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Birthday salute for the Dwight D Eisenhower locomotive
9:42am Thursday 5th September 2013 in Features
The Dwight D Eisenhower stands alongside Mallard at the Great Gathering of A4-class locomotives at the NRM in July
One of the world’s most famous steam locomotives marked its birthday this week. MATT CLARK tells how it was saved.
THIS year has been all about celebrating the 75th anniversary of Mallard’s world speed record at the National Railway Museum. But its transatlantic sibling is also enjoying a taste of celebrity.
Last week Dwight D Eisenhower starred with its famous sister in a TV documentary and today is the loco’s 76th birthday. So with Mallard away on tour, now is Dwight’s chance to steal the limelight.
Like the world’s fastest locomotive, it was one of a fleet of 35 A4-class locomotives, known as the glamorous streamlined ‘racehorses’ of the railway world, which from the late ’thirties until the 1960s, hauled luxurious services between London and the North. The Flagship was the sumptuous Silver Jubilee, Britain’s first streamlined train which, when introduced in September 1935, cut the journey time between the capital and Newcastle to four hours.
Dwight D Eisenhower, entered service with the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) as the Golden Shuttle two years later and initially carried the same garter-blue livery as Mallard.
But it soon began to rival Silver Jubilee when LNER launched a luxury service for West Yorkshire’s wool barons and Golden Shuttle became one of two locomotives specially selected to link Bradford and Leeds with London Kings Cross.
However, with the end of the Second World War came an end to elitist travel, the locomotive was renamed Dwight D Eisenhower after the commanding general of the victorious forces and it again ran the route between London and Edinburgh.
But something else was coming to an end. By 1960 the writing was firmly on the wall for the golden age of steam and only three years after the railways were nationalised in 1948, British Rail unveiled its modernisation plan.
Steam would be swept away and the railways would move on. The car industry was booming and when Minister for Transport, Ernest Marples opened the M1 he called it the beginning of “a golden new tomorrow”.
By 1968 steam locomotives were withdrawn by the score and waited to be scrapped. Even the pin-up girls, Mallard and her sister A4s, were not immune.
Today only six of them survive, thanks to steam buffs, because the NRM didn’t exist until 1975 and when a locomotive was earmarked for preservation there was always the question of where to put it.
Dwight didn’t attract anyone’s attention and had it not been named after America’s 34th President and war general, the loco would also have been turned into scrap metal.
Instead it was given to the American people as a gift to be displayed at their new National Railroad Museum.
Last summer Dwight came home again, for the first time in almost half a century, to help to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mallard breaking the world speed record in style.
It was loaned to the NRM for two years in return for a cosmetic restoration by UK-based experts, which was carried out by Heritage Painting, along with the museum’s conservation team.
The work took 1,000 man-hours, 65 litres of body filler, 55 litres of paint and 50 litres of white spirit. Anthony Coulls, senior curator of railway vehicles at the NRM said: “All the A4s are crowd-pleasers and visitors have been flooding in to see our guest star’s new look since it went on display in the Great Hall in February. We hope more visitors will come and spend some quality time with it this month.”
Dwight D Eisenhower remains on show in the Great Hall with travelling companion Dominion of Canada and there will be two more chances to see all six sisters in their international family reunion at next month’s Autumn Great Gathering and November’s Thirties Gathering where we will finally say a sad goodbye to Dwight.
But that’s a while off yet. For now let’s all join in by wishing the grand old dame many happy returns of the day.
• For more information on the National Railway Museum’s 75th anniversary events for this year ands next visit nrm.org.uk/mallard75
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