Wednesday, December 06, 2006

All steamed up..

There are two other pictures featured in this blog of the venerable steam engine. Mighty beasts, they once were, puffing and writhing, so alive in a way that few mechanical objects can match. The steam hauled express train is sight and sound to behold, especially when negotiating inclines, and thousands of people flock to railroad preservation sites all over the world, taking picture after picture, some still and some not so, of these incredible engineering masterpieces. Steam power carried people and goods to new frontiers, small communities growing into large towns at the points where the steam engine had to take on water and something to burn. The iron horse certainly earned it's place in history.

However, they were among the most inefficient machines ever made, consuming huge amounts of coal, wood and water. At every stop, the valve gear had to be oiled. They set alight trees, embankments and fields, and if the load was too great, they had often to be double headed and banked too. They were slow and incredibly dirty, blowing choking smoke, soot, and cinders across everything in their paths.

We have long forgotten the negative aspects of railroads. Diesel and electric engines flash through the countryside, color co-ordinated to the stock they pull, shiny, sleek, clean, much faster and more efficient than their forebears. We hardly notice them anymore, save for the warnings they sound as they approach crossings and stations, yet the sound of an approaching steam engine will still see people of all ages making their way to tracks to see it pass.

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