Monday, February 24, 2014

The Weekly MUSE: Locomotives

Steam Locomotive
Photo by: Vestman

Last week we talked about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. This secret system of paths and stations helped Tubman free hundreds of African American slaves!

This week we are going to take a look at the not-so-secret railroad. In particular we are going to look at this railroad’s giant IRON HORSES we call LOCOMOTIVES!

All, aboard, Creative Writers! We’ve found our MUSE!

Unlike Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad, it’s NO secret when a 200 ton locomotive chugs down the railway. These beasts make no effort to roll through town silently.

Take a look at a steam locomotive in action below!

Like I mentioned above, what you just saw was a STEAM locomotive. The engine of this locomotive is powered by steam.

Here is how it works. In most steam engines, coal is fed to a boiler that heats water to make steam. This steam creates pressure, which is used to PUSH the pistons. The pistons PUSH and PULL the rods that make the wheels move, making the classic “chugga-chugga” sound.

How did I learn this? I read Brian Floca’s new book called LOCOMOTIVE. This book just won the Caldecott Medal for best illustrations.

George Stephenson  (1781-1848)

After further research, I learned that the first steam locomotive was invented by George Stephenson of Great Britain in 1820’s.

Stephenson's Rocket Train (first steam locomotive)

Locomotives were first used to transport coal from the coal mines. Later, locomotives were used to power passenger trains.

Pretty soon, traveling by train would become the most popular form of transportation. And this would last until the 1950’s and 60’s when it became popular to travel by AIRPLANE!

Diesel Locomotive
Photo by: Seth J.

Today, locomotives still exist, but most are powered by diesel fuel. These locomotives are still used to transport people across the country, but most are used to transport cargo.

Before I send you on your way to create your own fascinating stories about locomotives, can you think of any stories where locomotives are the MUSE?

What about this one???

That movie clip came from the POLAR EXPRESS. As you can see, the conductor is the captain of the train. The engineer takes the orders.

With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these what if questions will help you get started.

WHAT IF your main character was a kid and the youngest conductor on the railroad?

WHAT IF you your story’s setting was on a train powered by a steam locomotive? What if the main characters were not human?

WHAT IF the locomotive in your story was not taking the passengers to a normal destination like Seattle or Chicago? Instead, this locomotive was taking passengers to a magical place like Hogwarts or the North Pole. Use these destinations as examples, but create your own.

The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own what if questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.

So, grab a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.

With Imagination,

Professor Watermelon

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