Mixed Gauges; travels in the years of steam by J.B. Snell

Just as I was finishing this book, I heard that John Snell had died a the age of 82. This book, published when he was 75, is a fitting tribute to a life spent in pursuit of the steam locomotive all around the world.

Snell came from an old colonial background – born in Fiji as the son of a colonial administrator, he was educated first in New Zealand and then in the UK. He was one of the founding members of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society with Tom Rolt in 1951, and then worked in transport and railways for undertakings large and small.

His writing style matches the man himself, with a dry, slightly sarcastic style but brimming with fine observation and wisdom. The book is liberally furnished with fine photographs, mainly by Snell but also (when appropriate) from friends and colleagues.

Snell’s observations on the world beyond the railway are equally pertinent and wise, especially his travels in South Africa during the apartheid era, Australasia and South America. His inside view of the changes on railways in the UK is illuminating. But his overall view is refreshingly internationalist, and we don’t see enough of this in railway literature nowadays.

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