You don't have to be a railroad fanatic to find this book fascinating. ... delightful and readable (PopularScience website
The author tells his story with great panache and enthusiasm and uses his wide research to good effect. (CONTEMPORARY REVIEW
From the Author
I'm a zoology professor--a vertebrate palaeontologist by training--and most of my books have been about animals, both living and extinct. I've written for children and for undergraduates, but mostly I write for those who can be tempted by things that have intrigued me.
My last book, the eleventh, was an historical narrative about early English fossilists and the dinosaurs and other wondrous beasts they discovered. While illustrating some of the other happenings of the 1820s I sketched one of the most remarkable events of the Industrial Revolution: the Rainhill trials. This competition, between locomotives, was to see if any one could maintain 10 mph for 35 miles without breaking down. Locomotives had already existed for a quarter century, primarily in the collieries of the north, but they were notoriously unreliable, sometimes even exploding. Britain was leading the industrialized world and desperately needed the rapid intercity transportation that these primitive engines could never provide. Rainhill was pivotal.
Rocket, the front-runner, was not the peoples' choice, and there were allegations that the rules had been changed to favour the Stephensons. Regardless, Rocket faced stiff competition, making the contest a cliff-hanger to the sixth and last day. The competitors were as eclectic as their machines, ranging from brilliant to pedantic to sheer fraudulent. I was no railway buff, but Rainhill, and the story of steam power, caught my imagination. And so the idea of the book was seeded.
Research began in England during the spring of 2001, mostly in libraries and archives, but I also journeyed to the north to see some key historical sites and locomotives, and to meet some specialists. Returning to England from my home in Canada later that year, I attended the Second International Early Railways Conference, where I met many more authorities. And what a wonderful group of enthusiasts they are--from railway historians to engineers, from industrial archaeologists to enginemen, and to the pragmatists who build the replicas they drive. Thanks to their generosity I got to know about locomotives: I rode upon them, clambered over them and crawled beneath them. I similarly became familiar with their stationary predecessors of the 1700s. These great behemoths, standing several storeys high, have a cylinder large enough to swallow several adults.
Resurrecting old engines is much like digging up dinosaurs. I've had a great deal of pleasure from both pursuits and hope readers will enjoy travelling back with me to that mechanical age of enterprise and invention.