As I write this we are less than a week away from the arrival of Flying Scotsman at Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon. The excitement in the museum is already building for the arrival of No. 60103, which will be the headline act of the annual Autumn Steam Gala on 16 and 17 September 2017.
The Autumn Steam Gala is a great opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and smells associated with steam locomotives that museum staff and volunteers so often enthuse about during tours and educational visits. These sensations excite and enthuse; they open a whole new world of interest and potential for learning, but are usually somewhat conspicuous in their absence from the day-to-day operation of the museum. Flying Scotsman, as the flagship operating steam locomotive for the National Railway Museum, is an excellent tool for conveying the power of steam in a way that static exhibits may not always offer. There is obviously no better way to understand how a steam locomotive works than seeing one in action: understanding why you put coal and water in, how steam moves the pistons and makes the wheels turn, what a steam whistle really sounds like, and why you don’t need steering wheels or keys!
Getting onto the footplate and chatting with the driver or fireman can also give a personal touch to a learning experience and can enhance understanding no end. At the Autumn Steam Gala there will be access to the cab of Flying Scotsman on both Saturday and Sunday mornings with National Railway Museum staff. Partner volunteer groups will also be offering access to the cab of another visiting steam locomotive, British Railways Standard 2MT No. 78018, for the duration of the weekend.
Flying Scotsman is a very emotive and powerful historical object, drawing crowds to the museum who wish to learn about its history, take photographs, access the cab, take a ride, learn about what makes a steam locomotive work, or reminisce about the halcyon days of steam. The Autumn Steam Gala is the metaphorical smorgasbord of railway museum related events: there is something for everyone and many opportunities to enjoy, experience, and learn.
This year’s Autumn Steam Gala won’t be the first time that Flying Scotsman has appeared at Locomotion. Visitors to the museum in 2004, its opening year, would have witnessed the green machine for themselves, shortly after it had been purchased by the National Railway Museum and saved for the nation.
More recently, visitors in mid-2016 were treated to an extravagant nine-day steam feast—the Flying Scotsman and the Shildon Shed Bash event. The event saw No. 60103 in steam and over 44,400 visitors welcomed to the museum to witness it—it was the first time in 12 years that Flying Scotsman had visited the museum and expectations were high. Fortunately, the crowds, the locomotives and the atmosphere created a special event which was truly the highlight of the museum’s year.
This year’s event, while only two days, should be no less indulgent than its predecessor. Special attractions for this year’s event include access to the corridor tender of Flying Scotsman, steam train rides behind the world-famous locomotive, an evening photography session, and much more.
If you’ve witnessed Flying Scotsman in the past you’ll appreciate the amazement and the interest that it can create for so many. Flying Scotsman is an exceptional part of the National Railway Museum’s collection to be enjoyed by all, and Locomotion is proud to have it headline the Autumn Steam Gala for everyone to experience. The museum—and the author—are very excited for the arrival of Flying Scotsman, so roll on the 16 September.