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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (March 1, 1935)

Railway Ruminiscences

Railway Ruminiscences.

Of course the veriest school boy knows that the first railway engine was built by Robert Louis Stephenson, who called it the “Racket,” because he conceived the idea by listening to his kettle kicking up that sort of noise which suggests that sort of engine.

Later, “Puffing Billy” was invented by Captain Kettle, but, being a seaman, he naturally forgot to put wheels under it, and so it was never really in the running. It was the fashion in those early days of mechanical morbidity to invest each new specimen of hurtling hardware with a name synonymous with its symptoms; thus we find unrecorded references to “Asthmatical Ann,” “Rattling Rupert,” “Billy-the-bone-Shaker,” “Gasping Gus,” and “The Big Noise.”

These engines were of the depressed double-demented anti-alacrity pull-and-push type, and could run both backward and forward, which was a very fine proclivity—until they tried to do both at once. The passengers rode in open coaches, from which practice arose that ancient railway toast, “Here's soot in your eye.”

The engine driver wore a top hat and riding boots in case he should find it necessary to hitch on an extra horse-power. He was the big brain in Soot and Celerity Ltd., and could even tell the directors “where they got off” because he was the only one, barring the engine, who knew how it worked— and even the engine frequently forgot.

In the present effete and pampered age people insist on knowing when a train starts so that they can arrange to arrive three minutes later, but in the early age of steam nobody knew when a train would start, which was O.K. with everybody, because you can't possibly miss a train which doesn't know when it goes. The hypothetical passenger just took a day off and waited round until something happened. If it didn't happen he still had the day off.

“That tiresome insistence on veracity.”

“That tiresome insistence on veracity.”