A Study in Steel

Here’s an interesting one for those of us who turn into excited ten year olds when we see a classic steam locomotive, an old film documenting the building of an LMS Princess Royal class mainline loco. I’ve seen one of these engines under steam, they’re beautiful, elegant machines, fascinating to see one being built from pieces of molten metal and the hard work and sweat of the skilled workmen:

And here’s the Princess Elizabeth, a Princess Royal class in that lovely LSM maroon livery, under steam at Carlisle:

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I got …. Steam heat… I got… Steam heat…

When I was a wee boy my dad got me an enormous train set, the best toy I boy could have, especially fun since he’d often help me set it up and run it. I was lucky enough to have a whole bunch of engines and my favourite was the Britannia, a great mainline steam loco (and a bunch of Pullman coaches for it to haul). Long, powerful, graceful, elegant, it was my childhood ideal image of a mighty steam engine from days now gone. And here I was with my dad again looking at the real thing – not silent and static in a museum, but breathing steam and smoke, belly full of fire, steam whistle shrieking as she prepared to depart, a sound that only a few decades ago would have been heard all over these islands.

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The watching crowd almost vanished between bursts of steam exhausting out

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And the crew get ready for departure
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I edited a couple of brief video clips I took between photos – the video isn’t great; my camera is a great stills camera and even though the video mode has full HD, widescreen etc it also has very annoying autofocus that is too twitchy and keeps trying to refocus itself while shooting which tends to ruin the images a bit (doesn’t help the light was in my lens instead of behind me either), but it does capture those fabulous sounds, including those deep ‘breathing’ whump, whump, WHUMP! sounds as she steams out, slight wheelspin as she does. I love those sounds.

God’s Wonderful Railway

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.