Royal wedding reminds me there is a steam locomotive paradise in England

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, May 13, 2018

This week, the wedding of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markel has the United Kingdom in the celebrity spotlight. Expect to be bombarded with coverage and all sorts of references to England and British culture. It got started over the weekend when CBS’ Sunday Morning show, focused on the UK. It all reminds me what a paradise for steam locomotive lovers this country is. Their trains may look different and wear bright colors that many American fans might find objectionable, but as my friend Wayne Laepple says, “They still make all the right smells and sounds.” Indeed, they do.

I learned that during a three-week trip to the UK with friends from the Pacific Locomotive Association back in 2008. We had a fantastic time, covering the country in a whirlwind tour with renowned guide Geoff Cooke. We hit all of the high spots from the Blue Bell and the North Yorkshire Moors to the fabulous museum in York, and my friend Adrian Brodie even booked me on a main line steam trip from London to Worcester where we rolled off mile after mile at 80 mph. I saw the brand new 4-6-2 Tornado. I came away impressed and wrote about the experience in our May 2009 edition. I also promised to return soon and often. Sadly, because of other obligations, I have done neither. But the intent is still there.

I got another reminder of how good the UK steam scene is when the recent Center for Railroad Photography and art “Conversations” event in Lake Forest, Ill., featured the masterful British steam railway photography of Robin Coombes. It was not photography from the past but of steam trains running today on excursions and on demonstration railways throughout the land. The images are bold, imaginative, and inspirational. They look like Robin has figured out time travel with his camera gear. But they are of today’s preservation scene. I highly recommend them.

So, if you get bored this week with all of the fuss about the royal wedding, ponder this fact that Robin tossed out when he was giving his program. The UK, which is about half the size of California, has about 1,000 active steam locomotives. Now consider this, by my own counts, the U.S. has in the course of a year, about 190 operating steam locomotives. In a year when many of my fellow steam fans are disappointed in Amtrak's decision not to operate special trains that means many of our mainline favorites will be sidelined or severely restricted in their operations. It's enough to make you want to take a trip to England to see for yourself. I hope you do.

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