Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE LONDON REVIEW of Books can be highly literary and illuminating, occasionally obtuse to us Yanks, invariably entertaining, and at times an outright hoot. Here are tidbits collected from a recent LRB Letters column, together with my personal research thereon.

Letters Given Prominence. For good reason, the LRB Letters column earns Table of Contents recognition of its contributors. Reader responses cover a wide gamut, adulation or condemnation of previous LRB pieces, and often amplifications of one kind or another.

On Railway “Bashing.” The bashing hobby evolves from trainspotting, the documentation of seeing specific trains; the more obscure, the better. Bashing requires more than just visual contact: The train must be traveled upon as well. 

In LRB Letters, January 21, 2021, a reader recounts a special bashing: “The photographer Anthony Cullen and I met Brian and Simon (notebooks, anoraks, Marmite sandwiches, a holdall full of Carling Black Label) at Waterloo and took one of the first ever Eurostars to Paris for an exhilarating, exhausting weekend chasing trains as far as Erstfeld on the Swiss-Italian border, clocking the rare double-headed re/66s, sprinting between platforms, sleeping in ten-minute snatches and taking some forty trains in a day.”

Quite a “haulage.” I researched “double-headed re/66s.” A double-headed train is propelled by two locomotives at the front, each with a separate crew. 

A Dual Coal Train and Terrorizing Grandma. I recall coal trains with dual locomotion (one in front, the other in back) making the gentle climb next to my grandparent’s house in eastern Pennsylvania. This was the scene of my experience with “Tonto, Train Rails, and Disillusion” described here at SimanaitisSays.

The 66 Part. Wikipedia says that the “Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) Class 66 (or JT42CWR) are Co-Co diesel locomotives built by EMD for the European heavy freight market.”

I cannot speak to the “re/,” but did learn about “Co-Co.” Wikipedia writes that a Co-Co diesel locomotive has “two six-wheeled bogies with all axles powered, with a separate traction motor per axle.”

This EMD JT42CWRM #66001 is at the station in Ruhland, Germany (May 2008). Image by PaulT.

 On English Rail Roadbeds. During one of several Eurostar trips, I sat amidst a group of university students and their professor. We marveled that the Eurostar’s speed left automobiles behind on the French side, but through English countryside, cars were quicker than the Eurostar

“A clear indication of the superiority of English cars,” I suggested.

“You’re being very kind,” the professor said. “Actually, it’s indicative of the dreadful state of our railway lines.”

The Eurostar has a maximum speed of 186 mph (the magic 300 km/h), but not in England.

A Good Humoured Correction. In that same LRB, a reader from Old Windsor, Berkshire, commented upon an article concerning English diarist Francis Kilvert.

Robert Francis Kilvert, 1840–1879, English clergyman whose extensive diaries describing rural life were published more than 50 years after his death.

As noted in Wikipedia, a Kilvert niece considered some of the family tales better left unshared.

The LRB reader framed an article correction with humour: “It was with interest that I learned from Alan Bennett that Francis Kilvert had visited Bennett’s ‘sometime house’—23 Gloucester Crescent—on New Year’s Day 1882. As this would have been more than two years after the diarist’s death from peritonitis in September 1879 it speaks much for the resilience and hardihood of the Victorian clergy.”

Or for ghostly presences at English residences. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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