Chapter #351: 2017 - Burbank Rose Parade Float - January 30, 2017

The 2017 Burbank Tournament of Roses float awaits official judging on January 1, 2017 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)


"Home Tweet Home", the City of Burbank Tournament of Roses Float

For the past several years, I have attended the unveiling and judging of the City of Burbank Tournament of Roses parade float. Traditionally, the official judging is on New Year’s Eve, just one day before the Rose Parade, in Pasadena, California. Since the Burbank float is one of only a handful of all volunteer efforts, the rollout from the Float Barn is a community event.

Surprisingly, many elements of the 2017 entry; both physical and spiritual, came together this year on January 1 – New Year’s Day. Since New Year’s Day 2017 fell on a Sunday, the parade date shifted to Monday, January 2, 2017. For a moment on New Year’s Day, all activity at the float barn seemed to stop. After a great rush of love and appreciation swept through the open barn door, activities resumed.

Large animatronic birds are connected to their hydraulic lines and hoisted on to the Burbank 2017 Rose Parade Float - Click for earlier image of float construction (http://jamesmcgillis.com)It was time to attach the animatronic birds to the frame of the float. With a forklift working as a crane, each large wire-mesh bird received a hydraulic hookup, and then descended toward its slots. With some jiggling and joggling, each bird slid into place. Seemingly out of nowhere, Maria Cady, a florist from nearby Simi Valley and her crew rushed in with half a dozen huge floral displays. Now, the float was complete.

All spectators and nonessential crew cleared the scene, regrouping in the viewing area, at the nearby Burbank - Downtown Station. Like a child who wanted to see his Christmas presents the night before, I hung back and hid in a big blue porta-potty. As I opened the door and started taking pictures, Burbank’s “Home, Tweet Home” float was already on the move.


The 2017 City of Burbank Rose Parade float departs the Float Barn, on the way to judging - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After following the float out to the street, I ran ahead, rejoining the parade as it entered the viewing area. As soon as it stopped, a jaunty jingle of a tune emanated from four large speakers, hidden in the structure of the float. Various animatronic birds started tilting, swiveling, hammering or riding in and out on a giant tape measure.

Then, without warning, the large birdhouse near the back of the float started to rise. At full extension of its hydraulic tower, the float looked unimaginably tall. As it was when I was a child, the float looked like something out of the Jack and the Beanstalk story to me.

The official judging did not result in a trophy for the Burbank 2017 float. Now it is time to look to the future. Soon, the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association will announce the winner of its 2018 public design contest. As of this writing, the smaller birdhouse still stands on the float chassis, but most other components have disappeared.

Although the finished float looks simple in design, hidden underneath the skin is a complex web of hydraulics and electronics - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As much as possible, salvaged materials from the 2017 float will reappear in the 2018 float. Reuse and recycling are hallmarks of all Burbank Rose Parade floats. For instance, in 2017, recycled bed sheets helped stabilize the rigid foam shell of the float. That recycled bedding helped to make the entire float “walkable”, without fear of falling through. After a full tune-up, the custom designed chassis will return to the Float Barn, ready to support next year’s entry.

Many contemporary Rose Parade floats employ hydraulic motors and cylinders to lift or repetitively move various components. Hidden hydraulics provide the motive power to animate the big floats, yet until the 2017 Burbank entry, no medium-sized float had previously employed a “tower lift”. Unseen and unknown to most parade viewers, “Home, Tweet Home” represented a technological breakthrough for a float of its size. For 2018, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has initiated a "Crown City Innovator" award. The new trophy will be awarded to the float that features the "Most outstanding use of imagination, This animation includes images of the City of Burbank Rose Parade Float, as taken throughout the year 2016 (http://jamesmcgillis.com)innovation and technology". With this new category in mind, the 2018 Burbank Rose Parade Float will surely be in the running.

In February 2016, I installed a live webcam at the City of Burbank Float Barn. Seven days each week, you may view live images of the Float Barn. To access the live webcam, go to the homepage of the Burbank Tournament of Roses official website. You may also view the live webcam on my own BurbankFloat.com tribute website. Early in 2017, most of the work parties are on Wednesday’s and Saturdays, so be sure to tune in and watch the action.
Email James McGillis
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By James McGillis at 01:05 PM | Technology | Link

Chapter #338: Google Pop Car- Rail Safety Plan - November 18, 2015

Rumor: The Google Pop Car may be under secret testing by the Googlemaps Streetview Team - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Secret Autonomous Railroad Pilot Car Testing? Code Name: "Google Pop Car"

For more than two decades, automobile manufacturers have offered radar systems that activate when a driver shifts the transmission into reverse gear. More recently, backup cameras made the leap from large recreational vehicles to many standard sized automobiles. Although an audible beep from a radar sensor is more effective at getting a driver’s attention, federal law now mandates that by 2018, all light vehicles sold in the U.S. shall include a backup camera.

The lightweight Google Pop Car would precede a passenger train, identifying and warning pedestrians and vehicles that enter a railroad right of way - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Recently, automobile manufacturers have developed and deployed “adaptive cruise control”, which will slow a vehicle if it approaches too quickly upon another vehicle. If you purchase a new vehicle today, you can add various crash prevention systems, including “lane departure control”, “collision avoidance braking”, “blind spot warnings”, "adaptive headlights" and more. If you add up all of these features and options, you are well on your way to owning a “self-driving car”, as Google likes to call their autonomous driving vehicle (AV).

Until the 1980s, cup holders were relatively unknown in American cars. Until then, few people ate, drank or made telephone calls while driving. With the advent of “cellular radio”, the “car phone” became popular. With the fast food revolution, so too came cup holders, in-vehicle dining and a host of other distractions. Cordless electric shavers brought personal grooming to the average commuter. Lighted makeup mirrors tempted other commuters to touch up their makeup while driving. When heavy traffic slowed vehicles to a crawl, it became common for drivers to read a book or newspaper during their commute.

The Google Streetview cars may already be test-beds for the Google Pop Car autonomous railroad safety vehicle - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By the early 2000s, drivers had even more distractions to deal with. With the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007, smart phones became ubiquitous, if not at all smart. They offered such features as GPS route guidance and text messaging, along with mobile telephone connectivity. Since then, automotive manufacturers raced to integrate evermore communications and entertainment functions into their vehicles. For instance, many new passenger vehicles offer both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as options. With the deployment of all these integrated applications, drivers today have more opportunities for inattentive driving than ever before.

Still, it is important to separate the beneficial features in current automobiles from the frivolous, foolish and purely distracting. To me, crash prevention systems are all for the better. Even so, I do not wish to cede control of my vehicle to a self-driving, autonomous computer system. I have driven automobiles for over fifty years. Call me old fashioned, but I plan to drive and control of my own vehicles until I can no longer qualify for a driver’s license.

This Union Pacific Model B-40 Burro Crane, with boom detached may have been used for early Google Pop Car prototype testing. It now sits abandoned near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)According to the L.A. Times, Google, Tesla, Toyota and the other corporations have spent billions of dollars developing their own autonomous vehicles. What these companies forgot to do is to ask if we, the driving public want such a vehicle. My guess is that most drivers would prefer to control their own vehicle, rather than sitting passively while their Google Pop Car drives them to work or play. If most of us do not want Google’s self-driving car, toward what useful purpose could the company turn that investment?

To answer that question, Google need look no farther than three miles from their Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, California. There, adjacent to the Central Expressway is the Mountain View Station, which serves both Caltrain and Amtrak passenger trains. Developed mainly as a freight railroad in the 1880s, the current passenger rail line stretches from Gilroy to its northern terminus in San Francisco. With the ongoing technology boom in the Bay Area, Caltrain operates ninety-two weekday trains along those tracks.

Being used as a test-bed for the planned Google Pop Car Autonomous railroad safety vehicle, a Google car similar to this was recently stopped by local police for driving too slowly - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Today, millions of people work and commute back and forth along the San Francisco Peninsula. Some travel on or parallel to the rail lines, while others cross one of the forty grade-level crossings along that rail line. Since 2005, there have been one hundred fifteen Caltrain-related fatalities registered on that busy rail line. Although a few were accidents, the majority of fatalities were determined to be suicides.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, between August and October 2015, there were eight vehicle collisions with trains, four of which were in Burlingame and three of which were at the same intersection. “Running ninety-two trains per day on a corridor with more than forty roadway crossings presents a unique set of challenges,” Caltrain executive director Jim Hartnett said in a statement. “Those challenges have become more difficult with increased traffic congestion and more drivers, cyclists and pedestrians crossing our tracks on a daily basis.”

If Google abandons development of its Pop Car, an autonomous rail safety vehicle, Tesla is rumored to plan their own "Tesla Pop Car" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In addition to vehicle collisions, many of the fatalities occurred when pedestrians walked into the path of an approaching train. Were these pedestrians “texting while walking”, distracted by their smart phones or did they die in preplanned encounters with diesel locomotives? Although that is unclear, many victims appear to hide and then jump on to the tracks when it is too late to avoid a collision. If architects and planners had the luxury of creating a sealed right of way, like the BART system built in the 1970s, they would do it. With more than one hundred years of history, there is no way to seal off the peninsular rail corridor from either vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

Each time a Caltrain passenger train collides with a motorist or pedestrian, the entire commuter system on the San Francisco Peninsula is negatively affected. Meanwhile, the autonomous vehicle group at Google has an opportunity to help save lives, speed commuter rail service and increase revenue in the process. To do this Google should adapt their various autonomous vehicle sensors to a railroad “pilot car”. If Google starts now, it could quickly develop and deploy what I call the “Google Pop Car” on the Caltrain route. Here is how it would work.

An early prototype Google Pop Car railroad safety vehicle undergoing secret testing on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (http://jamesmcgillis.comThe Google Pop Car would be a lightweight, electrically driven autonomous rail car. It would have sensors and cameras capable of spotting both vehicles and pedestrians on or near the railroad tracks. As a “pilot car”, it would lead the way for each Caltrain passenger train, staying far enough ahead to be the eyes and ears for its following train. In an emergency, the Google Pop Car could remotely activate the Positive Train Control (PTC) system, thus halting the train prior to a collision.

As the Google Pop Car approaches a dangerous grade crossing or detects an errant pedestrian, it could activate its safety lights and train horn. If a Google Pop Car warns a distracted pedestrian or potential suicide victim, they might have time to reconsider their actions. Additionally, the Google Pop Car could stream both video and still pictures to the cab of the following locomotive. Utilizing face recognition software, police agencies could later identify potential perpetrators or simple risk-takers, thus allowing intervention or apprehension.

Google Streetview cars often deploy new Google technology, including features expected on the Google Pop Car, an autonomous railroad safety vehicle - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In my scenario, the Google Pop Car would race ahead to the next grade crossing. Upon approach, it would activate its rotating lights and sound its horn. Once the Google Pop Car had secures the crossing, it could depart, always staying ahead of its assigned passenger train. With proper coordination, the passenger train could maintain a steady speed, while ensuring the safety of both pedestrians and vehicular traffic. In the unlikely event of a collision, a lightweight Google Pop Car, with crash absorbing bumpers would cause minimal damage or destruction.

After thorough testing of the Google Pop Car on the Caltrain line, other rail passenger agencies could adopt the technology. Had Google Pop Car technology been available to Metrolink in Southern California it could have saved many lives. Metrolink experienced eleven fatalities in its 2005 Glendale collision, twenty-five fatalities in its 2008 Chatsworth collision and the death of Senior Engineer Glenn Steele in its February 2015 Oxnard collision.

Early crash tests of a Union Pacific Model B-40 Burro Crane and a prototype Google Pop Car show the resilience of the autonomous railroad safety car - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In the Oxnard collision, the “pilot”, a plow-like anti-derailment blade detached from the Metrolink Hyundai Rotem Cab Car. In September 2015, after realizing that its cab cars were unsafe, the Metrolink board met in a closed (possibly illegal) session to discuss its limited options. Almost immediately, Metrolink announced a decision to lease forty “heavy iron” Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight locomotives. Rather than exploring new safety technologies such as the Google Pop Car, Metrolink will rely on outmoded, conventional thinking. In coming months, inefficient, high-pollution BNSF freight locomotives will head-up all Metrolink passenger trains. In an “overkill” scenario designed to eradicate errant pedestrians and vehicles, Metrolink will rely on the tonnage of BNSF locomotives.

Essentially all of the technology to produce, test and implement an autonomous railroad pilot car exists today. What is lacking in urban passenger rail systems such as Caltrain and Metrolink is a willingness to embrace the new technologies available for collision avoidance. Moribund and ossified thinking by politically controlled passenger rail agencies guarantees that California will continue to lead the nation in deadly rail collisions along its passenger rail corridors.

Email James McGillis
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By James McGillis at 03:55 PM | Technology | Link

Chapter #308: 2014 - Quantum Leap in ATM Theft - April 11, 2014

At Kokopelli Federal Credit Union, Plush Kokopelli shows off the safe on the new Diebold Agilis 91xR ATM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Google This Phrase: "How+to+Crack+an+ATM+Safe"

A recent Los Angeles Times article asked, “Where did all the bandits go?” Further, they wrote, “At one time, bank robberies were part of L.A.’s daily routine. Not so anymore.” As early as 1963, the Times had identified Los Angeles as the “Bank Holdup Capitol”. In 1992, which was the biggest year for bank robberies, there were as many as twenty-eight bank robberies there in a single day. In recent years, smaller jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, Atlanta and other cities have taken over the robbery crown.

Bulletproof Plexiglas "bandit barriers" help prevent bank robberies - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Unable to give definitive reasons for L.A.’s robbery decline, experts attribute it to a combination of factors, including improved security devices and strategies. Bulletproof Plexiglas “bandit barriers” are now common in bank branches, as are high-definition video camera systems. The website "LA Bank Robbers" now specializes in photos and video of active Los Angeles area bank robbers. In California, prison sentences for repeat offenders can be as high as sixteen years, thus taking a convicted robber off the streets for more than a decade. While the average heist in 2003 netted around $10,000, in 2013, that sum had dropped to as little as $1,000. In light of the increased risk, face-to-face bank robbery no longer pays.

Old-fashioned bank banditry required little more than nerves of steel, a disguise as simple as a baseball cap and a note demanding the cash. Would be bandits who are stuck in the old energy mode can expect to have a short career in bank robbery. If they persist in serial pursuit of ever dwindling returns, arrest and detention are now almost inevitable. Unless one is determined to spend significant time in prison, bank robbery is an unromantic way to lose one’s freedom.

Plush Kokopelli shows off the anti-skimming device on the new Kokopelli Federal Credit Union Diebold Agilis ATM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Since 2008, I have written occasional articles on the subject of bank robbery. They proved to be so popular that I combined them into a separate website at MoabBank.com. During my research, I discovered that the latest trend in illegal withdrawals of money from banks involves Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) theft. When I say “ATM theft”, some thieves go so far as to abscond with the ATM itself.

The most overt style of ATM theft involves the use of a heavy truck to ram an outdoor, wall-mounted ATM off its moorings. The truck of choice for these so-called ATM “ram raids” is a flatbed tow truck. Once in position, the armored steel stern of the truck bed is rammed into the wall supporting the ATM. Assuming that the ATM comes loose from its moorings, the tow truck “operator” then tilts the truck bed down at the rear. The operator then feeds out a steel cable from the truck-mounted winch, grapples the ATM and then reels it in like fish. As soon as the ATM is on the truck's ramp, the ram raid team will be back in the cab, driving away.

Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone simulate an ATM ram raid with their four wheel drive Tonka truck - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Like the bank branch robbery, the ATM ram raid requires speed. As soon as the truck hits the ATM, alarms both silent and loud will start to ring. Even in the middle of the night, the process is loud and boisterous, drawing the attention of both witnesses and law enforcement officers. Once away from the scene of the crime, a tow truck carrying a damaged ATM needs quick access to a secure location large enough to hide the whole rig.

Once the ram raid ATM reaches its hideout, the robbers will need a plasma torch, which can cut open the steel plate door of the ATM safe. Inside the safe, the robbers will find between one and four cash cassettes, holding up to $40,000 each. Imagine the jubilation of dividing up $160,000 between a small team of robbers. Then, imagine the consternation over getting rid of the tow truck and vacating the hideout without leaving behind any clues.

A variation on the ATM ram raid is the in-situ plasma torch robbery. Rather than stealing a tow truck and risking easy detection and capture, in-situ ATM robbers take the “Mission Impossible” route. After locating a bank branch in a strip mall or other single-story building, the robbers first "case the joint" for security cameras and roof access points. Posing as tradesmen and utilizing ladders, the robbers can easily move their demolition and break-in tools to the roof. After staging their tools and equipment above street level, several members of the team remain on the roof, while others remove the access ladders and retreat to a safe location.

Unlike many current ATM back rooms, conventional bank vaults are armored against unauthorized entry - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Overnight, the roof-team opens a hole in the roof sufficient to lower one or more members into the “back room” of the ATM. Once inside, security cameras are blocked and other security systems compromised. With portable fans working to evacuate any fumes up and trough the escape-hole, the robbers proceed to cut the reinforced hinges off the ATM safe. Once inside the ATM, the robbers remove the cash cassettes, bag the money and raise everything back up to the roof. Before sunrise, the “tradesmen's truck” returns and a ladder allows the roof-team totransport both themselves and the money to the truck. If all goes well for the bandits, no hideout is required and there is no ram raid truck requiring disposal.

For those who thought bank robbing should be easy, tow trucks, ladders, circular saws, sledgehammers, plasma torches and hideouts make for a daunting shopping list. In search of the easiest bank robbery, many have turned to electronics and software as their answer. Since most bank robbers are inherently lazy, the “debit card skimmer” has great appeal. In theory, the electronic bank robber need only use double-stick tape to install the skimmer over the actual ATM card reader. Once the unsuspecting ATM customer inserts their card into the skimmer, it reads and records both the magnetic strip on the card and the password entered by the customer. Later, the robber creates a duplicate ATM card and uses the stolen password to drain the unsuspecting customer's account.

The "Log on" screen of the Kokopelli Federal Credit Union Diebold Agilis ATM does not allow for changes to debit card withdrawal limits - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If one is willing to do business with nefarious websites that sell thinly disguised skimmer kits, skim-kit robbery requires a relatively low investment. Some kits go as far as providing housings color-matched to the ATM’s of a targeted bank. Still, no would-be robber can be sure if he or she is buying online from other electronic criminals or from an FBI sting-website designed to catch the neophyte electronic robber. Anyone gullible enough to "click to buy" a kit designed to defraud a banking establishment might be surprised to find that there is no such kit and that their identity has been stolen. As P.T. Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute".

Even if successful in capturing debit card numbers and passwords via a wireless connection, the electronic robber must remain near enough to the scene to receive the data and recover the debit card skimmer. With skimmer kits costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, the subsequent risk of capture or loss of the deployed skimmer is high. As with traditional bank robbery, newer ATMs include security features designed to thwart electronic skimming. Using both physical and electronic sensors, a newer ATM will detect an installed skimmer and shut down the ATM.

About the size of a small refrigerator, the Diebold Agilis ATM is armored with rolled steel plate almost one half inch thick - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Effective April 2014, Microsoft Corporation will no longer support its Windows XP operating System. For illegal hackers and identity thieves, the effect will be a bonanza in new ways to compromise XP computers and their users' identities. Microsoft will continue to provide software patches and a modicum of security to banks still running Windows XP and willing to pay a fee. When researching this article, I was surprised to discover that many “state of the art” ATMs rely on the thirteen-year-old Windows XP operating system. With typical shortsightedness, Microsoft is giving up their 95% lock on the ATM software business, preferring to see their clients switch to open source code offered by Linux.

Unlike a personal computer attached to the internet, ATMs connect to their home offices via a virtual private network (VPN). As such, even if they are running an old operating system like Windows XP, ATM's are less vulnerable to outside attack than any website or other internet-connected device. In order to compromise older private networks and the ATMs that they control, one must take control of the private network, itself. According to another recent L.A. Times article, that is exactly what unknown conspirators recently did.

As software hackers perfect their techniques, the Mag-9000 plasma cutting torch will soon be obsolete for ATM robbery - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Individuals with insider knowledge of older bank ATM network architecture hatched a brilliant, yet simple plan. First, they obtained the email addresses of ATM network administrators authorized to change both withdrawal limits and geographical restrictions on networked ATMs. Next, the conspirators sent innocuous, but official looking emails to the various ATM network administrators. Within the phishing emails were nefarious links disguised as normal business. Once an administrator clicked on the nefarious link, malware automatically downloaded to the administrator’s computer.

From there, it was a simple process for the conspirators to change withdrawal limits and geographical limits to “unlimited” status. On a predetermined holiday weekend, with bank branches closed and security lax, the conspirators struck. At such a time, a busy bank branch may have four ATMs containing up to $160,000 each. Overnight, when foot traffic was slower, conspirators used previously stolen ATM cards to access the ATM cash on an unlimited basis. Using only twelve stolen ATM cards, the most prolific conspirators recently drained a reported $45 million from one or more banking institutions. As of this writing, no one has been charged in the caper.

Whenever the economy softens, interest in making easy money through bank or ATM robbery rises. Although this website has a written Privacy Policy designed to protect the identity of visitors, I am amazed at how many people must be sitting at a computer searching for easy ways to rob a bank. Although most searches are indecipherable, several unencrypted “bank robbery” searches come through to this website each week. In the past year, I have saved the following unencrypted search strings leading to various articles on this website:

As Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone agree, planning a bank heist or ATM robbery is not good for children or other living things - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“what’s the best way to rob an ATM?”, “what can cut thru ATMs?”, “breaking into ATM safe”, “breaking into small ATM machines”, “easy ATM break ins”, “NCR 22e ATM dispenser cassette”, “ATM machines cut into”, “breaking in ATMs with a blow torch”, “easiest way to rob a bank”, “defeated ATM alarm”, “how to break into ATM safe”, “ATM kiosk design”, “breaking into a ATM machine on spot”, “can torches cut metal on a ATM?”, “how to break an ATM vault”, “easiest way to break ATM vault”, “how to crack an ATM”, “cut open an ATM”, “ATM dispenser Diebold”, “ATM safecracking”, “how to break in an ATM machine”, “easiest way to break into ATM”, “easiest way to rob a bank”, “ATM cassette removal”, “ATM burglary with blow torch”, “NCR ATM machines”, “ATMs cutter”, “cut through ATM”, “ATM machine back cash door”, “new technology in ATM machine”, “bank robbers”, “ATM vault crack”, “ATM weak points”, NCR SelfServ 14 ATM”, “NCR 22e fascia open”, “Burglars of safe with a blow torch in bank”, “easy way to break into ATM”, “use cutting torch to rob…”, “breaking into a bank's ATM through the roof”, “thieves cut open ATMs with blow torches”, “robbery metal cutter machine price”, “plasmas cutter can open ATM”, “inside ATM machine”.

If you recognize any of your own queries in the list above, please think of yourself as being in the “wanna be” or “amateur” bank robber category. Then think twice and go no further with your ATM or bank robbery plans. Otherwise, we may not see you again online for another sixteen years.


By James McGillis at 05:38 PM | Technology | Link

Chapter #304: Burro Cranes - A Complete History - February 12, 2014

A rare Model 15 Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane, dating to the early twentieth century - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane - An Untold Story of Engineering Innovation

Railroads, as we know them today have existed since the middle of the nineteenth century. On a typical rail system, rail cars move along a pair of steel rails that are evenly spaced apart. Although narrow gauge systems still exist, the standard gauge distance between the inside edges of the rails is 1,435 mm but in the United States, Canada and Britain it is still called 4 ft. 8 1⁄2 in. Wooden ties, laid in a bed of gravel secure these rails. This system of rails and ties we call a railroad track.

A 1930 ad for the Model 20 Burro Crane, touting its draw-bar pulling power, courtesy of the Orange Empire Railway Museum - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Originally, a group of workers (commonly known as a rail gang) would prepare the rail bed and lay down the tracks. Using hammers and spikes, the gang would manually set each individual tie on the rail bed. The process was labor intensive, and potentially very dangerous. The ties and rails were quite heavy, and there was always the potential to drop either, for example, on a worker’s foot.

Early on, the need for mechanical assistance was recognized. Soon enough, railcar mounted tamping machines and various cranes helped ease the burdens of rail construction and maintenance of way (MOW). Although some cranes were large enough to lift a locomotive back on to the tracks, many others were just large enough to lay ballast, lift ties and to position steel rails. As early as 1907, the Cullen-Friestedt Company, 1300 S. Kilbourn Ave., Chicago, Illinois entered that business with four-wheeled cranes designed to operate on rails. Although there is a contemporary Cullen-Friestedt Co. in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, that company is a closely held export management firm, not a manufacturer of mobile cranes.

A 1929 patent application drawing of a Model 20 Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Hearkening back to a pack animal of the Old West, the original Cullen-Friestedt Co. used the trade name “Burro” to market their rail-mounted cranes. Later, the Cullen-Friestedt tag line for the Burro Crane became the "Pack Animal of the Industry". Although there may have been other models during the past century, the Burro Crane progressed at least from Model 15 to 20, 30, 40 and 50.

In the early twentieth century, the Burro started big, with the Model 15. It was a boxy piece of equipment, but the operator had good visibility through the cab’s seventeen windowpanes. Projecting from the front of the cab was a double-girder boom, stiffened  by metal latticework. In order to counterbalance the relatively heavy boom, the cab extended aft, wherein lay heavy cast-iron ballast. In the early twentieth century, gasoline and diesel engines were relatively small and inefficient. Although wood gave way to steel, lightweight materials such as aluminum were not yet widely used. Other than excess weight, another other major drawback was its extended cab. On a rail-mounted crane, the wide swing radius of an extended cab meant that the stern might overhang an adjacent set of rails, thus raising the danger of collision.

A 1945 patent application drawing of a mobile highway crane is attributed to Inventor, Edward V. Cullen - Click for large image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Since there is no separate Wikipedia entry for “Burro Crane”, many highlights of its invention and evolution may be lost to history. Thanks to a Google archive of old patent records, we can deduce that Mr. Edward V. Cullen was the design genius behind the Cullen-Friestedt Burro Crane. In a review of Cullen Friestedt patent images, there is a 1945 patent submission for a wheeled mobile crane bearing the signature of “Inventor, Edward V. Cullen”.

As befitting the logic of sequential numbers, the Burro Crane Model 20 was next to go into production. After scouring the internet, I found only a few images of the Burro Crane Model 20. One was from an ad for the Cullen
An impeccably restored Model 30 Cullen Friestedt Burro Crane - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Friestedt Company in Railway Engineering and Maintenance Magazine. According to that 1930 ad, provided by the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, California, the Model 20 could act as its own engine, pulling construction or maintenance trains to needed locations. Referring to the self-propelled nature of Burro Cranes, the ad read, “With draw bar pull of 6,000 to 7,000 lbs. Burro Cranes frequently eliminate work trains or locomotives. On new construction, Burro Cranes handle their own trains”.

The second set of images derive from a 1929 patent submission, which included an Albert Y. A. Schmidt as co-inventor. The apparent differences between the Model 15 and the Model 20 were the introduction of a lattice boom and a new "truck for rotatably mounted structures" on the latter model. Representing a breakthrough in mobile crane design, the new truck featured a Early Model 30 Burro Crane retired from the Strasburg, Pennsylvania Railroad - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)retractable crawler track for work beyond the railhead. The retractable crawler track allowed the Burro Crane to go where no rail-mounted craned had ever gone before. Later, Cullen modified its new truck design, fitting it with flanged steel wheels for travel on a mother car. With that option, MOW workers could quickly transport a Burro Crane over distances than would be economical in self-propelled mode.

Although I cannot place a specific date on it, I found an early Model 30 in an image taken by Mitch Goldman and posted on Railpictures.net. The Strasburg (Pennsylvania) Railroad’s Model 30 Burro Crane features both the multi-paned windows and the double-girder boom seen on the Model 15, but its cab configuration and diminutive size are pure Model 30. Since the Burro Crane Model 30 had a long production run, it continued to highlight the improvements in materials and design we associate with the mid-twentieth century. With the advent of high-strength safety glass, the number of windowpanes surrounding the operator dropped from seventeen to four, which were larger, water-sealed units.

Borrowing from the design of a naval gun turret, the Model 40 Burro Crane looked ready for action - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Taking a cue from naval turret guns, the Model 30 featured a welded steel cab and compact construction. With its internal cast iron ballast, the Model 30 could operate on one track without danger of the stern overhanging an adjacent track. From the markings on a 1950’s Lionel Model 3360 Burro Crane; we know that the tare weight of the real crane was 67,000 lb. I found records of a Model 30 Burro Crane built in 1952. According to salvage auction website, a Model 30 Burro Crane manufactured in 1977 recently sold in fair to poor condition.

During and after World War II, there was widespread acceptance of diesel electric locomotives on American railroads. Although the new locomotives often weighed no more than did their steam age precursors, tandem diesel engines commonly pulled more cars and ran faster. With all of that speed and weight, American railroads upgraded their rail beds to include heavier ballast, ties and rails. To keep up with the trend toward heavier railroad infrastructure, Cullen-Friestedt introduced the 75,000 lb. Model 40.

The Cullen Friestedt Model 40 Burro Crane weighed 75,000 lb. and featured a lattice boom - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although Cullen-Friestedt continued to manufacture and overhaul the Model 30 for many years, the larger Model 40 became the MOW vehicle of choice for many American railroads. In 1972, Federal Sign and Signal Corporation sold Burro Crane #40-324 (construction #127005) to Northwest Pacific Railroad in Ukiah, California. That retired Burro Crane now finds its home at Roots of Motive Power in Willits, California.

By 1972, the old Federal Sign and Signal Corp. (now Federal Signal Corp.) had purchased the Burro Crane name and its manufacturing facilities from Cullen-Friestedt. From then until the current day, there has been a dizzying succession of mergers, acquisitions and assumptions of the Burro Crane name. Federal Sign and Signal did not own the Burro Crane name for long. According to one source, in 1978, Avis Industrial, “owner of Burro Crane Corporation” purchased Badger Construction Equipment.

Bruised, but not beaten, This Cullen-Friestedt Model 40 Burro Crane recently changed hands - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Badger Equipment commenced operations in 1945, specializing in earth-moving, railroad, and material handling equipment, parts, and other products. According to Badger company archives, Badger marketed Burro Cranes under the Badger, Little Giant, Burro--CFT, Cullen FriestedtT, Western CullenT, and BurroT brand names.

In 1982, Badger introduced the heavier Burro 50 and Burro 6000. In 1990, Burro Crane Inc., then a subsidiary of Avis Industrial Corporation, moved from its Chicago facility to subsidiary, Badger, which acquired the Burro 40 & 45. Burro Crane was a sister company at the time. In 1997, Badger produced the last Burro Model 40 crane. In 2009, Manitex International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MNTX), a leading provider of engineered lifting solutions acquired Badger Equipment Company of Winona, Minnesota.

Carrying on the Burro Crane tradition, this Badger Equipment Company SPR48 20-ton Workrane updates the original design concepts of Inventor, Edward V. Cullen - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On the Badger Equipment Company website, is information on the current Model SPR48 Workrane. Looking like an updated and larger Burro Crane, Badger describes the SPR48 Workrane as follows: “When you need a true workhorse on the rails, look no further than the SPR48 Workrane. The only 20-ton, lattice-boom, rail-dedicated crane on the market, the SPR48 operates with dragline, clam shell or magnet attachments, has been completely updated with railroad safety items and meets the latest EPA emission requirements”. Other than its larger size, the description of the SPR48 sounds like a Burro Crane to me.

This is Chapter 2 of a two-part article on railroad Burro Cranes. To read Chapter 1, please click HERE.

By James McGillis at 08:19 PM | Technology | Link

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