BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

72. DSCF2120 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 352

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

___________________________

In his Introduction, the author notes that ‘The Ffestiniog Railway [sic]… set the scene for the use of narrow gauge railways around the world’. However, competition (primarily in the form of the internal combustion engine and the motor vehicle), resulted in a decline and ‘…The effects of the First World War seriously weakened the company’. He also states that  ‘The events of the 1920s and 1930s started the railway on the road that led to the position in which it finds itself today, making the transition from being a common carrier [railway], to become a leading Welsh tourist attraction of international renown’. This is the story of that ‘Transition’. It complements the author’s previous volume (Festiniog Railway The Spooner Era and After 1830 – 1920), which narrates the railway’s creation and early years

An Acknowledgements ad Sources section is placed immediately behind the Contents page. In it the author details the individuals and publications which contributed to the creation of the volume. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the 14 Chapters which form the main part of this work. Although ostensibly the volume covers the period 1921-2014, a Postscript placed after Chapter 14 brings the reader up to date with events that occurred in the 2015-2016 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. Of these Appendices 1-7 are in Table format and cover the commercial activities of the Festiniog Railway Company for the period 1921-2014. Appendix 8 consists of Deposited plans for 1923, 1968 and 1975 Light Railway Orders. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a 10–page Index completing the volume. In format the Index is confusing, and ‘muddled; in its arrangement. Within it, this reviewer looked in vain for references to South Africa and Beyer-Garratt’s, finding only an entry for Garratt K1, and that under the entry Locomotives, Steam. That he found even that was surprising as those subheadings themselves appear under the even broader heading Festiniog Railway. Regrettably, there is no similar entry for the Welsh Festiniog’s associated Highland Railway, despite the fact that the Garratt type of locomotive is mentioned several times in connection with that railway and is also the subject of several photographs within the volume. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour images.  Although with one exception (that of the locomotive on page 290), these are well and informatively captioned, with the majority being from the author’s own collection, a fact noted within the Acknowledgements ad Sources section. Where they are from other sources, these are acknowledged. Where relevant, a Table format is used throughout the volume to present details relating to ticket sales etc. Although numerous local maps and plans appear within this volume, no general reference maps of either Great Britain or Wales are provided. While not problematic for those who are ’Festiniog familiar’, for ‘non-railway enthusiast’ readers living either ‘off shore’ (or even within the British Isles), this lack is regrettable, since if one does not know where the Festiniog  is located within Great Britain, how can one visit it?  For international visitors unfamiliar with even the country itself, this could be especially difficult.  The reasons for the omissions are not known.   There is no reference to images, plans or maps on either the Contents page or within the Index. No reference notes or citations are provided for the quotes appearing within the volume. There are no diagrams of Company locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure.

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Festiniog.  When combined with its previously-mentioned sister volume, it forms a valuable resource on its subject.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Festiniog enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Festiniog specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

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

_____________________________

 

Advertisements
BOOK REVIEW: ‘Festiniog Railway: From Slate Railway to Heritage Operation 1921-2014’

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

56. DSCF0684 (2)

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

_____________________________

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.

——————————————

 

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

50. DSCF0678 (2)

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

____________________________

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.

______________________________

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

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

37. DSCF9572 (2)

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

___________________________

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.

______________________________________________

 

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