A Railway Velocipede
is a simple 3 or 4 wheeled rail vehicle which the rider propels
along the track using his arms and legs. It was invented by George
Sheffield to get to work by unofficially riding on the tracks of
the Michigan Central Railway in the hours of darkness. One evening
he found a broken rail and by borrowing a lantern from a local farm,
he stopped an approaching train and prevented a derailment and loss
News of his nocturnal velocipeding was out but the railway company
was grateful for his prompt action and allowed his use of their
tracks, also asking him to build another velocipede for the Michigan
His patent was issued on 11 March 1879 and according to the Scientific
American of 3 November 1883, 4000 of these machines had been sold
in America and Europe in just 4 years, a worldwide hit.
They were used as personal transport for track inspectors
and signal engineers and could carry two people if needed. Their
light weight meant they could easily be removed from the track when
Although mainly used by US and Canadian railways, several were bought
by railways in Britain and it is examples of machines from the old
Great Western, London and North Eastern, and Southern Railways that sometimes appear at our rallies. They are mainly products of the Sheffield
Car Company of Three Rivers, Michigan, and the rival BUDA company of Harvey, Illinois.
The British company Wickham of Ware built at least three types of
velocipede, mainly for export, but none has surfaced yet.