As a little boy in England, my mum used to take me with her to her singing lessons. We lived in East Sheen, SW London, and walked by Mortlake train station on our way. Just 3 years old, the thing I remember is the green steam engines that pulled into the station. Yes, I’m that old. Steam trains still ran the rails back in the early 1950s. That engine green has been my favourite colour ever since.
I am not an avid trainspotter. Those folk are seriously dedicated to all things train. Geeks really. Probably why Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory loves them so much. Trainspotters stand on railway bridges for hours, recording train types and times on all the various lines. They know the difference between an SR and a BR designed locomotive. They rhyme off types of locomotives, their engine numbers and everything technical. Many have back garden working model railways at best and indoor model railways at the least.
That isn’t me. I just love them when I see them. That’s why my visit this past weekend to the National Railway Museum in York, England, was like a trip back in time. I was a kid again (still, my best friend would say).
I was at the museum back in 1973. Things have changed since then. More engines and bigger and better displays. The museum is free. The only difference for me is that back in 1973 you could climb inside the locomotives and all over the trains. Not so any more. Makes sense. There are a few on view that can be accessed, like the Japanese Bullet and a Pullman car from the 1950s.
The Bullet seems quite spacious. The Pullman is more comfortable, but not as roomy. I could have sat in the Pullman all day. But more awaited. So much more. It’s like train paradise.
There are the Mallard and the Dutchess of Hamilton. The latter is a sleek, red machine that has been every colour and all over the place. It was once disguised as her sister locomotive and sent to America for the World’s Fair, sent back, painted wartime black, then green and restored to red. The Dutches, built in 1938 in Crewe, has had different looks too, it’s final streamlined appearance being what you see below. The blue Mallard, an A4 class locomotive, had 6 sisters, but the Mallard, also built in 1938, was the fastest. Its landspeed record of 126 mph has never been broken by a steam train.
The gold lines along the sides of The Dutchess are cheat stripes meant to give the illusion of speed. Fast as it was, it was no Mallard. Pretty though. In one of the Thomas The Tank Engine books both the Mallard and The Dutchess are featured. Worth a look if you have kids….or are still one yourself. The Dutchess (in an earlier form) and Mallard show up in ‘Thomas and the Great Railway Show’.
In a separate hall, the Royal coaches and locomotives appear along with normal passenger coaches, working trains, mail and luggage coaches, freight cars, a milk tanker car and station vehicles. Quite an array. Would love to have had longer to linger, but the pack grew restless. They would be my best friend, her two sons, her mum and dad and Uncle Leo. I’ll give you a sample of those displays….
But the grand lady (or gentleman in this case) of them all was The Flying Scotsman which arrived just the day before from King’s Cross station in London., completely restored over 10 years for £4.2 million. Right at the back of the museum, outside, still steaming and sleek as they come stood the big green machine. The first steam locomotive to break 100mph by rail, The Flying Scotsman was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and built in Doncaster in 1923. It rolled out for service on the 24th February 1923 as Engine No. 1472.
The next year it was featured at the British Empire Exhibition in London with the new Engine No. 4472. Since then, it travelled over 2 million miles while in service until taken out of service in 1963. Various owners bought the locomotive and restored parts of it. The Flying Scotsman then toured The United States and Canada extensively between 1969-1973 and then Australia between 1988 and ’89. All the shunting about took its toll. A subsequent owner went bankrupt and the Scotsman was left to fall apart until 2006. It has been renumbered since being No. 4472 as No.502, then No.503 and finally No.60103. 10 years later, here it is, in all its spleandour back where it belongs. What a treat it was to see it.
We stayed at a hotel just outside York near Leo’s place. The lady behind the reception desk, we discovered, was an avid train fan, but of modern trains, not so much of steam. She and her husband worked in the dining car of one of the 125 class intercity trains that have been about since the late 1970s. I took the Intercity 125 back in 1978 when I was visiting Leo in York with my parents and brother. Great train.
We told the young woman that we lived on a narrowboat in the south. She became so excited. “I’d love to do that,” she said. Then she thought for a moment. “Wait…I think I’d rather live on the train. What a great idea!”