Trains are in my blood. My granddad and great granddad drove coal trains in Pennsylvania. My dad, for a summer or two, worked as a fireman shoveling coal into stem engines. There’s something about the all that gleaming metal and chugging and clacking that sets my mind to thinking about jumping on a freight train and leaving all my cares behind.
When I found out that York had one of the largest Railway Museums in the world, I penciled in a date on my calendar. Link: National Railway Museum
“Home to the iconic locomotives and as unrivaled collection of engineering firsts we celebrate the past, present, and future of innovation on the railways. We’re home to over 200 years of history and a million fascinating railway objects.”
It is situated on grounds that were once part of the York Railway Station, which creates quite and alluring atmosphere. The various halls make use of the tracks and buildings that served to transport people and goods, store engines, and move trains, for around 100 years.
The Station Hall was the first area of my visit. Built in 1870, it served as York’s main goods station until the 1960’s. I strolled along the concrete platforms, past station clocks, lamp posts, displays of luggage, and numerous gleaming engines and carriages. The middle of the central platform is now a café where you can sip coffee and get a bite to eat, all the while surrounded by locomotive history.
|image: National Railway Museum|
Queen Victoria’s Saloon Car rested along one set of tracks opposite a number of other Royal Carriages. I peered into the luxurious blue velvet and gold appointed car, marveling at the intricate details and mentally comparing it to the train that had taken me up to York. Just a tad different. I watched two men delicately apply paint to the outer carriage and asked them about the restoration efforts. They happily told me about the work they were doing and what had already been done to the carriage that had been built in 1869. They added additional insights such as the Queen’s Car had been the first in the world with both electricity and an indoor toilet. However, it turned out that the Queen did not trust indoor plumbing and would make restroom stops at stations along the way. And although the train ran at quite a good clip, the Queen felt this was not good for the health. It ran at what she considered to be an acceptable, much slower, speed.
Along with the royal carriages, service trains are on display. The postal carriage caught my
eye and, as luck would have it, was one of the ones you could step into. Inside is a moving post office, with pigeon hole shelves in which to sort mail as the train roared along the tracks. A grainy black and white movie on an end wall showed how the workers dropped off and picked up mail bags, all without ever stopping. A system of bags and nets and boxes did the work. Even after watching the film, I have no idea how they managed to do that without loosing mail or an arm or two.
Another interactive display is found in the eerie Ambulance Train, built for transportation of soldiers in the First World War.
“Mass warfare meant massive casualties.
Railway companies had to fit the facilities of a hospital into the confines of a train.
Ambulance trains were up to a third of a mile long, and included wards, pharmacies, emergency operating rooms, kitchens and staff accommodation.” National Railway Museum
I walked into the car and nearly jumped when I saw the holographic nurse walk into a treatment room and go about gathering supplies. As with many of the displays, posters with detailed information stood next to the car. Although I did not have time to carefully read all the details about this part of history that I had never before heard of, I was glad to find it online. Link: Hospital Trains WWI UK
Engine Shed number 4, built in1877, is now home to The Great Hall. (I would call it a roundhouse, but maybe we use a different term in the US.) I didn’t count how many engines are on display, but there are a lot. Everything from really old engines to the Japanese Bullet Train. I especially loved the Mallard, and the Duchess of Hamilton – all art deco shaped and painted. Possibly I had never been that close to engines that large, because I was totally astonished at their size. Some of the wheels are taller than me.
I arrived in time to see the Turntable Demonstration and watched as an engine slowly moved around from one side of the massive turntable to the other.
Throughout every day, there are various events and demonstrations. A few of the items listed in the daily guide were: Tour: The Royal Carriages; Talk: The Japanese Bullet Train; Storytelling. And the one I missed and most want to partake in: Tour of the Collections Store.
The North Shed is an enormous warehouse-sized area, houses over 10,000 objects connected to railway history. I saw signs, and stained-glass windows, and tea cups, and a million other items that I could only guess about their origin. There simply wasn’t enough time to explore the entire museum and also go to all the talks and tours. Once again, I wished I were closer so that I could go back to the museum.
This had to be one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. I spent four or five hours and there was so much more to see and do. Thankfully, a lot of their materials are on their beautiful website where the photos are much better than mine.
|The Duchess of Hamilton|
|Engine Shed 4|