Virgin Trains and Donald Campbell's Bluebird
I am interested in all mechanised forms of transport, usually with a bias to the vintage, but if something new and spectacular is happening I am keen to see what it is all about. So speed record attempts have always interested me. When thinking of speed and boats I always think of the haunting piece of film footage of Donald Campbell coming to grief on Lake Coniston in January 1967 during his daring record attempt. The image of Bluebird K7 taking to the air and flipping over to be smashed apart in a great cloud of spray will live with me for ever. So imagine my amazement when, in 2001, this iconic boat was recovered by a team of amateur divers led by project leader Bill Smith. Since then she has been the subject of painstaking restoration using every possible original part and with any new parts made meticulously to the original specification.
To help finance the restoration, Virgin Trains has donated a pair of cast metal 'Donald Campbell' nameplates which were previously fitted to a high-speed Super Voyager diesel train named after the famous record breaker. Appropriately their background colour is blue! One is destined to become an attractive memento in the new Bluebird Wing of The Ruskin Museum at Coniston where the rebuilt jet-powered boat will be housed, while the other will be auctioned to raise funds for the restoration project.
Regional general manager of Virgin Trains, Jane Cole said: "As train operators committed to serving Cumbria, we are delighted to help the project by donating these unique 'Donald Campbell' nameplates. We are happy to pay tribute to a great pioneer in the quest for speed."
Following a grant of £250,000 from Cumbria Vision, and other donations, £527,000 has already been raised for the construction of Bluebird's new home at The Ruskin Museum. The museum's Bluebird Wing is due for completion later this year though further funding is needed for the museum display. However, the rebuild of Bluebird herself is entirely dependent on supporters' donations and sponsorship from industry.
The welcome gift from Virgin Trains coincides with the completion of a major phase in Bluebird's return to full operating condition. For almost a year since her reconstructed frame returned to the rebuild workshop at Tyneside, volunteers have worked untiringly to conserve, repair and rebuild her entire aluminium structure from front to back. With approximately 98% of the wreckage recovered from Coniston Water returned to the craft, Bluebird is now plainly recognisable as her former, powerful self.
Bluebird was unveiled in a temporary assembled condition to coincide with the presentation of the nameplates, prior to being dismantled and prepared for her final build to commence later this year. The boat's frame is complete and now has been sent to a specialist for final painting. When returned to her workshop the outer skin and cockpit fittings will be assembled onto the frame. A replacement jet engine and sponsons wait to complete the job. The original engine has been conserved for display and is beyond repair.
Mick Yarker. October 2008