Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Flying Scotsman by Andrew Roden

I've never really got Flying Scotsman. Yes it's a nice looking steam locomotive and if you like main line express engines, then it's as good as any other. Why then do people go gaga over it? What causes mild-mannered middle aged gentlemen to pour vitriol over those at the NRM currently restoring the machine with the same fervour's that religious lunatics dish out to those who read a different holy book?

Andrew Roden didn't "get it" either, or at least, so he claims at the start of the book.

In 236 pages, he tells the story of this most famous engine from birth to purchase by the National Railway Museum in 2005. It's quite a story too. What could have been just another green engine came to prominence at the 1923 Empire Exhibition when displayed in an age when a steam engine was the cutting edge of technology.

At the show, a young Alan Pegler was entranced by what he saw and after a career in the RAF followed by the family business, he saved the engine from scrapping by British Rail.

The story isn't just about a single steam engine, it's set against the background of changes to the UK railway scene with the run-down of steam and focuses a lot of the characters involved and the adventures along the way. There is jeopardy when Scotsman is nearly trapped over in America, controversy at some of the business practises of those who have owned her. It's a roller-coaster ride!

As with Roden's later books, this can be read and enjoyed by non-enthusiasts and railway nutters alike. There's some technical stuff but it never gets in the way of the story which rattles along at a decent pace.

What would be nice is to read an updated version in two years time. At the moment, Scotsman's latest restoration is bogged down. Once she emerges, I can see a lot of people would like to follow the latest part of the tale.

So, do I now "get" Flying Scotsman? Sort of. I don't suppose I'll ever be a big engine man, and I think the lunatic fringe of the fans are, well, lunatics really, but it certainly has a story worth telling.

Flying Scotsman - The Extraordinary Story of the the World's Most Famous Train at Amazon


Mark said...

I have to say I have a soft spot for Flying Scotsman, and I have read Andrew Roden's which I found very interesting book, and it filled in quite a few gaps in my knowledge of the engine.

Mind you my interest in Flying Scotsman is painful rather than fanatical.

Iain Robinson said...

When I was about 12, I read a book from the school library about 2750 "Papyrus", the Scotsman's illustrious stablemate. It was a cracking read and I wish I could get hold of a copy now. Perhaps this book will be as intriguing, it certainly looks promising!