Japanese Train Sign • Framed

l1090526I’ve posted before about this sign…here

Japanese Express Train Sign

It came back from the framer today, and looks a million yen. Terrific.

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Lewis and Clark, and Michael Portillo (BBC2TV)

Michael Portillo has just begun a new railroad adventure in the USA…and, this time, he’s following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition up the Missouri river. Amtrak’s (US railways) , Missouri River Runner, also follows the river between Saint Louis and Kansas.

The city of Saint Louis was named by French fur traders after Louis IX of France. The settlement became an inportant gateway to the west after the Lousianna Purchase of 1803.

Thomas Jefferson,  3rd President of the United States, instructed L+C to travel up the Missouri river and to survey the new lands with a view to supporting trade and commerce…

Lewis and Clark provided the first maps to support the westward expansion of the US during the 19C. Identified as Manifest Destiny, the unification of the US continent into a single coherent political and economic entity was brutal…involving ethnic cleansing against Native Americans, Civil War with the southern Confederacy, and also established a racial fault-line across the continent that has endured to the present.

Saint Louis was the site of the infamous Pruitt Igoe housing development. PI replaced a timber shanty-town with modern blocks of flats in the 1950s. Things didn’t go according to plan and the buildings quickly became a symbol of inner-city decline. The development was pulled down in the 1980s.


The film, Koyaanisqatsi (1982), includes a whole section filmed at Pruitt Igoe and with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. More recently, the area of wider Saint Louis has seen a number of mis-judged police attacks against various african-american males. At Furguson Mo, for example. This has understandably provoked the Black Lives Matter movement and the reactionary response.

In amongst all this, it was a lovely surprise to  find Michael Portillo looking at pictures by the American mid-western artist, George Caleb Bingham.

I love American painting….especially in its early and primitive styles. If you look at all of  GCBs pictures they are not uniformally great…some of the portraits are just not very accurate and show how difficult it is to work in isolation and without example from a teacher or colleague.

GCB produced a number of river pictures and these are his masterpieces. The best of these is, Fur Traders (c1845), shown above. Ironically, this painting lives in NYC.

Kansas City remains an important rail hub for freight services across the US. Here is a satellite picture of the yards…


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Berlioz on the Train

25631311_1_xI was watching University Challenge (BBC2TV iplayer) yesterday evening and was pleasantly surprised by a series of questions about music and trains. Actually, the questions were about orchestral music and trains…not easy for young people.

The questions were about Berlioz and the Paris-Lille railway, Steve Reich and Different Trains, and about the Railway Waltz by one of the Strausses…maybe, the elder?

It turns out that Berlioz composed a send-off for the first through train between Paris and Belgium, via Lille (1846).

When the train arrived at Lille, there was a gala dinner…comprising over 28 000 plates of food! The Paris Lille railway was capitalised by the Rothschild bank, and formed the main part of the Chemins de Fer du Nord railway.

The company never quite had the glamour of the PLM to the south, but it became a very significant international line and had a very high volume of business traffic. Indeed, the international trains from Paris to Amsterdam, and beyond, were facilitated by the creation of the Compagnie des Wagons Lits.

So, there you are…trains, luxury, food and music, all combined!

The poster by AM Cassandre for the famous international service from Paris to the north…is shown above

This postcard image shows the engines of the Nord railway

cccc_66_-_les_locomotives_nord_vue_gale_du_garage_des_machiones_au_depot_de_la_plaine_stdOne of my earliest posts (2011) was about the Jean Mitry film with music by Arthur Honneger. It turns out that this was filmed on the Paris-Lille line.

Image et Son (Mitry Honneger)

I found a top-ten list about music and railways, here


and here is another list of railway music…and not just orchestral music



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Mapping the Railways

l1090086Just found a terrific illustrated history of railway maps in Britain….and with a great discount. I’ll be posting about maps and trains then.

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Carte Commerciale • Gourdoux • 19C

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-06-46-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-07-09-pmHere are two iterations of the famous French railway map by Gourdoux. This was a commercial map designed to help salesmen. Just click on the image for more detail.

Quite apart from the intrinsic geographical interest of the map, these particular examples have beautiful typography and combine information and organisation most pleasingly in the form of a ribbon type representation of the railway line.

Here’s a detail of the general idea

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-27-27-pmYou can see how this maximises the amount of information and minimises any possible confusion.

I have already posted about the maps by Minard…

Railway Traffic Map • 1862 • CJ Minard

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-07-54-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-07-33-pmThese images are from the French national library collection…but you can see a lovely example of this map in central London. There is one displayed on the first-floor dining area of Mon Plaisir, in Monmouth Street. Mon Plaisir is the longest established French restaurant in London, and does a very nice steak-frites…


Here is a typographic detail from another French map…just to give you an idea of the style

190781-fd45d3f09dc44b0b90a1f84b0092e2c7screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-3-39-37-pmAnd here is another typographical detail from a map printed and published by Chaix, the printers. I love the decorative letters and the sparkle they give the printing. We’ve lost that.

I know a bit about Chaix because they were very important litho printers involved in printing posters at the end of the 19C. It turns out they were also the railway printers…In deed, the consolidated French railway timetable was known as the Chaix…just like Brdashaws in the UK.

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Travel Trunk • Paul Poiret + Louis Vuitton • 1920s


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Railway Photography • Toni Frissell


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Toni Frissell • Railway Fashion Shoot

Classic…Lisa Fonssagrives by Toni Frissell…1951

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CH • Railway Badge • 1950s?


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Size Matters • US Steam • 1940s

big_boy_hero2Here is a picture of a massive steam loco pulling a freight train in the US during the early 1950s.

In fact, the engine is a so-called, “big-boy,” designed in 1941 for the Unon Pacific Railroad in the US. These were the biggest steam locos ever produced and used.

It’s worth considering how and why things got so big…

A steam loco is an arrangement of parts: fire-box, boiler, and driving wheels. These elements have to be put together to optimise performance within a context defined by the scale of operation (distance), geography (terrain), and all of the existing infrastructure of the railway (loading guage, curves etc). This last is not just about the distance between the rails, it’s also about the size of existing tunnels, and bridges etc.

You can see that, in this context, every engine is a kind of heroic compromise…

In the US context of these enormous engines, the task was to design an engine with the power to pull huge loads up steep gradients, and to keep going across long distances.The engine needed both power and stamina.

By the 1940s, this was the last throw of the dice for steam traction faced with new developments in diesel and electric locos.

A steam loco eats coal and water…so, fitting a bigger tender increases the range of the engine and improves performance. You can reduce the number of stops for taking on water and extra coal. Accordingly, the tender on these engines was massive; it had seven axels and shifted coal to the firebox using an automated conveyor.

The firebox was the size of a room. It measured nearly six by two and a half meters, and heated the boiler to provide steam to two sets of driving wheels.

The arrangement of wheels on a loco is recorded using Whyte notation. In this case, the engine is identified as a 4-8-8-4.

bannerYou can probably guess that something this big is great on the straight…but also has to get around the existing curves. To allow these continental scaled engines to take the existing curves of the track in their stride, they are articulated according to the Mallet design of engine.

The Big Boy fleet of twenty five locomotives were used primarily in the Wyoming Division to haul freight over the Wasatch mountains between Green River, Wyoming and Ogden, Utah, in the US. They were the only locomotives to use a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement consisting of a four-wheel leading truck for stability entering curves, two sets of eight driving wheels and a four-wheel trailing truck to support the large firebox.

Led by mechanic Otto Jabelmann, the Union Pacific Railroad’s design team worked with the American Locomotive Company. The team found that Union Pacific’s goals could be achieved by enlarging the firebox, lengthening the boiler, adding four driving wheels and reducing the size of the driving wheels from 69 to 68 in (1,753 to 1,727 mm) on a new engine. That’s how things got to be the size they got.


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