former. We shot the shit about grad school1, then made our way back.

I dicked around on the Internet, getting last minute instructions for how to get to my next hostel from the train station and figuring out where the US Consulate was, just in case. I made my peace with everyone at the hostel and then was on the subway.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

I wasn’t quite sure how much extra time I would need, so I was sure to give myself plenty. I get top marks on that account, arriving at the train station even before the train did. I make a quick survey of the grounds and figured out just where I needed to go.

I was in third-class seating with beds. My ticket listed me on car 4. I assumed that there would be just one train car with the number 4…as in 4th car from the engine, or something like that. There’s actually several #4 cars. I picked the one I liked best and got in line. I handed my ticket and passport to the ticket lady. She check me off, then wrote 26. I assumed that I had done something wrong, and was trying to figure out what, when someone kindly said, “No, it’s seat 26.” That made more sense.

So I went in, put up my stuff, and took a seat. An older lady lady, thin but kind, was my bunk mate. Across from us, a mother and adolescent (perhaps 16) who clearly did not want to be on the train with his mother, let alone sleeping above her.

We started moving almost right on time…it was barely noticeable.

The ticket lady came by again to collect my ticket this time.

As soon as we were sufficiently under way, I climbed in to bed and tried to fall asleep.

Moscow was an interesting city, definitely not one in which I’d care to live. Perhaps one I’d visit again. Here’s to hoping St. Petersburg would be even better.


  1. Jared just graduated CU with a BSME 

Dateline: Moscow, Day 6

Moscow, Russian Federation
8 June 2009

Having gone to the Central Armed Forces Museum yesterday, my plan for today was to go the Cosmonaut Museum.

I headed out on the metro with Eric and Casper. We made our way to the Cosmonaut Museum, taking pictures along the way.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

We got to the entrance and…

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


…it was closed. On Tuesdays (which I knew) and Mondays (which I did not know). I was definitely disappointed, and it showed.

We decided to make lemonade out of our lemons. There was a giant ferris wheel a bit north that we went to investigate. It turned out to be the All-Russian Exhibition Centre. We walked around for a while before heading back.

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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia


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Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia

When I got back, I asked Daniel, the guy who runs the hostel to write me a note so I could get my train ticket for St. Petersburg. I went down to the train station with Jared (who was trying to get a ticket for Evan and himself) and, boy, let me tell you something about getting train tickets in Russia.

If you don’t know any Russian, it may take you forever.

We went to three different train stations, stood in several lines, and I finally managed to get my tickets after over three hours of figuring the system out.

The first station we went to was for what I (believe) to be a regional train; the next city and such, perhaps less than an hour away. We stood in line and the lady pointed us in another direction. So we went outside and looked for another building that looked like a train station.

We went inside that one, and, after spending 20 minutes finding the ticket office, stood in line for another 45 minutes (at least) only to be told that, “No, this wasn’t the place to buy tickets for St. Petersburg, it’s аовлу овлфдщу лодфш Leningradsky vokzal аодушгв оудлфы”1. She did write the words, ” Leningradsky vokzal” on a piece of paper (Which I still have, just in case). I assume that this is the station we needed to go to.

So, we walked back across the street. Asking people if they knew where “Leningradsky vokzal” was. And they’d point us in a direction and we’d walk in that direction until we were confused. We finally found someone who spoke a bit of English and were able to get sufficient directions to get to the right station.

Now we just needed to figure out which tickets to get. Jared thought that we should go to the Information Booth to figure all of this out, which I thought was a good idea. So we found that and after much (and I do mean much) back and forth, Jared figured out a couple of trains he could take (he and Evan wanted to leave in a couple of hours).

I looked at the timetable to so I at least had an idea of what trains I might take. I just wanted the cheapest one that left in the evening.

So we go get back in line. And these lines move sloooooow. Slower than molasses slow. Seriously. I have no idea why it takes to freaking long to book a ticket (be it train or museum). So I wait and wait and wait.

Jared ends up heading back to the hostel because it turns out that you need a passport to book a train ticket…no idea why, you just do.

I’m about two spots from the front when this little old lady with purple dyed hair (not a really strong dye job, more of a tinting) comes over from another line and cuts right in front of me! I’m like, “Niet! Niet!” Thinking, WTF is this lady doing?! She points to the lady in front of her and says something that I can only surmise is, “I’m with her.” Which is complete BS, for the record.

I’ve been standing in lines for 3 hours and really don’t want to get kicked out of train station for arguing with a little old lady, so I’m like, “Whatever”…which translates to rolling eyes with a disappointed face.

Our line isn’t moving fast anymore, and about 5 minutes later the little lady with the purple hair goes back to her original line. Problem solved.

I get to the ticket counter and slide my note and passport through the tray2 to the ticket lady. She takes a couple of seconds to read my note, then types some stuff on the computer. She turns the screen around to show me the departure, arrival, and price. It’s about 300 more rubles than I want to pay, but I’m honestly too tired to argue…not that it would do any good at this point. So I nod, “Da,” and get my ticket.

She prints it out. I look it over to make sure it looks okay and then head back on the metro.

I’m feeling a bit rushed at this point because Eric and Casper are leaving and I want to say goodbye before they take off. Fortunately, they’re running a bit late and I catch them in my terminus station buying tickets

We exchange contact information, say our goodbyes, and go on our way. Eric and Casper off on the Trans-Siberian; me to my bed.


  1. I’m actually not sure if that’s what she said, it was all in Russian. And that last little bit is the critical parts of the instructions that tells us where to go, but that we didn’t get that part 

  2. Side note on the the tray: Every business has a tray. You never really hand or get money directly from the person. It always goes to the tray first. I have no idea why…and I often forget to do it 

Greetings from Agnone

Dateline Rome, Italy.

A really long day today with lots of traveling.

Took a train from Florence to Rome (1.5 hours)

Rented a car and then drove to Agnone (3 hours)

Investigated Agnone, where my mothers, mothers, father was born.

Learned they make world famous bells in Agnone

Drove back to Rome (3 hours)

Found hotel (1 hour)

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We fly out to Switzerland tomorrow afternoon.