A couple of weekends ago I spent a very enjoyable Sunday with my wife, kids, and their aunties, at the Buckinghamshire Steam Railway centre just outside of Aylesbury.

As a way to keep a three and a four year old entertained for a few hours, these places are great (and this one is one of the best I’ve been to). But I’d be not admitting my own inner nerd if I didn’t say I find the places fascinating too. Big puffing steam trains don’t do much for me, but the industrial and social history associated with the railways is fascinating.

Tucked in a corner was a partially-restored curiosity. A diesel-fuelled steam engine that had operated in Egypt, built in the 1950s. When we think of steam engines we tend to think of coal-fired machines. But as the transition from coal began on mainline trains in the post-war years, there was much experimentation and merely replacing the fuel rather than the drive power must have seemed a credible option. Keeping parts of the old tech around, capitalising on existing knowledge and skills, would have probably looked a less risky option. Completely challenging prevailing orthodoxy is both hard and scary.

In retrospect the steam diesel looks like a daft idea. That’s the benefit of hindsight. Great creativity can come from the recombination of existing ideas. As can Frankenstein monsters…

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