The International Steam Pages


20 Glorious Years

Here are my very personal bouquets and brickbats for the last twenty (!) years since I first established my web site in September 1996. If you don't like what you read, why not set up your own site and spend several hours a week maintaining it? Actually, the most surprising statistic in a hobby which is renowned for its parochialism and infighting is how relatively few people I have managed to alienate (and vice versa) although as I have got older and grumpier the number has somewhat increased.

Back in 1996, I had walked out on school teaching in the UK a year earlier and was extremely bored and frustrated living in Monmouth, which was (and is) in a lovely part of the world especially when the sun shone and I could walk in the hills. But at 48, I couldn't afford to retire especially when money was needed to chase (real) steam in the far corners of the world. At the time, working on computer software both paid the bills and gave me the freedom to travel more and more and work as I went. As I ran out of new destinations and my marriage not surprisingly disintegrated, I bumped into Yuehong on the lineside in Weihe in 2003. The rest, as they say, is history. Between 2004 and 2010, I was based in China, where all around me I had beautiful mountains and constant reminders that economic development for its own sake brings only an illusion of increased happiness. 2011 saw me changing my base, now we have a new home in Mitcheldean, UK and also a second home in Penang, Malaysia.

Bouquets

  • Michael Powell whose China Rail pages (now, alas, long defunct) first inspired me to get going.

  • Bruce Evans, Chris West and more lately Louis Cerny, James Waite and Thomas Kautzor for their intrepid voyages of discovery.

  • Henry Posner III for putting his money where his mouth was.

  • L.D. Porta, Dave Wardale, Roger Waller, Phil Girdlestone, Shaun McMahon, Nigel Day and others for keeping the dream alive.

  • The Government of Eritrea for reinstating their (steam) railway in the face of all so-called expert opinion and without external support.

  • All those individual travellers (too numerous to mention) who have sent reports, without which these pages would have sunk without trace.

  • All those who have contributed to the Images of Rail CD-ROMs thereby giving me a great deal of pleasure (and virtually no profit).

  • My advertisers (including those supporting Google Adsense) for showing that you can make money out of the Internet (but not very much). Now it just pays my running costs.

  • The late Hugh Ballantyne for setting me up to lead (unpaid) two Java tours, thereby ultimately giving me the freedom to adopt the lifestyle I wanted.

  • Those individuals who booked on to my Java tours as a result of what they saw, many of whom are now good friends of mine.

  • The sugar mill authorities in Java and their employees who have made me welcome as I research the greatest concentration of working stationary steam engines in the world today.

  • Everyone who encouraged me to further my interest in working stationary steam engines by going again to Burma. And all the wonderful citizens of that amazing country who made me welcome once again.

  • Those very few countries in the world who maintained working steam locomotives - almost none had a democracy worthy of the name, but as one gets older then one's conscience takes a terrible hammering. These days there's almost nothing left so it's irrelevant anyway.

  • Peter Nash, Manfred Schoeler and John Crellin for giving me a little extra web space when I needed it. 

  • Florian Menius for running an inspirational China news page and Dave Fielding for taking up the baton late in the day..

  • My former wife Marion, who used to respond to all the emails sent to me while I was away and our two cats who still talked to me when I got back. Now, alas all history.

  • Finally, Yuehong who has proved that life can start at 55..... An exceptional partner in every sense.

Brickbats

Note how the 'curse of Rob' has consigned many of these people and organisations, but not enough, to the 'dustbins of history' - cross my path at your peril.!  

  • The individuals and tour organisers who first started the pernicious habit of paying trains crews in Cuba because they didn't have the patience to wait for the real pictures to happen naturally. Thus consigning many of the rest of us to opt out of what became a circus at many mills and forced other tour organisers and desperate individuals to follow suit.

  • Probably the same people who adopted the same practices in China and the tour organisers who went one better by paying thousands of dollars to real steam railways thus turning them into a circus and making life difficult for the independent traveller. 

  • The German visitors (sorry to my good German friends) to Java in 2000 who tried importing the same tactics and who thank goodness failed in their ambition although others especially the Japanese (see below) kept on trying. 

  • Steam in Paradise Tours who having agreed to renew their advertising on my website in late 2004 somehow 'forgot' to make payment guessing correctly no doubt that I wouldn't take down their presence until their season was over.... Fortunately now part of history.

  • Transnico tours who enjoyed the hospitality of Eritrean Railways in 2001 and only paid 20% of the bill. They settled for 60% of the balance in 2006.  Globe Steam who visited in October 2004 and took 9 months to pay less than half their bill and another month to pay the rest - both only then because of behind the scenes pressure by influential enthusiasts. Both of whom are also history too.

  • There are some extremely pleasant Japanese travellers out there, but as a nation they have a lot to learn about interacting positively with the people in the countries they visit. As a nation they could do with a collective lesson in smiling, not to mention a little humility. Japanese gricers in Java (and elsewhere) have all too often shown complete disregard for local customs with their insensitive and selfish behaviour. I do not understand why the rest of us should suffer from their stupid social system that denies them sensible holidays and leads to them throwing money around with complete disregard for the consequences. Moreover at Pangka (Central Java) in July 2008 this ugly arsehole charged straight through my video and his colleagues marched in front of my group members taking their own pictures. From now on whenever I encounter Japanese groups (individuals by and large are fine) in Java and elsewhere I shall treat them with the same contempt that this group showed us.

  • The Indian Government and Railways who having secured World Heritage Status for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, promptly dieselised it.

  • The JingPeng 'Mafia' and their so-called photo permits and the local authorities there who also tried to cash in. Hopefully with steam gone, they are begging on the streets.

  • Shits Harald Nave and his friend Alfred Luft (sorry to my good Austrian friends) who gate-crashed my special train at Ambarawa in 2001 and despite my bare-arsed tactics refused to go away until I let their tyres down. Up to now the only two, most individual visitors have the manners to ask to join special trains - they are are never refused if they contribute equally with the group members. Harald, I am glad to say wiped himself out on an Alpine mountainside a few years later.

  • The 'gentleman' (Brad Collins) in New Zealand who failed to ensure that payment for a book I sent actually reached me. The only let down in hundreds of transactions which says a lot about the quality of people who are steam enthusiasts.

  • The two party members (experienced tour leaders themselves from the Netherlands and Germany) whose boorish behaviour at runpasts on my Eritrean visit in 2002, only belittled themselves and must have created a very poor impression with our gracious hosts.

  • Chinese guide Mrs. Dung who, while working for Mrs. Sun,  provided my first (and hopefully only) paid-for detention by security guards at Beitai Iron and Steel Works in 2003.

  • Doug Brooks who, like Dietmar, tried to tell me how to run a tour in Java in 2004 within hours of arriving in the country. Tour operators, you take this poison dwarf on board at your peril. Similarly others on my 2004 tours who failed to understand that when visiting industrial locations in Java we are their guests and must behave accordingly. We have no absolute right to climb all over their mills and locomotives even if they charge us a nominal sum of money.....

  • Dietmar Kramer who spent 9 days trying to take over as tour leader from me on his first trip ever to Java in 2000 and featured in just about everybody's pictures at Olean. Later he ran his own tours there, proclaiming himself a Java expert and alas his punters only discover the 'errors' in his advertising too late when he cannot deliver what he is promising. Never mind, he has their money safely in the bank, a tactic I believe he has tried to use in Turkey too......

Stranger on the footplate....

Further nominations are welcome, but brickbats may well be refused if the object of attention has already crossed my palm with silver.


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk