24.5.09

PROPAGATION AND SELECTION. The last time I posted a book review was March 19. I had intended to post a first-quarter summary in early April. Here it is, late May, and no first-quarter summary. (The joys of being a substitute teacher... Admittedly, it was all on-load work, and all in my field, but a lot of it is covering for people who retired or got caught in visa problems.) Might as well put up a few more reviews, and perhaps a first-half summary in early July.

Book Review No. 13 recommends Andrew Roden's The Duchesses: The Story of Britain's Ultimate Steam Locomotives. The Story is not about the usual technical material with engineering diagrams, three-quarter views of each member of the class, and tables of shed allocations. (That's just as well: a recent Backtrack article explained the style and title of the women who were recognized on a few of the locomotives. And people say a constitutional republic is complicated.) Its focus is on the challenges preservationists faced in keeping a few survivors in steam, and the rivalries that have emerged among the crews of those engines. Cheerful stuff.

The Duchesses are some of the Stanier Pacifics of the London Midland and Scottish. Mr Roden characterizes them as Mr Stanier's enlargement of a Great Western King to provide for a bigger firebox and better riding capabilities. Pretty impressive stuff in a package slightly smaller than a Boston and Maine P-4. The P-4 can outpull a Stanier Pacific, although the British might consider it unsporting to compare a stoker engine with a booster to a four-cylinder hand-bomber. (Too bad the Steamtown railroad is relatively short. All that reading about Duchesses on the Long Drag gives me visions of an excursion on Tunkhannock Viaduct.) The Staniers also had speed. Although any discussion of steam speed begins with One, Two, Three, and Four, and ends with 100-105, Britain's Depression era railways had some fast tests and some fast running, and the Staniers held their own, in Mr Roden's estimation better than the Gresley Streaks.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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