Life on the Old Railways

Life on the Old Railways

Life on the Old Railways

Life on the Old Railways

Excerpt

People tend to become enthusiastic about the industrial past only when it is long gone; old mine workings, mills, pits and factories were far from entrancing when they were part of the everyday scene, and few waxed lyrical about them until long after they had been consigned to history. This is true of almost every industrial artefact one can imagine, with a single exception: the steam train.

Almost from the date of its invention the steam train was seen as a symbol of the liberating achievements of the industrial revolution. Even in its heyday when the steam locomotive was a common sight as it huffed and puffed its way into every corner of the land, it remained a thing of wonder, a thing of legend and romance. Landowners and others may have objected to the new railroads crossing their land, but the steam train’s benefits to the vast bulk of the populace were so great that their objections were usually over-ridden.

Every youngster wanted to be a train driver when he grew up. It meant he would be master of a piece of machinery that seemed almost alive; it meant he would be in charge of a living, breathing thing of colossal power. Those old photographs of drivers standing proudly by their machines really do show the sense of pride the men had in their work. And this sense of pride was based not only on their own belief in what they could do, but on their awareness of the awe in which they were held by train passengers and the general public.

In the public imagination at least, the driver was the most important figure, probably closely followed by the stationmaster (this would certainly be true in smaller . . .

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