Valerian Abakovsky (1895 – 1921)
The latest inductee to our Hall of Fame is the Latvian inventor, Valerian Abakovsky, whose claim to fame was developing a propeller driven railway car.
A key prerequisite of an inventor is the ability to think outside of the box. In the second decade of the twentieth century the railway was a well-established means of transportation. The problem, though, before the harnessing of diesel and/or electricity as the principal means of power was that the speed of the train was constrained by the amount of power that could be generated by shovelling coal into the engine’s boiler. However, aeronautics was now an established science and the engines required to provide the aircraft with the thrust necessary to get off the ground and travel at speed were both more compact and more powerful than the rather antiquated means of locomotion that trains were reliant upon. If you were wanting to develop a high-speed train, why not marry the two technologies?
This was probably the train of thought that our hero followed in the periods that he was hanging around waiting for the Soviet dignitaries to finish doing whatever they were doing and get back into his car. Unlike many a would-be inventor the Latvian chauffeur actually lobbied to be allowed to put his brain wave into practice, doubtless using the close contact with officialdom that his day job afforded him. You know the sort – the course of least resistance is to give into someone who is always banging on about their pet theory.
Anyway, Abakowsky was allowed to get on with it and produced a prototype which looks like an enclosed boat-like wagon with a dirty great propeller on the front. It was unveiled in July 1921 and initial trials went well. The idea was that it would be used to convey the Soviet top brass at speed to and from Moscow. On July 24 1921 a high-powered delegation, led by the revolutionary and close friend of Joseph Stalin, and our intrepid inventor clambered aboard to travel at speed from Tula to Moscow. The trip passed off without incident and the party was encouraged to repeat the experience in order to get back to Tula.
Unfortunately – and we come to expect an unexpected turn of events and a tragic outcome with our inductees – the Aerowagon, as it was dubbed, derailed at high-speed, killing everyone on board. Still, on the plus side the idea of train powered by an aircraft engine had been firmly established and the six martyrs to the cause of progress were buried in the Kremlin War Necropolis which since 1917 had been the final resting place of the heroes of the October Revolution.
Our hero’s legacy lived on. Franz Kruckenberg developed the Schienenzeppelin which was built as a prototype in 1930 and in trials in 1931 this train powered by an aircraft propeller reached speeds of up to 200 kilometres an hour. Alas, the build up to World War 2 consigned it to the scrapheap.
Closer to home the Scottish engineer, George Bennie, built a prototype track and railcar for his Bennie Railplane at Milngavie. Typically, whilst everyone thought it was a brilliant idea, no one came up with the dosh to turn into reality.
Valerian, for your ingenuity and self-sacrifice, you are a worthy inductee.
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