I like trains. I've always had a mild interest in trains, especially their effect on the evolution of our country. Trains have such a rich history in the US. I won't bore you with the details of steam trains, because Wikipedia has done a far better job of explaining them than I ever could.
Because of my recent webserial undertaking, I've been working on the Railroad! all the live long day. (yeah, that never gets old!) It started when I was watching True Grit, and the first few minutes showed a train pulling into a station to pick up a corpse to take back east. For some unearthly reason, that image, combined with the western wonderland that is the movie True Grit, I got an idea for a steampunk western stuck in my craw. The idea incubated while I finished my zombie road trip novel, and in January I started work on what turned into the webserial. Six months and 90k later, I have the first ten chapters posted and am about to finish the first 'novel' collection of chapters.
I love steampunk. I love to read it, listen to steampunk inspired music, watch steampunk movies, and especially write steampunk! So, I like steam trains and I like steampunk. Seemed a natural combination that the two should meet in my work. Only problem was ... just 'cause I like something, don't mean I know jack about it. The first step was to research. I did loads of web browsing and reading. I must admit most of the technical aspects of the Sleipnir were created from the information provided by various rail enthusiast sites and, of course, Wikipedia. I bought a few steam train books to fill out my knowledge and gawk at the awesome photos, but still, I felt like I was missing something. My writing suffered because though I knew how a train worked and the measurements and the history, I didn't have the feel of it.
Then the husband talked me into getting my fat rump on an actual steam train. Good idea, but it can be very expensive. But, by luck of our local, and a little web digging, I learned we live nary two hours from the NC Transportation Museum. And that museum's main feature is, yes, you guessed it ... TRAINS!
We spent all day at the museum, looking at the various exhibits and riding the rails. It was "Family Rail Days" festival, so they had a special where we could ride all we wanted, and we did. The train ride was diesel, but the cars were similar to the ones pulled by the steam trains. They also had special steam train exhibits because of the festival, so I got up close and personal with all kinds of trains. I even got to board and explore an old medical car and a mail car. The private sleeper cars were on display but you couldn't go inside. A few folks from some model train clubs were there, but they were kind of snobby. ( I tried to talk to a few of them about Railroad! and the possibility of adding their link, but no one wanted to talk trains. They just wanted to show off their trains.) A bluegrass band played, and there were some craft stuff for sale, but it was far too hot to really enjoy any of it. (it got about 93 or so)
I came away with tons of pictures (which I won't waste a whole bunch of space here with) and more importantly invaluable inspiration. In fact, I might have to go back and adjust some descriptions of my own steampunk train, now that I understand a few things about them. I had some questions that the web wasn't answering, but laying hands on a steam train cured all that.
I tell you all this because first of all I like to brag about having a good time, especially with my wonderful better half, but also because I would like to encourage my fellow authors to get some hands on research of your own. Reading articles on Wiki, reading books, watching movies ... those are all fine ways to research a topic for your work. But there is nothing like a good old fashioned experience for the win!
All aboard! WHOO WOOOO!