But these innovations left room for much nostalgia. Indeed, how can one forget that those were the dying days of passenger trains with steam locomotives? It was particularly in order to counter that gradual decline of a whole period in the history of railways that the organisation for a French railways museum was set up in Mulhouse. Inaugurated in June 1971, the museum was in reality the result of thinking that had started in the early 20th century.
In the 1920s and 1930s, rail companies gradually set up advertising budgets. In April 1927, in its monthly magazine, the Compagnie du Paris-Orléans encouraged its apprentices to sign up for the railway history project. As it commemorated 100 years of the first railway line between Saint-Etienne and Andrézieux, the company reminded the public that history looks back in time, and also in the present and future. Each railway worker contributed individually and collectively to the project.
1 January 1938. The Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer was founded. Five years later, in 1944, the idea of setting up a museum devoted to railways was back. The Association Française des Amis des Chemins de Fer (AFAC) founded in 1929 became a major defender of this great plan. Paris was believed to be the ideal city for the new establishment. But the project, which was suspended in 1949 mainly for financial reasons, was finally put off to “better times”.
The Crampton as a monument
The driver climbs out of his cabin and replies to the questions from the journalist with some emotion. While he recognises that “you cannot fight modernism”, he also reminds viewers of what steam engines meant to him: “a team life” and “love for the machine”.
Genesis of an
The railways of yesteryars… For a French railways museum
11965 marked a turning point in the plan to set up a French museum devoted to the railways. That was the year when AFAC published a catalogue made up of “historical entries on equipment brought together with a view to setting up a Railways Museum”. The document, drafted by Michel Doerr, presented the 37 locomotives, carriages and wagons that were preserved at the time in Chalon sur Saône. Right from the foreword, Daniel Caire, editor in chief of AFAC, put down the markers of unwavering thought: the railways heritage is human, artistic and technical, and is ever changing. Given that, how is a collection in movement to be conserved, displayed and showcased?
Five years on, in 1970, in an article in the magazine Equipement,-Logement-Transport titled “Towards a French Railways Museum”, Michel Doerr and André Portefaix, Chief Engineer at SNCF, suggested several solutions. For the two men, “[…] we need to think of a museum, especially since museum science has made progress that makes it possible to effectively bring together the appeal of a show and the value of information”.
That was the unforgettable moment when Horrenberger caught what he himself calls a “virus”: that of railways. After World War II, the youngster, later a senior manager of a textile factory in Alsace, avidly read La Vie du Rail and dreamt of joining AFAC, whose editor in chief, Daniel Caire, became his tutelary figure. The publication of the catalogue in 1965 was the trigger for what would eventually be the epic of the creation of the museum.
lives up to its legend
As the owner of the original collection of the museum, SNCF also provided its expertise in the area of restoration. From 1967, the Buddicom Saint-Pierre, an iconic locomotive dating from 1844, thus moved to the workshop in Quatre-Mares. Located in Sotteville-lès-Rouen in Normandy, the workshop, now a “technology centre” proved its status as the inheritor of that inaugurated during the July Monarchy by two British engineers: William Allcard and William Barber Buddicom. Over a century after it was designed, the locomotive got back its number 33, which was removed during the first restoration in the early 20th century.
As pointed out by Michel Doerr and André Portefaix, chief engineer of the Equipment department, restoration must be thoroughly documented in advance, and must in theory put the train back as accurately as possible into its original condition. But the doctrine was not so easy to apply in practice…