Saturday, June 4, 2016

By Mebin John    04th June 2016 

BENGALURU: The 127-year-old Meter Gauge Steam Locomotive Engine preserved at the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum in Bengaluru attracts a lot of visitors. Last year, for the museum’s 50th anniversary on July 17, the authorities decided to do something quaint. They decided to add a statue of loco-pilot to the engine and wanted to model it after James Bunyan, who used to drive this from the 1940s to 1960s.

It was not an easy search but they did locate him in Canada, with some ‘divine’ help. One of the staff members of the museum, Mary Nirmala, found the address of Bunyan through her church contacts. Then, the museum authorities contacted Amelia Mckechnie, the daughter of James Bunyan.

Daughter Writes Back

Amelia was excited and tried to get her father to recollect some of his memories. But he had forgotten them. “There was an old black and white photograph of him with other workers on the engine, which Amelia had shared with us,” says Sajoo Bhaskaran curator at VITM. “We asked if he could identify them and give us their names. But, he had forgotten them.”

City Express had written to Amelia about the installation of the statue. She wrote back, in an email, saying, “I am very glad that the display at the museum attracts so many visitors and that it is a success. We are very proud of that display.” She says Bunyan was aware of the display and would’ve been delighted to share his stories in the railways, had he been alive. 

Bunyan had been proud of his association with the railways and having steered this engine. He was known to have visited the city and the engine quite often. The last known visit was in 2009. But when the museum authorities contacted the family, he was in ill health. He passed away last year, two weeks before the inauguration of his statue with his beloved engine.

Popular Engine

This F Class 0-6-0 steam locomotive was a popular model, according to the museum brochure, around the world during the 1800s and 1900s. “A total of 1035 locomotives of F class and its derivatives were built between 1874-1922,” it reads. The one here was one of the 25 metre-gauge steam locomotives supplied by the Glasgow-based Dubbs & Co to Southern Mahratta Railways in 1888. It last ran between Mysore and Ashokpuram in Karnataka.

K Kumar, director of VITM, says, “This steam locomotive has been grabbing a lot of attention. So, last year, we decided to renovate the steam engine as well as its display platform. Along with that we decided to find the loco piolet of this engine and, after a prolonged effort, we found him.”

During his 2009 visit to the city, Bunyan had given an interview to an English daily in which he expressed his wish to stay in India. “I’m 90 and recently underwent a heart bypass surgery,” he said to the daily. “I don’t think I have the energy to travel this long anymore, I want to spend my last days in Bangalore but I have to go back to Canada because my children stay there. This could probably be my last visit to India-and Bangalore.” He said he would’ve stayed back if he had children in India. “... unfortunately, all my three children have got married to foreigners.”

Remodelling Project

The art section of the museum modelled statues of Bunyan and his assistant after a black and white photograph handed over by Bunyan’s daughter.

In addition to that, they also recreated the platform and station roof for the locomotive. The museum authorities replaced the whistle of the engine. Otherwise, this century old locomotive is still rail worthy. That is, you can still take it out for a run.

“Several visitors, particularly students, find this locomotive interesting,” says the curator Bhaskaran. “Therefore, we paid extra attention to the preservation of the engine.” The engine was initially painted a sky blue. But when the restorators scratched the paint, they found that the original colour had been black and grey. So, they repainted it in the same combination.


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