(Notes edited by Alastair Wilson)

notes on the text
[October 1st 2010]

Editor's note

Since these notes were first published in 2009, an American correspondent, John W Reading, who is a railroad enthusiast, has subjected the tale to further rigorous analysis and suggested a substantial number of amendments and additions, which we have been glad to accept. These have been incorporated in the notes on the text. John Reading has also included some notes below on Kipling's sources, and on the setting of the story.


This story first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine, August 1897, with the sub-title “The Story of an American Locomotive”. In the magazine there were eight illustrations, five by W.L. Sonntag, Jr. (four are full page ones), and three by Walter Appleton Clark. It is collected in The Day’s Work (1898) and in numerous subsequent reprints of that collection. It is in Volume XIV of Scribner’s Edition, Volume VI (page 235) of the Sussex Edition, and Volume VI of the Burwash Edition.

The story

.007 is a new locomotive, "The red paint hardly dry on his spotless bumper-bar...", a newcomer in the engine-shed and goods-yard, painfully raw and shy, and the subject of much chaff from the other engines. But he is taken out in an emergency mission to recover a wreck; he acquits hmself well, and is accepted as a newly-entered "Brother among Locomotives".

The story appears to be set in an imaginary railway locomotive shed, in the northeast of the USA, as it might be on the Boston and Maine Railroad which served Brattleboro’: the time is the present, i.e., in the 1890s. However, despite its railway setting, the tale is essentially that of the new boy at school (or new subaltern), who feels out of place, but is befriended by a more experienced boy/sergeant, and goes on to prove himself in a match/skirmish, and so earns the respect of his peers and takes his place in the hierarchy of the school/regiment.


Thanks to John Reading, I am able to add a few further details since these notes were first published. He has drawn my attention to the statement in Stuart Murray’s Rudyard Kipling in Vermont (‘Images from the Past’, Bennington, VT, 1997) (p. 39) that:

...there were times when Kipling would sit in the Brattleboro train station for hours, talking with stationmaster Dave Carey about the movements and mechanics of trains, or chatting with travelers coming and going.
John Reading adds that when the Kiplings came to Brattleboro, the railroad was run by the Connecticut River Railroad, but in 1893, the Boston and Maine took a lease of the line, so it was Boston and Maine territory when the tale was first published. It would seem that the stationmaster was a prime source for Kipling’s railway background material, in much the same way as Dr. Conland helped with the fishing fleet information in Captains Courageous.

There are indications that Kipling wasn’t quite sure about the current railway jargon to describe his ‘hero’, .007. He is first described as an “eight-wheeled ‘American’ locomotive”—a 4-4-0—which is entirely correct from all the other indications. But then he is described as an eight-wheels coupled locomotive, which, if interpreted literally and as punctuated, means an 0-8-0, a freight locomotive. Later, Kipling says that .007 has bogies (he means bogey in the singular), which fits a 4-4-0, but cannot fit an 0-8-0. Those critics who object to Kipling’s overwhelming his reader with technicalities and jargon have a point here – if a writer is to do that, he/she must get it right. And there are a few other petty errors.

Locomotives as people

The ORG entry starts:

“This is a story about locomotives – locomotives that talk. Consequently, it may be rejected by readers who are repelled by Kipling’s anthropomorphism in, for instance, the delightful Jungle Books – which themselves started a fashion, even now not quite dead, in talking animals – or to take a closer example, “The Ship that Found Herself” in the same volume.”
At the start of the 21st century, readers, having been subjected to a century of anthropomorphism from, e.g., Disney cartoons, to say nothing of George Orwell in Animal Farm, etc., may find it acceptable, though David Gilmour (The Long Recessional, John Murray, London, 2002, p. 107) clearly does not. Also, the tale is full of technicalities referring to the steam railway, which would have been more comprehensible to male readers (particularly) in the first 75 years of the 20th century, but with the steam locomotive no longer in everyday use, that general understanding no longer exists.

Railway origins

The first railways, or railroads (apart from rut-ways, found in Iraq, which date from about 2000 B.C., and the first continuous rut-way, across the isthmus of Corinth, which dates from 600 B.C.) consisted of wooden rails, laid on transverse wooden ‘sleepers’, which are known to have existed in mines in Transylvania in the 15th century. In England, the first such ‘wagon-ways’ existed in the north in the 17th century, where they were used for transporting minerals, particularly coal, from the mines to the nearest navigable water. Wherever possible, gravity was used to provide the motion for the loaded wagons, with horse-power for the return journey. In 1767, iron, in cast-iron form, was first used for the rails.

The first use of steam as a prime mover on a railway came in 1804, when a locomotive, designed and built by a Cornishman, Richard Trevithick, made a nine-and-a-half mile trip with a loaded train on the recently-built Merthyr Tramroad in South Wales. This was a one-off event, to win a bet, the locomotive proving too heavy for the rails, but by 1821 some tens of steam locomotives were in use on British mineral railways.

The first public railway was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, authorised in 1821, and opened in 1825, when George Stephenson’s ‘Locomotion No. 1” locomotive provided the motive power on the opening day. Passengers were regularly carried (but in a horse drawn coach), but coal to the staithes on the Tees was the main traffic. However, it was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, which was the first ‘inter-city’ railway, and Stephenson’s vastly improved ‘Rocket’, and several other locomotives like it, provided the motive power (and caused the first recorded railway fatality).

Railroads in the USA developed in parallel with those in England, but in the first ten years, much material, especially rails, was imported from England. The first full-size locomotive built in the USA ran in 1830, and although a few English-built locomotives appeared (one made the first run in the USA by a full-size locomotive on 08 August 1829), they were not successful and thereafter American railroads developed and used their own distinctive product – and their own distinctive jargon.

In the 20th century in most of the world, except France and its colonies, locomotives were classified under a system introduced in 1900 by F.M. Whyte, an engineer on the New York Central Railroad. The system described a locomotive in three groups of figures, indicating the number of wheels ahead of the driving wheels, the number of driving wheels, and the number of wheels behind the driving wheels. Many of the more commonly used arrangements of wheels also had a generic name, which in some cases dated from before the introduction of the Whyte notation: thus a locomotive having four leading wheels, four driving wheels and two trailing wheels – a 4-4-2 in the Whyte notation – was equally often referred to as an ‘Atlantic’ locomotive, the name being derived from the railroad company that pioneered the design.

Kipling's sources

John Reading writes: In writing “.007”, Kipling very likely used as a reference a general handbook, The American Railway, its Construction, Development, Management, and Appliances, published by Scribner’s in 1893 (John Reading made frequent citations to “TAR” in his notes, but we have not, generally, included them. However, he makes a convincing case, being able to cite several phrase which Kipling seems to have lifted straight out of “TAR”). This book includes a series of articles written for Scribner’s Magazine by railroading experts. The first article appeared in June 1888; the series continued into 1889. Both the book and the articles are long out of US copyright. While my initial research drew on a well-worn original edition of TAR from my personal library, Google’s book-scanning project has recently made its text and illustrations available on-line. Another on-line source for technical steam-locomotive information is the 28th edition of Locomotive Catechism, by Robert Grimshaw; New York; Norman W. Henley Co., 1911 (hence LC) [available by Google Books scan].

In the United States, a well-preserved example of a 4-4-0 built at about the same time as the fictional “.007” is on display at White River Junction, Vermont (65 miles north of Brattleboro); Boston & Maine Railroad 494, built by the Manchester (New Hampshire) Locomotive Works in May 1892. The Railroad Enthusiasts Inc., an organization of “railway enthusiasts” formed in 1933 in Boston, Mass., selected 494 for preservation in 1938. B&M cooperated by making 494 available to the RRE. With support from B&M’s locomotive-shop staffs at Billerica, Mass. and Concord, N.H., 494 was “backdated” from its “modern” condition of 1938 to approximately the way it looked when built in 1892. 494 became a B&M exhibit during the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940, then returned to New England for storage during World War II and eventual donation to the RRE. In 1957, the RRE donated 494 to the Town of Hartford, Vermont (in which lies the community of White River Junction). After many years of unprotected outdoor display, 494 is now stored under cover beside the Amtrak passenger station at White River Junction. The White River Junction Chapter of the US National Railway Historical Society maintains its 1892 appearance.

The setting of the story

John Reading writes: Where is ‘.007’ set? At an ingeniously created composite location!

Put all together, a masterful railroad pastiche!!


©Alastair Wilson and John W. Reading 2010 All rights reserved