Wednesday, 3 July 2013

One hundred and twenty six?!

75 years ago this tea time, Joe Duddington earned himself a place in the history books:

"With my lovely blue streamlined engine Mallard, we drew away from Grantham. I accelerated up the bank to Stoke Summit an' passed Stoke Box at eighty five. Once over the top, I gave Mallard her head, and she jumped to it like a live thing!

Then, 'Undred 'n eight. 'Undred an' nine. 'Undred an' ten.

"Go on, old Girl", I thought. "You can do better 'n this!" So I nursed 'er, and shot through Little Bytham at 'Undred an' twenty three. And in the next one an' quarter 'mile, the needle crept up further.

'Undred twenty three and 'alf. Undred twenty fower. 'Undred twenty five. An' then for quarter of a mile, while they tell me the folks in th' car 'eld their breaths... 'Undred twenty six mile per hour. One 'undred n'twenty six? Tha' wus th' fastest a steam locomotive 'ad ever been driven in th' world."

Until just before they set off back towards London, not even everyone in the train, supposedly a 'brake test special', knew that a world record attempt was on the cards.

'Mallard' was only a few months old - just 'run in' really, and Joe reckoned he could have gone even quicker in the right circumstances, but thanks to the Second World War, a planned attempt to go faster in the autumn of 1939 never came to pass. Her record 126mph run stands to this day as a world record for a steam train.

Tommy Bray, Joe's fireman, must have been right on top of his game, too, as they hurtled along the East Coast Main Line. I ride on the footplate of steam locomotives at 75mph, and have ridden diesels at well over 100, and no matter how well an 'A4' rides at speed, the physical toil, whilst travelling at that speed, is something to marvel at.

All these years later, Mallard's record still stands, despite murmurings from the USA, and over the coming weeks it will be celebrated with what you have dubbed 'Mallard's Party' - which I think is a good way of putting it!

In the 1960s, when even 'A4s' were going back to their Doncaster birthplace, straight from service, to be cut up for scrap, two of the engines were re-painted and given away, as a kind of 'diplomatic gift'. 60008 'Dwight D. Eisenhower' went via Southampton and New York to a museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, later to be joined on the North American continent by 'Dominion of Canada', 60010.

Despite both having gone to countries with shortages neither of British ex-pats, nor railway enthusiasts, it is fair to say that neither engine was particularly well cared for. In fact, 'Dominion of Canada' was not only a tatty, rusty mess but sporting a great big dent in the iconic streamlined nose, made, apparently, by hitting it with a 'buckeye' coupling on a Canadian vehicle. '60008', meanwhile, had suffered the indignity of having her valve gear covered in silver paint, instead of being polished. Meantime, all four 'A4s' left here have steamed - three are still busy working on the main line and 'Mallard' takes pride of place at the National Railway Museum, in York. Their long lost sisters have quietly rotted.

To cut a long story short, after many years of saying 'no', the Americans and Canadians were persuaded to loan their locos for a visit to celebrate their classmate's record, on the condition that the NRM not only paid for it but did them up whilst they were here! The total cost of having the engines with us for little over a year is astonishing, and the costs are seemingly a source of some embarrassment to some of those involved. The money spent could have had 'Mallard' back in steam, as she was for the 50th anniversary. It might even have finished 'Flying Scotsman' off, but that's another story!

Nevertheless, enough people were desperate to see those engines back again, even if only briefly, that they stumped up the money.

'4489', as Dominion of Canada has become once more, looks absolutely stunning now, restored to her original condition, complete with Canadian style bell and whistle (Big Grandad remembers hearing that and knowing which engine it would be, when he was a boy!) and garter blue paint. We will see all six engines on Saturday, and that's the one I am looking forward to seeing the most - but by next spring, they will be gone, back to their hitherto less than careful, and seemingly less than enthusiastic, owners. That will be that.

What a shame, that the two engines could not return to steam here (for there is plenty of opportunity for them, and, indeed, a prospective investor!) with links to their respective embassies, and working visits to their adoptive home countries. Time will tell what happens to them this time round, but I wouldn't bet on seeing either again with my own eyes.

The story of those two engines  is not unlike yours, son, except you were never given away willingly, you were taken by force.

Each brief, hectic visit you spend with us, like those two shining engines in the museum at York on Saturday, is a glimpse of what could be. Objectively, you are in better hands. I no longer hesitate to say that. Your progress with reading, writing, speech and other academic basics is being hampered by inability, inattention and disinterest at home. You are at risk of falling short of your potential.

Like those two engines, you are loved and would be cared for better by those you leave behind, but the vanity of the 'owning' party requires that things stay as they are; like Mallard, as Joe Duddington pushed her towards the history books, 'you can do better than this' - but we can't hope to 'nurse' you to help you achieve it, with the lot we have now.

There is so much you continue to miss out on because I am only your Dad one full day every three weeks. I am your sister's Dad every day, and time will tell how you get on comparatively. In years to come, Step-Mum and I hope neither of you will feel hard done to. For now, we can but pray and strive for things to get better for you, and in the meantime, do our best to make what time we have, special. I know you are looking forward to going to York this weekend and seeing that once-in-a-lifetime lineup of steam superpower.

'Mallard' became the fastest steam engine in the world, 75 years ago this tea time, because Joe Duddington and Tommy Bray used the best of their skills and exhaustive physical effort to propel her to that achievement. Having at long last broken the total stranglehold that kept us apart completely for 666 days and left you alienated, I will keep them in mind as I continue fight for what's right, and strive to do my best to help make you, my son, the very best you can be.

See you on Friday, mate. I'll be the first parent at the gate, as usual.

Love from Daddy

Daddy is back, and is grateful to the many named and anonymous sources of kindly enquiry and support over the last few months, during which time the stress of extensive litigation and the impossibility of speaking candidly and with his customary authenticity without breaking arcane court secrecy rules has made (necessarily anonymous) blogging awkward.

Daddy and Step-Mum now have a little girl of their own, whom Daddy cares for, full-time. The news for Daddy and his son is better than it was, but still not good, as will become apparent over time. They were reunited in October 2012, by court order, after 666 days of forced separation.