BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives

Author: Fred Kerr

Total Number of Printed Pages: 126

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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Although to the General Public ‘Preserved’ steam locomotives are epitomised by such well-known machines as Flying Scotsman, there are other steam locomotives which are equally interesting and worthy of attention. These are the ‘Industrials’; the small steam engines which have invariably worked tirelessly in largely-unknown areas and industries. They have a definite charm of their own and can be equally fascinating. Yet despite this, these engines are still largely overlooked. This volume is an attempt to remedy that situation and, in summary is ‘… Dedicated to those builders whose products are still in use many years after being built…’

This book is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre. It is a collection of colour photographs of small industrial steam locomotives built by 25 different British manufacturers. The photographs are beautiful and for those merely seeking high-quality images of small and colourful steam locomotives, this could be incentive-enough to purchase this volume. Those with a more technical interest in the subject are not left out however. As previously noted, this volume consists of 26 sections; (there being no ‘Chapters’ in the accepted sense). These are listed alphabetically on the Contents page, and are repeated as ‘Section’ headings. However, when creating these headings (and to delineate each section) the author has employed a curious form of two or three-letter abbreviations. These include (for example), AB (for Andrew Barclay Sons and Company); GR (for Grant Richie & Company) and WCI (Wigan Coal & Iron Company). As such items are not normally found in published works, they are possibly the author’s invention, perhaps created to record details in his notebooks. Their use in a published work makes for an untidy Contents page and, in the opinion of this reviewer, brings an amateurish look to the section headings. The Contents page is in turn followed by an untitled page which provides a very brief history of industrial steam locomotive construction in Great Britain. The ‘Photographic’ part of the volume then follows. Within this, each ‘Section’ commences with three self-explanatory sub-headings (titled Date Established, Location and History).  These are followed by a single paragraph listing the specific-manufacturer’s locomotives that have been preserved, and their location within the British Isles.  Although each locomotive-builder’s product is portrayed by at least one colour photograph, several have received photographs in the 12-20 image range, However, 60 photographs have been taken of the products of one manufacturer (Hunslet), with the qualification that that Company’s products are divided into two sections: Austerity Locomotives and Industrial locomotives. Each photograph is clearly captioned, and frequently-contains additional information relating to the specific locomotive it portrays or the event at which it was appearing when the image was taken. However, as some images have been transposed, it is advisable to check that captions refer to the specific locomotive in the photograph. In addition to the captions, an accompanying paragraph details the history of the individual locomotive. No Maps or an Index are provided. Regrettably, the author provides no details about the cameras or methods he used when taking the photographs.

As previously noted, this volume is of the ‘Picture book’ genre. As such it is beautiful, with the photographs being of frameable quality. It is little more. The absence of an Index requires readers to undertake unnecessary (and probably fruitless) searching, while the lack of any Maps means that the reader has no idea where the photographs were taken. This can be an especially frustrating situation for ‘off-shore’ readers for who maps are a necessary adjunct to their reading. .

Because of the quality of the images, it is possible that this book may have a wider appeal beyond the railway world; perhaps to readers who simply like quality images of small steam locomotives; or want something to share with children who are fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. It is also likely to appeal to ‘generalist’ railway enthusiasts, although those with a specific interest in preserved British industrial steam locomotives in contemporary settings are likely to find it a delight. Railway modellers with a specific interest in the subject may also find it of use.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam At Work: Preserved Industrial Locomotives’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching

Author: Gareth David

Total No. of Pages: 330

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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On 27 March 1963, Dr. Richard Beeching presented to the British Railways Board (the group ultimately responsible for running that county’s railways) what the author of this volume describes as ‘…His draconian solution to spiralling losses on Britain’s outdated railway network, a plan which was…to spell isolation and economic stagnation for scores of communities across England, Scotland and Wales’.  This volume presents the reasons for that report and the results of its implementation. The author is quite clear about his intentions in writing this volume. He states that ‘This book will outline the dramatic changes to the [British] railway network brought about by implementation of closures planned in that 1963 report, and consider how lines which had been slated for closure have fared since they managed to escape the [Beeching] axe’. He also states that he ‘…Hope[s] to be able to convey the scale and future potential of the railway revival which has taken place since….the publication of Beeching’s original report…’ He is on a mission, and this volume is the result.

The volume’s first section (the Introduction), is placed behind the Contents page. Within it, the author provides biographical details concerning his interest in ‘Things railway’, while elaborating on his theme and providing background to his efforts in the railway preservation field.  The introduction is followed by 10 Chapters. Of these, the first nine are related to the directly closure of uneconomic sections of the British railway network and the subsequent reopening of sections closed as result of Dr. Beeching’s actions. Included within these are reproductions of letters relevant to the narrative and interviews with policymakers.  Regrettably, and despite the best efforts of all concerned, not all railways mentioned within this volume will reopen. The author lists and discusses these in Chapter 9 (titled Longer Shots). While so-doing he provides betting odds as to the likelihood that the individual line under discussion will reopen. While a reader familiar with British ‘Betting’ practice will undoubtedly find this both entertaining and educational, non-British readers unfamiliar with such matters may wonder why they have been included. Chapter 10 (titled On Reflection) .presents the author’s views on what has past, the current situation for railways in Great Britain and his thoughts about what the future could possibly hold for the re-emerging national railway network. Within each Chapter subheadings refer to specific sections of railway relevant to that chapter’s over-all narrative. Four Appendices follow Chapter 10. Two of these use a table format to record ‘Lines opened or re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix I) and ‘Stations opened or Re-opened since Beeching’ (Appendix II). Within each Table, additional information is provided through the use of chapter-specific end-notes. These are sequentially numbered with their relevant citations appear at the end of each Appendix. Although there is no designated ‘stand-alone’ Bibliography, Appendix III carries the Bibliography subheading and acts in that capacity. It records the printed titles accessed during the preparation of this book.  Appendix IV lists ‘Campaign and Promotional Groups’ involved in railway and transport activism throughout the United Kingdom. The volume contains numerous photographs; both coloured and monochrome. Of these, some are sourced, some are not. In addition it also contains reproductions of schematic maps, tickets and a map of North Wales. There is however, no reference to either maps, tickets or photographs on the Contents page or within the Index. Curiously, the volume contains no maps/s of either Great Britain or its past or present national railway network/s in their entirety.

That the author is extremely-passionate about his subject is very evident, although the end-result (at least for this reviewer), is a volume best-described as being ‘Intense’.  That detail notwithstanding (and due to  the quantity and quality of the information it contains), this book has the potential to become  an authoritative work on its subject  It is likely to be of  use to individuals and organisations involved in the reopening of railways closed as a result of Doctor Beeching’ Report. In addition, groups and Councils involved in regional development within the United Kingdom may also find it informative and useful. Due to the photographs it contains, modellers of Twenty-first Century British railways may also find that it has use as a source book for rolling stock, infrastructure and land-forms.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Renaissance: Britain’s railways after Beeching’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Severn Valley Railway

Author:  Michael A. Vanns

Total Number of Pages: 104

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½

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According to its author ‘This book provides a brief history of the Severn Valley Railway, from its earliest days through to the twenty-first [sic] century, providing a guide for all those who love the sight and sound of steam engines making their way through a particularly beautiful part of the midland landscape’. It is a fair summation.

The volume is prefaced by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow. Although not specifically defined as such, four Chapters follow the Introduction and form the main (and central) part of the volume. They cover specific periods of the railway’s history from its Eighteenth Century origins to its state in 2017. They also introduce the reader to the various industries which sparked the Severn Valley Railway’s (SVR) creation and the economic and social factors which contributed to both its existence and its demise. The events which resulted in its passing into preservation are also covered as are events and experiences on the ‘Preservation’ journey. The narrative is well written, the facts both well-researched and presented, and the over-all story an engaging one. A Bibliography follows the final Chapter (Preservation) and is, according to the author, ‘…A list of those [books] used as references in the compilation of this book’. An Index completes the volume. The book is copiously illustrated with well-captioned photographs, the colour images in particular being a delight to view. While the majority of those taken in the railway’s industrial heyday are monochrome, a small number of colour images are also present within those sections (Chapters 1-3) In contrast (and with only two exceptions) all the ‘Preserved’ images  (Chapter 4) are in full colour. The volume contains but one map. This dates from before World War I. As it shows all the railways in the vicinity of the SVR rather than just that line itself, its usefulness is questionable. There is neither a large-scale ‘General’ Ordinance-Survey Map of Great Britain nor maps relating specifically to the SVR. As a result, unless they are personally acquainted with the SVR, the reader can have no idea of its location. While for some, this will not be a problem, this reviewer believes otherwise, since if one does not know where the SVR is located, how can one visit and support it by doing-so? International readers in particular are also likely to find the absence of maps frustrating and may question why it is necessary to consult an atlas when the information should be readily available within the volume.

The matter of maps notwithstanding, the combination of information and photographs is such that this book could well become an authoritative volume on its subject. While definitely a ‘souvenir’ volume; suitable for taking home after a visit to the SVR, it also has value as a provider of historical and social information for those interested in such matters. Railway modellers and members of the railway enthusiast community may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War

Author: Christopher Knowles

Total Number of Printed Pages: 220

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

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In the introductory voice-over text of the television series Star Trek, viewers were told that the spacecraft’s mission was ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before’. This is a reasonable summation of this volume, with the only real difference being that the author had a party of paying tourists with him when he ‘boldly went’ into what was at that time, a completely foreign world; one that lurked all-unknown, behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.

This book is part autobiography and part travelogue, and, while narrating events that occurred enroute, inevitably contains the author’s personal views concerning those he was travelling with, the countries being travelled through and the people and systems he encountered while doing so. Ostensibly it narrates the author’s experiences while taking a party of tourists from London to Hong Kong during 1981; a time when the Cold War was at its height and Westerners were a novelty east of the Berlin Wall, In fact, however, it is not. Despite being  presented as a single event, this volume is in reality a compendium of several journeys made over an indeterminate period. It is a narrative that is held together with what is ultimately a fictional thread. Although not evident from the title, the author makes this clear in the Preface. Within that section (and when referring to the narrative that is being presented), he states that ‘What follows, combined into a single imaginary journey, is a selection of events that occurred over the years’. He also notes that ‘All the events are true and with the exception of the incarceration in Ulan Bator, which was the unfortunate fate of another, most happened to me’. The author concludes ‘…I have taken the liberty of occasionally taking them [the events] out of their original content in order to preserve the narrative flow’. The end result is what can best be described as a work of ‘faction’; a narrative that is part fact and part fiction. There is no way of knowing which is which. That this should be the case in a volume promoting itself as a ‘truthful’ narration of a single event, raises questions concerning the veracity of the information it contains.

The bulk of the book consists of 12 Chapters, which take the reader on a train journey from London to Hong Kong. Each Chapter covers a specific section of the over-all journey and relates events that occurred while travelling over it. The section is preceded by a Preface which provides a synopsis of what the book contains. An Acknowledgements section follows; within it the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s creation. Unsourced colour photographs appear randomly throughout the work, and are possibly from the author’s own collection. Their captions are informative, but there is no reference to their existence on the Contents Page. A single Map traces the journey that the narrative describes. There is no Index.

Because of its subject, this volume is likely to appeal to both those who made similar journeys and to ‘armchair travellers’ in search of a good story. Those who are interested in life in Eastern Europe and Communist China during the ‘Cold War’ may also find it informative. Sociologists seeking information about life in micro-communities (train passengers on long journeys) or of everyday life under Communist rule might also find it of interest. Although it is more concerned with the journey rather than the ‘technical details’, railway enthusiasts might also find the descriptions of trains interesting.

This book is well-written and engages the reader with its narrative. However, the fact that (in this reviewer’s opinion) it is a volume of ‘faction’ reduces its usefulness considerably. This is reflected in its Rating. It was potentially worthy of a much higher rating than it received.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War’