Getting all steamed up
I have held a lifelong passion for steam locomotives.
I suppose that is the result of having a father who was one of the top civil engineers in CIE [the national rail and bus company in Ireland]. Most of his work involved the railways, whether it was modifying existing tracks or designing new ones. One of the perks of his job was travel passes for the family which meant free boat and rail travel anywhere in Ireland and the UK.
Once or twice a year we would get the train from Westland Row station out to Dun Laoire and then take the mail-boat [on either the “Hibernia” or the “Cambria”] to Holyhead in Wales. Then onto the Irish Mail Express from Holyhead to Euston in London – a journey of about six hours. That was back in the time before diesel took over and steam still ruled the day. The trip wasn’t complete until I had had a good look at the locomotive which was always a magnificent beast.
Last night there was a programme on about railway preservation in Ireland. Part of it featured a piece about a locomotive [an 0-4-0 saddle-tank narrow gauge, if you’re interested] being prepared for the day’s excursion trips. This involved a lot of steam. The boiler reached pressure so steam was pouring from the safety valves. Also the cylinders were being flushed of condensed water so there were clouds of steam shooting out sideways from the front flush-valves. Then there was steam blasting out the funnel to force a draught through the firebox. The whole scene was a glorious cloud of steam [okay – condensed steam for you pedants. I know steam is an invisible gas].
The woman who was doing the commentary was impressed by the sheer volume of steam. She regaled us with observations about the amount of pollution this locomotive was producing. Just look at all that filthy smoke, she exclaimed! How bad is that for the environment? Isn’t it a great thing they switched to diesel? Ironically, I looked and there was very little smoke. Steam is white while coal smoke is black but obviously no one told her and she continued to be impressed by clouds of harmless vapour.
Someone really should teach environmentalists the difference between smoke and steam.
Maybe then they’ll stop showing us cooling towers to illustrate pollution?
“Isn’t it a great thing they switched to diesel?”
She’s obviously never seen the famous (infamous?) “Deltic Clag”
Or even the real “Carbon” emissions that emanated from a 60 year old BR Class 37 on my local heritage railway the other day. I’m sure the driver spotted me watching from a layby as he approached a road bridge, and gave a quick burst of power. The noise and vibration as it rumbled past was magical – almost like an earthquake going by. Later that day I had a good fix of steam traction to even the score.
Well, I live and learn. I never heard of “clagging” before. Mind you, the dictionary definitions are somewhat various and even bordering on the weird in some cases.
Damn it! Now you’ve started me on a YouTube binge……
There are only a handful of Deltics left in running order, and (IIRC) only one or two have both engines operational, so just imagine what TWICE the clag and sound is like! And (from personal experience) you DO NOT want to be standing on a bridge when one goes underneath it…
A steam engine at night is an awesome, in the true meaning of the word, thing.
It comes clanking out of the darkness with only a dim paraffin lamp, set to white, to indicate its approach.
Then it is there, radiating heat, hissing and panting. The driver and fireman, black with coal dust, illuminated by the open firebox, masters of their monster.
How they stood on the shaking, bucking engine cab floor in pitch blackness, flying through the black night for hours was amazing. Fucking heroes.
I remember both the mainline monsters from London and the engines that pulled us to Bundoran.
The short film “Night Mail” is a reminder of the former and poem “Adlestrop” and Flanders and Swann “The Slow Train” are delightful reminders of the latter.
A Diesel Multiple Unit and a “125” lack a certain je ne sais quoi.
Being an engine driver or fireman must have been one of the toughest jobs around. The former required considerable skill while the latter had a back breaking job literally shoveling tons of coal day after day. Yet the ambition of a lot of young boys was to be an engine driver. I include myself!
Wasn’t the Cambria a real sea-sickness inducer?
I think they both were. Neither had stabalisers that I know of and the Irish Sea is reputed to be one of the world’s roughest crossings. I still remember the puke swilling around the deck!
Happy memories. My Grandad was a captain of the Hibernia in the late 1950s and I had an uncle who was chief engineer on the mailboats. He would let me kip in his cabin during the crossing. Still had to pay the fare though.
By the way, my birthplace is spelt Holyhead.
I think I can definitely say then that your Grandad captained me safely across the Irish Sea several times. I have fond memories of those ships. They were utilitarian in the extreme.
Apologies to the people of Holyhead! My mistake. Now corrected. Incidentally, Dun Laoire is [I think] officially Dún Laoghaire. One of my uncles insisted on calling it “dun leg-air” though most pronounce it “done leary”.
“A steam engine at night is an awesome”
I think GD needs to pop over to China ASAP:
And for anyone able to get the UK’s Channel 5 TV, this might be worth watching:
That first video [the night scenes] is pretty impressive [dare I say awesome?]. Those trains must have caused some track-side fires in their time?