June 10, 2024

The Magic of Trains

       I’m currently working on a short story set on a train, so I’m getting in the mood with some block prints of trains.  First is my own Steam Locomotive, which has always been one of my favorites.  Modern trains are great, but the steam engines are especially magical.  Of course, in my story the magic isn’t just hyperbole, but provides a clean, safe, high-speed power instead of wood, coal, or deisel.  But more on that later…
        My story is set in 1890, but I enjoy this image of “The First Steam Railroad Passenger Train in America.”  This wood block print dates to 1870, but reproduces a painting from 1831.  The development of  trains moved very quickly from when the carriages were designed just like stagecoaches, to larger enclosed cars, to dining and sleeper cars.  But more on that later…
        While that 1831 train is too early for my story, the next train is too late - all the way up to 1936.  No longer a steam train at all, there’s still no shortage of smoke from the industrial buildings towering in the background.  I like the contrast between very bold shapes and very fine textures.  Also, you can see the engineer looking out of the cab, and in my story the engineer plays a key role (though not an enviable one).  But I’m not going to reveal that secret yet.
        I mentioned the dining and sleeping cars above, and my story takes place in something like a Pullman car: a first class luxury carriage which can convert from open seating, to dining tables, to berths.  Here’s a wood engraving showing such a Pullman car, with seats on the right, converted to curtained sleeping compartments on the left.  I’ve always had a fascination with the clever ways people devise to fit all different amenities into restricted spaces.  I have had the experience of travelling on an overnight train with berths, but it was not first class and certainly looked nothing like this!
Next up is a dramatic view of two locomotives by Rockwell Kent.  I love the geometry of it all, with so many bold, straight lines making a dramatic scene of powerful-looking locomotives beneath powerful-looking clouds.  Oddly, there are no tracks visible for the trains in this piece — which
actually serves as a teaser for the magic in my story, in which the train doesn’t run on steel tracks.  But for now I’m keeping my secrets and not telling how it works!
        This next piece is actually the closest to the setting of my story in date, but definitely not in location.  It looks like a rather older train for 1879, but I have no idea about the relative history of trains in Japan compared with America, and that’s a research rabbit hole I really don’t need to jump down right now!  But I do enjoy adding a little variety to today’s collection of train art.  It’s always fun to compare how Japanese-style artists depict things just a little differently from European-style artists.
        Today’s final pieces are two very rough small wood block prints by Lyonel Feininger.  With rough gouges, lack of details, and the whole trains built of mere suggestions of wheels and smokestacks, the characters in my story wouldn’t even know what to make of this modern art!  I think they’re fun, though, and perhaps they appeal to that same fascination as with Pullman cars: how to make a lot out of a little.
        This story of mine is quite long for a modern short story - but not long at all by 1890 standards!  I’m having a lot of fun doing far more research and far more world building than is really justified for a more short story, and I’m very close to pulling the threads all together for a finished first draft.  After that I’ll have to get serious about seeing how well my train is really running!
        And meanwhile, you can revisit a few other block prints of trains that have been featured on this blog in the past:  The Broomstick Train

        The Hogwarts Express

        Railway Alphabets

        Railway Depots

[Pictures: Steam Locomotive, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2010 (Originals sold out);

The First Steam Railroad Passenger Train in America, wood block print published by Antique Publishing Co, 1870 (Image from Library of Congress);

Locomotive, wood engraving by Salvatore Pinto, c. 1936 (Image from The Cleveland Museum of Art);

Pullman Sleeper Car of the Union Pacific Railway, wood engraving, 1869 (Image from Posterazzi);

Two Locomotives, woodcut by Rockwell Kent, 1930 (Image from Fort Wayne Museum of Art);

Tokyo/Takanawa Steam Railway, triptych of woodblock prints by Utagawa Kuniteru, 1879 (Image from The Met);

Locomotive on the Bridge, woodcut by Lyonel Feininger, (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art);

Letterhead: Little Locomotive, woodcut by Feininger, 1919 (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art).]


MFH said...

Like many children, I had an early fascination with trains. My mother indulged me by taking me to a "yard" where we could watch them.

Your rubber block print is exquisite. It's easy to see why it sold out.

Nice post!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Some of us never outgrow our fascination! ;)