Due to a problem with the tracks, the rail shuttle from Utrecht Centraal to Utrecht Maliebaan station will not run until further notice.

Velocipede car

Object number 3004


Type:                   No. 3 Velocipede Car

This three-wheeled handcar was driven by two people seated across from one another. They would have used their hands to push a handle – the ‘arm’ – back and forth, causing the rear wheel to turn via a crankshaft. This No. 3 Velocipede Car or Telegraph Car made by the Sheffield Car Company in the United States was built around 1890. It is among the oldest preserved hand-cars of its type worldwide. This specimen was found near station Hilversum in a shed belonging to the Roads & Public Works department sometime around 1930.

Multiple versions of the Velocipede Car sold quite well, especially in the United States, but they were also found not only in the Netherlands but in the United Kingdom and Australia as well. The major advantage of this hand-car was that it could easily be adjusted to fit various track gauges: all you had to do was shorten or extend the crossbar to which the third wheel was attached. But it also had the disadvantage of easily derailing on curves as little weight was distributed to the third wheel. What’s more, the hand-car could only go in one direction: the third wheel had to face forward or the car could jump the rails.

The Sheffield Car Company was founded in the town of Three River, Michigan around 1880. Sometime around 1900, the factory was acquired by the Fairbanks-Morse company, which continues to manufacture diesel engines and other products to this very day.

A drawing in an 1894 brochure from the manufacturer features two men demonstrating how to operate the hand-car. The text accompanying the image states that the hand-car itself weighs eighty kilos. When the hand-car was packed into a crate for shipping to an overseas destination, the entire parcel would still weigh only 135 kilos.
In that same brochure from 1894, the Sheffield Car Company shows how large numbers of hand-cars were being built in the factory. At the top right, you can see that in addition to the Velocipede hand-cars, the company manufactured another type as well: the pump hand-car, a draisine propelled by means of a large lever. The latter type is frequently seen in Hollywood films, including the Buster Keaton classic The General (1926).
The Velocipede Car was available in several versions, including a one-person model and a version with room for a passenger. According to the Sheffield Car Company, an American railroad company even experimented with mounting a sail on the passenger version. Supposedly, this allowed the hand-car to reach speeds of over