Tintin and trains: adventures on rails !

Dossier ~ Friday 15th October 2010
Tintin in America (1932) - Page 1

To celebrate 175 years of Belgian railways, the Hergé Museum has organised, in collaboration with SNCB-Holding (Belgian National Railways), an exhibition devoted to the role of trains in the work of Hergé. All aboard for a thrilling adventure !

A rail odyssey

On the first page of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin and Snowy set off on their inaugural adventure by train. When the action-packed story  -  serialised in Le Petit Vingtième  -  came to an end in 1930, crowds of people showed up at the Gare du Nord in Brussels, to welcome their favourite hero back home. At the beginning of Tintin in the Congo, Tintin catches the train from Brussels to Antwerp. In his first post-war adventure, The Seven Crystal Balls, Tintin arrives at Marlinspike station in an SNCB train. The relationship between Hergé and trains has stood the test of time. The creator of Tintin even illustrated brochures for the SNCB.

Do you know that...

- Railways could be said to originate from as far back as 1540! These proto-railways consisted of wooden chariots pulled by horses. To give the animals a helping hand, the chariot's wheels were placed on wooden rails. The oldest reference to these ?wooden roads' comes from the year 1540.

Somewhere around the year 1715 iron replaced wood on these ancestors to the modern railway, both in the manufacture of the wheels and of the rails. Yet the horse remained the ?motor' of these ancient rail services.

- At this stage nobody had thought about carrying people in these chariots: they were used for the transport of heavy loads like marble, iron ore and granite.

- In Great Britain these railways were called tramways.

- The first railway built for passenger trains, was opened in 1802. It was the Surrey Iron Railway, which stretched out south of London under the initiative of engineer William Jessop. The trains were still being pulled by horses.

On 10 January
The railway handcar
Henri Dendoncker and Hergé on the balcony at Le Vingtième Siècle
Souvenir card portraying Henri Dendoncker

Reality comic strips before reality TV

In April 1930, the gripping story of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets came to an end within the pages of Le Petit Vingtième. On 10 January 1929, Tintin and Snowy had set off on a train destined for Berlin; just over a year later, they were returning home by train. The excited heroes passed by Louvain and Tirlemont stations before reaching their final destination, the Gare du Nord in Brussels. The fantastic adventures of the journalist from Le Petit Vingtième had whipped up enthusiasm in young readers, as well as their fathers; sales of the Catholic daily newspaper soared. The popularity of Tintin's story stimulated the imaginations of many readers to the point where many attributed real existence to Hergé's ink-and-paper characters. Tintin's phenomenal success gave Charles Lesnes, a journalist at Le Vingtième Siècle, food for thought. In 1928, Lesnes had followed the real-life adventure of a young Danish scout, Palle Huld (a boy of 15 years old: about the same age as Tintin), who had travelled around the world with the support of a Copenhagen newspaper, Politiken. Palle Huld's escapades made the headlines all over Europe and America, and they became the subject of a book published by Hachette in 1928./p>

Tintin and trains ? Modern trains !

With the help of Catholic officials who were friends of Father Wallez, the director of Le Vingtième Siècle, Lesnes made contact with the management of Belgian Railways. He was keen to organise an event celebrating Tintin's return from the ?Land of the Soviets'. The idea proved a great success: more than a thousand young people met up on the Place Rogier in Brussels, situated opposite the old Gare du Nord. The happy homecoming took place on 8 May 1930. During the 1930s, railway networks were developing at a rapid pace. More and more people travelled by train, and railway lines and stations sprang up everywhere. Railway stations were veritable monuments of urban art; trains were palaces on rails. Ever since the start of the film industry, trains have played a prominent role in the movies. Practically every Western has a train from some railroad company or other rolling through its scenery. Crime committed on board the carriages of the Orient Express, breathed new life into the murder-mystery genre. The train-top chase has sealed the fate of many a ?baddie', and films like The Great Train Robbery show how art imitates life. A steam engine even adds to Marilyn Munroe's sex appeal in Some like it Hot. Although trains were already the staple fare in novels, the cinema and tales of travel, it was through Tintin that this method of transport first appeared in the comic strip.

Do you know that...

- The beginning of the modern era of trains was brought about by the invention of the steam engine. The first version of a steam-powered machine dates from the first century AD ! An ancient Greek mathematician named Hero of Alexandria, built an aeolipile : a small revolving machine that was powered by steam. It was considered a toy of sorts, with no useful purpose.

- The first vehicle to be powered by steam, was designed (but probably never built) by Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest in 1668.

- The first steam-powered machines to be used regularly were pumps in coal and mineral mines. The work of Frenchman Denis Papin, along with English inventions (notably machines created in 1663 by Edward Somerset), resulted in the first commercially available steam pump, built in 1712.

- The first steam-powered motor was the work of Englishman James Watt (1736-1819). In 1784 he registered the patent for a steam train.

- The first steam train was driven by an engineer from Cornwall in Great Britain, Richard Trevithick, in 1804.

- On 27 September 1825, George Stephenson drove his own creation, Locomotion n° 1, on the first real railway line, which was built by a company called Stockton and Darlington.

The Broken Ear page 38
Prisoners of the Sun page 15
The Black Islandpage 31
The Seven Crystal Balls page 01
The Calculus Affair page 19

A journey through the Tintin books, by train

Following his spectacular departure for the Soviet Union, Tintin hops back onto a train before heading off to the Congo. Here he has an experience with a train that would not have gone down well with the Belgian authorities at the time, who were not keen to advertise the fact that they were sending all their old and decrepit trains to their colony! Tintin arrives at Chicago railway station as he begins his adventure in America. He had set off to conquer the West, by train! In India, Tintin has a close shave as he bumps into Thomson and Thompson (who go by their codenames X33 and X33A), who are hot on his trail. Tintin also comes across railways in China. If Hergé is to be believed, we shouldn't place too much faith in Latin American rail transport: just look at what happens in The Broken Ear and Prisoners of the Sun ! To redress the balance, an English train (The Black Island) proves to be the setting for more misfortune. After King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, the train looked like it had finally pulled into the station; all of a sudden it was back again in The Seven Crystal Balls ! Later on, The Calculus Affair made Cornavin railway station and the Geneva-Nyon railway line, famous worldwide.

The Seven Crystal Balls page 01
Brochure 1934

The World on rails

Tintin seems to be the perfect vehicle by which to promote trains. Thoroughly impressed by the celebrations at the Gare du Nord in Brussels, welcoming Tintin home from Russia and the Congo, Belgian Railway officials commissioned Hergé to create an advertising brochure, for which he drew 34 illustrations.Locomotives and railways play a part in many of the pivotal moments in Tintin's adventures. He first meets his friend Chang while walking along a railway line in China. Tintin criss-crosses England and Scotland by train, and travels through the Andes along an ?iron road'. In the first issue of Tintin magazine, published on 26 September 1946, the little reporter is sitting on a bus that he has just caught from Marlinspike railway station. In another story, from the moment that he arrives at Cornavin railway station in Lausanne, Tintin is plunged into a nail-biting adventure of international espionage.

A treasure trove of unpublished material The brochure designed by Hergé !

To celebrate the new temporary exhibition Tintin, Hergé and trains, Moulinsart have printed a limited and numbered edition of SNCB booklet created by Hergé in 1934. This booklet includes 34 unknown illustrations by Hergé, as well as accompanying text. It will only be available from the shop at the Hergé Museum. Visitors to the exhibition will receive a free leaflet with a reproduction of the exhibition poster on one side, and text and illustrations relating to the exhibition on the other.

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