Thursday, 27 October 2016

Scotsman Shots Fired: Our Guest Writer has his say

We hand over this edition of the BM to a Guest Writer, Simon AC Martin from the British Railway Stories.

Lively debate springs from our Facebook Page from time to time and more often than not, regarding 'that A3'. Shots Fired are also eminating from major Steam Railway magazines too.

Here is Simon's view.

Flying Scotsman: was it worth it?



Llangollen, March 15 1994.

It backs towards us slowly, clanking as it moves across rails and making hissing sounds as it passes under a bridge. Click click click go cameras from all directions, and there are murmurs of delight and contentment from everyone around me.

The light catches the top of the big green cylinder and it shines, and as it passes me slowly I see in big cream numerals 6 0 1 0 3 encircled by orange and black lining, below a pair of clear windows.

Big black wheels emerge next, and curved over the centre set of wheels in brass letters is the legend FLYING SCOTSMAN. There is smoke, and steam, and a smell of oil, burning and metal in the air.

It is hissing more loudly as it stops, and as it stops I see a flash of red at the front, and smoke pouring from a long, stubby chimney.

“60103” is also on the front, and seems to give this strange machine a face with its white letters surrounded by the polished black metal. I stare up at it, and slowly walk along the platform, my hands in my pockets, trying to make sense of it all. I have never seen anything like this before, and my father takes me by the hand to say 'Come on Simon, let's go to the cab and say hallo to the driver!'

We go to the windows and a kindly face looks down on us, and I smile at him. 'Hallo young sirs!' he says. 'Would you like to come in and have a look at our fire?'

My father lifts me into the cab and the first thing I see is this orange glow from an oval hole, roaring loudly with the sounds of flames licking around the belly of this beast. I stare in wonder as shovel after shovel of coarse black coal is thrown into it, and the orange glow disappears as a gun metal grey door is slammed shut by the man I know to be the beast's driver.

'It's been a great few weeks driving her', he is saying to my father, showing him all of the instruments in the cab, 'she is never short on steam though she is a bit tired, mechanically'. I don't have much time to wonder what that means, as his friend with the shovel has asked if I want to blow the whistle?

Dad lifts me up, and I hold onto the chain, and tug it gently. There's a pathetic 'pffffffft' and everyone laughs, and the driver says to me gently to 'really yank it!' So I do, and there's a loud, high pitched scream from the beast, melodious as I let go and echoing all around.

I look up in wonder at the roof, through which I see steam throwing itself into the air. It's coming from its 'safety valves', the driver tells my father, and that's the last thing they say before we have to climb down and let the next father and son in.

I tug on my dad's arm and tell him how much I loved blowing the whistle. He is smiling the smile of someone who loved it too. I don't know why it's so important to him that we had to see this beast, but I do know as I look around and gaze at its face, with 60103 in white letters on the black background, that she suddenly looks like less a beast and more a racehorse, with blinkers on, waiting patiently for the off and sitting obediently.

Mum and my sister are waiting by what dad calls a carriage, and we get in and Dad slams the door. I am surprised by this and tell him he shouldn't slam the doors. He laughs and says this is how all old trains used to close their doors.

I realise that this IS a train, and ask him if it's like Thomas from the show we both like. He says it is, but that the engine at the front is 'Flying Scotsman', and that she's a very special engine. I ask why it's a “she” when it's 'Flying ScotsMAN' and Dad says simply 'because she is'.

We see a man with a green flag outside, and he shouts 'right away', waves the flag and blows a little whistle.

The whistle I pulled earlier blasts into the air around us, and the engine roars and pants up front, pulling our carriages through the beautiful Welsh countryside. I have never been on a train before, not even the electric ones in London that Dad complains about bitterly as he leaves home every morning for work.

I have never been through a tunnel, but I see one and I am excited by this. The steam billows out the sides of the carriage past the windows, and the train descends into blackness, the lights coming on, and then fading as we exit the tunnel and back into the sunlight of the Welsh countryside.

We get out at a station, and everyone on the train climbs a bank, overlooking the train and the dark green locomotive at its head. I realise there is another engine, but all eyes are on the one with the elephant ears: the one with the stern, powerful face and the look of a racehorse.

All I know is that I can't take my eyes off her, as she whistles loudly, sending steam flying into the air, and she leaves her train behind as she pulls forward, snorting with every move of her metal rods and makes her way into the distance, the sun just setting as she departs.



***

The story above is a true story. It is also my story. This was my first experience of a steam locomotive in my life, and let's face it, it was a hell of a start to a lifelong love affair with railways.

She was just a steam locomotive, but the very first one I saw. She made an impression, purely by being there. I can still see that dark green livery (and to this day, I will always incorrectly call it "brunswick green" when it was never the like), the cream numerals, the gentle sprinkling of coal dust along the top of the boiler, the smell of the steam and the oil, and how much my father grinned when he was showing me around the engine.

This wasn't just a steam locomotive, this was a living, breathing machine that turned ordinary members of the public, like my father, into railway enthusiasts, even if it was only for an afternoon in Wales in 1994.

When I first clapped eyes on Flying Scotsman, I didn't know her back story. I had no idea of her more famous and iconic number (4472), I did not know about the Wembley Empire Exhibition, where she took centre stage with Pendennis Castle.

I had no idea about the first non-stop run, London King's Cross to Edinburgh, nor was I aware of the many strange events during her working life (such as running out of water due to injector failure on the London-Leicester route, due to fish getting caught in her tender's water tank!) and I most definitely had no inkling of the adventures she had had with at that point, three private owners across two continents and the length and breadth of Great Britain.

She has travelled further than any steam locomotive has ever done by far, clocking up more miles in a single journey than any steam locomotive will ever do (when it went to Alice Springs whilst on its tour of Australia in the 1980s). She was a genuine record breaker, undisputedly the first to be authenticated by dynamometer car in 1934. The first true speed record holder in many respects, however much the Great Western lobbyists may protest.

She was effectively the big publicity machine for the London and North Eastern Railway, from her earliest days and into the 1930s. Not only the poster child for the new non-stop service from 1928, and a record breaker as mentioned, she was taken around the country and posed with other great locomotives of the age, despite at times seeming out of place as one of the original A1s.

During the war years, and after up to her withdrawal in 1963, she was just one of the A3s. Much loved, as an icon, but in many respects a forgotten one. Then the news broke on the National Collection's decision to save Mallard and Green Arrow for preservation - but there was no space for her.



Campaigns were made, such as Save our Scotsman, but it was in Sir Alan Pegler that she found a saviour, and the rest, as they say, is history, with a repeat of the non stop run in 1968 with two apple green tenders, and two incredible trips across America to boot.

She has returned in great form, thanks to Ian Riley and his team, and her journey has been followed by people everywhere.

I was one of a lucky few on board her inaugural run from London's King's Cross in February this year, and in my interview with Dominic King for BBC Radio Kent on the ride home from York, I said that the story behind Flying Scotsman was people.

It was the story of people who built her, ran her, watered her, fed her, bought her, took her to America and Australia, sold her, fixed her, painted her and loved her. That this still remains true nearly a hundred years after her building cannot be understated.

She remains Britain's most treasured locomotive, the engine which shines a light on the pleasures of railway travel and brings people from all walks of life together.

There is in my opinion, no greater ambassador for the steam locomotive than this locomotive. In this year, which can only be described as "The year of the Flying Scotsman" she has been swarmed by people wherever she has gone.

I witnessed the power of her appeal first hand on her inaugural run, and whilst I cannot condone the line side trespassing by ordinary members of the public, I will defend theirs and anyone else's right to be enthused by the sight of this steam locomotive.

There are those who would have this steam locomotive stuffed and mounted in the National Railway Museum forever. There are those who decry that she has any actual achievements, dismissing her as nothing more than hype and pomp and circumstance. There are those who would angrily cry havoc, and unleash the dogs of war on their keyboards in protestation at the total cost of having Flying Scotsman under public ownership once more.

Indeed, Steam Railway Magazine ran a headline of £6.8 million: museum reveals cost of Flying Scotsman in its latest issue. It "asked strong questions" of the museum, but did not reveal what those questions were in that issue.

Online, many people from the comfort of their armchairs have bemoaned this price. They repeatedly state that it is "three times the cost of Tornado" or "you could have built three A3s for the price to overhaul this engine".

These are straw man arguments. These are the words of people with no real understanding of the power of publicity, for example. They say that you could build three Peppercorn A1s but at no point acknowledge that funding is dependent on support and enthusiasm. These are also the words of people who often don't understand the complexities of the custodianship of a real piece of Britain's engineering.

They do not understand the curatorial demands of having the locomotive in the national collection (constantly ignoring the inaccurate overhauls of years past, with an A4 boiler fitted, together with a number of incredibly dubious engineering fixes. These are available in the report put together by Bob Meanley for all to read, in the public domain).

These are normally the same people who demand for someone to lose their job, because they disagree with a decision made by those people. They're also the same people who have enjoyed the sight of Flying Scotsman in steam, but would condemn ever steaming it again and thus rob our children, and grandchildren of the spectacle of the world's most famous locomotive.



To them I will only say this.

If you are in any doubt about this locomotive's status. If you are in any doubt as to whether the money spent was worth it. If you do not feel that the locomotive does provide any positive contribution to the country, and to us, the taxpayers, I urge you to attend in future, an event at a steam railway somewhere in Great Britain in the near future, when Flying Scotsman is in attendance.

Railway enthusiasts are not born, they are made. They are made in a variety of ways. It could be the influence of a parent, or grandparent. It could be from the stories and films of Thomas the Tank Engine. It could be from the journey to school by train, or a fleeting glance of one of our mainline steam locomotives thundering by at speed.

The future of our movement depends on our youngest generations being able to have the fire of interest sparked at a young age. Memory is powerful, nostalgia more so, and if Flying Scotsman is capable of anything in this life, it is capable of one thing: impressing upon a young child the magnificence of the steam locomotive, and the green and pleasant lands on which it runs.

Was the £6.8 million - £2.3 million in purchase, £4.5 million in overhaul, of those vast sums donated by many individuals, companies and entrepreneurs, the Science Museum group and the like, worth it?


You tell me. I know my answer to that question.


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