Walking into the Power Hall at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, a railway warehouse dating from the 1850s, visitors hear working steam engines and are surrounded by the smell of steam and oil. These engines give some idea of the scale of objects to come. Follow the path and you are confronted by the Beyer Garratt locomotive.
This is a BIG locomotive - 27 metres long, resting on 28 wheels (wheel arrangement 4-8-2 plus 2-8-4, for those interested). Its colossal size and scale are what make it popular - and intimidating. Many young visitors approach with caution. They think it's scary, like a giant iron dinosaur.
Built in Manchester in 1930, the Beyer Garratt was among the largest class of locomotive made in Europe. It was designed to travel around sharp curves on steep and twisting mountain routes. These locomotives were transported to the four corners of the Earth, including Africa, Australia and South America. They were still in use in some parts of Africa in the 1980s.
The South African Railway donated this Garratt to the museum in 1984, when it ran under its own steam to the coast before being shipped to Tilbury taking a final, slow road journey back to Manchester.
It is painted grey and outlined in black, the way the manufacturer painted its engines before shipping them out to railway companies, which would then paint the engines in their own livery. Since repatriation, the engine plate and brasswork are polished weekly by two museum volunteers, Frank and Reg. Both men also guide visitors around the cab and explain the colour-coded valves, oil and water guages, linked by a mass of copper pipes.
The museum also holds Beyer company archives - technical and photographic records. These give a fascinating insight into what was once a major element of Manchester's manufacturing economy. The Garratt locomotive is an icon to this city's industrial past.
Alison Taubman is curator of energy and land transport collections at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester M3 4FP. Education service, tel: 0161 833 0027