I suppose I have to concede that the most famous and best loved steam locomotive is the Flying Scotsman, but my personal favourite is the garter blue LNER Mallard, a class A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and built at Doncaster, England in 1938.
I visited the National Rail Museum in York just to see it and was not disappointed when I got up close in the exhibition hall, taking pride of place it gleams to almost impossible perfection along the entire length of its fashion-model, streamlined body – it must take several hours every evening to get the fingerprints of the admiring visitors removed!
The Mallard is the current record holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive which it achieved in 1938 by reaching a speed of 126 mph (203 kmh) in Lincolnshire between Grantham and Peterborough. It is difficult to imagine what this must have felt like as the one hundred and seventy tonne engine and tender dragged its coaches at top speed over railway lines that were designed for much lower speeds, the noise and the shaking must have been unimaginable. To see what it might have been like I paid £4 to take a ride in a simulator which tried to recreate the record breaking attempt.
In the 1930s some people were obsessed with speed and breaking records. In the same year that Mallard broke the steam powered record a man called Rudolf Caracciola drove a Mercedes-Benz W125 Rekordwagen at a speed of 268 mph (433 kmh) on a German Autobahn which is a record that still stands as the fastest ever officially timed speed on a public road.
In February 1938 Squadron Leader J.W. Gillan flew an RAF Hawker Hurricane fighter plane from Edinburgh to London in forty-eight minutes and achieved a record land plane speed of 409 mph (660 kmh). I expect that he was in a bit of a rush to get back to the officer’s mess before closing time!
Also in 1938 Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the water speed record in Bluebird K3 when he achieved a speed of 141 mph (227 kmh) on Lake Maggoire in Switzerland. In the following year he broke the record again in K4 on Lake Coniston in the Lake District in England.