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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 12 (March 2, 1936)

Man and Machine

Man and Machine.

It was M‘Andrew, the old Scots engineer, who sang, in his original kind of hymn, “what I have seen, since ocean-steam began, leaves me nae doot for the machine—but what about the man?” At that time Kipling's maritime hero, who saw predestination in the stride of a connecting rod, could boast of a working gauge pressure of “a hunder sixty-five” and he could dream of “thirty and more” in sea speed.

Even since the “Hymn” was written, the accomplishments of the machine age have excelled any existing estimate of possibilities at that time.

But how has man advanced? In one aspect he has progressed as much as the machine, namely, in the power to adapt himself quickly to new conditions.

Whereas, in the early days of the industrial revolution, each improvement in machinery had to fight against a mass of prejudice, conservative obstruction, apathy and apprehensive hostility, and fear of change was the dominating factor in the psychology of mankind, the attitude of the present century is one of welcome to every fresh gift that inventive genius as applied to machinery can bring.

And there is a rapid and willing realignment of outlook and practice to any new conditions created.

Love of change is the spirit of the new age, as love of settled security was the spirit of its predecessor.

It was a very old-fashioned political economist who declared: “It is doubtful if all the mechanical inventions that ever existed have lightened the day's toil for one human being.” Apropos of this, the addresses given in Wellington in connection with the James Watt Bi-Centenary celebrations are enlightening.

It was shewn that not only had the development of the steam engine through the genius of Watt and his successors contributed to lightening the day's toil for million upon million of human beings, but also that, besides extending its civilizing influence throughout the greater part of the world during the past two centuries, its power for further good was far from exhausted.

On the contrary its power could be multiplied to many times the present efficiency by inventions and adaptions, particularly as applied to the railway locomotive, which would keep it in the forefront of the agencies of mechanical power for centuries to come. In fact, it has been contended that no other power agency affords scope for further improvement comparable with the steam engine.

This is all very heartening to those associated with the railways of the world, for they know that, however much the change of fashion and the variations in industrial demands may bring this or that power agency into prominence, the railways will continue to be the key industry of transport.

In this mechanical age, man and the machine are inseparable. Nor do they desire to be separated, for so natural has become their association, that though the majority of the population earns its living more or less directly from the control and operation of machinery, it finds that the principal aid to the hours of relaxation is again machinery.

Thus man and the machine become partners in an endless and entrancing game of mutual help—man helps the machine by invention, and the machine helps man to further enjoyment of the fruits of his inventive faculty and of his applied personal efficiency in the operation of the machine.