Product reviewed: Surviving World Steam Locomotives
Reviewer: Paul Pavlinovich
Date Reviewed: 17 Jan 2001
Overall Rating (0 = Terrible, 5 = Satisfactory, 10 = Magnificent): 8
Product made available for review by: James Heffner
Product is available from: James Heffner
Link to product homepage http://www.pernet.net/~james1/us_steam Price $A
Click on the image for a clear full size view of the database.
Installation & Environment
Surviving World Steam Locomotives is as the title suggests a database of surviving world steam locomotives. The database is designed to operate under the MS Windows environment. For the review I installed it under both Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0. It installed easily, and performed under both environments well. As is normal with all good Windows software the application includes a simple installer/uninstaller. The application installs into its own directory and includes the stub version of Microsoft Access making the application independent of your installed environment. The application consumed 68.3MB of hard disk space. Since the application is dependant on Microsoft Access it will not operate in any environment apart from MS Windows.
The Windows 98 test computer was a generic desktop Pentium @ 166Mhz with 64MB of RAM. The NT 4.0 test computer was a Dell Laptop Pentim II @ 500MHz with 256MB of RAM.
Using the software
After flicking through a few entries of the database, I took a look at the help system which comes with the software. Through the standard Windows Help Interface there is a comprehensive and easily understood help document. After selecting Help/Contents from the menu, the user is presented with an image of the database screen. To get help, the user simply clicks on the area of the database screen that they are curious about. This is very intuitive and an improvement over the help normally offered by this sort of application. Importantly while the help window is open, the database itself is still available. This allows the user to be jumping back and forth between the main window and the help window as they need to.
When you first open the database, the records are presented in the order in which they were entered into the database. You can re-sort the database by any of its fields except 'notes', which the touch of a button. On the slow machine this took about 30 seconds and on the fast machine about 5 seconds. The ability to sort the database will make it easy to scroll through the available records to find what you are interested in if you do not have enough detail to search.
A text search is available which seems to search all fields, for example I entered the name of my favorite locomotive 'Puffing Billy' which the database found for me about 5 seconds later. The only complaint I have about both the search and sort sections is that the software does not change the cursor to the traditional hour glass to inform the user that the software is busy handling their request. The user is left not knowing what (if anything) is happening until the query is completed. This is a trivial oversight and does not detract from the quality of the product once you are used to it.
You are not restricted to viewing the database page by page, the software has a listing feature which produces a report using the most recently selected sort of all items. I could not find any way to report on only a subset, for example all two truck Shays which would be a handy feature for the future. This is mitigated somewhat by the lack of protection on the database which means you can open the database “in the raw” using Microsoft Access and run any kind of query you want on the existing tables. In fact, while doing this I found a section of the database which lists many of the locomotives from the TV series "Thomas The Tank Engine"!
The database contains 17,579 entries of locomotives. The included detail for each locomotive is:
Included with the database are seventeen sound files recording various aspects of steam locomotive operation which are linked to the appropriate entry within the database.
- FM Whyte's Wheel Arrangement;
- Builder's number;
- Build year;
- Current Location;
- Line the locomotive operated on;
- Brief Notes; and
- A picture (500 of the entries have pictures).
Mining through the data I discovered that all 17,579 records are for locomotives (as the title would suggest), there do not seem to be any sundry entries. The database truly does span the world, there are 128 countries in the database and the breakdown is as follows:
I expect that there are more locomotives surviving in the world than are available in this database, but I also expect that as this database spreads around the world, the readers will submit updates to the Author to expand the product. Right now it is undoubtably a useful reference for the engine chaser; the modeller; and the historian. Surviving Steam Locomotives would be a good start for anyone seeking a particular class of locomotive, or indeed even a particular locomotive. Putting it simply, I would buy this product.
Surviving World Steam Locomotives is produced by James Heffner with data from Wes Barris and Geof Coward.
Note 1: F. M. Whyte's system of classification is used to describe the wheel arrangement of conventional steam locomotives. In this system, the first number is the number of leading wheels, and the last is the number of trailing wheels. The middle number (or numbers) give the number and arrangement of drivers. A "T" at the end indicates a tank engine; C indicates a camelback engine; cog indicates a cog or rack engine, F indicates a fireless engine; VB indicates an engine with a vertical boiler; and CA indicates a compressed air locomotive.