John van Riemsdijk

John van Riemsdijk was born on 13 November 1924 and died 31 August 31 2008 1924 (Guardian obituary Tony Hall-Patch). He was born in Muswell Hill in a house commanding a view of a railway line which was to remain for many years essentially Great Northern. His father was Dutch and his mother English and, as a young man, he travelled widely by train with his father around Europe. Thanks to his formidable memory, he acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the continental railway network. He attended University College school, Hampstead, and Birkbeck College, London, where he read English and French, and was recruited into the Royal Navy soon after graduating. His continental background, coupled with his fertile, academic but practical, engineer's mind, and his knowledge of continental railways, led to him being drafted into the Special Operations Executive (SOE). While serving, he conceived such inventions as a clockwork-powered "moo horn" to help the French resistance find parachuted supplies, and a steam-powered generator for field radios.
After the war he started a business that manufactured small-geared spring mechanisms, but sold it when he joined the Science Museum in 1954. His first post was as a lecturer, but he then progressed through the curatorial grades to become keeper of civil and mechanical engineering. In 1981 he delivered a paper entitled The Hero as Engineer to celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Stephenson's birth, to much acclaim. The following year, he was made a Companion of the Institution of Mechanical Engineeers. His last major contribution to the Science Museum was to mastermind the reconstruction of the displays in the main hall. He retired in 1984 and subsequently moved to the south of France.
In retirement Van Riemsdijk was able to give full vent to his passion for gauge one model railways. His collaboration with Count Antonio Giansanti Coluzzi, a model train collector, resulted in the successful development of Aster gauge one steam locomotives, which for 30 years have given enormous pleasure to model railway enthusiasts. His success lay in a rare ability to express himself on complex technical and scientific matters with a measure of self-deprecation and wry humour that any layman could understand. A great lover of music, painting and the arts in general, he crossed the barriers between art, science and engineering. He wrote extensively on railways and steam power. His book Compound Locomotives (1994) is regarded by many as the best semi-technical book on railway locomotives. He was a member of the Newcomen Society, Stephenson Locomotive Society, the Bevil's Club, and a vice-president of the Gauge One Model Railway Association. He was a most diligent correspondent who replied at length with humour and wit to a host of admirers and enquirers across the world. He was survived by his wife, Jocelyn.

Compound locomotives: an International survey. Penryn: Atlantic Press, 1994. 140pp.
Book based mainly on three part paper presented to Newcomen Society: Part 1 see Volume 43 page 1 et seq. Some developments, notably involvement of Delaware & Hudson Railroad in compounding with high pressure boilers, receive little attention. Chap. 8: British four cylinder compounds. Webb (fairly critical appraisal); Hoy's successful 0-8-0s on the LYR; Walter Smith's highly successful 4-4-2s on the NER; the unsuccessful Ivatt 4-4-2; Hughes' promising 4-6-0 on the LMS and Gresley's high-pressure locomotive No. 10000

The hero as engineer (George Stephenson Bientenary Lecture). Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1981, 195, 261-9,
Began by examining the nature of "hero", noting the influence of Thomas Carlyle and Samuel Smiles.

Jenkinson, David. Close encounter of a Gauge '1' kind. Modellers Backtrack, 1991, 1, 168-71.
Illustrated by a visit to John van Riemsdijk's garden layout which included model steam locomotives with three and four cylinders, articulation, and compounding.

2017-01-06

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