External combustion

Before adjourning my discussion of trains, let me append a note on Bullets. There are, or have been in this world, to my knowledge, two “bullet trains.” One is the famous Shinkansen, which opened between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964. The current express, the Nozomi, makes the journey either way in two hours, twenty-five minutes. (Japanese never take the plane, I am told, because the train is so much faster; only foreigners fuss with the airport protocols.)

The other, known affectionately as the “Newfie Bullet,” opened in 1898 between St John’s and Port-aux-Basques — an approximately equal distance, as the crow flies — and was making that journey, until the autumn of 1988, in (give or take) twenty-three hours. The crow was not consulted in both cases, however, and while the (standard gauge) Japanese track was laid fairly straight, the contractor for the Newfie Bullet, a smart Scotchman from Montreal, not in any particular hurry himself, was, notoriously, paid by the mile.

When the guvmint took it over, an effort was made to change the name of this latter train to “The Caribou.” Newfoundlanders were not fooled, and retained the old, somewhat ironical expression. It was a congenial, narrow-gauge train (three feet, six inches: the same as throughout pre-Bullet, mountainous Japan), and thanks to its meandering route, offered a fine tour of the immense island, including parts of its interior never visited by man since the demise of the autochthonous Beothucks. (The original “redskins” of European report, thanks to the red ochre insect repellent with which they cleverly painted themselves.)

That would be, of course, the Canadian guvmint, which took over the Newfie Bullet, from the failing guvmint of the old Dominion of Newfoundland. (The sorry souls voted in 1948 to join Canada, in return for a mess of potage, repeating the mistake made in the previous century by Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers, and Prince Edward Islanders, as each electorate in turn agreed to be suckered by their respective megalomaniac politicians into surrendering their instruments of independence and enterprise, thereby turning their children’s children into welfare clients of an obtuse bureaucracy in Ottawa, far far away. See: Joseph Howe, who foresaw the whole thing.)

After extravagant “upgrades” of this and that, the new proprietors eventually bit the Bullet, first replacing the steam engines with “environmental” diesels, then the whole system with “environmental” buses. For you see, another arm of guvmint had meanwhile laid, at extravagant expense, mostly to the taxpayers of Ontario, wide asphalt highways. Newfoundlanders could now acquire cars that could whip across the island in twelve hours or less. They were now mainlining on speed.

A lawyer, who commutes locally by train, wrote me yesterday to suggest a mediaeval quality of the railways, incidentally comparing their contemporary state to that of the post-conciliar Church:

“After all, the railways at their finest seemed analogous to the Catholic Church. Aesthetically, a passing steam train — the bells, the steam, the “all aboard!” — was about the closest thing to attending Mass one could find outside a church. While there were various local operating companies (like the rites of Christendom), they were part of one great interconnected whole that reached into virtually every community, where the huge city stations served as cathedrals, and the little village stops with their lone station attendants were like the parish churches. …

“Consider the act of boarding a train, paying your fare and entrusting your self in humility to its crew, to take you to your destination, particularly when you contrast this with the arrogant individualism of travelling by car.”

Idiotization prevents contemporary man from appreciating how this situation came about. Prosperous railways were put out of business by tax-paid roads. “The people” in their burning, craven lust for material possessions and speed, soon themselves demanded this progress towards a hell-on-earth, where everything of tranquil beauty is destroyed to provide automotive access to it, and as I once explained, vast conurbations are shaped by the bureaucratic allocation of parking spaces. A human population no greater in bio-mass than that of the ants, is now outweighed five or six times by resource-gobbling private cars. And the idiots now think the solution is to reduce the mass of the humans. O Lord!

Trapped sometimes, as a pedestrian at an intersection, I have counted twenty or thirty consecutive cars going by, each containing only its driver; and every one of them, if I could catch a glimpse of the face, frazzled by the (now continuous) “rush hour” traffic. There are no words for the bottomless idiocy of contemporary, progressive man.

People, who should serve God, instead serve “the devil they know.”

Awake! Awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem!


Now, I was intending to effuse this morning upon the opportunities presented by “external combustion” engine designs more intelligent than the old steam boilers, and infinitely more intelligent than the “internal combustion” engines to which we became addicted (for other than rational reasons, but anon). In particular, I wanted to call attention to the possibilities for onboard generation of electrical power by Stirling engines — which can work on any fuel, and exploit principles of air compression through heat transfer — expounded in e.g. the Pneumatica of Heron of Alexandria, and largely overlooked through the last two millennia. Engines which, because they do not accumulate internal carbon, could be designed to operate continuously without significant repair for decades, even centuries — on corn husks, whale oil, popsicle sticks, whatever. But I’ve distracted myself, through wrath.

Make a note: God willing, I’ll get back to this. I do intend to solve all the world’s problems, before I push off.


Another correspondent, in Tripp, South Dakota, calls my attention to one of the Tarzan movies of the 1930s, which he recalls as follows:

The Players:

— Tarzan, the Ape Man (Johnny Weissmuller).
— Englishman, the first.
— Englishman, the second.
— Crowd of native Africans.

The Scene:  Crowd of native Africans seated on the bare earth, watching a film. A steam locomotive comes straight at them. Shouts go up! They panic and scatter into the near bush.

First Englishman: “Well Tarzan, what do you think about that?”

Tarzan: “Why train go so fast?”

Second Englishman: “Why Tarzan, that train will travel from Boiling Kettle to Tea’s Biscuits in two hours!”

Tarzan: “Why?”

Second Englishman: “Why, to save time, Tarzan.”

Tarzan: “What do with time saved?”

First Englishman: “He’s got you there, Old Boy.”