web analytics


We went and rode the puffer-trains today!

There are “heritage railways” all over Britain. This one is the Kent and East Sussex, which runs ten whole miles, from the lovely old town of Tenterden to the lovely old castle of Bodiam.

A long drive to a short train ride — which somehow abuses the very notion of transportation — but this one is a lovely run across open fields. And we had sammiches and tea and sunnenshine and…it was very nice.

Most of the things we do for fun here are almost entirely run by volunteers. From the steam lines to the old country houses, most of the work — including the really back-breaking work — is done by armies of unpaid staff.

I wonder if that’s taken into account when they tally up which countries give most to charity.


Comment from Tesla
Time: August 24, 2010, 10:40 pm

My my but you do get around. Just saw you over at Hot Air missing out on zombies.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 24, 2010, 10:58 pm

I don’t hang out on that many forums any more, Tesla. I used to read dozens — but that’s when I drew a salary for sitting at a desk. I’m down to a handful now; HotAir is the main one, because it moves relatively fast.

And that preview thing really pisses me off. I can’t view a huge number of clips because they block IP addresses from outside the US. Anonymizers aren’t much help, because they slow things down — and god knows video over web is hinky enough as it is.

Comment from Mark
Time: August 25, 2010, 12:37 am

If you’re into steamy stuffies, this:
54°15’0.18″N, 2°59’54.17″W (Haverthwaite Station) (use GoogleEarth) was reasonably interesting when I was on that side of the pond several years ago. Not sure if it has aged well or not…

Comment from Monotone The Elderish
Time: August 25, 2010, 1:51 am

hey S. Weasel have you though about using a M.A.C. spoofer? (shouldnt slow you down all that much)
http://www.gorlani.com/publicprj/macmakeup/macmakeup.asp like the above (i think) it might help (that, or you could get one of you friends in the states to set up a proxy…(not that i know how…. ) ((assuming i understand wtf im talking about….)) that might change your IP so you can view all your stuff…

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 25, 2010, 2:19 am

Looks like Duck. I always liked Duck. Here in the Upper Midwest, we have all kinds of rail museums. The National Railway Museum in Green Bay, they even have a Union Pacific Big Boy. There is a group up in Minneapolis, that have a old Milwaukee Road steam engine that they have leased from the National Museum, and are running in excursion service. The Federal Railroad Admisistration requires steam engines to be rebuilt after a certain number of hours, and Milwaukee Road 261 has been missing for the last 2 years getting her rebuild, but she will be back later this year! HUZZAH! Now if the National railroad Museum, or the Illinois railroad Museum could just get one of thier Big Boys up and running, sigh.

The Milwaukee Road had a train that ran from Chicago to Seattle, called The Hiawatha, the fasted scheduled train in the world, before the Japanese Bullet Trains, that maintained a 100 MPH/160KPH schedule. To pull behind the 261, the preservation group that leases her form the National Railroad Museum hs managed to get thier paws on an entire Hiawatha train consist for 261 to pull. I live on the Milwaukee Road Main Line between Chicago and Minneapolis/Saint Paul, ( The Cities as we say in the Upper Midwest), which has been taken over by the Canadian Pacific. Twice a year, 261 and her Hiawatha make round trips from the Cities to Chicago and back. It is such a pleasure to wach her come roaring through town, the puffing making her almost seem a living creature. She stops only in neaby New Lisbon, so the New Lisbon Fire department can fill the water tank on her tender. New Lisbon uses thier 2000 gallon per minute Pierce Arrow pumper, and it still takes 3 minutes to water her. That’s a lot of water! i am looking forward to her return.

AMTRAK runs a Chicago-Seattle train through town twice a day, the EMPIRE BUILDER. It is pulled by two General Electric P-85 diesels. These diesels have to meet modern noise abatement standards, so they are very quiet, and the Canadian Pacific is all welded rail, so there is no clickity clack, the only noise from the EMPIRE BUILDER is the honk of the Nathan K-5 five chime air horn. The steam cylinders, air compressors, and sound of the running gear of 261 are much more pleasing to the ear, and the orange, maroon, and black of the Hiawathapaint scheme is much more pleasing to the eye, than the brushed aluminum of the EMPIRE BUILDER.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 25, 2010, 2:25 am

Here is a YouTube video that has both the 261 with her Hiawatha, and the EMPIRE BUILDER.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: August 25, 2010, 2:59 am

Ah. Umph. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Y’know?

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

Thing is. . .it’s true for me. I can hear the train that goes through my city at night, and I always yearn to be on it.

Comment from Pavel
Time: August 25, 2010, 4:44 am

Dude. I was totally going to write some hopelessly cool detailed information about U.S. trains but Scott T. Badger beat me to it and did it way better than I ever could. I love you, man.

U.S. passenger trains are the one federal government thing that doesn’t suck the big one. Actually, Amtrak pretty much sucks the big one, and the feds totally do, but trains are so cool they are definitionally nonsucky, which overrides the suckiness of Amtrak and the federal government.

Stoaty, you don’t say whether the choochoo you rode on was narrow gauge or standard gauge. Narrow gauge is 3′. Standard gauge is 4′ 8 1/2″ Which is like, what? What the heck were you standard gauge inventor guys thinking? 4 feet 8 and a freaking half inch? That’s a nice round number. Were you high?

Up the road from me is the Georgetown Loop, a narrow gauge choochoo with such a steep grade that the bridge actually circles over itself just to make the climb. Which is so blindingly cool that it is the apex of the human experience, in both this world and the next.

On the downside, the engine is oil-fired these days, which is sort of a wimpy Democrat thing.

On the other hand, it’s a narrow gauge steamer, which is like having Reagan as the engineer.

So yeah. Real men can’t even think about riding that train without getting a boner.

Comment from Frit
Time: August 25, 2010, 6:31 am

Regarding the width of the rails; here is an article on Snopes.com which has both the amusing story, and the realistic breakdown, for that particular piece of trivia.



Comment from David Bain
Time: August 25, 2010, 8:08 am

This blog is SUCH a bad influence. Last week it was computers. Today I was sidetracked onto steam train videos so that’s the morning stuffed. I’m so easily led . . .

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 25, 2010, 11:13 am

Standard gauge, Pavel. There’s a narrow gauge over on Romney Marsh — the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch — that goes right out to the nuclear reactor. Yay!

It claims to be the smallest commercial line in the world, but how it compares to the (newly revived) Tweetsie of my childhood, I do not know.

Then there’s a train set near by that is to die for…

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 25, 2010, 11:52 am

Ha! Beaten to the draw and I was so looking forward to delivering Uncle Badger’s 4′ 8 1/2″ ‘coal truck gauge’ lecture.

Fabulous videos, Scott – thank you. Much as I love our British locomotices, I’ve always thought the US railroad whistle is the most evocative sound on earth. I’d also give a lot to see Big Boy in steam!

In return, I offer you a GWR King Class, far, far from home – in the North of England (note typical weather!).

And the best bit? Mercifully, all ours still run on coal. There is no finer perfume than coal, oil and steam!

Must be a badger thing 😉

Comment from Pavel
Time: August 25, 2010, 2:04 pm

Best thread evah!

I agree, Uncle B: there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing an old engine belching out great plumes of black smoke and steam, particularly when going through some pretty scenery. It just makes me want to go, “Industraaay, Ladies and Gentlemen”, like an old time newsreel guy.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 25, 2010, 3:19 pm

Cousin Badger, that was most enjoyable! The part of the UK where that was filmed looks just like my part of Wisconsin. I live in the part of Wisconsin that the Great Glacier that bulldozed the Great Plains flat did not go through, so we have a landscape of rolling hills and what we call bluffs, but are technically mesas.

Alas, I must disagree about the smell of steam engines. Here in the US, the high quality coal all goes to big powerplants, so the rail museums run thier trains on what they can get, and afford, usually cheap high sulpher stuff. So there is a definate strong hint of hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust.

I saw some good news last night, the National Railroad Museum has decided to fully restore Big Boy 4017. Whether to operating condition or not, I do not know, but how nice to know that she is in the hands of people who care.
Here’ s a virtual Big Boy:


Comment from surly ermine
Time: August 25, 2010, 5:54 pm

You’re right SCOTTtheBADGER, it does look like Duck! I probably have GWR imprinted on the bottom of my foot as many times as i have stepped on him and the other Sodor minions. The smaller Surly Ermine of the house leaves them everywhere.

Comment from Glenster
Time: August 25, 2010, 6:01 pm

The *Tweetsie*!!! Holy cow, I lived in Boone NC in 1981 and went to see it – it was moribund and I assumed it just faded away. I’m so glad to see it revived! 🙂

Comment from steve
Time: August 25, 2010, 7:50 pm


Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: August 25, 2010, 8:35 pm

We still had steamers running on Long Island when I was a kid — Sib Two and I commuted to school for a year until there was an opening in the local four-roomer.

The first time the train pulled into the station being yanked by a diesel locomotive, I knew how the Aztecs felt when they saw Cortez on a horse…

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 25, 2010, 9:23 pm

I spent a lot of time on trains whilst in Norway…and buses and more buses and even another bus or two.

The trains were nice, though–lovely scenery.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 25, 2010, 9:46 pm

The Tweetsie was almost defunct when I was a kid in the Sixties, Glenster. My father — who grew up in Johnson City — reminds me it had a serious purpose, once. Hauling things into and out of the mountains.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 25, 2010, 10:30 pm

Another great find, Scott – thank you!

The UK is too small and our routes too short to have ever needed anything like a Big Boy – then again, we did have ‘the colonies’ so Manchester’s Bayer Peacock develpoped its own articulated locomotives – the ‘Garratts’, which worked exensively in South Africa, Rhodesia and Australia.

The idea was to enable a huge load to be carried on what were often narrow gauge or lightly constructed tracks.

This isn’t the best footage I’ve seen, but it’s the best I could find for now.


I was tempted to upload some footage from yesterday’s jaunt but even a short clip would take 55 minutes to upload, YouTube says.

Stupid interwebs! 🙁

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 25, 2010, 11:08 pm

I’m quite tickled that trains elicit so much emotion even now in a day when they are nothing like what they were a hundred years ago (at least in this country). It is like a yearning for a past that I at least never experienced, yet we long for. What is it about trains that does that to us, I wonder?

And Hark, that poem is so lovely, it’s been ages since I’ve seen it. I feel the same way! Thanks for posting!

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: August 25, 2010, 11:20 pm

The proper name for the type of articulated locomotive most common in the US is “Mallet” — the correct pronunciation is mal-LAY, because the inventor was a French Swiss. (Americans often called it a type of hammer, of course.) It is a type of compound, that is, the exhaust from one set of cylinders is recycled into a second, larger set for efficiency. A Mallet has high and low pressure cylinders on separate sections of the articulation.

Mallets like the Big Boy, like all compound steamers, were relatively rare in the US, because they were more expensive and harder to maintain than simplex engines, and the greater efficiency wasn’t necessary because there was plenty of room to make a simplex BIG and the coal was cheap anyway. Mutis mutandis…


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: August 25, 2010, 11:30 pm

Nina–thanks (and you’re welcome). I’m not a train buff in the same manner as others here–but for long distance travel, if I can’t drive, I take a train. I never liked being a passenger on a plane (stultifying environment, limited view), but I have always loved being a passenger in a train. Last Christmas I took the Lake Shore Limited (Eastern half of the coast-to-coast that includes the Empire Builder) to Chicago on my way to visit family in St. Louis, and it was just glorious. And you can walk around the train, and go sit somewhere other than your assigned seat, and they have wireless. And there is ALWAYS a view. Even, a lot of the time, at night.

And, on SCOTTtheBadger’s point about the clickety-clack of the wheels, well, sure, but all the same–there is a rhythmic noise (which seems like it must involve the wheels and rails) that you can hear through your open window when a train passes through the depths of a spring night, and it is to me every bit as romantic and enchanting as the clickety-clack would be. Trains are just. . .the best.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 26, 2010, 12:04 am

Count me in (obviously) Can’t Hark.

I am (tragically) old enough to have been a schoolboy When Steam Ruled and, indeed, when every schooboy really did want to be an engine driver.

I used to walk to my first school and daily passed directly under Brunel’s line from London (‘Brunel’s billiard table’) that was the Great Western Railway (abbreviated to GWR and known to all right thinking people as ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’).

I couldn’t fail to have been hooked, as the steam expresses roared and thundered overhead. And scared too.

Even today – sans steam, sans clickety-clack, sans everything – travelling by train remains magical. When Her Ladyship and I took the Hitachi burret tlain to London recently (as posted) even despite the sterile, filtered air and the sound as muffled as a thief’s footfall, the thrill as the beast began to stir remained the same.

Well… almost. There’s still nothing to beat the slipping wheels and the harsh bark of a GWR ‘Castle’ echoing off the glass roof as it struggles out of Paddington – Brunel’s cathedral to steam.

Going where? Well, really, as you say, who cares?

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: August 26, 2010, 12:17 am

My son and I took the train from Oslo to Bergen, and then from Bergen to Myrdal to Flam, and yes, the scenery was worth the fare all by itself. I had a lot of fun watching the Atlantic, Iceland, Greenland, and NE Canada pass under me while flying home, but it’s not as nice as seeing it at ground level. For all the reasons HArk mentioned, and because there’s much less chance of having physics go terribly wrong whilst you’re at 35000 feet. 🙂

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: August 26, 2010, 12:24 am

Oh, yes, Uncle Badger, one of the glories of rail travel is that moment when. . .it isn’t moving. . .it might be moving. . .it seems to be moving. . .WE’RE ON OUR WAY! I do actually understand the thrill of airplane takeoffs (I have had friends who were pilots of one sort or another, and from their point of view I can see that romance). But the way a train carriage gets underway is. . .seductive.

Funny. I do find myself thinking about Kipling’s “The King,”
(“Romance!” the season-tickets mourn,
“He never ran to catch his train,
But passed with coach and guard and horn —
And left the local — late again!”
Confound Romance! . . . And all unseen
Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.)
And I suppose, had he lived a few more decades, he might have written a stanza about air travel. All the same. . .commercial air travel is just graceless.

(Oh, Nina! That sounds glorious! Decades ago I once took the Orient Express from Paris to Vienna. And. . .oh, my, the memories of trains!)

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 26, 2010, 12:45 am

He might well have done.

The last flight I made was in a DC3 Dakota and that was about as romantic as you could wish for. In fact, a little too much so because, as I settled down into my seat in the nose-up cabin, I realised they were playing Glen Miller… and then I remembered what had happend to him.

Always assuming he isn’t really still in the band with Elvis, of course.

But I digress.

Kipling is, of ever, right. Gardeners have a saying ‘you shoud have been here last week’. The past is always rosier.

It’s just that… so often it really was. I’m quite sure of that.

Comment from Monotone The Elderish
Time: August 26, 2010, 8:30 pm

yep i just have this problem about slamming into the ground at terminal velocity…. other than that i would LOVE planes but no. Trains, boats, and cars, thats it.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny