I think I started looking at Pre-grouping railways because they offered an opportunity to build something different, in bright colours, with lots of polished brass, and with small locomotives and carriages that could operate in a small space. All attractive features for modellers!
Having got the 'bug', I wanted to find out more about how things were really done in the early days, when railways were at the cutting-edge of technology, so I've recently been doing quite a lot of reading.
I discovered that there are many books from the 19th century that are now out of copyright and freely available as downloads from various websites.
In particular, I have found the Internet Archive ( http://archive.org/ ) to be a very good resource for such books. Simply type in a few keywords and see what you can find! Many of these books can either be read online or downloaded in formats such as PDF. Apart from the text, there are often interesting drawings and early photographs.
In an earlier entry in this blog, I showed my models of broad and standard gauge engines side-by-side, never suspecting that I would find a similar comparison of the real engines! The following photo is from "A History of the Great Western Railway - Illustrated" by G.A.Sekon, 2nd ed, 1895:
An even earlier book "The Iron Road Book" by Francis Coghlan, 1838, provides a detailed description of a journey on the, then incomplete, London and Birmingham Railway, with the aim of providing re-assurance and guidance to would-be travellers. There are details of how the railway was constructed and how it was managed to ensure the convenience and safety of the passengers.
It contains the following splendid advice on choosing your seat: "get as far from the engine as possible -....- should an explosion take place, you may happily get off with the loss of an arm or a leg - whereas if you should happen to be placed near the said piece of hot machinery, and an unfortunate accident really occur, you would very probably be 'smashed to smithereens' "
I hope that this is an example of 19th century humour and that loss of limbs was not considered quite so lightly in those days!
I got quite 'hooked' on all this material but must get back to doing some modelling