Re: Re:software engineer
(Firing a locomotive is also an art form, there's a lot more to it than just shovelling coal.)
I've spent way to little time around steam locos and other steam engines/engineers, but did work for a guy who'd spent a long time in the boiler room of a refurbished passenger steam boat.
All sorts of tricky things, like having the boiler hot enough when it is time to sail that it is at full pressure, but not quite so hot it trips any of the release valves (wasted steam is lost water), and while sailing having enough pressure for emergency manoeuvring but not wasting any fuel in the process. Locos are a little less involved but still beyond the skill of most mere mortals, especially those who are unusually proud of their BBQing skills.. Loco firemen (a skill class itself in NZ that took a long apprenticeship) still have to have the train ready to move on schedule, and of course have to know some of what's coming so they can build up in the time of a long climb or relax a little for a long descent, know when they need to stop to top-off the boiler/tender, know when and for how long to open the mud valves(IIRC the correct name - gets rid of sludge build up from using impure water - most common cause for the large lets of steam most of us think are a part of the normal operation of the engine rather than an occasional removal of by-products thanks to hollywood).
As to the romance of steam.. I think it's stuff to do with the fact you can see the works, and in my case an admiration of the effort and skill in casting, machining, maintaining and operating the things - especially given how many are still in fine working order after 100 years or more. Of course, many people who romance them never even rode with let alone operated some "temperamental bitch overdue for the scrap heap or better, a dumping off the rails into an ocean grave".
One thing I've never understood though... Why the hell were most of the US locos so effing fugly? Look like their aesthetics were designed by a manager with an arts degree rather than by someone with real engineering skill.