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My father’s railway book August 10, 2009

Posted by Jenny in history, literature, memoir, railroads, travel.
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Edward W. Bennett, 1932

Edward W. Bennett, 1932

The picture was taken by my grandfather as the family was about to depart on a trip to Europe.  But it was not ships that my father loved best, it was railroads.

I have a book that belonged to him, The World’s Railways by G. Gibbard Jackson, published in London, 1927.  It is a beautiful book with a color illustration on the cover showing a train as it emerges from a picturesque tunnel.  The plume of steam coming from the locomotive smokestack is flattened and elongated as if by tremendous, impressive speed.  A caption explains that this is the “Great Western Railway: Cornish Riviera Express.”

The book has been loved so much that it is literally falling apart at the seams.  The front cover has become detached, and there is no spine.  Some of the color plates are falling out.

After a few introductory historical chapters, the book plunges into descriptions of the railways of Britain, giving a full account of “The Seaside Lines,” “The London and the Joint Lines,” and other regional railroads before proceeding to Ireland and then bouncing over to Europe, Asia, Africa, India, Canada, and the U.S.A.

I will excerpt the section dealing with the “Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean Railway,” otherwise known as the “Blue Train.”  In reading this, I understand my father’s enchantment, and I think you will, too.

I wonder how many have heard of the Blue Train?  Another name for it is the Magic Carpet, since, when a traveller boards it in winter in Northern France, he alights in the summer of the Mediterranean—and the change has been effected whilst he sleeps….  In reality this train is a good travelling hotel; every convenience that you would expect at the best of hotels is here at your service.  You are given a reserved compartment, which forms a charming little sitting-room by day, to become the most comfortable of bedrooms at night, after it has received some slight attention from the courteous bed-maker.  There is a splendid dining car with numerous tables, each accommodating four people.  Your seat is allotted to a certain table, and during the whole run you take that seat without question.  After a meal you return to your little—cabin, I was going to say, and there is really no word which describes so well your compartment—and recline upon the comfortable couch, which at night becomes your bed.  There is a cabinet, which, upon being explored, is found to give one not only a table, but quite a generous supply of hot and cold water.  The electric lights are just splendid, and are so arranged that you get full benefit from them, one being conveniently placed over your pillow for night reading.

As I read, the riches of a disappeared world spill out of each sentence like items out of a steamer trunk whose brass locks have been popped open.  There are so many delightful and old-fashioned details, so many ways in which the scene would now be utterly impossible, that I feel disinclined to ennumerate them.  I simply present them.

I inherited my father’s love of railroads, and I came to be familiar with certain ones (now all merged into larger entities): the Norfolk & Western, Southern, Louisville & Nashville, the C&O and the B&O, the Union Pacific, the Burlington Northern, and smaller ones like the Lake Erie Franklin & Clarion.  But that is a subject for another post.

The photo below shows a French steam locomotive that looks somewhat like the one that hurtles across the color plate that accompanies Jackson’s Blue Train description.

French steam locomotive

French steam locomotive

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Comments»

1. Barb - August 13, 2009

I remember special trips to important train-related sites when your family was visiting ours in the 1960s: one to the Horseshoe Bend near Altoona, PA, and one to a narrow-gauge railway in East Broad Top. Uncle Ned would also have liked the Portage Railroad site, which hadn’t been developed yet then. It was used to haul canal boats over the Allegheny Mountains, from one canal system to another. How bizarre is that?

2. S - August 18, 2009

What a fantastic thing to have. I also love rail travel and I’ve been planning various rail trips – next year is supposed to be the Transiberian Railway, which will heroically test my boredom threshold.

Thanks for your comment on my blog, I’ve edited the post to reflect the facts.

Jenny - August 18, 2009

Thanks for visiting here! The Trans-Siberian sounds like a good time to catch up on reading—maybe something by Chekhov, who travelled to Siberia before the railroad was built—his travel might make the railway sound pretty good by comparison.
The Jackson book tells us that when the Trans-Siberian was first built, there was a slight problem with “raiding bands of Manchurians” taking up pieces of the rails to use in making swords and pikes. The railway was rerouted further north, and now, Siberia, formerly “fit only for convicts,” “has begun to blossom as the rose…”


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