Archive for category Subject: Railways
It’s funny how early versions of mechanical transport have such an emotional appeal. I’m not talking about the first attempts, but rather the point at which they gained traction (pun intended) and became something more than just than a curiosity. Sure, there were practical railways well before the end of the nineteenth century, but there’s something about the locomotives of the 1920s and 30s that stirs the soul. It’s the same with the cars. Park me beside Mallard or the Napier Railton and I just sit there in awe, even though I’m far too young to have seen them in everyday action. These are refined creations, and yet they owe more to the skill of the blacksmith than to fine-scale engineering (though they’re that too).
In a way that defies explanation, they have soul that even a modern Ferrari or a Eurostar locomotive doesn’t.
This, then, is a recreation of the dying embers of a golden age. Created largely from photographs and the imagination, it’s seen through at least slightly rose-tinted spectacles. These are not the dirty little tramp steamers of mundane mundanity, but rather the magnificent beasts carving their way through some of the more picturesque countryside, or at least the more interesting parts of towns. The representations are realistic enough without being rivet-perfect and you get the sense of action throughout. If I have a reservation (when do I not?) it’s that Wrenford Thatcher, a railwayman himself, perhaps uses a little too much black, giving some images a rather hard outline. I also spotted a couple of instances when the perspective was a tad suspect and one loco, coming round a curve, that appears to be leaning over on its chassis. Nevertheless, this is a fine and enjoyable evocation of what I think we might call an ethos that creates a sense of currency that a photograph can never quite attain.
Click the picture to view on Amazon
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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