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John Stinson Farmer

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John Stinson Farmer (1827-1892) of Saxby and Farmer


1893 Obituary [1]

JOHN STINSON FARMER, born in 1827, entered at an early age the service of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company; and in 1849 was appointed Assistant Traffic Manager of that line under the late George Hawkins.

He held that post for thirteen years; and during the prolonged absence of Mr. Hawkins, through ill-health, was responsible for the management of the whole of the extensive traffic of the Brighton Company.

In 1862 Mr. Farmer entered into partnership with John Saxby, a colleague in the service of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company, and with him founded the business for the manufacture of railway signals and safety-appliances which has since become so well known and so important.

Works were erected at Kilburn, adjoining the London and North-Western Railway, and soon became the centre of an extensive industry. Mr. Saxby’s interlocking system provided a mechanical reciprocating communication and action upon all the points and signals of a railway junction, whereby not only those points and signals which were in direct relation to one another were made to work in harmony, but all the other signals of the system were at the same time controlled and locked against improper or dangerous use.

The first apparatus, introduced at Bricklayers’ Arms, consisted of eight semaphore signals; and there were six pairs of points concentrated within the signal-cabin, all so governed and locked that it was impossible to give any signal contrary to the position of the points or in conflict with other signals. This was described by Mr. Farmer in the course of an interesting discussion at the Institution in 1874 upon a Paper on 'The Fixed Signals of Railways,' by Mr. R. C. Rapier. In previous methods the locking was effected by the movement of the lever and if the apparatus became slack, the man in charge might be able to lower the signal at a wrong time; but in 1867 the firm introduced a most important invention, by means of which the locking was effected by the movement of the spring catch and a wrong signal could not be given, either by negligence or by slackness of the apparatus.

In 1875 Messrs. Saxby and Farmer brought out a continuous mechanical brake which attracted some attention at that time. Each vehicle was supplied with the brake apparatus, which consisted of rods worked by means of a four-way crank, in one arm of which a long slot was cut out for the purpose of connection. In attaching the couplings, which were fixtures, the brakes could be applied at either end of the train, or from all parts at once or separately ; so that no matter into how many parts a train might be divided, each part was under the control of the brake and each wheel could be skidded, all that was required to be done being to slip the end of the heavy weight. The result was continuity of brake-power; so that, should the train part in two when in motion, the portion no longer attached to the engine was brought automatically to a standstill.

Among the various safety-appliances which Mr. Farmer assisted in bringing out may be mentioned the united lock and block working apparatus, the ground-locking apparatus and several telegraphic block instruments ; and there can be no doubt that the present rapid and safe travelling on railways is due in a great measure to the firm with which he was so intimately connected for upwards of thirty years. Mr. Farmer died suddenly, from heart disease, at Ifold, near Billingshurst, in Sussex, on the evening of the 12th of December, 1892.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 1st of December, 1868.


1892 Obituary [2]



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