A page where you can find some good bedtime reading (books, papers, and articles I have read and recommend), and maybe some controversial commentary. Ok, maybe it’s not all bedtime material…
Oh… I’m a private pilot, so you might find some aviation stuff in here, too!
RAILWAY ADVENTURES AND ANECDOTES: Extending over more than fifty years
Edited by Richard Pike
A HISTORY OF RAILWAYS
A most informative dissertation. Can’t recall where I sourced this. If any reader can identify, please contact me.
GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY SAFETY HANDBOOK
“Human lives are cheap. Dirt cheap. Men risk them for nothing. They sell them like old crocks. They do, really. Men will take their lives in their hands to save a few yards’ walk, or to save waiting a minute or two. They’ll even do it for fun.”
A detailed and fascinating publication, revealing that maintaining safe employee work practices (in the context of the times) was an active corporate strategy of a major British railway company of the day
Published by the Great Western Railway Company, General Manager’s Office, Paddington Station – 1914
THE HISTORY OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY WORKSHOPS
Register of Heritage Places: Assessment documentation – Heritage Council of Western Australia.
A UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD BIGBOY COMES TO GRIEF
Here’s a sad story about a train wreck in the USA in 1953, the year I was born. I sourced it from the website of the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, Colorado, USA.
I like to think the transport safety investigations we conduct today (my line of work) are more systems-focused than they were back then. Management were considered to be ‘above reproach’ and got off without appropriate examination in those long-ago days. It wouldn’t happen today.
The quotes are by Jim Dover who had a first hand experience with the crew and at the accident scene. Engine 4005 can be seen today in the Forney Museum of Transportation.
Runaway on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1977 – Official report
“The [trainee engineman’s] lack of knowledge of the train braking system questions the amount of class room instructions he assimilated. In his statement he acknowledges he was not aware of the fact that reducing brake pipe pressure beyond a full set brake, 25 psi, would not result in additional braking force and was in fact wasting air. The trainee made 15 trips with two enginemen, and had not been instructed regarding appropriate action to be taken in the event of an undesired brake release.
The action of the engineman to allow the brake pipe pressure to be depleted to a point where an emergency brake application would not be propagated throughout the train suggests a lack of knowledge of the train braking system. [His] failure to observe long-standing verbal and written instructions relating to train handling procedures questions his competence as an engineman instructor.”
Eleven Minutes Late – A train journey to the soul of Britain (Matthew Engel).”…a railway history that is both salutary and funny.” A great read. I recommend it. Here’s a review…
A History of The American Locomotive – Its development 1830-1880 (John H. White, Jnr). There have been–by my reckoning–three global transport vehicles that have been chiefly responsible for the advancement of mankind from the tribal village and horse and cart to the international space station and the shuttle (…the next one in the continuum, when it comes, will be the intergalactic transporter). These three seminal vehicles are the sailing ship, the steam locomotive, and the airliner. Jack White, Jnr–a long-time curator of transportation at the Smithsonian Institution (not to mention senior historian at the National Museum of American History, and fellow at the Science Museum in London)–is the consummate museum professional. He has produced an authoritative history distinguished by its clarity of style, illustrative opulence, and meticulous technical analysis. White says, “The railway, and more particularly the steam locomotive, were regarded with pride and veneration in the 19th century as a carrier of civilisation, a noble product of man’s genius, and a symbol of the new industrial age that promised to end manual toil.”
The story of the development of the locomotive engine and railway operations is as much one of national politics and economics as it is of ingenuity, inspirational invention and technical breakthrough… and this latter narrative is part of this book. The commercial railway originated in Britain during the 1820’s and with abundant capital, short distances, and high traffic density, they were models of civil engineering enterprise. In the United States the reverse applied; the competition for capital was keen, distances were great, the population scattered and thus traffic densities were light. Where the British spent $179,000 per mile to build their railway network, few Americans roads spent more than $20,000-$30,000 per mile on construction.
While the first locomotives were imported from Britain, their unsuitability for the American environment was quickly apparent. Because of America’s light construction standards and undulating profiles, British machines were not practical; the Americans did not need speed but they did need power. White’s account is largely concerned with the development of American locomotive design and construction, using complete working drawings wherever possible.
This is a book for those whose interest in railroading goes beyond the superficial. It is a reference work for students of transportation, history and technology. This student obtained his used copy from the U.S. via eBay. An absorbing read for any railway technician! (FEM)
Highest Duty – My search for what really matters (Capt. Chesley Sullenberger). (From the cockpit voice recorder 20 sec before contact with the river): Capt to First Officer: “Got any ideas?” F/O: “Actually, not.”
Sullenberger does not dwell unnecessarily on the incident of the ditching of his airliner in the Hudson River in New York in mid-January 2009 (the whole incident, from bird-strike after takeoff to touchdown on the water, took less than 5 minutes in duration). What he does in this book is relate those lifetime events that he believes coalesced to result in the mindset and level of professional experience that enabled him to manage this incident through to an entirely successful (in the context of the safety of his passengers and crew) conclusion. Utterly without hubris, Sullenberger states that todays airline pilots are not equipped to achieve what he did; this is not a comment on the people, but the ‘system’. Against his natural inclinations, Sully is now an aviation icon, but more than that, he is both a humble and an inspirational person; and engenders great emotion in the reader (at least this one). One feels refreshed from having read his story. (FEM)
Final Approach – Northwest Airlines Flight 650, Tragedy and Triumph (Lyle Prouse). I downloaded this book from Kindle and read it on my tablet on a flight to the States. At first glance it may look like another journalist’s account of an airline disaster… not so. The Flt 650 of the title was NWA (now part of Delta) from Fargo, North Dakota to Minneapolis, Minnesota on 8 March 1990, and it was conducted without drama. Except that the captain was arrested afterwards.
These words from the author’s website best describe this saga; “This is the story of the first airline pilot ever arrested and sent to prison for flying under the influence. He was fired by his airline, stripped of his FAA licenses, tried, convicted, and sent to Federal prison. This was a first. It had never occurred before. Lyle Prouse came from a WWII housing project in Kansas and an alcoholic family where both parents died as a result of alcoholism. He rose through the ranks of the United States Marine Corps from private to captain, from an infantryman to a fighter pilot. He made his way to the pinnacle of commercial aviation, airline captain…then lost it all.
Today he is a recovering alcoholic with nearly twenty-two years sobriety. This story describes his rise from the ashes of complete destruction from which he was never to fly again. It is full of miracles which defy all manner of odds. In a long and arduous journey, he eventually regained his FAA licenses. He never fought his termination; he considered it fair and appropriate.
Miraculously, after nearly four years, the President/CEO of his airline personally reinstated him to full flight despite the adverse publicity and embarrassment. In effect, the President/CEO gambled his own career by taking such a risk on a convicted felon and publicly acknowledged alcoholic pilot. In another stunning event, the judge who tried, sentenced, and sent him to prison watched his journey and reappeared eight years after the trial. He became the driving force behind a Presidential pardon although he’d never supported a petition for pardon in all his years on the bench. Prouse retired honourably as a 747 captain for the airline he’d embarrassed and disgraced. He is married and has five grandchildren. He continues to work with all the major airlines in their alcohol programs. He is also active in his Native American community, and he provides hope to those struggling with the disease of alcoholism, no matter who they are or where they are.”
The author is part-Comanche and remains active in American aboriginal affairs. He still flies light aircraft, including charity flights when he can (Angel Flights and Animal Rescue Flights). And to his credit he does not seek to confuse a Presidential Pardon with an acquittal. I found this account to be an emotional but fulfilling read. Prouse speaks candidly of his blunder and the personal journey of redemption that followed. A tearfully good read!
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather, the ability to continue in the face of it.” Lyle Prouse, Nov 2011. (FEM)
The Dawn of World Railways 1800-1850 (O.S. Nock). If you like pictures of old locomotives, then this is a book for you. If you like pictures of very old, British, European, and American locomotives, then this is definitely the book for you. Add the lavish number of colourful images rendered by the artful Clifford and Wendy Meadway to the instructive text by British railway doyen, O. S. Nock—with the collaboration of that doyen of American railroad archeology, John H. White—and you have a most useful informative reference source.
Transport in wheeled vehicles did not begin to earn the title of ‘rail-ways’ until the early Industrial Revolution in Great Britain required mine owners to find means to enable horses to draw heavier loads. If the small wagons of the day were run on some sort of prepared right-of-way with an unyielding surface, it was found that a single animal could often pull up to four of them instead of only one. Methods of guiding had to be devised, for with rakes of three or four wagons directional control could not be maintained as with a horse pulling a single wagon on an ordinary road.
Richard Trevithick took Watt’s stationary low pressure and condensed exhaust steam engine — which was in use for pumping water out of tin mines in Cornwall—and evolved the ‘puffer’ that exhausted steam to atmosphere, thus producing the very first locomotive. The news of Trevithick’s achievement spread to the north of England, and the gradual evolution of the steam locomotive was continued by George Stevenson, Hedley, Blenkinsop and others.
William Hedley (and his mine engineering staff)—it should be noted—built the famous locomotive they named Puffing Billy. The reason for choosing this name has never been historically resolved, which means that a term that came to be globally recognised has never been officially explained. However, it can reasonably be surmised that the name may have originally been a nickname given to the machine by Hedley’s staff that derives both from the ‘puffing’ sound it made when running, and Hedley’s given name. In these early days, the ‘puffing’ sound deriving from the cylinder blast being routed up the chimney-stack was still a novelty. The term has even become the trading name of a highly successful Tourist & Heritage railway operation near Melbourne in Australia.
This early development of the steam locomotive was entirely for the purpose of carrying coal and minerals. There was no question of carrying passengers by steam-worked railways. The project that changed the whole trend of events was the incorporation of the Stockton & Darlington Railway as a common carrier and the first public railway in the world. Opened in 1825 it was operated almost entirely by horses, the company having only one locomotive – George Stephenson’s famous Locomotion. The line descended from the coalfields on a gradient and there was no need for any ‘haulage’ as such. The trains included ‘dandy carts’ in which the horse rode when not required for pulling. Although the Stockton & Darlington did not at first advance the art of steam locomotion, immediate success as a railway started something, and within the ensuing 15 years railways had been opened in nine countries.
A succinct and well-written illustrated journey. FEM
The Last Journey of William Huskisson – How a day of triumph became a day of despair at the turn of a wheel (Simon Garfield). “The engine attained a speed of 35 mph, which made it the fastest train in the world. Unaware of any incident, vast crowds of onlookers waved hardily as the calamity rattled past…”
From the cover leaf: “The Liverpool & Manchester Railway was the greatest engineering feat of its age. George and Robert Stephenson’s Rocket was to become the most famous locomotive in history. William Huskisson was one of the greatest statesman of his generation, and certainly the most accident-prone. On 15 September 1830, three met for the first time.
Huskisson’s fateful accident, in which Rocket crushed his leg and thigh, is an unforgettable image of the Industrial Revolution. But what really happened on that day? How did the opening of the world’s first passenger railway turn from a glorious morning into a tragic afternoon? This book is a wonderfully entertaining tale of ambition, genius, rivalry and legend, plotting the eight-year struggle to build a railway, with a cast of engineers, politicians, actresses, surgeons, socialites and breathtaking machines. It is a loud and evocative snapshot of the times, but above all it is a deeply-affecting human story of one man’s shocking and very gory demise.”
A fascinating and instructive history. Definitely a bedtime read. FEM
Development of the Locomotive Engine – Annotated Edition prepared by John. H. White, Jnr (Angus Sinclair).
This book is described as “A history of the growth of the locomotive from its most elementary for, showing the gradual steps made toward a developed engine, with biographical sketches of the imminent engineers and inventors who nursed it on its way to perfect the form of today. Many particulars are also given concerning railroad development.”
White writes: “For over 60 years this book has been a standard reference on American locomotive history. It was a pioneering work on the history of railroad engineering when published in 1907 and for many years was the only comprehensive study available. Recent years have seen an outpouring of railroad books inspired by the passing of the steam locomotive. Most are glossy picture books of the coffee table variety, which prompts a new respect for Angus Sinclair’s original work. Not that it is a model of scholarship or organisation, but it must be judged as a comprehensive work for its time. As a journalist Sinclair’s first thought (and worst fault as a historian) was to tell a good story. The technical details might be confused in the process, but a lively narrative always followed.
From the cover leaf: “First published in 1907, this work is the best single source on the development of steam locomotives for those interested in their inner workings and technical specifications. Most of the more recent offerings on the subject are primarily nostalgic picture books celebrating the outward design of the great engines of the past. Sinclair spent half a lifetime operating locomotives or beginning a new career as a railway journalist brought him in contact the prime movers of the golden age of railroading. The author’s lively storytelling style remains fresh, and the scholarly value of the book has been much enhanced by the inclusion of some 650 notes provided by his editor, who was the chairman of the Department of Industries of the US National Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution.
These notes provide further information and correct errors brought to light by more recent research. The editor has also provided an afterward, summarising the final developments in the last years of the steam locomotive in the 20th century. This new addition retains all the numerous illustrations of the original – some 200 historic locomotives are pictured, numerous portraits of their designers and owners, and the line drawings of mechanical configurations.”
This book is an archeologists delight. FEM
The Men Who Loved Trains – The story of men who battled greed to save an ailing industry (Rush Loving Jr.)
I shall repeat the jacket information… it is more eloquent than I could be.
“A saga about one of the oldest and most romantic enterprises in the land–Americas railroads–this book also introduces some of the most dynamic people in America. Here are the players who have run the railroads, some intent only on their own power and gargantuan salaries, and others who have loved their industry.
In The Men Who Loved Trains, author Loving uncovers intrigue, greed, lust for power, boardroom battles, takeover battles, and even an astonishing story of how one of the most powerful executives in America took afternoons off for sex with one of Philadelphia’s society leaders while his company plunged into bankruptcy.
As Loving points out, if Washington had imposed proper oversight after the Penn Central Railroad’s accounting scandal in 1970, the Enron debacle might have been prevented 30 years later. The Men Who Loved Trains raises disturbing questions about the need for America’s corporations to free themselves from the short-term demands of Wall Street and reinvest more of their profits in themselves and their employees.”
“[The book] is a riveting morality story of intrigues, boardroom battles, corporate takeovers, and secret cabals aiming for control of a large part of America’s transport system. A rear behind-the-scenes story of an epic battle over power and personal gain.”
“The men who loved trains deserve a writer who loves them as well. This excellent book is a perfect match of subject and author.”
“This absorbing book takes you on an entertaining ride through the train wars of the last 30 years. It is filled with intrigue and backbiting in the executive suites and with the stories of how the railroaders got away with unbelievable waste – until it all caught up with them. Rush Loving, a writer with the heart and soul of a true railroader, takes you inside the battles that changed rail transportation in this country.”
“This is a book that cannot be ignored by anyone who has a serious interest in one of the 20th century’s greatest industrial turnarounds. Loving lived through it all, watching the era from beginning to end as a journalist and an insider. His in-depth knowledge and understanding shine through.”
Loving has been a journalist and consultant for 50 years. A Virginian, he served in the National Security agency and then worked on newspapers in Virginia before becoming Associate Editor of Fortune Magazine. He lectures on transportation issues at the University of Denver’s Intermodal Transportation Institute.
Giants Of Steam – The great men and machines of rail’s golden age (Jonathan Glancey)
From the jacket information: “Steam has had a very good run for its money, and has lasted far longer than it was reasonable to expect. It has so lasted because retention of the pure Stevensonian form in its successive developments produced a machine which for simplicity and adaptability to railway conditions was very hard to replace.” E.S. Cox, Locomotive Panorama – vol 2 – (1966)
“The author is a lifelong rail enthusiast who has oiled, fired and driven steam locomotives around the world. In Giants of Steam, he turns his enthusiasm to the thrilling story of the last, and greatest, generation of steam railway locomotives. Designed and built by the railways and workshops of Britain, France, Germany and the United States, these powerful and beautiful machines took steam locomotive technology to new heights during the political upheavals and military conflicts of the mid-twentieth century. Glancey shares the stories of the brave and intuitive steam men who designed and put these great machines to use, confronting the realities of modernisation in the misconception that steam was inherently passé and dirty.
A story of invention, skill and passion, Giants of Steam reveals how the true advocates of steam’s glory days pushed its design and performance to remarkable limits, and how enthusiasm for the steam locomotive itself is far from burning out.”
The Iron Horse (R.M. Ballantyne)
This scarce antiquarian book–subtitled ‘Life On The Line’ and believed to have been published between 1871 and 1879–is a fictional tale about a ‘Grand National Trunk Railway’.
Hanna writes in an Amazon Books review that… “This won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I still enjoyed it (I have to admit that I skipped a few pages here and there). R.M. Ballantyne himself confesses to being often distracted from the main story line. He has lengthy digressions into the railway history and other related aspects of the railways in England. For someone who wants to have some insight into this aspect of the transport history, it will be a worthwhile read.”
I acquired this book from my father, Arthur Moffat, who had received it as a school prize in 1924. The yarn is one of a series of adventure stories for the young with which Ballantyne’s name is popularly associated and the story’s style is consistent with his theme of seeking to write–in every case as far as possible–from personal knowledge of the scenes he described. I devoured this book when I was about 14 and found it a captivating and worthy read… and–in its own delightful way–very educational. For this (and other well-known stories) I am grateful to Robert Michael Ballantyne.
In his Preface, Ballantyne writes… “This book contains a story founded largely on facts, and is intended to illustrate some of the more salient points and interesting circumstances connected with the railway system of this kingdom. It makes no pretension whatever to give a comprehensive, much less a complete, view of a subject which, in its details, I conceived to be almost inexhaustible.
To the various managers, superintendents, clerks, drivers, guards, and the porters of the several railway companies from which much of my information has been derived, I now tender my most sincere thanks for the kindness and ready assistance I have received at their hands.” (R. M. Ballantyne, Edinburgh, 1871)
From Chapter XIX, A Runaway Locomotive (p325), we read… “It chanced that the passenger superintendent was on the platform at the time. That gentleman had everything connected with the traffic by heart. He saw that the points had been so set is to turn the runaway engine onto the Down line, and in his mind’s eye saw a monster excursion train, which had started just a few minutes before, labouring slowly forward, which the light engine would soon overtake. A collision in a few minutes would be certain. In peculiar circumstances men are bound to break through all rules and regulations, and act in a peculiar way. Without a moment’s hesitation he ran to John Marrot and said in an earnest hurried voice – “Give chase, John! Cross over to the Up line, but don’t go too far.”
“All right, sir,” said John, laying his hand on the regulator.
Even while the superintendent was speaking, Will Garvie’s swift mind had appreciated the idea. He had leaped [sic] down and uncoupled the Lightning from its train. John touched the whistle, let on steam and off they went, crossed to the Up line (which was the wrong line of rails for any engine to run in that direction), and away he went at forty, fifty, seventy miles an hour! John knew well that he was flying towards a passenger train, which was running towards him at probably thirty-five or forty miles an hour. He was aware of its whereabouts at that time, for he consulted his watch and had the timetable by heart. A collision with it would involve the accumulated momentum more than 100 miles an hour! The time was short, but it was sufficient; he therefore urged Will to coal the furnace until it glowed with fervent heat, and opened the steam valve to the uttermost. Never since John Marrot had driven it had the Lightning so nearly resembled its namesake. The pace was increased to seventy-five and eighty miles an hour. It was awful. Objects flew past with flashing speed. The clatter of the engine was deafening. A stern chase is proverbially a long one; but in this case, at such a speed, it was short.”
We might forgive Ballantyne his breathless claim to his hero having run the engine at ‘…seventy-five and eighty miles per hour.’ A great read if you can find it.