Riding the rails in Canada

To mark Canada Day why not enjoy this National Film Board of Canada’s film – it’s a documentary about a short film they shot with silent movie god Buster Keaton in the 1960s, where Buster gets stuck on a ride on a railway scooter, taking in some behind the scenes elements of the short film and chatting to the legendary actor:

Buster Keaton Rides Again, John Spotton, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

God’s Wonderful Railway

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 01

This afternoon my dad and I took a nice trip on the rails down across the border down to Carlisle to see a rare visitor this far north – a GWR steam loco. Brunel’s Great Western Railway – known fondly as God’s Wonderful Railway because of the quality of the engineering – ran on the southwest of the UK, so unlike the old LMS and LNER locomotives they were not normally seen in the north of the UK. I have seen GWR engines before, but only static, preserved in musuems, never under steam. It’s very different to see a steam engine actually in action. Heat radiates out from it, it breathes smoke and steam, fuelled by fire and water, it’s like a living machine, a steel dragon with fire for a heart. This visitor was one of the famous Castle Class of locos, which inspired all the other railway companies of the era with it’s efficient engineering (a legacy of the early Brunel days which carried on throughout the GWR’s history),the Earl of Mount Edgucmbe.

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 011

Firing the powerful tapered boiler on a steam loco is hard work; smoke-blackened firemen take a break before the return leg on the Sett;e-Carlisle line (it must have looked amazing crossing the famous viaduct)

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 014

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 023

As they added more coal to the fire box in preparation for the departure the smoke blackens and thickens as it pours out of the stack, the air fills with the distinctive scent of burning coal, the hissing reaches a huge, loud pitch and then with a lurch it begins to move slowly, that distinctive chuff, chuff, CHUFF, CHUFF! sound, so evocative. I love the sound of a steam engine powering up, beginning to haul a huge line of carriages out of the station with seeming ease.

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 025

I shot a brief bit of video as it was leaving, more to capture that fabulous sound than anything else:

Great day out with dad, see a beautiful bit of living history that makes us both feel like 5 year old boys and a good rail trip into the bargain.

Union of South Africa

Here’s what dad and I saw steaming in to Edinburgh this afternoon, steam whistle blowing, smoke and steam billowing, Union of South Africa, an A4 Pacific steam loco (the class which set the world steam engine speed record) with the streamliner casing. I know the streamlining was more about image and marketing and didn’t give much of an advantage in reality, but ye gods its lovely. Elegance and power from a different era when travelling the length of our islands drawn by some great steel, fire breathing dragon like this was an adventure and not the boring, over priced chore its become now.
Union of South Africa arrives in Edinburgh 4

(click the pic for the larger version)

Imagine charging down from Edinburgh along Britain’s east coast mainline to London behind one of these magnificent engines, the sea on your left as you roar down towards Berwick upon Tweed, the roar of the engine resounding across the landscape, easily pulling a long line of carriages with its enormous power, crossing the border, cruising into Northern England, passing ancient York, surging south on steel and iron and fire and water at a speed most people of the time would never encounter anywhere else in their life (this series could easily cruise beyond 100mph) until you arrive in King’s Cross in the middle of London. Before most people had cars, long before motorways existed it would have been remarkable to travel so swiftly, to go from one great capital city of the United Kingdom to another in just a few hours, and in comfort and style as well. God, that was the era to travel by train in this country…

Steam power

Here’s what my dad and I went to see arriving then departing from Edinburgh the last couple of weekends, a brand new steam locomotive (built to the old designs, but new build), the Tornado, created by the A1 Steam Trust. Not a static museum piece but a living, breathing, working locomotive, undergoing her shake down runs, here steaming through Edinburgh hauling a huge line of passenger carriages with utmost ease due to the raw power of such a huge locomotive. She drew a fair crowd and made quite a sight, steam whistle blowing, the roar of the engine and the sheer power and elegant beauty…

Tornado departs Edinburgh 6