Far wheels; a railroad safari by Charles S. Small

C.S. Small was an American in the oil industry. His work took him to many countries during the 1940s and 50s, and in this slim book he describes a number of “colonial” railways in Africa, Fiji and Jamaica. He also describes lines in Peru and Japan (where he spent a lot of time). The history of the railways is given fair exposure, and the book is relatively free of the institutional racism that might have been expected in a work of this period.

But the stars have to be the railways and engines themselves. The Eritrean narrow-gauge is getting better-known these days, but there are tantalising images of engines that must be long-gone: Swiss Moguls in Djibouti, a Belgian Pacific at Addis Ababa, an Italian-built Garrett, ancient Mallets in Madagascar, immaculate Baldwin 2-10-2s in Mozambique, classic American 4-4-0s of 1876 high in the Andes on a branch of the Central Railway of Peru, and ancient electrics and engines with unfeasibly large spark arrestors on the Japanese narrow gauge. Some of the maps leave something to be desired in the accuracy department, but on the whole this is a fine little book.


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