Russell M. Middleton - steam
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The Steam Engine

The introduction of steam locomotives revolutionized transportation around the world more than a century ago. In the process, it changed our cultures and our personal lives forever. It's no wonder that our senses and our emotions are captivated by the enormous size, sound, smell, and visual impressions of these behemoth steam engines.

When you feel the heat from the firebox, and you see and hear steam from the boiler; when you smell the oil and grease; when you hear the bell ring and the whistle blow; when you see and hear the smoke stack blasting clouds of smoke skyward; and then, then when you see the massive driver wheels start to turn, when you experience all of these things, you know undeniably that the locomotive is alive. It is a breathing, moving creature working to pull its assignment to the final destination.

Massive and mysterious, these powerful locomotives have captured our senses with their sight and sound and smell. We have built notions of nostalgia around our romance with steam engines. We have written poems and songs and stories about them.

The wail of the whistle far off in the night, echoing through mountain canyons and across the plane, excites our psyches with visions of a lonesome train passing in the darkness. Imagine the sounds of enormous locomotives blasting smoke skyward, pounding, clanking, and hissing as they struggle to haul their heavy train over mountain passes, through tunnels and snowsheds. Smell the engine's unmistakable air of steam and oil, feel the heat of the firebox firing your emotions as you listen to that train passing through the night.


For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, American Indians are credited with describing the steam locomotive as the "iron horse", hence the delightful term, ferroequineology.

Steam locomotives are alive. They are living, breathing, huffing, puffing beasts.


The following is from the web site Bridging the Gap. Whether describing the passage of a LNER Class A3 designed by Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley, or any other great engine, the magic of the moment is palpable for those who believe.

The young boy and his father stood together towards the end of the platform. They gazed over the long platforms, substantial station buildings, loops and sidings. In either direction there seemed to be a forest of old sephamore signals of various sizes, shapes, colours and heights. Looking down the line, into the distance, they could see the spur into the engine shed, and beyond that the signals that guarded the approach to the station.

On the far side of the station, a little shunter was fussing with some trucks from a recently arrived goods train, sorting them into the sidings beyond the bridge over the station. Next to it, in the northbound platform, a small tender engine was simmering gently at the head of a stopping train, waiting for its turn to depart. A small knot of people stood by it some in admiration, others with curiosity.

On their side of the station, in the southbound loop, sat a goods train with a heavy freight loco at the front, its exhaust blowing across the tracks. It was waiting for something, but what?

They heard a whistle in the distance, and heard the rattle of a signal wire being pulled. Was this what they had come for? Peering into the distance, they saw the front of a loco appear from the engine shed spur and move slowly towards them along the up relief road. No, that wasn't it but it was something else to keep an eye on.

Down the platform a bell rang, sudden and shrill. The curious onlookers ignored it, but those in the know scanned the distance, slightly on edge.

Then, another rattling wire. This time it was the far distant signal coming off. Something was coming from the north. Could this be it? ...

More rattling wires resulted in a path being cleared through the station. All the signals came off; it looked like a non-stopper was due. Onlookers gravitated towards the platform end, expectantly. Like them, the admirers were by now staring into the distance with pensive anticipation. Those who had been merely curious continued to stand around with a blissful lack of awareness.

They heard the whistle first: a wailing blast, quite unlike the one from the light engine. Then they saw the smoke. The long straight double track main line formation meant that they could see the approaching train from a long way off. It was clearly travelling at speed. They thought that it must have made a fine sight as it roared over the four tracks of the Midland Main Line. Now it was much closer, passing the engine shed. It shut off steam as it entered the yard, slowing slightly as it passed the signal box. It was difficult to tell how fast it was travelling; speed can be deceptive. What was clear, however, was that it was going much faster than they had ever seen on other heritage railways.

The spacious approach to the platform meant that the train swept smoothly into the platform. As it reached the end of the ramp the driver opened up the large express passenger loco. It responded immediately and seemingly effortlessly. Its powerful exhaust beat seemed to fill the entire station, making the buildings and the very platform itself reverberate in time. The engine roared past them, followed by its towering tender and then the rumbling coaches.

Those who had previously been merely curious stood open mouthed, stunned by the impact of the moment. Others, more experienced, grinned at each other and let it wash over them.

In no time at all the engine and its train had shot under the bridge at the other end of the platform and was hurrying on southwards, the noise and vibration fading as it went. It s trail of steam and smoke hung through the station before being blown away by the breeze. The boy turned to his father, his eyes shining,

"Wow Dad! That was fantastic! It must have been going 100 miles an hour!"

His father grinned back, "I don't know if it was going that fast, but it certainly was impressive. It really makes a change to see powerful engines like that being able to do what they were built for."


To see, feel, hear and smell one of these machines in action is priceless. For a glimpse at what 100 mph steam locomotives in action looked like we go to pre-war USA. The Milwaukee Road, officially the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (CMStP&P RR) (reporting mark MILW), was a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwest and Northwest of the United States from 1847 until its merger into the Soo Line Railroad on January 1, 1986. The steam driven Hiawatha was the signature passenger train for the CM&SP Milwaukee Road during the 1930s. The Hiawatha was more an image and brand name than a particular engine. A streamlining shroud stamped it as a the Milwaukee Road's high speed passenger train. In the late 1930's there was a huge amount of regional attention paid to the '400' engine series of the Chicago and Northwestern. The C&NW '400' was a streamlined Pacific. The '400' was so called because it could do the 400 miles between Chicago and Minneapolis - St. Paul in 400 minutes, an average of 60 miles per hour, including stops. At least four different steam engine designs carried the Hiawatha name and streamlining: 4-6-0 Hiawatha, 4-4-2 Atlantic, 4-6-2 Pacific, and F7 4-6-4 Hudson. By 1940, the Milwaukee Road had reduced the schedule to 6 hours, 15 minutes (375 minutes), for an average speed of 65.6 mph for the 410-mile trip. Train No.6 was allowed 58 minutes for the 78.3 miles from Sparta to Portage, Wis., at an average speed of 81 mph. There is an early authentic record of one F-7 4-6-4 Hudson averaging 120 mph over a five-mile stretch of a 19-mile run at which speeds exceeded 100 mph for the entire distance.

Flying Scotsman steam locomotive

Flying Scotsman hauling the train of the same name out of King's Cross around 1928 - from the book THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS STEAM LOCOMOTIVE - FLYING SCOTSMAN. compiled by David Clifford. ISBN 1-900467-02-X. by Finial Publishing


Flying Scotsman is the most famous steam locomotive in the world and has always been a very distinguished and special locomotive since being built. It is now a national icon representing all that is best in British engineering.

Flying Scotsman was the first express passenger locomotive to be built by the then newly formed London and North Eastern Railway in 1923. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, then Chief Mechanical & Electrical Engineer at LNER, the Flying Scotsman was the first locomotive to carry LNER's famous apple green livery. It was chosen by the LNER to represent the latest in steam locomotive design at the British Empire Exhibitions at Wembley in 1924 and again in 1925.

In 1928, 4472 was fitted with a unique corridor tender to enable it to haul the first non-stop train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh on 1st May. 392.7 miles in 8 hours and 3 minutes with 386 tons tare. This was the longest non-stop run in the world. Two crews were required for the journey; using the corridor to change over at Tollerton, near York. Driver Albert Pibworth was at the controls from King's Cross to Tollerton. Driver Tom Blades took over from Tollerton to Edinburgh Waverley.

In 1934 Flying Scotsman was the first steam locomotive to authentically achieve a speed of 100mph. High speed test run from Kings Cross to Leeds 185.8 miles in 151 minutes and 56 seconds with 145 tons tare. Leeds to Kings Cross 157 minutes 17 seconds with 205 tons tare. 1st authenticated 100mph for steam traction. Driver: Sparshatt, Fireman: Webster.

Flying Scotsman was rebuilt in 1947 with a higher pressure boiler and in 1959 with a Kylchap double exhaust arrangement and chimney to improve the steaming capability of the boiler with inferior coal.

Flying Scotsman was withdrawn from service by British Railways in 1963 after a hard 40-year working life in front line service and was sold for preservation. Withdrawn from service after 2,076,000 miles.

Over 70 similar locomotives were scrapped, leaving Flying Scotsman as the sole survivor of its class.

In 1962, British Railways announced that they would scrap the former LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman. A group called "Save Our Scotsman" proposed to save the record breaking locomotive but were unable to raise the required £3,000, the scrap value of the locomotive. Alan Francis Pegler OBE, FRSA (16 April 1920 - 18 March 2012) stepped in and bought the locomotive outright, with the political support of Harold Wilson. Under Pegler's ownership 4472, in her forteith year, again completed a non stop run from London - Edinburgh. BBC video of the "Flying Scotsman" on the non stop run in 1968.

From 1969 to 1972 Flying Scotsman toured the United States of America. In 1973 Flying Scotsman came home to continue working special trains on the main line.

In 1988 and 1989 Flying Scotsman played a key role in helping Australia celebrate her bicentennial by touring the country. During the course of her visit Flying Scotsman set a new world record for a non-stop run for steam by hauling a train for 422 miles in 9 hours 25 minutes, from Parkes to Broken Hill in New South Wales. [Age 66 years. Average speed 44.8 mph.]

By 1995 Flying Scotsman was in pieces and was facing an uncertain future at Southall depot in West London due to the enormous cost of restoration and refurbishment necessary to meet the stringent engineering standards required for main line operation today.

In 1996 Dr Tony Marchington purchased Flying Scotsman and promised to restore it to its former magnificent glory, ensure its future and thereby bring pleasure to millions of people for many years to come. The restoration was completed at a cost in excess of £750, 000. The restoration has been to the highest possible standards, with every part brought back to as near new condition as possible. This restoration has been the most comprehensive and costly ever undertaken on a steam locomotive and would not have been possible without Dr Tony Marchington’s vision and commitment.


The LNER Class A3 Pacific locomotive no. 4472 "Flying Scotsman" (originally no. 1472) was built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) at Doncaster Works to a design of H.N. Gresley. [Did the mechanists and mechanics who built her know she was capable of over 100 mph? Or that more than two generations on she would still be capable of over 400 miles non-stop? From an era before CNC machine tools the "Flying Scotsman" is a most eloquent living monument to all the skilled men (and women?) who manufactured and have maintained her for these many years. The only surviving example of her type, we will be immeasurably poorer as a species, if we ever let her die.]

Flying Scotsman To Run Again Soon - Steam Train Pictures

See LNER 4472 today at the National Railway Museum.

Read more about Gresley's Pacifics.

In North America the need for long distance, high speed freight over the Rocky Mountains created the need for a different kind of steam locomotive. Watch as the Worlds Largest still Operating Steam Locomitive, Union Pacific #3985 Challenger class 4-6-6-4 weighing approximately a million pounds, locomotive and tender, stretches her legs at speeds near 70 mph hurtling homeward to Cheyenne, WY on 7th of October 2003 near Sibley Iowa. Born in 1941 and designed with a top speed near 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) to speed up freight operations east and west of the Wasatch grades in Utah and western Wyoming. Working with the Big Boy 4-8-8-4 locomotives, weight 1.25 million lbs, that were also designed for stability at 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) and to meet the need to pull 3,600 short tons (3,300 t) freight trains over the long 1.14% grade of the Wasatch Mountains by themselves. It was later found that the Big Boys could pull 4,450 short tons (4,040 t), more than 120% of the original design, up the Wasatch grade, unassisted. Watch the video Last of the Giants.

During the war, German agents filed reports that the Americans had giant steam engines that were moving huge trains (up to 5.5 miles long) full of vital war material over steep mountain grades at high speed, their reports were dismissed as "impossible".

Another look at Challenger on a 65mph HiBall thru Nebraska as she returns to Cheyenne WY in the summer of 2004.

Who would have believed that within a generation the United States would develop the Saturn V rocket producing over 3,750 tons of thrust at lift-off.

Lest you believe steam power is only in the past, explore this website: modern steam power

And miracle of miracles, British engineering is not dead: a brand new Peppercorn A1 class Pacific No. 60163 Tornado.

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