Yesterday I was back in York, a city I love. I was there to do yet another 'Skeptics in the Pub' performance of my The Skeptical Bobby talk. It's mad how popular this talk has been but I'm not complaining! It's given me to opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the UK for free and meet some brilliant people. And to have a look around new places, of course. I know York pretty well so this time I thought I'd check out the National Rail Museum. I'm not a train buff but I loved it. Some classic locos are things of extraordinary beauty, like this gorgeous lady.
This is the Duchess of Hamilton, a 1938 steam train fitted with a sexy, curvaceous streamlined shell to maximise her speed. This was a train made in an age when people took pride in amazing craftsmanship and when utility and cost-effectiveness wasn't quite as important as making something beautiful. When it comes to beauty, however, nothing quite matches the famous Mallard.
In its time, Mallard and her sisters were the fastest trains on the planet. And, unlike the Duchess of Hamilton, Mallard was built streamlined; there's no normal-shaped steam train underneath the skin. Last year all of the trains in her A4 class were brought together for an exhibition at York to celebrate their 75th birthdays. That must have been glorious. I've nabbed the following pic from Google but, sadly, can't credit the photographer as I can't find a name.
There's loads more to see there including the steam loco used in the Harry Potter films, the biggest train ever built - a massive bastard made for the Chinese rail network - and working replicas of Stephenson's Rocket among the highlights. I was surprised at how much I loved it, not being a train history guy, but I did. Brilliant!
However, the bit of the museum I loved the most was The Warehouse, a mad jumble of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks and gewgaws that relate, in some way, to the railways. There is avenue upon avenue of glass cabinets, stacked shelving and things hanging from the ceiling. It's like one of those fantastic reclaim yards full over architectural features. But this is signs, tea services, clocks, models, curious looking machines of brass and wood, things with ivory buttons, uniforms ... there's even a set of catalogues available for you to find and identify objects. It's amazing.