Tuesday, 09 August 2022

I rescued Flying Scotsman

A MILLIONAIRE businessman from Henley has told how he rescued Flying Scotsman — 43 years before it made its triumphant return to the tracks.

A MILLIONAIRE businessman from Henley has told how he rescued Flying Scotsman — 43 years before it made its triumphant return to the tracks.

The iconic steam locomotive ferried passengers along the East Lancashire Railway last week following a £4.2million restoration by the National Railway Museum that took 10 years.

But without the intervention of Sir William McAlpine, it may never have even made it back to British shores.

Sir William, 80, a former director of his family’s construction company, bought the locomotive in 1973, when it was stranded in America and at risk of being condemned to a museum.

He brought it back to England and then owned it for 23 years, running day excursions and trips before selling it on in the Nineties.

Flying Scotsman was built in Doncaster in 1923 and ran as a passenger train between London and Edinburgh. It was the first locomotive to break the 100mph barrier.

It went out of service in 1963 and was sold to entrepreneur Alan Pegler, who took it on a tour of America only for this to be cut short when he was declared bankrupt.

Alan Bloom, owner of Bressingham Steam Museum, approached Sir William with a request for him to buy the locomotive.

Sir William, a train enthusiast who has a full-size track and station at his Fawley Hill estate, said: “Alan Pegler owned her for seven years. She became a nuisance for him so he took her around America for two years until he was bankrupt.

“He came home but the engine was left in San Francisco and put up for sale.

“I got somebody to go over but unfortunately the man in charge of selling her died, so they appointed a new attorney and I got in touch with him. He rang me up and offered her to me.

“I said I already had a locomotive, so what would I want another one for? Besides, she was in San Francisco and weighed more than 100 tonnes. I asked if he could get her back over here and, to my surprise, he said yes! “As she was a very famous locomotive, I didn’t have long to make up my mind, she had to be bought, so I said yes. Otherwise she would have been a static exhibition somewhere in America.”

Sir William paid $72,500 — about £25,000 then — for the locomotive, two tenders (which carried fuel) and spares and arranged for her to be shipped from San Francisco to Liverpool on board a tanker, fastened to the deck.

He said: “We managed to find a ship that would take her and she was put on the deck surrounded by containers. There were terrible storms at sea and she also had to cross the Panama Canal.

“At Liverpool she was lifted off by crane and they said she was fit and well and could go on. We assumed she would have to be transported to a workshop to be overhauled but she ran on her own steam. The track was lined with people the whole way.”

The locomotive made her way to Derby, where she was repainted and repaired. After being christened with a bottle of champagne by Minister of Transport Richard Marsh, Flying Scotsman spent time at Dartmouth Steam Railway in Devon and then Carnforth in Lancashire, where she provided day trips and excursions. Thousands flocked to see and ride the locomotive, including the Queen Mother and actor Kenneth More.

Sir William recalled: “She was tremendously popular. Every time she went out there were crowds in the fields taking photographs. The crowds were so big that we were asked not to publicise when she was going out!

“She was a very much-loved locomotive. It was me who got her back here but I never felt that I owned her. I got her back for the millions who loved her.”

In 1988, Sir William allowed Flying Scotsman to tour Australia to celebrate the bicentennial of British convict ships arriving in the country.

While there, she was joined by Pendennis Castle, another locomotive which Sir William had owned before selling her in 1977.

He said: “They brought Pendennis down from northern Australia and they met buffer to buffer — it was quite moving.

“Before I sold Pendennis I got someone to paint them together because I never thought they would be together again. Now they are both home after travelling around the world.”

Sir William says he took Flying Scotsman apart for repairs twice while he owned her. It was during the second time in 1996 when she was sold.

At that time, the locomotive was co-owned by a consortium that included music mogul Pete Waterman, who decided to sell after receiving an offer from biotechnology entrepreneur Dr Tony Marchington.

Sir William said: “He came along and said they wanted to buy her. We were busy with other business and it seemed sensible, so we did it.

“She was taken apart and was awaiting repair but we had other priorities and eventually she was sold. There was reluctance to sell but she needed repair and if someone else wants to carry it on then that’s what it’s all about.”

Flying Scotsman was later bought by the National Railway Museum, who began the process of taking her apart again and carrying out extensive repair work. Sir William said: “The locomotive is nearly 100 years old and things wear out. Most trains that age don’t have very much left that is original.

“They put it together and found cracks so took it apart again a few times. If they had done a thorough job like they should have done it would have been fine. I took it apart twice while I owned it. They’ve only just finished and they started 10 years ago.”

The restoration began days before Sir William’s 70th birthday and meant that the locomotive wasn’t able to come to his celebration.

Sir William’s wife, Judy, said: “We were offered the Orient Express for the day and I asked if we could have Flying Scotsman to pull it. They said no, they were going to start working on it five days before his birthday and were not prepared to lose time on it. It was a shame because without Bill there would be no steam on the main lines. He and some other steam enthusiasts got together and fought British Rail to keep steam engines for excursions.”

Despite the time it has taken, Sir William says he is delighted to see Flying Scotsman running again. He wasn’t invited to her first test journey on January 8 but watched footage of it.

He said: “It was wonderful to see it running again, that’s what a locomotive should do. The difference between a dead and live locomotive is the same as between a dead and live body.

“I’m a past owner, the only past owner still alive, and I would have loved to have gone along but I wasn’t involved and there’s no reason why I should have been invited.”

Sir William says Flying Scotsman is a British icon and he was happy to own her.

“I was in the right place and had the cash to do it,” he said. “I still feel attached to her. I saved her and she wouldn’t be here without me.

“The British love engineering and we all love our railways — they are the best in Europe and maybe the world. We gave the railway to the world and without it we couldn't have had the Industrial Revolution or the British Empire. It’s all down to steam locomotives.”

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