It’s 1970, the United States have landed on the moon, the Vietnam war is raging, and The Beatles have just split up. Meanwhile, the world’s most famous steam locomotive Flying Scotsman is embarking on its second tour of America and two young men, Bill Wagner and Richard Hinchcliffe, are chasing it up the mid-west taking photographs and film of this unlikely cultural venture into the heart of mid-west. Bill is a rail fan and college student from Illinois out for the ride and so broke he’s living off ketchup sandwiches and selling his blood. Richard is thirteen years old, the son of the British Tour manager George Hinchcliffe, hired by locomotive owner British millionaire Alan Pegler to guide the train across the prairies and into Canada. Richard had some sort of dispensation to be off school for 6 months as the tour is going to be an education in itself. Now, fifty-three years after the event Richard and Bill have combined to produce the summer vacation project Richard should have submitted on his return to the UK: Flying Scotsman in America: the 1970 Tour is for Richard ‘What I did on my Holidays.’ It’s just a bit late.

Flying Scotsman shows off the ‘Americanization’ required to tour the country: a headlight, a bell, and a bright red pilot (cowcatcher). The bright red pilot would become a source of contention later in the tour. There’s such a thing as looking ‘too Americanized’. (Flying Scotsman in America, Amberley Publishing)

The first tour, in 1969 down the eastern seaboard, was part funded by the British taxpayer as an export drive for British products including Cutty Sark whisky, Pretty Polly tights and Denby Pottery. Exporters did well but the train (known to the crew as ‘the circus’) began to founder financially through inability to sell enough souvenirs and to get customers through the train quickly enough.

The 1970 ‘circus’ was an altogether cheaper version. The train would stop at smaller towns on the way and be ready to exhibit. The crew were recruited on the basis of it being a ‘working holiday’ and train travelled on the cheapest tracks, threading its way through the mid-west up to Chicago and Green Bay Wisconsin where it would deposit one of its historic Pullman cars used by Churchill in World War II at the National Railway Museum. It was then off into Canada to exhibit at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto before terminating in Niagara Falls.  

Sunday, 21 June. Flying Scotsman leaves Texas behind, crossing the Red River into Oklahoma north of Denison, where the train had spent the previous night after leaving Dallas. (Flying Scotsman in America, Amberley Publishing)

Bill had his trusty Pentax and a faith in Kodak Ektachrome and Richard was recording super 8 movie film. Both of them have rich memories of the people, places and the astonishing thrills of travelling with Flying Scotsman across America. This is no ordinary book of photographs, the captions tell the story of Richard’s coming of age, Bill’s development into the Tour’s Souvenir Manager and the spectacular ups and downs of getting a British steam locomotive from Texas to Niagara Falls. Wherever the train landed the American public came in their thousands when it was a big event in a small place. The crowds were less in the big cities but the circus survived on the willingness of its scratch crew, dedicated volunteers and engine owner Alan Pegler’s deep pockets.

Flying Scotsman’s mid-day stop in McAlester is only a few minutes away. (Flying Scotsman in America, Amberley Publishing)

Flying Scotsman’s tour of the USA and Canada was a historic cultural occasion adding splendour, adventure and further fascination to this already famous engine. But the story has been rarely told, this being the first book to specially describe that fateful tour and to document it with superb colour.

The story covers romance among the crew, derailment at Waco, the train being arrested in Chicago and the fading fortune of the flamboyant Alan Pegler. 96 pages, 180 photographs in vivid Ektachrome!

Richard Hinchcliffe and Bill Wagner's book Flying Scotsman in America is available for purchase now.