A grubby looking but sizeable chunk of history was winched ashore at Liverpool Docks on Valentine’s Day 1973.
The legendary Flying Scotsman locomotive had been languishing in the USA until it was rescued and shipped home by steam enthusiast Sir William ‘Bill’ McAlpine.
From Liverpool, it made its way to Derby Locomotive Works for a complete overhaul. LNER Class A3 4472 was safely back on home soil.
Expectations were high four years earlier when the loco was loaded on to the Cunard ship Saxonia by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on September 19th 1969.
The Flying Scotsman literally lived up to its name as the floating crane Mammoth hoisted it into the air at Liverpool Docks.
The loco’s owner, businessman Alan Pegler, had come up with an audacious scheme to ship the engine to America to haul an exhibition train promoting British goods.
Steam enthusiast Pegler bought the Scotsman outright in 1963, saving it from the scrapyard. After refitting it, he used it to run special trains for enthusiasts across the UK.
The famous loco, built in 1923, even repeated its non-stop London to Edinburgh route in 1968. By that time, the Scotsman was the only serviceable steam train still running on British Rail.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson, MP for Huyton, encouraged Pegler in his American adventure, hoping the loco would be a standard-bearer for British industry.
The engine was kitted out with a cowcatcher grid at the front, an over-sized bell and a high intensity headlamp to conform to American railway regulations.
But the tour ran into trouble from the start. Some states decreed that the train had to be towed by a diesel because a steam engine represented a fire risk.
Nevertheless, the Scotsman ran from Boston to New York City, Washington DC and Dallas in 1969. In 1970, it journeyed from Texas to Wisconsin and then Montreal.
The finishing leg in 1971 took it from Toronto to San Francisco, completing a 15,400-mile round trip. Then it all went downhill.
The British government, now with Prime Minister Ted Heath at the helm, decided that an old steam loco was promoting the wrong image – and actively discouraged businesses from taking part.
The Scotsman couldn’t earn its keep carrying passengers as it was prohibited by US law. Losses mounted, so Pegler decided to make the loco an exhibit in British Week at San Francisco.
All went well until other exhibitors complained that the engine and its carriages were taking up 100 parking spaces.
The train was shunted further along Fisherman’s Wharf, which proved disastrous as American visitors simply did not want to walk the extra yards to see the loco.
Pegler was left so broke he had to work his passage home as an entertainer on a P&O liner. He was so good at it that he was offered a full time job!
The Scotsman went into storage on an army base and would have stayed there had McAlpine not stepped in and discreetly paid off all known creditors.
On January 19th 1973 the engine was loaded on to the MV California Star at Oakland Docks, bound for Liverpool via the Panama Canal.
It arrived in Merseyside on a freezing February morning with its over-sized bell and cowcatcher grid covered in a light dusting of snow.
Designed by Nigel Gresley and built in Doncaster, the Scotsman operated on the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh from the 1920s until its retirement in 1963. It covered a distance of 2.08 million miles during its working life.
The Scotsman became the first steam locomotive to be officially authenticated at reaching 100 mph in November 1934.
It also set the world record for the longest non-stop run by a steam locomotive when it travelled 422 miles in August 1989 during a tour of Australia.
Liverpool witnessed another railway milestone when it welcomed the last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power in the UK on August 11th 1968.
A one-off excursion saw the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ from Liverpool via Manchester to Carlisle and back set off and return to Lime Street station.
The train was pulled by four different engines with the LMS Stanier Class 5 locomotive steaming the final leg. Large crowds awaited its arrival at Lime Street.
The British Rail nationwide steam ban came into operation the very next day.
*Fascinating wartime images of Merseyside feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45.
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