Mallard 75: The 76-year history of the mighty Dwight D Eisenhower A4 locomotive

By Catherine Farrell | 17 September 2013

It may often be eclipsed by its flashy blue sister locomotive, Mallard, which became a British icon when it raced into the record books on July 3 1938. But transatlantic travelling sibling Dwight D Eisenhower has also enjoyed a recent taste of celebrity.

A black and white photo of steam locomotive rolling along a track during the 1930s
Dwight in action before it was withdrawn in 1963
No 60008 has had its share of the limelight, having starred with its travelling companion in a TV and been the subject of a thorough cosmetic restoration during the closing stages of 2012 in preparation for this year’s Mallard 75 celebrations.

The locomotive’s birthday, on September the 4th, marked 76 years since it rolled out of Doncaster Works, and with Mallard “on tour” at a series of external events this week, Dwight is ideally placed to step into the spotlight.

Like the world’s fastest locomotive, which won Sir Nigel Gresley’s A4 Pacific Class a place in global history, it was just one of a fleet of 35 A4 class locomotives – the glamorous, streamlined “racehorses” of the railway world.

A black and white photo of a train being loaded onto a steamer
The locomotive left for the US during the 1960s© National Media Museum / Science and Society Picture Library
From the late 1930s to the 1960s, Mallard and its sisters hauled luxurious services from the capital to the North.

The flagship was the sumptuous Silver Jubilee. Designed in celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, Britain’s first streamlined train was introduced in September 1935 between London and Newcastle.

It cut the journey between the cities to just four hours, with one writer wittily saying that the Silver Jubilee meant London “becomes a suburb of Newcastle.”

The service was a great commercial success, prompting an increase in traffic by more than 12 percent. The seven streamlined carriages featured a fashionable, art-deco interior of chrome and blue, with two restaurant cars providing hot meals and drinks for the passengers, who often included the celebrities of the day.

A black and white photo of railwaymen in suits and caps in front of a locomotive
A4 locomotive staff with one of their famous engines© National Railway Museum / Science and Society Picture Library
Dwight D Eisenhower entered traffic with the London & North Eastern Railway in 1937. Numbered 4496, it initially carried the same garter blue livery as Mallard.
Its future swiftly turned from silver to gold when the LNER company decided to launch an elite train to the capital for the West Yorkshire wool barons of the period.

Dwight became the Golden Shuttle and was one of two locomotives specially selected to haul the blue-liveried streamlined train linking Bradford and Leeds with London Kings Cross.

Along with Kings Cross Stable companion the Golden Fleece, the steam giant was given stainless steel numbers and hauled the West Riding Limited service from September 27 1937, with the obligatory press day taking place at Leeds (Central) four days earlier.

A split photo showing a huge locomotive as it was decades ago and as it is now
Sir Nigel Gresley would have been 137 years old this year© National Railway Museum
The Second World War resulted in the end of such elitist methods of travel, and the locomotive was renamed Dwight D Eisenhower after the conflict as a mark of respect to the commanding general of the victorious forces.

It was renumbered No. 60008 on October 29 1948 under British Railways, running the route between London and Edinburgh.

But from the early 1960s the writing was on the wall for the golden age of steam.  Just three years after the nationalisation of the railways on January 1 1948, BR unveiled its modernisation plan.

Steam would be swept away and the railways needed to move on. The car industry was booming and the Minister for Transport, Ernest Marples, had recently opened the M1 motorway, signalling a “golden new tomorrow” in his celebratory speech.

A photo of three men in suits in front of a locomotive inside a museum
The National Railway Museum has had a momentous Mallard 75 season© National Railway Museum
1968 saw the end of regular British Railways steam, bringing down the curtain on an era of British social history stretching back to 1804.

Steam locomotives were being withdrawn in droves, going back to whatever shed they came from to wait to be towed to privately run scrap merchants.

Despite their near-celebrity status in loco terms, Mallard’s sister A4s were also unfortunate, including the first to be made Silver Link, and to this day only six survive.

Mallard as the world record breaker was earmarked for preservation, and was decided to be the sole representative of Gresley’s engineering genius. Even Gresley’s earlier design, the Flying Scotsman, was destined for the scrap heap.

As there was no national museum at that stage, only intervention from people who loved locomotives saved them for the world.

The National Railway Museum didn’t exist until 1975, and when a locomotive was earmarked for preservation there was the big question of where to put it.

Many locos that had historical importance still ended up for sale or on the “to be scrapped” list, simply  because, as state assets, they had to be sold for the same price as they would for scrap, which was beyond the means of many. Alan Pegler stepped in to buy Flying Scotsman, now owned by the National Railway Museum.

It was its name that saved Dwight D Eisenhower. It was given to the American people as a “fraternal gift”, ultimately saving it from the scrap yard.

Modernisation rather than preservation was a priority for Britain’s railway and if the loco not been named after the war general that later became America’s 34th President it would not have survived into preservation.

Dwight D Eisenhower was therefore earmarked to go to Southampton to be shipped to the US’s National Railroad Museum. Without their willingness to give the locomotive a home, it would have been scrapped without question.

It was cosmetically restored at Doncaster Works in 1963 before being shipped to New York Harbor in the spring.

It arrived on May 11 1964, from where it was transported by rail to the museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin. The privately-owned attraction even built a special building to put it in which had to be funded by donations.

In summer 2012, The National Railroad Museum loaned Dwight D Eisenhower to the National Railway Museum for two years to enable it to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mallard breaking the world speed record in style.

In return, the locomotive would be cosmetically restored by UK-based experts in the field so it looked its absolute best for the Mallard 75 celebrations.

The restoration work on Dwight, which was carried out by Lancashire-based Heritage Painting and the National Railway Museum conservation team, took around 1,000 hours of labour, 65 litres of body filler, 55 litres of paint and 50 litres of spirit.

The motion was also stripped of the aluminium paint which had been applied for protection in the US, making it look immaculate for its time in the spotlight.

Dwight D Eisenhower is currently in the York museum’s Great Hall, with its travelling companion Dominion of Canada awaiting the next big event on the calendar, the Autumn Great Gathering – another chance to witness the international family reunion on which has fulfilled the dreams of rail fans across the globe.

Mallard and her five surviving sister A4 Pacific Class locomotives will be gathered together for the last time around the Great Hall turntable in the National Railway Museum in York.

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Remember when my grandfather was on shed duties one Saturday afternoon around 1962 at New England, he said be at the bottom of bridge where the loop was, I was waiting there when the chime whistle sounded and there was my grandfather coming around the bend driving A4 'Silver Link', spent the whole afternoon using the A4 to do shunting duties, moving engines around the shed, wonderful time, always grateful.
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