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By Ellen Tait on

Mallard 75 – the story so far

Ellen Tait reveals the behind-the-scenes work that went in to reuniting six A4 locomotives for a big anniversary.

It’s been an amazing year as over 200,000 people from across the world have joined us here in York to celebrate Mallard’s world steam speed record. I’ve been following the progress of the A4s since I saw Dominion of Canada and Dwight D. Eisenhower touch English soil so many months ago on a cold windy morning stood at Liverpool Docks – and what a journey it has been! Our thanks go out to everyone involved in making Mallard 75 such a year to remember – not just the people who made the project possible (and what a project it has been!) but to anyone who has lent their voice to the celebrations. With the A4s coming back together for the Great Goodbye, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my favourite pics, videos and stories of Mallard 75 to date so here’s my (admittedly very limited) account of Mallard 75 – the story so far.

I guess it makes sense to start at the start and where would this account be without a mention of the historic day on 3 July 1938 when Mallard raced down Stoke Bank hitting speeds of 126mph.  Making it the fastest steam loco in the world, this secured the blue streak a place in the history books. We often focus on the amazing machine that made this possible but for me it’s this pic that sums up that day. An unassuming crew stood in front of their loco with only a few smiles to suggest they’ve just made history.

The first three figures in the image below were well known to the historical record but the guard, Henry, was previously unknown. It was the amazing publicity surrounding our event in July that resulted in his daughter stepping forward. Thanks to her images and family stories we’ve now filled a gap in our knowledge and ensured Henry’s role in these events is now well documented. This article goes into more detail – for me a great example of Mallard 75’s lasting legacy.

Mallard locomotive crew National Railway Museum
Fireman T Bray, driver J Duddington, inspector J Jenkins and guard Henry Croucher at Peterborough after record breaking run
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

Jumping forward a few decades we find ourselves in the 60s when we saw not only the end of steam on the British mainline but two of our six surviving A4s head overseas. Now in the care of Exporail and The National Railroad Museum in Wisconsin it is worth remembering that had they not moved abroad it is highly likely that our gatherings would be two locos short. It’s rare you see a whole engine suspended in mid air so here’s a pic of Dwight leaving for America all those years ago.

Dwight-locomotive-leaves-britain-National Railway Museum
Dwight is loaded on board MV Beaverbrook for passage to the United States.
© National Media Museum / SSPL.

Mallard has been with us since the museum opened in 1975 and has always been a very important and popular part of the National Collection. As a picture says a 1,000 words I’ll therefore move to the 80s when we marked the 50th anniversary of Mallard’s record. Mallard was restored for this occasion and even hauled some special tours around the country – and so the bar was set for subsequent anniversaries.

Mallard is displayed at Mallard 88 - the 50th anniversary with fellow A4s
Mallard is displayed at Mallard 88 – the 50th anniversary with fellow A4s
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

In the approach to the 75th anniversary we found ourselves in a challenging position. Mallard had been in preservation for half a century, and hadn’t seen its two overseas sisters for nearly as long. We needed to mark the occasion in a way befitting one of the world’s most famous engines, and a way that would be entirely unique. So the notion was born to unite all six surviving A4s for a truly once-in-a-lifetime series of events that would come to be known as Mallard 75.

The project to temporarily repatriate Dominion of Canada and Dwight D. Eisenhower deserves an entire film (in fact there is a great Monster Moves documentary that follows the story better then I ever could) but a glimpse of the scope and difficulties involved can be seen through Bob’s blog on moving Dwight D. Eisenhower 75 feet sideways and 1800 miles east. Needless to say, through the dedicated work of some amazing people, the project was a success and so just over a year ago I found myself standing by the docks at the crack of dawn.

An expanse of wet concrete may not sound like the perfect backdrop for a picture but that depends entirely upon what stands within it. Some of my favourite images are when the sun came out to greet the new arrivals, capturing the moment when (for me at least) the immense task set could become a physical reality.

locomotive-liverpool docks- National Railway Museum
Dwight D. Eisenhower stands at Liverpool Docks
© National Railway Museum / Ant Clausen

It wasn’t just me there either. On the other side of this tranquil scene, and another fav pic, is the multitude of press vying to get the best shot.

Locomotive-National Railway Museum - Mallard
Members of the press greet the repatriated A4s
© National Railway Museum / Ant Clausen

So at this point we have all six of Gresley’s A4s in the same country – surely the rest is plain sailing? Well this would be the case were it not for multiple shunts, the logistics of coordinating three operational locos and two major restoration plans (not to mention organising three Great Gathering’s).

The great folks at M Machine took on the task of cosmetically restoring Dominion of Canada whilst Heritage Painting, who had recently done a superb job repainting Mallard, took on Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hundreds of litres of paint later we had two gleaming locos ready for display.

Dominion of Canada- National Railway Museum
Dominion of Canada with the team that painted her.
Dwight D. Eisenhower- National Railway Museum
Mike O’ Connor of Heritage Painting numbers Dwight D Eisenhower
© National Railway Museum

Let’s not forget whilst all this was happening there were still three operational A4s touring the country. Loads of people joined us in counting down the days to the first gathering by sending us their pics as they were sighted all around. Well over 200 were submitted and my personal fav is Stephen Miller’s shot of Union of South Africa passing through Lincoln.

Union of South Africa - National Railway Museum
Union of South Africa powers out of Lincoln
© Stephen Miller

Finally, after months of preparation, it was July 2013 and all six surviving A4 locos descended on York for one of the greatest events in the history of railway preservation.

The morning of the 3rd was amazing as the nation’s press gathered to watch Mallard’s grand entrance and everyone there certainly felt the magic in what we had achieved. The public’s love for Mallard was then made clear as 140,00 people joined us in York for the reunion of all six A4 locos. This made the Great Gathering the most popular event we’ve ever hosted, if not one of the most popular events in the history of railway preservation!

140,000 people joined us for the Great Gathering
140,000 people joined us for the Great Gathering

For the Autumn Gathering the six A4s featured in our annual lighting competition, Locos in a Different Light, and it was stunning to see them bathed in beautiful displays. A selection of impressive photos can be found in this Flickr album but my personal choice is this image of Union of South Africa. Not only does it sum up the atmosphere of the event but it brings the engine to life in a staggering way.

National Railway Museum loco
Union of South Africa lit up beautifully by students from York College
© National Railway Museum

With two Gathering’ s done we are now on the final leg of this amazing journey. February’s Great Goodbye at our sister museum in Shildon is not only the last of our Mallard 75 events but in all likelihood the last ever chance to see all six A4s displayed together. Over spring the two overseas A4s will be heading to their respective museums to take pride of place in climate-controlled exhibitions.

With all the special photography events now sold out the special Gala Dinner is not only the perfect way to say goodbye but the last chance to get up close to the A4s with photo opportunities without the crowds. To book your place see our website.

One comment on “Mallard 75 – the story so far

  1. I used to fun across the road from school at lunchtime in Darlington in the 40’s to watch the “Flyer” go through Bank Top Station on its way to Edinburgh from Kings X. They were often pulled by the A4’s. I saw all of these mentioned, many times.. I seem to remember there were 32 or 34 in that class.
    Happy days!

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