Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Long Haul by Bryan Holden

Did you know that the last shunting horse (as in a horse used to shunt railway wagons) retired from railway service on 21st February 1967?

Charlie worked at Newmarket station moving, appropriately enough, horse boxes around. His retirement brought to an end the relationship between horses and railways that began as soon as we began moving good on rails. So important was this motive power that the standard 16 ton mineral wagon came about because this was the largest load a single animal could move on the flat.

Bryan Holden's book doesn't just cover shunting horses of course. Most of the volume is devoted to railway cartage, what we would call "last mile" deliveries today. It's a pretty comprehensive history which explains how the yards were organised, the type of animals preferred and how they were looked after. I didn't realise that horse shoes were so different, or so technical.

If pure horse power is your (nose)bag, then a short chapter shows the horse at work on and in mines as well as peat railways. By the time of writing, this was pretty much all over with - the last horse drawn tramway was Nantle which finished in 1959 - but the photos give some idea.

Talking of photos, this is an area here the book excels. Lots and lots of well reproduced pictures showing yards and some goods operation. The text is well-written and informative. There is feeling but it never becomes maudlin. Even though I've read a bit in this area before, I still learnt a bit. More importantly, I enjoyed the read.

Published in 1985, The Long Haul, The Life and Time of the Railway Horse, can still be obtained from Amazon.


neil whitehead said...

This opens up a new area on a model railway-mdel horse poo and the smells of warm horse wafting over the model!
Bought a copy of your esteemed publication Parker's Guide whilst back in blighty and it is a great read. By coincidence, the first article on the Wills viaduct is just what I need to start the first module of my new layout.

Phil Parker said...

Glad you like it Neil. I should say that there is a road bridge based project in the Hornby Magazine yearbook too.

Anyway, good luck with the module. Please post pictures as you go.