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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2021

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, May 2, 2012.

  1. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I think these are important points to consider. Fuel in the grand scheme of things wasn't cheap, it was a big cost to the LNER, and every saving in fuel, maintenance and preventing unplanned downtime was vital to the LNER's coffers. The everyday railwayman, the maintenance staff, the repair facilities, finance...where were they actually mentioned in past histories of the railways? Not often. Michael Bonavia serves the LNER best with some of his work, and Dick Hardy too, and Peter Townend gets closest to the running of a railway shed like no one else quite manages. But if you listened to just Nock, Allen and Co, then you wouldn't think along the lines of the LNER being a railway, serving the public, and trying to make a profit.

    The timekeepers, if I may hazard a comment, have done more damage to railway history than they have enlightened by way of their writing, by writing purely on the exceptional, and not on the everyday matters, in terms of performance. If you read CJ Allen's British Pacific Locomotives then your views of The Great Bear, the Thompson Pacifics, the Clans, the DoG and even the Princesses might be marred somewhat by his views - some of which have absolutely no basis in fact.
     
  2. Cambrian55

    Cambrian55 Member Friend

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    :eek:
     
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  3. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I agree absolutely that the stop-watch watchers have done more damage than good. They have distorted what is considered to be good practice. For them it is about how fast you are going and that is the only measure that counts. Whereas, for the driver (and this is what comes out in McKillop and never in Allen) is that you have a schedule that you need to run to and at the end of the day you also have a shedmaster who is going to ask why you keep on going through so much coal, or why your loco keeps on needing repairs because it has been driven harder than it needs, a fireman who is going to resent you if you make him work harder than he needs to, or fitters who are hard pressed enough at the best of times who would really rather not have to spend time getting into a cramped difficult space to.

    I have never read a timer who says 'and this run was behind loco 6010 which is due heavy maintenance soon, with leaking tubes, a dodgy right hand feed and indifferent coal they managed to reach its destination at right time and still with plenty of coal in the tender reflecting an exceptionally efficient performance by the crew.'

    I would also say that McKillop also strikes me as a very open minded driver and writer. He doesn't seem to have any of the dogmatic attitudes that many writers have. This I suspect comes of him having been a test driver and also why he was selected to be a test driver.
     
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  4. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    I think that's a bit OTT. The loco practice and performance sections of Railway Mag and Trains Illustrated and their successors gave a lot of pleasure and colour to the scene. Is there any other industry where there was such interest in the man/machine interface? Obviously the mags were deluged with timing logs from a wide mixture of people mostly sitting in coach one with no knowledge of conditions on the footplate apart possibly from a chat with the crew. The editors were bound to choose noteworthy runs --that was good copy.

    I totally agree that authors like Essery, Higson and Pete Johnson are essential reading in terms of conditions on the footplate, coping with different driving styles, handling weak or underpowered for the job machines etc. It's a shame we don't have the equivalent from the Eastern Region (or do we and I've missed it?)

    You mention 'your loco'. It is perhaps worth noting that McKillop was one of those at Haymarket who was instrumental in the switchover to locos assigned to crews. He was obviously a thinking person with opinions and not afraid to voice them on paper.
     
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  5. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I'm less bothered about the mags and their monthly articles and more bothered about the hardback and paperback "history books" that were considered go-tos for many of the opinions and "facts" that are now seen to be incredibly lacking in evidence.

    I have a full set of The Railway Magazine copies from Jan 1930 to Jan 1970, and went through them as part of my research for the Thompson book. The exceptional runs by Thompson Pacifics, of which I noted a good many, seemed to have been completely ignored by the book writing timekeepers (perhaps that's where we should differentiate between those writing logs for magazine copy and those professing to be historians?)

    It really is difficult to come to any other conclusion when you've read all of the primary evidence, that the timekeepers had axes to grind and did so through their books, with little regard for what they were actually doing: which was creating substantial harm to the reputations of many men and women.

    Thompson himself gets the criticism directed at him: but if you're saying the A2/2 Pacifics were bad, then you're not just criticising him, but his drawing office, the works which rebuilt the locos, the people who worked on them, maintained them, ran them. That we have the primary evidence to show the opposite was true - the A2/2 Pacifics were in fact quantifiably good for the LNER - allows us to reverse that damage.

    In all honesty, researching the Thompson book has opened my eyes up to a lot of bad practice that we as a movement have accepted in terms of the writing of our shared history. That the LNER seems to suffer quite badly where Thompson is concerned is one thing; but I think it's far more widespread than we think and we could probably remove a lot of the apocryphal stories by really basic research and analysis.
     
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  6. Cambrian55

    Cambrian55 Member Friend

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    More baseless sweeping statements.
    Re timekeepers, your comment is really hazardous, I know and meet several who are regularly out on steam hauled tours and they report factually on every trip, no demand for speed or hill climbing ability, just a straightforward account of the days events, usually with info from the footplate included. Some even post on here, though I guess they sometimes wonder if it is worth it when there are attitudes like yours around.
    Re CJ Allen, well you've really excelled yourself this time with the claim that his views have absolutely no basis on fact, again your arrogance is mind blowing.
     
  7. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    The point is context. If a timer reports that a loco goes from A to B at 60mph when the schedule only called for 55mph, no-one is saying that didn't happen. The issue is that if you read certain authors, the impression is given that that the fast run was an inherently good thing, and worse - the only inherently good thing. Whereas actually what really mattered to railway companies were more prosaic issues like availability, mileage between overhauls, coal consumption and such like.

    One of the best insights I've read recently into real world railway operations is KJ Cook's "Swindon Steam". There is a relentless focus on how to make the mileage between overhauls (1) longer and (2) more consistent. I don't think he once mentions how fast Swindon's locos could go - the critical thing was could they go 80,000 miles between intermediate repairs, and if they couldn't, what needed to change to make sure they could. But that is not a common viewpoint of locomotive history from the likes of those classical authors who focused only on one very narrow aspect of absolute speed.

    Tom
     
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  8. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I’d agree, and go further. Reading Nock as a teenager, his footplate accounts read like a combination of Top Trumps and Boys Own heroics, and gave me a very distorted context for reading reports of performance.

    They consistently omitted the context in which the locomotives were operated and were more appropriate to Schneider Cup reporting than developing an understanding of how the railways operated.

    The value of the locomotive classes was in the work they did, not the performance stats they laid down. And if the recorders documented “good” runs but then chose to ignore them in their writing on particular engineers, we have to question their reliability as sources, and then ask why they wrote as they did, if we’re to get to a decent understanding of what they did, and the significance of it.

    I welcome Simon’s work not so much because I’m interested in Thompson (though this thread has generated some interest), as because it helps open up a period to be interesting in different ways, and with different insights. That more rounded picture is welcome, just as 30-40 years ago the “Regional Histories” series lifted railway history away from the x built y to z model towards a better understanding of why.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  9. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Please get a grip. I am referring specifically to those who have written on railway history and not those timekeepers in railway preservation or before who I do welcome with open arms as to their work.

    If there are any current timekeepers out there who would find my comments offensive (knowing that they are not aimed at them) then that really is ludicrous.

    No arrogance here: it's a valid observation. Cecil J. Allen's work could do with complete reappraising across the board. And yes - much of what he has written on Thompson and his Pacifics do not have a basis in fact. That is factual, I have the data to back that up and have shown it for several years now.

    You have a real axe to grind with me here. First it was lifting some post off Facebook from December and now you're trying to manufacture more drama out of a perceived slight against all timekeepers.
     
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  10. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    My issue with the logs is that they are about a specific type of run and so they give a distorted picture of what railway operation was like.

    I don't recall ever reading a log of a semi-fast from London in the rush hour, or reading Allen talking about his experiences on the footplate of a coal train working its way down to London, or a pick up goods, a loco working in the yards etc.

    Logs represent a snapshot (and they are interesting as all information is) of a very small part of railway operation. I'd suggest that the majority of railway activity is not covered.

    So for one person what was 'slowly crawling through the london suburbs' - is in reality picking your way through the yellows in a pea souper with fogmen out and about on an engine that had arrived late been turned but not watered and you are nursing it with a new inexperienced fireman to the first water stop where you can breath a little easier.

    McKillop, Hardy, Harvey etc are important because tbh we don't have the same volume of material from footplate staff, shed staff etc etc (especially earlier on - later footplate crews do write their memoires more often) as we do from logs.
     
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  11. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    A most incisive key point, given the overall operation of railways was unavoidably frequently constrained by unfitted freight and stopping services.
     
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  12. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    A really good example is the arguments that Jurgen Kocka makes in response to the German Sonderweg thesis (ie Germany as a deviant outlier case). Germany he argues looks like a deviant case when you compare it looking west towards Britain, France, Benelux and Scandinavia. However, he points out, if you shift the focus of comparison east and south in Europe then Germany, far from being an outlier is in fact part of a wider pattern of states that became authoritarian. In other words our perspective and frame of reference influences our conclusions.

    I also like Karl Popper's searchlight theory as a good way of thinking about it.

     
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  13. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    As I'm a firm believer that someone placing a bet in 1900 on where pogroms might happen in "developed" Europe would have selected France, I'm not sure I agree with either the Sonderweg thesis or Kocka. However, the idea of the searchlight is absolutely valid provided that you also allow for the fact that the shadows generated by a searchlight are often exaggerated, and therefore that any inferences drawn from what's not clearly visible are liable to be distorted, sometimes exaggeratedly large and sometimes exaggeratedly small.

    Reverting to the relatively banal field of railway history, about which I'm always reminded of Trevor-Roper's comment that high table rows are so vicious because so little is at stake, I see the pendulum swinging to looking at railway history in the round, not just the mechanical history.
     
  14. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    It is a theme that keeps on coming up in discussions about 'what if' loco's - the infrastructure/rolling stock/whatever wasnt up to it
     
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  15. Richard Roper

    Richard Roper Well-Known Member

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    This is one of the reasons I recently managed to get my hands on a copy of "A defence of the MR/LMS Class 4 0-6-0" by Adrian Tester. I am looking forward to reading this, as once again, in a parallel tale to the Thompson Pacifics of the LNER, the Derby locos have been roundly derided by many, but the reality was that when under Midland ownership, they didn't present a big problem regarding hot 'boxes and inadequate bearing surfaces, as the Midland's oil specifications were altered once the LMS came into being. They can't have been useless if 772 of them were eventually built!

    Richard.
     
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  16. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Can you tell us the gist of what it says, perhaps in another thread, because that is one class of locos for which I've hardly read a good word beyond the pre-grouping locos being better on average than the later ones. Whereas the 3Fs seem to be quite well regarded as fit for purpose.
     
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  17. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    That is Popper's point - what you illuminate is what you see. If you don't illuminate it you can't see it. @S.A.C. Martin is shining the searchlight in a different direction and so is seeing different things than others have seen. And similarly others will no doubt find other material or ways of analysing existing material. Someone might come back and say loco availability data is great but what is the relationship to it and say union activity or coal quality or staff turnover and then start doing heavy regression analyses or ecological inference etc etc and lo a post revisionist school emerges. Hegel would love it.
     
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  18. Richard Roper

    Richard Roper Well-Known Member

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    Will PM you.

    Richard.
     
  19. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Oh gosh yes. In my studies I seem to be constantly coming up against the finance side, capital, revenue and so on, which is an area I am completely uncomfortable with and untrained in, and yet seems vital to understand...

    And unions. I've seen references that Hawksworth's new coaches were delayed in production for months, maybe more, because there was a demarcation dispute between two unions over whose members were to be given a particular task to do. That dispute and delay was the direct result of a design feature which turned what had previously been two separate tasks performed by men from different unions into a single one.
    It was amusing to read a minute in which Hawksworth reports to his directors that it hadn't been a problem because he'd got the men working on the maintenance backlog from WW2 instead. I wonder if they were convinced. I wasn't!
     
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  20. Allegheny

    Allegheny Member

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    Copy available here, if anyone wants one
    https://www.advanced-steam.org/books-for-sale/
     
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