Quotes Engineers I

March 31st to April 6th


It is curious that no man knows how the rods were straightened. It seems to them that they stood through days and nights slowly sliding a bar backwards and forwards through a white glow that was part of the ship. They remember an intolerable noise in their burning heads from the walls of the stoke-hole, and they remember being savagely beaten by men whose eyes seemed asleep.


This is from “The Devil and the Deep Sea“, collected in The Day’s Work.

The Haliotis, a small iron cargo steamer, has been fishing illegally for pearls in East Indian waters. They were fired on by a local naval vessel, and a shell had wrecked their engines. Here, imprisoned on the ship, they are striving to repair her, and wreak revenge.

Young Ottley jumped into the cab and turned off all the steam he could find, for there was a good deal escaping. Then he took the lantern and dived under the drive-wheels, where he lay face up, investigating among spurts of hot water. “Doocid plucky,” said the subaltern. “I shouldn’t like to do that myself.


This is from “The Bold Prentice” (1895 – collected in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts  and Guides.

Young Ottley is an apprentice in the workshops of one of the biggest Indian railway companies. Like many young men in the age of steam, his ambition is to be an engine-driver.

He makes friends with Olaf Swanson, a notable driver, who has written a manual, his ‘vademecome’, on how to repair damaged locomotives.

One night he is on his way to a rifle competition as a passenger, when one of the cylinders on the train’s engine blows up. The driver, fearful for his life amidst steam and scalding water, will do nothing. But Young Ottley, mustering the help of a squad of British soldiers, and remembering Olaf’s book, disconnects the wrecked cylinder and takes the train on across Bengal in the darkness, through pouring rain and flood.

The turbines whistle reflectively. From the low-arched expansion-tanks on either side the valves descend pillarwise to the turbine-chests, and thence the obedient gas whirls through the spirals of blades with a force that would whip the teeth out of a power saw.


This is from “With the Night Mail ” (1905) collected in Actions and Reactions.

It is the year 2000, and – powered by ‘Fleury’s Ray’ – a host of aircraft are  flying across the world from continent  to continent. The story-teller is on board a mail plane, en route from London to Quebec.

Kipling published this story only two years after the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in America.