Sell-out shock for history of Brunel's line
A £20 book describing what was ultimately a faulty railway system has turned out to be a Devon bestseller.
It was initially planned for a small print run, but such has been the demand for Brunel's Atmospheric Railway, that a reprint is being rushed through.
The wonderfully illustrated book is the product of the Broad Gauge Society and the Friends of Devon Archives.
A delighted Dr Todd Gray, Exeter author, historian and chairman of the Friends of Devon Archives, said: "There are some copies still available in bookshops and the Broad Gauge Society, the co-publisher, has some copies mainly for its members, but we are having to reprint. Short Run Press in Sowton is hurriedly printing more so that we are able to meet demand.
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"We have sold 700 copies in only two months.
At the heart of the book are the 25 extraordinary watercolours painted by William Dawson in 1848, showing the entire route of the railway from Exeter to Totnes in great detail, featuring the engine houses and apparatus of the Atmospheric Railway – and St Thomas railway station in its pomp.
Paul Garnsworthy, author of the book, said: "Everything you think you know about the Atmospheric is probably wrong!
"Brunel did not invent the system (he just thought it would be suitable for South Devon), it was not a complete technical failure (reliability figures were slightly better than modern-day ones), South Devon was not the only example (there were three others, one of which ran for 13 years), and – you've guessed it – nobody has actually proved that any rat ever actually feasted on a leather valve!"
The 104-page book includes information on the development of atmospheric traction, William Dawson and his family, a full history of the atmospheric system on the South Devon, a selection of atmospheric paintings, an account of the second phase 'horizontal' engine houses beyond Newton, details of South Devon Railway piston carriages, brief information on the other three atmospheric railways which were built and biographical details of the principal personalities involved.