Book Review – “The Pioneer Is Back”

“The Pioneer Is Back” is a booklet produced by the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum detailing the story behind the restoration of the iconic class leader, 4001. For the very reasonable price of $11.50 (only slightly more than a magazine), the reader is entreated to a story of pioneers, from the locomotive itself to those dedicated NSWRTM volunteers who tirelessly and successfully brought the restoration of the locomotive from dream to reality.

The quality of the book is very high, with 28 glossy A5 size pages, filled with a good mix of information and photographs (in both colour and black & white). The subject of the photographs themselves encompasses historical photographs of the class in government service, the restoration process, and the locomotive after re-entering service. The number of photographs in the book strike an almost perfect balance between the three subject matters, especially (as stated by the author) considering that the 40 Class were regarded as the nemesis of steam and were often shunned by trackside photographers.

Perhaps the highlight of the photography in the book is the centrefold photo (of 4001, 4520 and 44211, captured at Valley Heights by Stephen Daymond, which is nothing short of exceptional – this type of photo would make an excellent print to hang on the wall. Similarly, a lot of the photos of the unit under restoration are superb, covering many important stages of the overhaul process in detail, with captions to match. Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the photography is that a lot of the images of the locomotive after restoration are rather lacklustre – considering how well photographed heritage trains in NSW are, it seems unfortunate that a lot of the photographs of the locomotive on tours (while good photographs when viewed on their own) fall flat. The cover photograph should grab the reader’s attention and compel them to remove the title from the shelf, however the lack of vibrant colour and contrast in the cover photo meant that I almost walked past this book without noticing it. Obviously the occasion on which the cover photo was captured (4001’s official relaunch into service) is a significant event that should not go unrecognised, but it is not be the most suitable shot for the cover of a book.

The personal recollections at the back of the book are a nice touch – as the story of 4001’s return to service is a personal one for those people involved, it makes sense that personal recollections detailing their attachment to the class, and indeed the locomotive have a strong place in any publication. Personal history is often as important as the actual history of the class – it’s all well and good to read that the 40 Class worked on the Short North, North Coast and Main Southern Lines, but it’s another thing to read the recollections of those people who were there, especially when written in such an easy to read style.

A lot of books and magazine articles about locomotives are very clinical to the point that the reader can become bored and lose interest in the subject matter, a death by detail if you will. Not so in this book, the text maintains the readers interest throughout, striking a good mix between informative and enjoyable, flowing easily from one paragraph to the next.

Considering the book price is comparable to that of a magazine, it is an excellent suggestion to anyone who is interested in the story of this fascinating locomotive. I’ll admit to always being a fan of the 40 Class (I was line-side for the NSWRTM tour to Bathurst to celebrate the loco’s return to service), and I consider this book an excellent addition to my collection.

The Pioneer Is Back
Allan Leaver, Senior Curator NSWRTM
Published October 2011
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