Letting Off Steam || David Weston

There’s an old adage that every small boy wants to grow up to be an engine driver. Actually, I suspect that applies more to the age of steam when locomotives were complex, fire-breathing beasts that needed a huge mix of skills to handle and which were almost like living creatures – one false move and they’d have your hand off, no messing. Bit like swans, really. Or was that your leg?

Well, anyway, that little bit of slapstick is a way of letting you know that I’m a sucker for a bit of steam and that this book pushes so many buttons I’m finding it very difficult to be objective. In fact, hang on a minute, I’ve never claimed to be objective, so let’s not even bother. Where I’m trying to get to is to say that the thing about this book is that it’s not one for the rivet counters, but that it captures to absolute perfection the emotional state of just watching a steam engine, whether going full chat up an incline, sitting quietly in a siding, or just rotting in a scrapyard, tears of rust staining its noble flanks.

Look, if you don’t know what I’m taking about, please move away now, because this isn’t a book for you. I don’t mean that unkindly, but the simple fact is that you’ll be wasting your twenty quid and, while we’re on the subject, ONLY TWENTY QUID?, they’re practically giving this away.

I’ve reviewed David Weston’s books before and I’ve liked his ability to create the atmosphere of a landscape, often as you’d like it to be rather than faithfully as it is and now that he’s turned to a subject he clearly understands and loves deeply, I can see what he’s doing. What you get here is the romance of steam without it being romanticised. These locos don’t always shine, sometimes they’re grimy and not in a pretty way, either. They’re, well, they’re . . . steamy.

It’s quite possible that the purists will hate this. There’s a lot of detail not there, sometimes it’s more about the location and the light and shade than it is about the configuration of the wheels, but it’s a wonderful thing to handle and the reproduction is superb.


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