The Romance of Steam

I did not quite grow up in the age of steam, but there were still a few steam engines running when I was young and loved to see them go past at the local railway crossing. The diesels that replaced them were soulless and cold. I think one of the reasons I loved them so much is because they are the perfect balance of masculine and feminine to me – while they have raw power, they are things of beauty, functional and artistic. I always had model railways and built a quite impressive display. As a teenager, I worked as a volunteer restoring a line that was about a 3 hour bus ride away. I would go up to London (although my parents did not know most of the time) train spotting.

Each time I go back to England I am eager to go and experience a new railway that has been restored and thankfully they all run steam engines. What would a restored railway be without steam?

With my trip down to Columbia, CA, I found out that there was a state run restored short line railway that possessed the steam engine used in Back to the Future and many other movies. So, when I got a couple of spare hours on Memorial Day, I was off to Jamestown – proudly advertised as Railtown 1897. What a disappointment! While the state claims to run these preserved areas as “authentic”, the only thing running was a small diesel shunt. No steam to be seen! All of the steam engines were locked up in the roundhouse that you had to pay a significant sum of money to actually look around and it was kept quite dark making it very difficult to actually enjoy the engines. So two thumbs down for Jamestown from me!

I had hoped to spend some time looking at the engines closer because I have always felt that the American engines didn’t get quite the same balance. They are less artistic, have less beauty than their English counter parts. American steam is all masculine. What do you think? Is this just a matter of what you grow up with?

Brought to you by Brian Bailey

3 thoughts on “The Romance of Steam

  • June 2, 2011 at 11:31 AM
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    I wear the black smudges on my face with pride every time I ride steam!

    My bedroom was 6′ 6″ square, so in order to fit enough in there, I went with N gauge. Built almost everything from scratch including the track. Those were the days.

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  • June 2, 2011 at 10:54 AM
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    Nice post. I, too, love steam trains. I came across a lovely term for this once in Germany: “Dampfnostalgie”. When I grew up, in India, steam trains were the only things; India had not yet made the switch to diesel (or, later, catenary electric). I’ve made many a long-distance trip with my eyes smarting from the coal dust, and peering in the dark to the sparks-and-steam monster at the front of the train! My fondest childhood memories are of my Hornby Dublo (made by Meccano in Liverpool) set, with a 2-6-4 tank loco!

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