Monday, August 8, 2011

The French National Train Museum

I never should have had a computer career. I should have been a civil engineer in the Queensland Government Railway, just as my father was and I'm not sure why I decided not to become an engineer. Perhaps it was because I knew from my father's experience that you were perpetually on call for whenever there was a derailment. These occurred much more often than you would think and often at night. However, I grew up with a fascination about trains and I still get a thrill whenever I see one.

The Musee Francais du Chemin de Fer is housed at Mulhouse about 50 miles south of Selestat so we drove down there on a Sunday. We used Claude's Ford Maxi and I must say I have been very impressed by this vehicle. It's got a diesel engine with 6 forward speeds, plenty of grunt, handles very well and soaks up the bumps in the road like you are driving on carpet. Plenty of room as well.

Back to the train museum. Those of you who don't like trains may as well skip the rest of this blog since I took almost 300 photos at the museum. This blog is for me, not you.

The engine that greets you at the entrance. Parking was plentiful and free.

There were essentially two pavilions, the first set up to be atmospheric with subdued lighting, occasional puffs of smoke, voices depicting events and dummies in appropriate poses and dress. The second pavilion was more typical of train museums with natural lighting.

Unfortunately, the reduced lighting in the first pavilion made photo taking difficult. I'm actually surprised that any of the photos came out at all because it was so dark. By the time this blog has ended, some of you who wade through all of it will wish more of the photos didn't turn out.

The French went for trains in a big way and they produced some mighty beasts. Some of the colours are quite unusual, such as this grey.

Supposed Napolean's carriage. Napolean III, not the bloke whose statue is supposedly owned by everybody with a certain complex.

Luxury fit for a king.

Not Napolean's carriage.

Since it was a Sunday, there were quite  few people there. Rug rats were everywhere.

S beak peers into the lap of luxury. (S is short for sticky. Sticky beaks is Australian for those who stick their beaks into everything).

Along with the big engines were occasional curiosities.

A snow plow.

An exhibit about the French resistance in WWII. They were showing a film made in 1946, Rene Clement's film "La Bataille du Rail" about how the railway workers resistance blew up a train line and a whole train of wagons with tanks on them derails and goes down a huge bank. It was impressive and must have been amazing to watch in person. Take the time to watch it on Youtube.

The big gun coming out of the gloom.

The blue atmospheric light was a bit weird.

But it made the driving wheels look interesting.

By the way, the French still use the dual headlight arrangement.

This was quite interesting. The outer covering of the carriage had been removed to make the interior more visible. It was quite effective.

A restaurant car from the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits who operated the Orient Express in iots glory days. Back in 1974, the Orient Express still ran and I had a ride on it, but by then it was just an ordinary train with ordinary carriages.

It would have been quite something to travel on, but of course, you needed to be wealthy.

I moved while taking the photo. I liked the effect.

The second version with much less shake.

This carriage was quite unusual with the elongated narrow windows.

Inside a sleeping car on the Orient Express. The woman is wearing fishnet stockings. Click on the picture to enlarge it and see.


Entrance to the carriage. They don't make 'em like that these days.

More elegance for the wealthy.

This was the equivalent of cattle class on Delta flying from Newark to Amsterdam, except that this is a step up. More legroom and any food they were eating had to be better.

Atmospheric smoke billowing up.

Leaving the atmospheric pavilion and entering the other pavilion, we came across this model that appears to be made out of Meccano or the French equivalent.

So what is this? You are really good if you know the answer.

Yes, it is part of a shaking grate.

And this shows how in the later large steam engines, the coal was delivered from the coal tender using an auger and then distributed to the fire under the boiler. Can you imagine how much effort was needed by firemen who had to shovel tons of coal into these beasts. And of course, you had to know where to put the coal for it to be effective. Last year when I was in Maryborough, I went to the train museum there and the bloke showing me around used to be an engine driver, but before that he was a fireman. He was quite interesting to listen to as he described the problems of adjusting the fire.

Look at the size of the driving wheel. Initially the French imported a number of engines from England because they were the originators of the technology. There are some engines by George Stephenson.

I was amused by the mustache falling off.

There's something about the driving wheels and the connecting rods and pistons.

The famous Fleche D'Or (Golden Arrow) that ran from Calais to Paris. Even in Australia, I had heard of this train.

There was a walk way underneath the Flech D'Or so the next few photos are of the underneath progressing from the back to the front.

I'm not sure what the shaving brush does.

I never imagined I would ever walk beneath this engine. That's the beauty of travel.

I really enjoy the different colours that the engines were painted. The equivalent English museum in York has some superbly coloured engines. An unusual engine is the one painted in Stroudley's Improved Engine Green", which was actually an ochre colour, not green.  Stroudley was colour blind. If you ever go to York, make sure you go to the train museum. The York Minster is pretty good, but the museum is better. Some may disagree with this statement.

One of the George Stephenson engines.

These driving wheels are gigantic. By the way, when you look at a steam engine you can usually tell whether the engine was built to pull passenger carriages or goods wagons. The engines with large diameter wheels were built for light loads and speed and had large diameter wheels. The good engines had small diameter wheels for pulling heavy loads.

Imagine climbing into one of these wagons. At the time, it wouldn't have been so unusual since they were modeled on carriages pulled by horses.

Delta revisited, or maybe United.

This is how we get our wine delivered. Yes, that was what the barrels were used for.

I walked up to these and noted that they are a little over six feet in diameter.

A early attempt at streamlining.

Another grey engine. I really like it.

I presume this spike at the front of the engine is to hold some sort of portable lamp, but I thought it looked intriguing.

A double decker carriage.

To the left are a couple of seats. There weren't too many places to sit down, but usually they were seats from carriages.

The guts of an early electric engine.

I was intrigued by the shape of these engines. This one is not the full snouty style of 'crocodile' engine, but it does have a small snout.

You may wonder why there is a Bugatti car in the museum.

Well the answer is simple. Bugatti made a train set.

The motor.

Note how the engine driver sat in the cupola on top.

Now that is one classy light shade.

Here's that French blue that Marianne likes so much.

She is absolutely drawn to it. Can't you see her thinking about how she would like to move into that wagon, just so she could live in something of that colour.

This carriage was used by General Joffre in WWI. One can only imagine the decisions that were reached in this carriage that led to the deaths of so many soldiers.

The French President's carriage and along with many others in its history, was used by Charles de Gaulle. As I walked past, I heard some father imitating de Gaulle for his children.

A mail wagon.

We finally came to the section I was really interested in, the electric engines of the 70's. I first rode French trains in 1974 and I was mightily impressed by the French engines of the period.

This engine broke the world speed record. You can watch it here. The French have broken a bunch of speed records over the years, here's one at 575 kph with a modified TGV.

These engines were still in use in 1974 though they had mostly been replaced by later models. Note that they are not all that streamlined.

A first class carriage like those I would travel in back in 1974. At night you could slide the seats down so that you could form a bed.

A wagon lit from the 70's. I did not have enough $$ to sleep on one of these.

These were the latest and greatest in 1974.

They pulled the Trans Europe Express carriages that were top of the line back then Because I had a Eurail Pass, I could travel on them. The pass was the only reason they let such a scruffy individual as myself on these very posh trains.

First class Ray. That's me in 1974.

When we were in Europe in 1980, we took a train from Paris to London and it had these Corail carriages with the open carriage plane like seating. I hated it, much preferring the cosy compartment style which has pretty well disappeared now.

The Aquitane used to run from Paris to Bordeau. It was on this line that the speed records were set back in the fifties and sixties because it is very flat in that area before you get to Tours.

This is a Turbotrain that they used for lines that were not electrified. One of these was used for the run from Strasbourg to Lyon which passed through Selestat where we are staying. They also used to go to Cherbourg. They had an odd sound on starting off as the turbine spun up to speed.

The drivers position.

A model layout at the end of the tour. Oddly enough, somebody needed to put some money in a slot before it would run. Considering how much they charged to get in, you woul think they could afford to let it run continuously. There were groans that came from the kids who were watching it when the time ran out. 

Lunch at the cafeteria. Crudites, pate and beer.

A couple of miles away was the national car museum.

Interesting exhibit at the entrance. We had bought tickets that were supposed to allow us into both museums. Unfortunately  the girl who sold us our tickets tore off the wrong half so we couldn't get into this museum. The lines to buy tickets were very long by this stage so we just left and went back to Selestat.

And for the curious, there were 188 photos and there is no Youtube video of this record breaking blog. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely fascinating! Imagine traveling in one of those trains...
    Marianne is clearly planning how to arrange her art studio in the blue rail car.