Book Review: The Railwayman’s Pocket Book: Instructions for Engine Drivers & Firemen on the Great Railways

The Railwayman's Pocket Book by Richard Hardy

The Railwayman’s Pocket Book: Instructions for Engine Drivers & Firemen on the Great Railways edited by Richard Hardy is a collection of old railroad documents, instructions, and manuals for steam engines. Hardy is a forty-two year veteran of the London & North Eastern Railway and British Railways. He began his apprenticeship in 1941 and worked his way from boiler man to electrician on the new diesel engines. He writes the introduction and gives a short biography.

The documents presented in the book range from 1893 through 1947 and cover various aspects of locomotive era railways. It was an era where apprenticeship and evaluations controlled a person’s progress. So many hours and miles were needed and a test must be passed before rising in class, duties, and responsibilities. In many ways the old railroad was run much the way the military was run when I served. Promotions were based on merit and experience and the entire operation ran like a modern military. The rail worker had responsibilities coming on to a shift, the yard were regulated and restricted. Instructions and signals were standardized and some seem a bit humorous today. “The STOP SIGNAL is shown by holding both arms straight up, thus, or by waving any object with violence.” The testing covered practical duties: “How do you make a fire with Welsh coal?” and “In what condition should the engine be in before starting with a train.” The manuals cover practical subjects of engine mechanics and configuration, the proper fire in the boiler, safety, and security. Technology of the time was covered with coal loading and the rather amazing process of scooping water from a trough to feed a boiler. This was an innovation that allowed additional water for steam to be brought on board without stopping the train. 

It is a short book, but the primary source material is an excellent reference to an era long gone. Although plenty of areas still run steam engines from outside my current home in Dallas, Texas and my hometown’s Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, it for recreation and nostalgia. It is part of a history that built nations and helped industrialize the world. A very good read for railroad historians and train lovers.

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