During his career, Phil Atkins met the Prince and Princess of Wales - and was even introduced to a Prime Minister.
He once arrived at his job at the National Railway Museum, in York, to be handed a note telling him that Margaret Thatcher would be visiting that day.
Secrecy was necessary as the visit took place in the 1980s at the height of the Miners’ Strike and the Prime Minister was far from popular in some quarters.
This year, the railway museum marks its 40th anniversary and yesterday Mr Atkins, a retired librarian who was present on the opening day in 1975, was back with the engines to launch a call for visitors over the past four decades to come forward with their memories in preparation for major celebrations in September.
“I started my role on December 1, 1975, and what I particularly remember fondly during my 30 years was meeting people like the late Alastair Macleod, Dick Riley and Pat Ransome-Wallis, who were all legendary railway photographers and a real link with the past,” he said.
“Michael Palin and Ludovic Kennedy both came in the library to do some research, the latter left his heavy winter overcoat behind, which we had to post on to him in Edinburgh.”
Mr Atkins, 68, who is retired but still volunteers at the museum, also recalls a visit by Prince Charles and the then Princess of Wales. He recalls Diana was “a bit hesitant”, but he later discovered she was in the early stages of pregnancy and surmised she may have been feeling unwell.
He is a real train fan and is currently writing a book about the world’s most famous steam engine, Flying Scotsman, which is undergoing a protracted restoration at the museum, and was present the day the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the museum at the former steam locomotive depot.
“I am interested in the railways and I have always been a book lover so it was a perfect job to me. It was like going to heaven without dying,” he said.
Over the years, Mr Atkins helped to build up the museum’s collections and deal with public inquiries. In the early days the job was very different from today, with no internet to help catalogue and showcase collections. A number of events are planned including reuniting Churchill’s funeral train to mark the 50th anniversary of his death later this month, to seeking memories of the museum throughout its history.
The funeral train that carried Sir Winston Churchill from Waterloo to Oxfordshire, becoming a focus for the people’s farewell to the great statesman, will be reunited for the first time since 1965.
The locomotive Winston Churchill, together with selected vehicles that both carried Churchill’s coffin and funeral guests are being displayed in the museum’s Great Hall as part of a new display, Churchill’s Final Journey, later this month.
Staff want to hear the public’s memories of the National Railway Museum throughout the past 40 years. For more information on sharing memories, photos and videos, visit www.nrm.org.uk//NRM-40.