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The long and winding (rail)road

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In 1970, a 21-year-old Joseph (Joe) Petric was President of the North Western Illinois Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and living in Joliet, Illinois. One of the major railroad stories of the previous year had been the visit in steam of the historic English locomotive ‘Flying Scotsman’ to the eastern seaboard of the USA. Scotsman had then gone South with its tour ending in Houston, Texas.

Joe Petric stands atop Flying Scotsman at St Louis Union Station, July 1970

That year Alan Pegler, the millionaire Brit who owned Flying Scotsman, decided to do another tour. This time the train would swing North, taking in the boyhood home of General Eisenhower at Abilene, Kansas, and the National Railroad Museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin. Pegler had promised to deliver two coaches to the museum and he’d been given permission to drive his own engine anywhere he liked in the US – all he needed to do was to pay the track access charges. This trip was not sponsored by the British government, so spaces were available on board Scotsman for free. A display was therefore hastily put together by NW Illinois chapter entitled ‘A Railfan is…’ (modeller, photographer, spotter and so on) and this joined a number of other displays on the train, as did Joe for the 284 miles to Chicago. (Note: our display was transported to Slaton, Texas, by two NWI members, who accompanied the train for its entire 1970 tour.)

Scotsman appears at Dearborn St station, Chicago, July 1970

Arriving at Chicago Dearborn, Scotsman was met by railfans, curious members of the public attracted by advertising that included space on billboards, and the County Sheriff, who slapped a writ on the train for non-payment of debt. Clearly things were not going that well financially, though this would not have been obvious at the time to local railfans, let alone ‘Scotsman’ fans back in the UK. The show carried on with the Mid-West Railway Historical Society, holding a grand dinner at Chicago Dearborn station in honour of the visit. The train then set off for Green Bay, Wisconsin (the $5000 debt having been cleared) where the two Pullmans ‘Lydia’ and ‘Isle of Thanet’ were delivered to the National Railroad Museum.

Flying Scotsman near Green Bay Wisconsin meets a Chicago and North Western Railroad train, July 1970

After visiting the National Railroad Museum it was on to Milwaukee and through Chicago, then on to Toronto before the tour ended at Niagara Falls on the Canadian/US Border. Here, Joe drove to collect the NRHS display. He did see Scotsman one more time on its subsequent run to San Francisco passing through his home town of Joliet. Marriage, work, children and life intervened, besides which there was plenty to see in his own back yard and books to write about his favourite railroad.

Scotsman arrives at York station as its 2017 touring season continues

Meanwhile, Scotsman returned from the US to carry on its working career, under two further private owners, before it finally entered the National Collection in 2004. In 2016 it returned to service after the most major overhaul of its working life.

Joe and Scotsman are reunited

None of this went unnoticed by railfans in the USA and in July 2017 Joe happened to be in the UK with his wife and booked to travel on the ‘Waverley’ on July 15, hauled by Flying Scotsman. Luckily for the UK’s National Railway Museum, he got in touch with a member of the on-board team and long-standing volunteer Rob Tibbits. So it was arranged that the long and winding road could go full circle and 47 years later Joe was reacquainted with the engine, while we gained a valuable insight into part of Scotsman’s American adventure from someone who was there. Another piece in the human story that surrounds the famous ‘Flying Scotsman’.

Written by Robert Gwynne

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