Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Readers’ special: Mighty Mallard


MY ‘Notes from the sticks’ column on Saturday, in which I mentioned the steam locomotive Mallard, brought back memories for a number of readers.

Coopercap wrote:

I have never forgotten seeing Mallard as an 11-year-old in York station in 1959. Magnificent, even when the wheels weren’t turning.

Shaunr19 wrote:

That train is beautiful. In 1939 it must have looked to the average man like something from space. How did we go from being so innovative and forward-looking to the defeatist navel-gazing nation we are today? Boy, we really lost our mojo.

David wrote:

Thank you Margaret for the short video of the A4, Mallard. That was quite a sight!

As a young lad our small village was a short bike ride away from the mainline between Fishguard and London, so I saw all the best trains on the Great Western Railway, which was huge fun. The A4s were a bit exotic, being late models, made at the peak of steam engineering – their streamlined shape taking a step towards the space age.

I shan’t write anything self-incriminating about placing ‘old’ pennies on the line to make them ever flatter, even if they did fly out in all directions after the train had squeezed them. No, I didn’t ever do that!

Annie Luctor replied:

Pennies on the line? I grew up in 1950s Axminster where, besides having things like the ACE and the Devon Belle to entertain us, we had the Axminster-Lyme Regis branch, known to locals as The Lyme Billy. Just where the line climbed out over the main line lay a WW2 pill-box (may be still there?) on the embankment. We would venture into this foul-smelling thing, where the viewing/gun slot was positioned only a very short distance from the track, and at the same height as the rail. In the interests of expanding our lessons in physics, we would place pennies and ha’pennies on the line. It was very satisfying to see close up what an Adams Radial could do to HM’s face . . .

Ah, the nostalgia is almost overpowering.

David replied:

We competed to get the biggest, most flattened pennies. The signal box was a quarter of a mile away, too far for the dutiful signalman to come and sort us out. So in one fell swoop we ‘reinterpreted’ both Railways Bye Laws and defaced coins of the realm.

If we became bored with that, we’d mess about on a raft we made from two old oil drums, some planks and ropes, which we floated on an eight foot wide drainage ditch.

‘Twas a great boyhood, with all that open space and freedom, but of course, ungrateful wretches, we didn’t realise that at the time. I feel deeply sorry for the over-protected, over-organised computer kids today.

Since we are not the BBC, we include a different point of view from Louise, who wrote:

At the risk of sounding like a maiden aunt whose boiled sweet has gone down the wrong way or a Philistine to some on this forum, I do not like steam trains.

My memory of them goes back to the late 1950s when I used to stand on the platform with my father and my school trunk, after the school holidays, waiting for one of these steam trains to pull into the station, hissing out steam just above the platform and belching thick black smoke. At the end of your journey it was not uncommon to find soot on your arms, hair and clothes.

As far as I am concerned they are dirty, filthy things and you could not pay me to go on one of them now. Mind you, they were not the sleek-looking engines featured in this article but I do not have any romantic feelings towards them whatsoever.

Back to the majority opinion and Derek Reynolds, who wrote:

Mallard I think is more beautiful without the side plates covering the wheels and motion – showing its muscles so to speak. I use to race from school to see which loco was pulling the ‘Elizabethan’ as it rushed through Wood Green station on its way to Edinburgh. More often than not it was one of Gresley’s A4s. It was part of a railway exhibition at Noel Park goods yard some time in the fifties, and amongst many, I got to stand on the footplate whilst in steam. We were most impressed.


In response to the commenters who mentioned the side plates or valances, which were in the original design but were removed during the war for easier maintenance access, here is a video showing A4s both with and without.

Those who would like to see a steam locomotive in action can check the UKsteam Info website, which lists nearly all the planned runs. Flying Scotsman has its own website.

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