My trainspotting era, you will be relieved to hear, ended rather a long time ago. Long enough for me to have forgotten which "streak", as the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) A4 locomotives were affectionately known, passed through Shildon station.
Shildon, the Durham town where I grew up, is widely recognised as the birthplace of rail travel. It does not lie on the London-Scotland main line but, when I was a lad, saw occasional main line traffic as a result of diversions. Mail trains also passed through.
I am sure I saw one streak-hauled train there, heading towards or from Shildon tunnel just north of the station. If I am right, it was either Quicksilver or Bittern. In truth, I recall with certainty only an old A1/A3 wreck - or so it looked - named after a successful racehorse, Galopin, trundling through the station one evening, probably pulling the mail train.
Of course it is also possible, given the tricks of memory, that I never saw a streak in Shildon at all. If so, I have now made up for it.
The most famous A4 loco was, of course, Mallard, which set a world speed record in 1938. This beautiful gleaming beast now stands haughtily in the Shildon's Locomotion railway museum, an offshoot of the National Railway Museum at York. Union of South Africa is also there and, later this month, they will be joined by the four other surviving locos.
My memory is not completely shot: I correctly recalled that speed as 126mph, though contemporary anoraks - including the streaks' creator, Sir Nigel Gresley - apparently argued that this was achieved only over a few yards and downhill at that. For all I know, they also claimed it was being pushed by superfast sprinters at the same time. In any event, the record stands; no steam engine has ever gone faster.
I guessed its BR number as 60023 and was just one out (60022) and, similarly, the total number built as 36 (there were 35).
But what a spectacle it makes. I had remembered the trademark sloping front as steeper than it is but Mallard presented a glorious sight, heading a line of rolling stock two along from the much less imposing example of the experimental "Tilt" trains.
The other surviving members of Gresley's Doncaster-built classics, due at Shildon from Feb 15-23, are:
* Bittern, now my near neighbour at the Southall Railway Centre
* Dwight D Eisenhower, which normally resides at the National Railroad Museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin but has been back in the UK since last year's Mallard 75th anniversary ceremonies
* Dominion of Canada, also in the UK - on loan from the Canadian Railway Museum - since the Mallard celebrations
* fittingly, Sir Nigel Gresley, which still works on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Whitby and Pickering. It was to have been called Bittern until someone noticed it was the 100th of Gresley's Pacific locos to be built
Take a look at the Locomotion museum site: https://www.nrm.org.uk/PlanaVisit/VisitShildon
There's much more to see, from royal train carriages to railway station relics and a replica of Timothy Hackworth's 1829 engine Sans Pareil. And it's free.
In the words of a song written and recorded by Geordie's Penker to mark the 150th anniversary of the world's first steam-pulled passenger train leaving Shildon in 1825: "Who needs Presley when you've got Nigel Gresley?"
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