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.
The watching crowd almost vanished between bursts of steam exhausting out
And the crew get ready for departure
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.
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. (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…
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…