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Roloff

Version A Version B Version C
Version A Version B Version C

Overview


In June 1963, the Mother Lode Grotto of Sacramento, California ran a caving article in the Sacramento Bee. Grotto meeting attendance soared, with Bill Roloff becoming one of the new members.

Bill soon developed a distrust for the then-popular carabiner/brake bar rappels, so using that system as an inspiration, he developed the Roloff Rack. This rack, along with his Jumar-inspired Roloff Ascender, ensured his fame and enhancing the Grotto’s fame as well. Between 1964 and 1969, they sold many racks - the number is not known - and about 120 pairs of ascenders to other cavers. Roloff Ascenders still appear on occasion, but the Roloff Racks are now rather difficult to find.

Brazing the bars in place should be strong enough, but I never fully trusted this type of construction for a home-made descender. Modern U-frame racks frequently use threaded fasteners (nuts or posts), and a bad thread is normally rather obvious, while a bad brazed joint is not necessarily as easy to recognize.

Roloff racks are fairly small and are lighter than most racks, but they do not have the variable friction capability that normal racks have. They were a reasonable short-drop descender for their time, and they directly inspired at least one of the independent inventors of the modern rappel rack.


Version A
(#517, 3058)

Front View Rear View Side View
Front View Rear View Side View

Technical Details

I acquired this rack from Ed Sira at the 1995 Old Timers Reunion. I acquired a second, nearly identical rack from cptnamerica2003 in 2021.

Version A is 180 mm. tall, 62 mm. wide, 17 mm. thick, and weighs 254 g. The frame is made from 7.0 mm. steel bent into a U, with an internal width of 32 mm.

There are five brake bars. The three odd-numbered bars are 10 mm. in diameter, 58 mm. long, and made from solid steel rod. These bars are brazed to the frame. The second and fourth bars are made from solid aluminum alloy rod, 16 mm. in diameter and 62 mm. long. These bars are slotted and pivot open for rigging.

There are no markings on the rack that Ed gave to me. The one from cptnamerica2003 has an "R" stamped on one end of the first and third bars.

Comments

With the fixed bars, the Roloff rack does not have the variable friction capability that normal racks do, but they work well as a lightweight short drop descender.


Version B
(#3057)

Front View Rear View Side View
Front View Rear View Side View

Technical Details

I acquired this rack from cptnamerica2003 in 2021.

My Roloff Rack, Version B rack is There are 5 brake bars. The bars are 10 and 16 mm. in diameter and 58 and 62 mm. long. Allowing 35 mm. for the rope leaves 0 mm. for spreading the bars.

Version B is 214 mm. tall, 65 mm. wide, 17 mm. thick, and weighs 319 g. The frame is made from 7.8 mm. steel bent into a U, with an internal width of 29 mm.

There are five brake bars. The three odd-numbered bars are 10 mm. in diameter, 58 mm. long, and made from solid steel rod. These bars are brazed to the frame. The second and fourth bars are made from solid aluminum alloy rod, 16 mm. in diameter and 62 mm. long. These bars are slotted and pivot open for rigging.

There are no markings on this rack.

Comments

This rack is larger and 25% heavier than Version A. The frame is made of larger-diameter steel as well.

The two sides of the U are not parallel, and so the rack rocks when placed on a flat surface. This twist does not affect its performance in the field.

The longer top posts facilitate looping the rope tail over the rack top for a soft lock-off.


Version C
(#545)

Front View Rear View Side View
Front View Rear View Side View

Technical Details

I acquired this rack at the NSS Auction in 1998.

This version is 220 mm. tall, 50 mm. wide, 16 mm. thick, and weighs 196 g. The frame is made from 6.2 mm. steel bent into a U, with an internal width of 26 mm.

There are five brake bars. The three odd-numbered bars are 10 mm. in diameter, 58 mm. long, and made from steel tubing. These bars are brazed to the frame. The second and fourth bars are made from stainless steel tubing, 16 mm. in diameter and 51 mm. long. These bars are slotted and pivot open for rigging.

There are no markings on this rack.

Comments

This rack is 20% lighter than Version A. The longer top posts facilitate looping the rope tail over the rack top for a soft lock-off.