Dick Simnel is the son of Sheepridge blacksmith and general mechanical tinkerer Ned Simnel and his wife, Elsie Simnel and is one of the central characters of Raising Steam. His father founded the first steam engines but did not master the art of controlling them so was vaporized in a cloud of pink steam (the colour obvious). His mother, in despair, returns to her home town and is a very successful midwife there, hiding her husband's interests from her son Dick. Eventually however, Dick discovers the library and the world of mathematics, becoming an expert in the 'sliding rule' and other 'weird stuff dreamed up by the philosophers of Ephebe where even camels can do logarithms on their toes." When his mother realizes that she cannot stop him from following in his father's footsteps (hopefully without the pink cloud of steam) she presents him with an endowment left by his late ex-pirate grandfather which he uses to fund and develop a practical locomotive and the plan for a continent-spanning rail way. When his funds are exhausted he heads off to the bright city lights of Ankh-Morpork, potentially just another of those naive child-like hopefuls who arrive in the big city with an idea and a will to make it work and too often are taken in by unscrupulous business men like Reacher Gilt. However, he is no idiot, which is why he did his research before arriving in the city and approached Sir Harry King for a partnership deal, knowing Harry to be a straight shooter. With a contract drawn up by Thunderbolt, the troll lawyer who is likely the only incorruptible and completely honest lawyer in the Guild and the close supervision of Vetinari acting through the proxy of Moist von Lipwig, probity and honesty - of the sort that matter - are assured from the word "go" for the The New Enterprise.
During the course of the novel, Dick expands on his ideas, comes up with new ones and constantly tinkers with his prototype engine, Iron Girder. He also begins to realize that there is more to life than trains after Sir Harry's niece brings him a bun and a cup of tea. With some advice and encouragement from Moist von Lipwig to not wait too long, they are 'walking out together by the end of the book with marriage likely in the cards. As Moist points out, Sir Harry will be delighted with his niece's choice, especially as it will keep the whole Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway in the family. Dick is knighted for his role in the creation of the railway at the same ceremony that honours Harry King with a dukedom. Moist gets nothing except the right to keep his head on his shoulders and it appears that they all live happily ever after. Since Raising Steam is the final book in the Moist von Lipwig series the reader will never know otherwise.
Dick Simnel the inventor of the train is based on George Stephenson (9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) the English civil and mechanical engineer who was born in Northumberland in Northern England and who is renowned as the "Father of Railways". Pratchett has also injected the mannerisms and life of Fred Dibnah (1938-2004) from Bolton, Lancashire, who was a steeplejack and mechanic and the epitome of the old-time Northern engineer into Dick's character as well. He became a celebrity on TV, initially for breath-taking steeplejacking, with a commentary delivered in a wry self-deprecating Northern voice, often hanging upside down a couple of hundred feet up. In later life, he had a second career restoring and driving old steam engines, which he loved and TV series were made about this aspect of his life. Although many of Dick Simnel's words stem from around northern England the key word he uses 'gradely' for 'great' or 'brilliant', identifies him with Lancashire and his other expressions and his flat cap link him to Fred.
Dick Simnel's name has obvious sexual connotations. Dick is the standard slang for a penis and 'Simnel' suggests 'seminal" which as well as the sexual meaning of 'semen' means 'groundbreaking' and 'pioneering. In effect, Dick's seed is creating the railway. In addition, Dick and Harry King make up two of the three 'everyman' figures, 'Tom, Dick and Harry" - just plain folk, suggesting that innovation and new ideas don't come from committees, aristocrats, governments and so called experts but come from regular, creative people.