After Alan Pegler bought Flying Scotsman in 1963, he was keen to expose it to a worldwide audience. A trade mission – backed by the government and with the endorsement of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson – set off to the United States in 1969.
The trip didn’t just include the Flying Scotsman locomotive however, it also included:
- A nine-coach train (including two Pullman cars);
- a locomotive crew provided by British Railways, although paid for by Pegler;
- an observation car that was converted into a pub;
- carried trade stands for Britain’s largest exporting companies, including BP and Pretty Polly tights;
- a pipe major (who has played at Churchill’s funeral);
- and ten mini-skirted sales girls.
The tour was a success and whole towns turned out to see the train, each stop co-ordinated with a ‘buy-British’ campaign in a local store. In total the 2,251 mile trip visited seventeen American states and was on the right side of ‘profit and loss’ for Pegler.
A similar campaign was planned for the following year but this time there were no big companies and no government support. The train ran from Texas to Toronto, and while Pegler had the time of his life, he was losing his personal fortune in keeping the campaign on the tracks.
When Flying Scotsman made a trip to San Francisco in 1971, it had travelled 15,400 miles in the United States. However here the tour hit the buffers – a venture to run tourist service along the dockside proved a financial disaster. Pegler returned to Britain and filed for bankruptcy, and Flying Scotsman was stored at an army base for safekeeping.
Rescue and return
Hearing of the engines plight, wealthy railway enthusiast and businessman William McAlpine (a partner of construction business Robert McAlpine & Sons) put together a rescue deal with the tour manager of the America trip.
In February 1973 Flying Scotsman returned to the UK and ran under its own steam from Liverpool to Derby, watched by an estimated 100,000 people. It seems its American adventure had only increased the locomotive’s fame. It went back to hauling special tours in the UK until 1988 when another foreign trip beckoned – Bill McAlpine was invited to take Flying Scotsman to Australia.
Australia wanted Flying Scotsman to take part in the country’s bicentennial celebrations. McAlpine agreed but on the condition that a bond was put up in order to ensure the locomotive’s return, no matter what.
In Australia – as in North America – Flying Scotsman performing almost faultlessly to large crowds. It became the first standard-gauge steam engine to not only to visit Alice Springs, but to set a world record non-stop journey of 422 miles as well going to Perth on the world’s longest ‘straight’ of 297 miles. Flying Scotsman was reunited with expatriate Great Western Railway ‘Castle’ class locomotive Pendennis Castle, the vanquisher of the A1s in the 1925 locomotive exchanges.
After 28,000 miles and fifteen months away, Flying Scotsman returned to Britain via Cape Horn, meaning that not only had the engine operated on three continents, it had also sailed round the world!
“I never really felt of her [Flying Scotsman] as mine. I always felt she belonged to the nation.”
Discover beautiful images and interesting stories in Andrew McLean’s stylish, illustrated The Flying Scotsman: Speed, Style, Service hardback exhibition book on ‘the world’s most famous train’. Andrew McLean is the National Railway Museum’s Head Curator.