Robert’s Bluebird Blast from the Past

Reporter: Martha Southall
Date published: 09 August 2018

As tests on the rebuilt Bluebird begin in Scotland, former Oldhamer Robert Stepien has revealed that a whole bunch of 1960s memories came flooding back.

Donald Malcolm Campbell broke eight world speed records on water and land in the 50s and 60s and remains the only person to have set both world land and speed records in the same year (1964).

It was in 1967, aged 45, that Campbell died during a water record attempt at Coniston Water when his hydroplane – the infamous Bluebird – crashed.

Robert Stepien’s encounter with the craft on a rainy morning in the 60s has never left him.

He said: “I've always remembered the day that me and my kid brother were going to catch the train at Werneth Station.

"It was in the early sixties and we were on our way to Shaw.

“We we're about to cross at the junction where Ford had their showrooms when a truck came up the hill past Dew's.

“On the back, partly covered by tarpaulin but clearly visible, was the Bluebird belonging to Donald Campbell.

"It's always stuck in my memory, especially following his death.”

The craft was salvaged in 2001 and restoration by volunteers is in progress.

Former Oldhamer Robert Stepien

This week, though, the memory turned up once again - at Robert’s door.

He added: “I read in the news that the Blue Bird was back and about to be tested in Scotland.

"Then, just last night I had a guy come to my house in Holmfirth to collect an eBay win. 

“I saw some diving equipment in his truck and, as we we're discussing diving, he told me he was part of the [Bluebird] support team.

“Blue Bird, he said, was to be taken to be seen at the weekend at some venue and then brought back to the lake on Sunday ready for testing.

“It's very strange how my memory of that day as a young lad has come full circle.”

Test runs of the restored Bluebird are taking place on Loch Fad on the Isle of Bute and – despite the canopy breaking off in one – the legendary vessel has reached speeds of 100mph, a third of those reached by Campbell.

Project Manager Bill Smith told ITV news of the test run: “It went very well – it worked first time out of the box."

Regular progress videos are available on YouTube for those wanting to share in Robert’s nostalgia.

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