Here is a wonderful short documentary done in 1959, logged in the National Film Board of Canada, documenting a small window panning across the middle of the last days of steam locomotive dominance in Canada in the late 50s to early 60s.
By 1960, all but preserved tourist locomotives were gone in the United States. But in Canada, a few steam locomotives were in service in the 60s.
In the UK and most of Europe and Japan, a few mainline steam trains were operating through the 60s and into the early to mid-70s. It is also true that in North America, trains in general, were becoming less important as the automobile and airline industries worked hard to push the railroad out of public consciousness (and did not succeed in many ways).
In Europe and Japan, for instance, the railroads have continued to play a major role. The nostalgic emotions for steam locomotives are still a major aspect of most cultures around the world. This beautiful documentary uses interviews and the lives of those who had worked intimately with steam trains, to portray loss, change, and the contradictions of the passing of steam locomotives into the category of ‘relic.’ However, train travel in North America is again on the rise. The railroads also understand the steam locomotive to be strong central figures in the bedrock of most modern societies and reminders of colonial and imperial might and industrial-technological advancement and and nation-building itself. The steam locomotive will most likely not go away from human consciousness completely.
This documentary is certainly worth a quiet 30 minutes of our time with a hot drink along with our deepest connections to our histories and where we are headed as humans.
57 Irish workers who were hired from Ireland to help build some of the first tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad, were buried in mass graves by the rail site. These people were virtually unknown and forgotten until a group of scientists uncovered mysteries that did not quite fit the silence or the known stories of death by cholera.
Railroads are built by sweat and blood. Industrialization was not only about bigger and better opportunities, but were also about the social relations and death that ‘bigger and better’ brings about.
The story of the Irish people in general, along with others in the histories of Europe and in the United States, must be told over and over, to understand all that we have and don’t have.
On PBS on Wednesday May 8, at 10:00 Eastern Standard Time, PBS will air another documentary/movie on this topic.
On March 8, 2012, Alan Pegler passed away at 91 years old. Arguably the most famous internationally known steam locomotive is the Flying Scotsman, a LNER (former London & Northeastern Railway) Class A3 steam locomotive, #4472 of the United Kingdom. It was a famous express passenger locomotive of the time. In 1972, the Flying Scotsman was brought on a tour of the United States. The tour was unsuccessful.
Alan Pegler is also credited with single-handedly “saving” the Ffestiniog Railway of Wales, from extinction, buying it and reviving it as a modern excursion/tour railway.
He had bankrupted his family fortune via the purchase and maintenance of the #4472 Flying Scotsman and was thought of by many to be obsessed. However, most view him as one committed to his love of steam and historical rail in the United Kingdom.
China’s steam locomotives are among the most photographed in the world. People come from the world over to film their steam because of some spectacular vistas that showcase some of the beautiful and immense, and diverse landscape that is China combined with the best of what steam has to offer, showing its power, grit and beauty in spectacular fashion.
The region/rail line that became, perhaps, the most photographed steam rail line in the world for a decade, was the Jingpeng Pass along the JiTong Line in Mongolia.
There are remaining coal and other mineral industry steam still operating in China. Much of of it would’ve disappeared but due to the recent interest of Europeans, Japanese and American interest in China steam, some of the lines have remained.
I will be posting more as time goes. Here are a few videos to start.
http://www.trainbuffs.eu has some of the best professionally done video essays and documentaries on world steam, including those of China, North Korea, and others.
Unfortunately– trainbuffs.eu seems to have gone out of business. But there are many videos of Chinese steam.
Here are others to introduce you to Chinese steam in the 20th and 21st century —
Richard Steinheimer (1929-) is considered one of the world’s greatest railroad photographers from the United States. Railroad photographers, artists, and videographers are the main people who have allowed our memories to be kept alive, and to be remembered through generations, of steam locomotives, steam trains and the reminiscing of the days when steam-driven trains were the major form of transportation on land.
He started his photographic career in 1945, when one of the most illustrious and powerful railroad companies–the Southern Pacific Railroad, ran their trains past his home. In 2004, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and in 2007, suffered a stroke. His photography will remain in our heart/minds to remind us of the glory of American steam.
Southern Pacific 4194 at Night, Glendale Station, California 1950
Waiting at Machynlleth Station in Cardiff, Wales UK. Wonderful photo by Taliesin Coombes (railpictures.net) of his father Robin Coombes, at the station. They were kind enough to write to me to correct some the earlier errors in the text. 🙂
The 76079 is one of the wonderful Standard 4-type locomotives built in the UK for Express service. This photo was taken in 2010 but has the feel of the 1920s and 30s–the heyday of train travel in Western Europe and the United States.
(Earlier I had posted that this was a Black 5 locomotive, but was corrected by the photographer. My apologies.)