Double-Heading to Cheyenne

Union Pacific Steam Engines 4014 and 844 exit Weber Canyon, headed to Ogden, Utah (Bob Kise)

For three years, Union Pacific’s Engine No. 844 cooled its wheels in Cheyenne, Wyoming, undergoing a major overhaul in the company’s steam shop. The last of the company’s steam engines, produced in 1944 by the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, New York, the so-called ‘Living Legend’ never had been formally out of service, but age takes its toll, and the need for maintenance was obvious.

The locomotive began rolling again in 2016, traveling first to Cheyenne Frontier Days, and then to the opening of the Big River Crossing in Memphis. The Boise Turn Special, an eleven-day run to help celebrate the 92nd anniversary of Boise’s historic depot, took UP 844 over 1,600 miles of Union Pacific track through Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.

Eventually, she traveled to the midwest, then on to Texas. Stops along each route allowed both dedicated railfans and the casually curious to see, touch, and hear an important part of American history.

Recently, UP 844 has been ‘double-heading’ — traveling in tandem with Union Pacific’s Engine No. 4014, affectionately known as ‘Big Boy.’ The pair made their way westward to Ogden, Utah to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, and soon will be back in Cheyenne. In the coming months, Big Boy 4014 will travel other parts of the Union Pacific system, allowing even more people to experience a piece of living history. That such a thing is possible — Big Boy back on the rails and able to tour the country– is something of a miracle.

UP No. 4014 leaving Evanston, Wyoming, headed to Ogden, Utah (Greg Brubaker)

During World War II, Union Pacific operated some of the largest and most powerful steam locomotives ever built. Known collectively as the ‘Big Boys,’ they were designed to solve a particular problem.

Seventy years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the mountains of Wyoming and Utah continued to confound Union Pacific. Moving heavy freight over the mountains often required multiple locomotives, which meant a need for more workers and more fuel. The climb over the Wasatch mountains between Ogden, Utah and Green River, Wyoming was particularly difficult. According to William Pearce:

The 176-mile stretch of track started out at 4,300 ft (1,310 m) above sea level in Ogden, climbed the Wasatch Range to 7,300 ft (2,225 m) at the Aspen Tunnel, and then dropped to 6,100 ft (1,859 m) at Green River. Occasionally, up to three helper engines were used to assist heavily loaded trains over the Wasatch mountains.

In 1940, the railroad’s mechanical engineers sought to solve the problem by designing a new class of engines which came to be known as “Big Boys.” Twenty-five were built, each measuring 132 feet long and weighing 1.2 million pounds. Because of their length, their frames were articulated, or hinged, allowing them to negotiate curves. Their wheel arrangement (known as a 4-8-8-4) included a leading set of four pilot wheels to guide the engine, two sets of eight drive wheels, and four smaller following wheels to support the rear of the locomotive.

After delivery to Union Pacific in 1941, UP 4014 joined the other Big Boys in helping to move millions of tons of war supplies. According to steam historian John E. Bush, “Without the Big Boys, the Union Pacific never could have moved all that material for the war effort.”

UP Big Boy 4012 hauling freight through Green River, Wyoming, November 1941
(Otto Perry image via Denver Public Library)

Union Pacific used the Big Boys until 1959, then replaced them with diesel-electric locomotives. Most were scrapped, but some were put on display: in St. Louis; Dallas; Omaha; Denver; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In 2013, Union Pacific announced that it had re-acquired a Big Boy from the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona, California, and hoped to restore it for the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Many expressed scepticism; even the machinery needed to create replacement parts would have to be redesigned and reconstructed. But in the end, the goal was accomplished, and UP Big Boy 4014 is rolling again.

During my childhood, I found the poetry and romance of steam enticing. In the classroom, teachers told stories of strong, indestructible iron horses, or taught songs about winsome little creatures called “pufferbellies.”

In my naiveté, I believed that pufferbellies were roaming our neighborhood, and thought I ought to be able to catch one — like a firefly, or grasshopper. One Sunday afternoon, I headed off toward the schoolyard, determined to find one of the creatures. Before long, my dad caught up with me and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”  “To find the pufferbellies,” I said. Silence billowed between us like steam. “The what?” ”The pufferbellies. We learned a song about them in school. I want to see them.”

He asked if I could sing the song for him, and I could. I remembered every word, and sang the first verse twice.

By the time I finished, he was laughing. “Sweetie, I know where the pufferbellies live. Why don’t we go see them?”

Later that afternoon, we bundled into the car and drove to a place he called the depot. At the depot, while people boarded trains for such exotic destinations as Des Moines and Omaha, we sat on a bench, waiting for a train to arrive. Hearing the low moan of the arriving train’s whistle, feeling the vibrations in the ground, and covering my ears against the sharp, steam-shrouded screech of the brakes, I came to a conclusion: real trains were far more exciting than pufferbellies.

Rock Island Depot ~ Newton, Iowa

I began riding my bike to the depot to watch the trains come in, and began reading the names on freight cars at crossings: Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; Burlington; Great Northern; Illinois Central; Cottonbelt.

I learned new songs, sung by men with names like Boxcar Willie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The Wabash Cannonball, The Wreck of Old 97, and Paddy Works on the Erie weren’t pleasant fantasies; they were grounded in railroading as a way of life, celebrating the engineers, boomers and brakemen, switchmen, conductors, and engineers who worked the yards.


In time, I began walking the trestles with friends, shivering with anticipation and fear as we tempted the afternoon freight. Once, I visited a roundhouse with my grandfather, where the engines and their turntable delighted me. On road trips I begged my dad to race the Streamliners highballing along their glistening tracks, and in the rich summer nights I lodged myself between crickets and stars to hear  mournful whistles dissolving away into the dark.

Decades later, photographer and friend Tom Parker captured UP 844 rolling through Frankfort, Kansas on her journey south from Cheyenne to Harlingen, Texas. The Valley Eagle Heritage Tour, named for a popular Missouri Pacific passenger train which operated between Houston and Brownsville from 1948 to 1962, was a railfan’s dream.

Like a giant pufferbelly escaped from bonds of inattention and neglect, UP 844 was riding the rails of imagination as surely as her rails of steel. From the moment I learned she’d roll through Houston before heading southwest, there was no question I’d be at the stations, whistlestops, and country crossings to witness the historic journey.

UP 844 steaming through Kansas ~ Tom Parker

At a crossing southwest of Houston, waiting for one more glimpse of the great locomotive, I found myself pondering the world represented by an outdated but still compelling technology.

In that older world, the metaphor of the well-oiled machine still had force. In most occupations, skill and perseverance were more important than connections. Deals were sealed with handshakes, and a man’s word was his bond, rather than a contemptuous and cynical attempt to manipulate others.

In a world marked by divisions, it’s worth remembering that, for many railroaders, the only divide that counted was the Continental Divide: an obstacle eventually overcome by a Golden Spike of vision, foresight and ingenuity. Certainly manipulation and not a little greed were part of overcoming that divide. Nevertheless, five days after the spike was driven in 1869, passenger train service was instituted. Pulled by the astounding iron horses, people journeyed from Omaha to Sacramento in four days rather than four months, and they fell in love with their trains.

Today we travel faster, but I’m not sure we travel better. When those engines from an earlier time begin to move, people gather. They stand at crossings and linger at whistlestops, traveling miles beyond good sense to see a highballing steamer race across the prairie or idle at a switch.

Beyond the charms of retro technology, there’s a palpable sense of people wanting to meet people, to hear the whistle and feel the vibration: to reach across the years that divide us from our past in order to touch the steam, steel, and grit that made this country work and to witness the proof of a challenge well met.

As long as UP 844 and UP 4014 keep rolling; as long as the people who love and sustain them survive; as long as the whistles sound and the firebox glows, there’s railroading to be done. There are prairies to cross, and foothills to climb. There are mountainsides where the great, vertiginous sky reaches off to infinity; high plateaus where the winds blow free and a person can breathe in the air of acomplishment and history.

Children will love their pufferbellies, but railroading’s for grownups: for people willing to pick up and roam; to work beyond exhaustion; to trade security for freedom, and speak with integrity.

Of course there will be difficulties. No one wants to face the broken tie, the washed-out bridge, the screaming downgrade acceleration, or the jumped tracks. But ask any old-timer from Old Cheyenne — or anywhere else for that matter — and he’ll tell you it’s worth the ride. Today’s railroaders would agree.

Comments always are welcome.
Thanks to Tom Parker, Aaron B. Hockley, and Daniel Lipinski for images used in my video. Thanks also to Hal Cannon, the Deseret String Band, and Okehdokee Records for permission to use the group’s version of “Railroading on the Great Divide.” This previously published post was re-written and expanded to include some history of the Big Boys, and acknowledge the introduction of UP 4014 back into service.
 

109 thoughts on “Double-Heading to Cheyenne

  1. Wonderful, nostalgic, post. Beautifully written with charming videos. Takes me back to a ’40s childhood watching steam trains from our kitchen window. We had to wait for 6 trains to go by before getting down from the meal table.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Derrick. It tickles me to think of train passages as a way of marking time. That’s ever so clever, and more appealing than watching a digital clock. Two of my best vacations involved staying in refurbished railroad crew quarters only a few feet from the tracks. There weren’t any steam trains, of course, but there were BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) trains that passed every hour. Watching them was a good way of marking time, too.

  2. Naturally I love all of this Linda, as you’ve seen by my posts on the Quorn trains. This train though is massive in comparison! Your storytelling skills have been outstanding here, weaving your childhood story into the story of the loco. The videos and the images are great, but the music at the end is the real icing on the cake. Thanks for reminding me how I miss the Quorn trains… funny….. I was thinking just last night about a return trip.

    1. Massive is the word. The Big Boys weren’t built for speed. Theoretically, they could reach 80 mph, but rarely went that fast. Once past mountain grades, it seems that 40-60 mph was more usual. A fun detail is that they originally were to carry the name ‘Wasatch,’ but a worker scrawled “Big Boy’ across the front of one in chalk, and the name stuck.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video. That’s my first and only attempt at making one, and I enjoyed it. Of course, the song’s been one of my favorites since I first heard it performed in the Wasatch mountains’ Cottonwood Canyon, so listening to it repeatedly while I worked on the video was a pleasure.

  3. Now there’s a clever statement: “Silence billowed between us like steam.”

    You have such vivid recall of events from your childhood. Preternatural, I’d say.

    After hours out wandering in our hot and humid Texas, a helper engine sounds like a good thing.

    Given that steam engines go back to the 1800s, I was surprised when I searched just now in books.google.com and found the earliest hit for “pufferbelly” was from 1949, in Forbes Magazine: “It looks as if the old black pufferbelly is pushing the sleek new gas turbine-electric locomotive on Union Pacific’s steep grade near Cheyenne, Wyoming.” Wiktionary deems the word informal and dated. It seems to have been born and already to have run out of steam in our lifetime.

    1. Searching by song title, you’d have found earlier entries for “Down By the Station.” A popular song written by Lee Ricks and Slim Gaillard in 1948, and most famously recorded by Tommy Dorsey, the song quickly became a children’s musical standard, but the song itself is older than 1948. In an online forum, it was mentioned as being published in a 1931 magazine named Recreation.

      The word ‘pufferbelly’ probably is an adaptation of ‘Puffing Billy,’ the name of the world’s oldest surviving steam engine, built in 1813-1814 in Newcastle-on-Tyne. It’s interesting that British composer Edward White wrote a melody named after the locomotive in 1952. I’ll bet you recognize it, since it became the theme for the television program Captain Kangaroo.

  4. Not sure what you intended with your “boomers” link, which took me to the July 15, 1949, issue of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. Browsing that issue, I found an interesting editorial entitled “For Want of Two Teeth“:

    “A Spokane boy who passed the intelligence tests for entrance to West Point with 101 points to spare finds himself unacceptable because he lacks two wisdom teeth on which to fasten dental bridges.

    “It is a fine thing to have high physical standards for the military academy, but this rejection seems a little beyond the bounds of practicality. After all, the school does not train its men to bite the enemy.”

    In a separate search I found boomer defined as: “Drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time on each job or each road. This term dates back to pioneer days when men followed boom camps.”

    1. The article about boomers is on the far left-hand side of the page that comes up. If you use the cursor to slide it to the right a bit, or reduce the page, you get the whole article. I tried to find a way to get the title to come up instead of only half the article, but that didn’t work, and I couldn’t find a way to clip the entire article without reducing it so much it was hard to read. When I bring it up, there’s a blue highlighted block in the sidebar that shows the location of the relevant article.

      The definition you found is a fair description of what the newspaper article highlights, although it’s interesting that the newspaper is writing about the boomers because of the way increased regulation was affecting their lives.

  5. I love your dad. “Sweetie, I know where the pufferbellies live. Why don’t we go see them?” He helped turn you into a life-long learner.

    Trains have had an important place in our history and those people who volunteer to keep the historical lines and engines going are special people. Wonderful essay, Linda. As always.

    1. My dad was curious, and willing to push past the boundaries my mother always was trying to set. If I were to remember him for any question, it would be, “Do you want to go exploring?” I always did want to go, even if our exploring was limited to some gravel roads in Iowa.

      The world of the railfan is as fascinating as the trains themselves.They’re rather like the birders I know. Some are quite serious and dedicated, traveling long distances to see particular trains and keeping copious notes about what they see. Others just enjoy the sight and sounds of trains, and the urge to get moving that they evoke. I like being around trains, and I enjoy learning about their history, but I have no urge at all to climb aboard Amtrak. Now, if I could ride in the locomotive, that would be a different story.

  6. I loved this essay,Linda. I grew up just a half-block from the Burlington Northern route – mostly coal trains traveling east coming from Gillette Wyoming. We felt the power as they passed through our tiny town, shaking the ground. We knew each engine by the kind of screaming or blaring whistle as they forged through. At night I fell asleep after the second train passed through, never hearing the many night trains that passed through. During days of summer we kids ran to the road that ran along the tracks to wave at the men at the helm of the first engine, counted well over 100 train cars, and then waved at the fellow in the caboose. My little sister lives near the train tracks in another small town in Nebraska, not far from where we grew up. Though there are now two tracks on the line, with trains passing through every 15 to 30 minutes, I still revel in the feeling of the power and magnificence, the different sounds of whistles as they pass through. Waiting to pass to the other side of the highway is never a dull wait for me. I’m still fascinated.

    Oh how I’d love to see a big boy! Your father was special.What grand memories you have!

    1. Isn’t it interesting how even the sound of a train can go unheard? When I decided to stay at a refurbished railroad bunkhouse in Kansas that’s snuggled right up to the tracks, many people said, “You’ll never get a bit of sleep with those freight trains rolling by.” To the contrary. I slept perfectly well, and sometimes tried to keep myself awake so that I could listen to them.

      It’s true, too, that every whistle has its own sound. I have no idea how many complilations of train whistles there are on YouTube, but there are a lot. I enjoyed this one particularly. In fact, about half a minute in, I started laughing, and laughed all the way through. It’s perfectly delightful.

      I hope we both get a chance to see a Big Boy this year. This system map offers some clues</a. to where UP 4014 might travel, but what I don't know is which parts of the system could support that behemoth. Once they're back in Cheyenne and have done any post-trip repairs and maintenance, I'm sure there will be more information posted. I signed up for their Steam Club, so I get emails, newsletter, and such. When I find out anything, I'll let you know. Even traveling to Kansas to see it would be worth the trip.

    1. ‘Derailed’ is a bit of a loaded term, since it often evokes images of a locomotive on its side. But all is well, and it didn’t take long for them to get back on track (in every sense of the word). I’ve been following on Twitter, and found this chronology for May 16:

      1:59 p.m. MDT – moving northeast near Rawlins, Wyoming
      2:04 p.m. MDT – stopped in Rawlins, Wyoming
      6:23 p.m. MDT – moving west near Rawlins, Wyoming

      Apparently a stop the next morning led to some concern, but this bit of information was added:

      “Due to heavy traffic, #UP844 and #UP4014 are being held just outside of Rawlins. All is fine, just need to wait for traffic to clear.”

      Now? At 8:45 a.m. this morning, they were moving east near Hermosa. They’re almost home!

  7. Our son, who now flies big airplanes, really enjoyed trains as a little boy, especially steam trains. We rode the one in the Black Hills and the Georgetown Loop west of Denver. They have a smell, look, and feel so unique. Thanks for this update on the UP engines. It is fun to see them still rolling.

    1. When I looked at their system map, it occurred to me that the tracks running across Iowa to Chicago might well be able to support UP 4014. Somewhere I read a comment about the traffic jams that will be likely on I-80 when the Big Boy goes on tour, so you might well have a chance to see it. I hope so.

      I’d love to be able to see the Big Boy, and get a UP 4014 tee shirt to go with my UP 844 tee.

  8. While reading your words, I felt that they had been written while on a train, pulled by a robust steam engine, chugging down the tracks as if piloted by Spartacus. The cadence, the intention, the nostalgia–all pulling your delighted readers through land, verse, and song they have not seen, read, heard.

    Several weeks ago, I took a friend, aged 93 to lunch. In picking her up at her independent living facility, we walked by a hobby room. There, completely filling the room, was a model train, or should I say multiple model trains, completely filling the room. Trains seem to capture many of our imaginations.

    1. I remember going downtown at Christmas time when I was a kid. One of the stores — sometimes Spurgeon’s department store, sometimes the hardware store — would have a model train set up in the window. We’d stand for hours, watching. Now, at Christmas time, I still go and look, especially when a place like the Houston Museum of Natural Science mounts an exhibit like “Trains Over Texas,” an “O” scale representation of famous train routes in the state.

      As long as we’re thinking of trains, we probably should recall Flannery O’Connor again, and her trenchant observation that, “the presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”

      I love that line almost as much as I love the rail lines.

  9. when I was young, pre teen years, I would spend several weeks every summer with my aunt and uncle who lived in east Texas out in the country outside Jacksonville. One year my parents couldn’t be bothered to drive me so they put me on the train. I don’t remember how old I was, 10ish maybe. I wish I remembered more about the trip. They picked me up in Tyler probably. I remember when there was still train service to Galveston, seeing the trains as we drove was always fun, and I always wanted to take the passenger train there but never did.

    1. There was a move about a decade ago to re-institute train service from Houston to Galveston. I suppose anyone doing a cost/benefit analysis would say no to such an idea, but it’s certainly been a part of our history. Somewhere I have a link to a letter written by a woman who lived out on Todville Road in Seabrook, who was waiting for her husband to make it back to the mainland by train as the 1900 hurricane rolled in. What a time.

      Believe it or not, I had no idea where Jacksonville is. When I looked it up, I found it’s east of Montalba; my favorite farmers at our local market bring in produce from their farm there every week. It must have been great fun to visit your aunt and uncle there. I always spent time with my grandparents every summer, and have good memories of those visits.

      1. I don’t know how much land they had out there in the piney woods, quite a lot of acreage which included part of Lake Jacksonville, a live creek they called the Branch that I would spend my days playing in, a spring that my uncle would go to the pumphouse every morning and pump water into the tank for the day’s use. his father built the house by hand out of local stone and every window was a different size. it was a fabulous house with a long room that spanned almost the whole front and a deep back porch that did span the entire length of the house with one end screened in. I loved that house and I was so sad when my aunt sold it and moved into town after my uncle died and her health became frail.

        1. Your description of the house is wonderful. It reminds me of a great-aunt’s house outside Baton Rouge that I also dearly loved. It had a screened sleeping porch where we kids spent most of our time, when we weren’t out prowling the property. They knew how to build houses back then, to take advantage of the breezes, and the shade. I can understand why you remember it so fondly — what a great place for a kid.

    1. You’re welcome, Jeanette. I’m hoping this will turn into a three-part series: my previous post for UP844, this one for 844 and 4014, and one in the future when I get to see UP4014 somewhere, sometime. I’m willing to travel!

  10. I just read an article last week about these Big Boys and I like what you have to say about them. There’s something about trains that run deep in my soul. My maternal grandfather worked on one during the Great Depression and I worked at the Denver & Rio Grande yards in Grand Junction, Colorado for an electrical contractor on occasion.

    Our current home is the first time in my life that I have been out of earshot of train tracks. We have a Smart Train operational between San Rafael and Santa Rosa and once the tracks are opened to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal we might hear the whistle as it goes through town. Fingers crossed…

    Thanks for the memories,
    Ω

    1. Isn’t it amazing how the whistle of a train can improve life? It’s melancholy, comforting, and enticing all at once. Whenever I hear a whistle at night, I always think of the people behind that sound: keeping the country running while the rest of us sleep, or stay awake just to hear the sound. Of course, it’s not just trainmen. There are the truckers, the linemen, the police, the EMTs — all of those whose working lives are hidden, but critical.

      My own paternal grandparents had a short line running behind their house. It serviced the coal mine that my grandfather worked in. Those trains were short and slow — open coal cars with funky little locomotives — but they provided hours of amusement for us. As “poor little match girl” as it sounds, we’d go out with burlap bags and collect spilled coal for the furnaces. It’s quite something to consider that it was only sixty years ago.

      1. There is a train museum here in Northern California where you can make a reservation and drive a locomotive on a closed track. We did it for my wife’s birthday back in the ’90s and it was a blast. She got to drive a 100-ton ‘Switch yard’ locomotive—that’s the small one that they use to move the around the railcars that form a given train.

        On a side-note, a buddy of mine is a VFX guy in Hollywood and he has been working on the Deadwood movie that premieres on the 31st. His job has been to create a digital train for the show. You can see glimpses of it in the trailer that’s running on HBO. What a co-inkydink…

        Happy Monday,
        Ω

        1. What a terrific birthday gift — I can only imagine how much fun driving that locomotive would have been. As for coincidences, a friend who’s a retired history professor, and who now divides his time between Texas and Santa Fe, is an extra in Deadwood. Now I’ve got two reasons to see the film.

  11. When I lived in Iowa (1968-1975) our house was 1/2 block from the railroad tracks. I did take the train to Chicago once, the trip was only 4 hours. Ah, good times, thanks for stirring up that memory.

    1. You moved to Iowa just about the time I left; I hope your years there were as good as mine. A trip to Chicago by train sounds great. That it was only four hours surprises me, but of course when I lived there, Chicago seemed far, far away. When I was a kid, even Iowa City seemed far away. But you’re right — those were good times, and the memories do linger.

  12. Excellent, Linda. I remember as a kid laying in bed on a summer night listening to the train move through the city. The whistle blew at the crossings and I would count them until I fell asleep. Thanks for the memories

    1. Anecdotal evidence suggests there might be more train-whistle counters than sheep counters when it comes to falling asleep. I don’t think there’s anything more pleasant, especially since listening to trains implies open windows, and comfortable weather. Do you have any trains near you in your new neighborhood? I suspect not, but that would be just one more added attraction to enjoy.

    1. Lucky you! I enjoyed the video. There’s something about watching one of those behemoths beginning to move that’s as delightful as seeing it running free across the flatlands. It’s been interesting to watch the people in the multitude of videos that have been posted, too. I saw one that included a boy who might have been six or seven in an engineer’s cap clutching a golden spike, and one showing an old woman with a walker who was being propped up as she waved to the train. Just wonderful.

  13. Lands o Goshen, Linda, you can make me love anything. Here I am mesmerized by your account of trains. They really were a marvel in their day; I wish they were utilized more in this day. I would love a train tour through Canada.

    1. Trains always have played an outsized role in our imagination. The Orient Express, the Blue Train, the California Limited — I’d ride any of them, happily, even if some have ended service and I’d have to ride in imagination only. Now, that Toronto to Vancouver train? Here’s a little something to whet your appetite!

  14. I have little knowledge of or experience with trains, but that’s a far cry from none. Trains and stations have been pretty exciting to me since I became an adult, and for one reason or another I have spent hours watching train videos, such as when I was thinking of riding the train in India – which I didn’t.

    So glad you posted the videos. That first one is my favorite – it’s mesmerizing! I love how in the first part the train does seem to be literally burning up the tracks :-) One of my grandsons is particularly fascinated by trains and I’ll send this post to his family. Thank you, Linda!

    1. Clearly, you need to add RailfanDepot to your list of links. They have social media feeds, of course, that are filled with wonderful photos and links to videos. I did a quick search and found one of their professionally produced videos from northern California. Great fun! I’m sure they have something for whichever part of the country your grandson lives in, too.

      The thought of riding a train in India… I suspect it would have been quite an experience. I’m sure the movies and tv specials hype the reality a bit, but it seems like the reality would have been memorable enough. I was comfortable traveling in West Africa’s money buses, but the scale was different.

  15. While the romance of trains has declined over the years the competitive efficiency for moving big loads over long distances is still there and will be for many more years,

    1. You’re exactly right. Most people are familiar with the big lines, but probably don’t know how many other freight lines exist. A couple of my favorites here in Texas are the Timber Rock Railway in east Texas, and the South Orient that runs in south Texas. They’re all part of the network that helps to make the country work, and it seems to me that people are beginning to appreciate the importance of maintaining the rails we still have left.

  16. Another item on the entirely too long list of short-sighted things our country has done, is allowing our railroading infrastructure to deteriorate. I can remember as a small child riding the Santa Fe train to Houston, an overnight trip, sleeping in the Pullman car in our own little stateroom with my dad.

    1. You’re absolutely right. It’s good that abandoned rail lines are being converted to rail trails for hiking and biking, but some of those lines never should have been abandoned.

      It’s instructive to watch the construction that’s going on in Seabrook and Kemah right now. They’re widening Hwy 146, including the bridge, to something just short of a gazillion lanes. The traffic’s ghastly, so there’s time to watch them do things like tearing up the tracks that run parallel to the highway. Granted, no trains have run on those tracks for years, but it’s still something of a metaphor.

      By the way — you might want to check your email….

  17. “Grandpa, how old are you?”

    “I am old enough to have ridden on the Dale Street trolley, seen a steam engine pull into the Minnehaha yards and sold my mother’s old washing machine to a rag man for a nickel. The rag man came by once a week in a wagon pulled by a horse.”

    “What’s a trolley?”

    “What’s a steam engine?”

    “What’s a rag man?”

    1. At least he didn’t ask, “What’s a horse?” On the other hand, cultural and tech trends are flipping over so fast there are kids who don’t know why the mention of AOL discs brings peals of laughter, or why some of us still have a strange affection for Hampton Hampster.

  18. Steam trains were very much a part of my earliest childhood. We had no car (very few private people did) and if we wanted to visit grandpa we went on the train. I can still smell the sooty smoke billowing from the engine and feel the ratratrat of the wheels sitting on the uncomfortably hard wooden seats.
    Ah, the romance of it all.

    1. I had one opportunity to experience the romance of hard seats, smoke, and cinders, but I was young enough that it all was very exciting. On the other hand, during the years when my mother was growing up, her family was in the same situation: no car, and only the short lines to get them between towns. It’s great fun to go through the postcards I still have, and read messages as short as: “Arriving Saturday, 7 pm. No need to meet — will find way home.” Postcards and trains were very different from texting and Uber, and I’m just crotchety (or plain odd) to prefer the former.

  19. I am always amazed at the detail of your memories of childhood. I know that my mother took my brother and me to visit relatives a few times by train but that’s all I remember…nothing romantic about the experience. More recently (recently loosely describing events over 35 years ago), I used to Amtrak back and forth to Philadelphia to visit Mary Beth before we were married. That was enjoyable, but not so glamorous as some of the old steamers. I doubt that we will ever do it, but I think a transcontinental journey by train would be quite enjoyable.

    1. A friend recently took Amtrak out to Big Bend, and really enjoyed it. I’ve heard great reports about some of the transcontinental trips, too: especially across the northern reaches of our country, and in Canada. I think it would be a great experience, but I’m always torn when I think about not being able to stop and explore along the way. In that sense, a train trip and a cruise ship seem similar to me. Once you’re on board, the destination’s not going to change. Obviously, the answer’s to do both!

      For just transportation rather than travel, trains are great. I especially enjoyed the BART system in the San Francisco Bay area, and the train travel I did in Europe was pure pleasure. Easy, safe, clean, and just a little romantic. I wish we had that here, but Houston’s urban sprawl and the huge area the city and its suburbs covers makes rail impractical. Of course, if we had all the tracks that have been torn up, it would help.

      1. Before moving here to be with me, Mary Beth lived in the Philadelphia area and, foregoing the use of he car whenever possible, rode and loved the SEPTA (Southeast-eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) bus system.Although we do have our own PVTA (Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority) bus system, it isn’t the same for her. She now drives pretty much all the time as she can no longer easily walk the distance to the nearest bus stop and, once summer arrives and the UMass students are scarce, the routes shrink.
        I doubt that I will do a transcontinental trip for the same reason unless I am the driver. Passing by all those points of interest would be misery for me.

  20. Nothing is more exciting than riding on the choo-choo train. They were still around in Australia when we arrived in 1956. Not just goods trains, but also passenger trains were still then pulled and driven by ancient locomotives. My brother and I took one of those trains to go South of Sydney to camp along the shore and shoot rabbits. We carried tent, one 22 rifle, and took this locomotive driven train down South. What we had not experienced is that when a train goes through a tunnel, windows have to be shut. In those days, train windows could be opened to let in fresh air or let out smokers stale exhalations.
    As soon as we hit a tunnel, of which there were several, the black soot would billow inside, even during the split second before quickly shutting the windows.
    One passenger who knew the route would shout before the next tunnel; ‘tunnel’ and we would quickly oblige.
    My brother and I had a lovely two weeks but did not get to shoot a single rabbit.

    1. What a great story of your trip south. I like thinking of you and your brother on your great adventure — I think all of us were much freer, much more active, and more independent in those days. Two weeks is enough time to have a lot of fun, even without bagging a rabbit. I see that the whole stretch of coast south of Sydney still is national park and such — it must have been beautiful.

      I enjoyed hearing about your fellow traveler who could call out the tunnels, too. A little local knowledge is a wonderful thing, whether traveling by sea or by land.

      The only train trip I took with my dad was similar. It was long before the days of air-conditioned cars, and it wasn’t a diesel engine. As I recall, no cinders landed in the car, but the smoke certainly did, even with the same up-and-downing of the windows. There weren’t any tunnels, so I suppose shutting the windows against the smoke had more to do with wind direction than anything else.

  21. What a wonderful homage, Linda, to an age begone! I keep thinking what a chance the US missed by letting go the railroad network go to pieces.

    1. Isn’t that the truth? At least the rail system seems to have stabilized somewhat now, and the developing of intermodal transport systems has given rail a boost. When I stayed in the old railroad bunkhouse in Kansas, the trains that were passing by every hour were loaded with containers; now, I work at a couple of marinas near the Port of Galveston and the Bayport Terminal where those wonderful “giraffes” unload the container ships, transferring their shipments to trucks.

      On the other hand, the limited amount of track causes its own problems. Rail lines are working together to increase efficiency and eliminate some of the ‘pinch points’ in the system. There’s some information here about Houston’s Port Terminal Railroad Association.

      1. Thanks for the link, Linda.
        I cannot but compare the railroad system here in the US wth that in my native Germany. If more Germans would know the system here, they would no longer complain about the Bundesbahn, but do cartwheels of praise. ;) When I fly to Germany, I fly into Frankfurt, and then from there take the fast train to Cologne: less than an hour, into the middle of the city, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. And once every hour at that! And freight trains that need to still go through cities usually do that at about 60 mph [and not at walking-speed] as there usually are no level crossings any more.

  22. Gee, I guess I was born too late to fully appreciate steam engines, Linda. These are majestic! When Domer was little, the majority of books I read him were about trains, and we often went to the depot to watch the Amtrak pull in and roll out. We went to train museums, rode as many trains as we could, and bought tons of railroad souvenirs. I’m glad he didn’t become a train engineer, but nobody can take away the knowledge he (and I) gained from all this!

    Beautifully nostalgic post here, my friend. Nice to learn you and I share this love for trains. Maybe it’s a Midwest-thing? I just know I’ve been enamored of trains ever since our next door neighbor “gave” my sis and me his electric train set and we promptly hid the cars beneath our beds praying Mom wouldn’t find them and force us to return them (which, of course, happened!!)

    1. I laughed at the thought of you stashing your treasure under the bed to keep it from your mother’s prying eyes. Those attempts never worked, did they? From time to time, as my mother aged and we spent time reminiscing, I’d find that certain things I assumed I’d gotten past her she’d known about the whole time.

      I don’t know that train obsession’s particularly midwestern, but it is true that I found a sign of it in a Kansas graveyard once. I think it’s pretty clear that Mr. John T. Huffman never got over his boyhood love of trains. Does Domer still have a fondness for them? Maybe some day the two of you will have a chance to take a nice trip on one.

      1. What a great marker!! Domer isn’t as enamored as he was when he was little (and had train sets all over the house!); I, however, still find them fascinating. Because I refuse to drive in the Windy City, I travel by Amtrak to his place and have discovered that’s the way to go! One day, I’d like to travel cross-country by train, giving me time to read and write (and probably rue not being able to stop every chance available to snap photos, ha!)

        1. Here’s my perfect trip. First, I’d travel cross-country by train, reading all about the country I’m passing through. Then, I’d rent a car and retrace the route, exploring everything that had caught my interest. Just as soon as I get a few extra thousand $$$, I’ll get right on that!

  23. Judy’s grandfather was a railroad engineer who lived in Evanston, Wyoming. He drove exactly these sorts of locomotives across the mountain west and beyond. As a child, Judy would spend time every summer with her grandparents in Wyoming. She thought her grandfather was almost a god. There’s also a Railroad Museum in Union, Illinois. It’s a labor of love for the volunteers who have restored some of the many old engines to working order. You can drive an old coal-powered locomotive train on a few miles of track, also laid and maintained by volunteers.

    1. As it happens, Big Boy 4014 was in Evanston May 7, on its way to Ogden for the celebrations. Judy’s grandfather not only drove the same sort of locomotives, he no doubt drove them over some of the same tracks — what a neat coincidence. I can imagine the awe with which she regarded her grandfather, as well as the love. There’s something about an train engineer that just appeals, even for those of us with no personal connection. When I see a train, I have to wave. I do regret the disappearance of the caboose, though. They always provided a second chance to wave, if you missed the engineer.

      The opportunity to drive a locomotive isn’t a part of the Galveston Railroad Museum — what fun that would be! But up in the piney woods, there is a nice four-hour train trip I’ve never taken. One of these days.

        1. Actually, another commenter here mentioned having just that opportunity:

          “There is a train museum here in Northern California where you can make a reservation and drive a locomotive on a closed track. We did it for my wife’s birthday back in the ’90s and it was a blast. She got to drive a 100-ton ‘Switch yard’ locomotive—that’s the small one that they use to move the around the railcars that form a given train.”

          I suspect in addition to “small” and “closed track” there was a well-trained (!) professional in the cab.

  24. I so enjoyed this comprehensive and well-written essay on the steam trains, Linda. Really superbly done. Great to have the videos here offering the chance to look at a real live steam train chugging across the landscape, hear that classic sound, watch the mesmerizing machinations of the wheels. Excellent writing, too, including not only the romance of the old trains, but also the importance of their function and the people who moved them. I liked all of this, but my favorite part was the story of you and the pufferbellies, and wondering what they might be, and your father taking you to the station. Truly beautiful post.

    1. I was blessed to have a father who nurtured curiosity, engagement, and a love of exploration.He always had time to take me places, keep track of my school progress, and teach me the skills that would help to assure my independence — all while my mother was trying to turn me into Shirley Temple. I think we know who finally won that battle!

      It’s always fascinated me how many different things ignite people’s passions. For some, it’s the natural world; for others, it’s painting, or music. For a certain percentage of the population, it’s trains, and there’s nothing quite like running into someone who knows locomotives as well as his relatives, and who’s willing to travel to see a particular train, just like the most avid birder. When UP 4014 takes to the rails again, as it surely will in this anniversary year, I might do a little traveling myself, just to see it.

      1. I find that passion in peoples’ interest fascinating too, Linda. I’ve been around train and plane people. One of the moments I loved in that train video was at the end when the videographer showed all the people on the hill waiting, watching, and marveling at the steam train. :)

  25. Last year when we were on a Habitat for Humanity build in El Salvador, one of the members was a train engineer. It was so interesting to get a glimpse into the profession. Lots of time away, and routes changing regularly. But he loved it, and I can see why. When I travel in Ontario, I take the train if at all possible. It is generally faster than car, and on short flights, by the time you figure the drive to the airport, security, etc the train is the better way to go. Plus it is not only less stress, it is downright pleasant! Passengers on trains are polite, in the main, and at ease. Faster is not always better, you’ve got that right!

    1. We don’t have a rail system to depend on, but more and more people are forgoing air travel out of Houston, particularly to in-state destinations. It used to be easy to hop on a Southwest flight to Dallas, for example. Now, just as you say, by the time you get to the airport, park, get through security, and then wait at the gate — and repeat everything in reverse on the other end — it’s actually quicker to just get in the car and drive.

      From the stories I’ve heard, it may be that Canadian rail passengers are more polite than American. Of course, most of the negative reports I’ve received come from business commuters in the northeast, which can be a different world of rail travel than tourism. An aunt who traveled by train to the Pacific Northwest has her own theory: on long train trips, the motion and sound of the train itself finally settles everyone down.

  26. This is a lovely post. I do remember seeing steam engines pulling their trains across the distance when I was a child out west. Unfortunately those memories are thickly overlaid by the freight and commuter trains I see everyday here, tying up traffic, carrying endless cars of oil and coal, covered in graffiti. Just isn’t the same. A friend who is only 10 years older than I remembers when it was the passing steam engines that set frequent fires at Illinois Beach State Park, keeping it healthy. It is so moving to see these videos, to watch history in motion once again.

    1. Your mention of trains setting fire at Illinois Beach reminded me of one of my first “country living” lessons in Texas. I had to learn to be careful where I parked when I was away from town, particularly during a dry time, as the heat from the car could ignite grasses and lead to a conflagration.

      We have a lot of freight traffic here, but much of it runs outside the more densely populated areas, so I rarely get held up by a train. Of course I don’t mind it when it happens, as I like to look at the cars and ponder what they contain. It’s interesting to see how the freight being hauled differs from one area of the country to another. My all-time favorite might have been the trains with car after car that were labeled “BAMBOO.” I saw those in Kansas, and assumed that shipments from west coast ports were headed to who-knows-where.

      I do wish our passenger rail system were better, but I can understand why it developed more fully in the midwest and northeast — or the west coast, for that matter. The population’s denser, and there are far more actual and potential riders. Even the proposed line between Houston and Dallas is having a terrible time getting off the ground. If they ever get it built, it’s supposed to reduce the trip to ninety minutes. For that, even I’d go to Dallas.

      1. Back in the day when my dad rode the train into Chicago every day, it was a pleasant experience. Over the years passenger numbers increased a great deal, and civility has gone right out the windows. That don’t open anymore. I’ve seen conductors attack passengers, and passengers behave disgracefully. For all that ticket prices have increased steadily and are quite expensive now, the machinery is badly out of date and in need of replacement but the company claims to be in serious financial straits. For these sort of collaborative things to work, everyone needs to bring their highest best selves. I’ve heard that in Japan, for example, the trains are clean and run on time, with riders and workers very polite to each other. Somewhere along the line, we’ve gone off the rails here.

  27. Sweet story about you, your dad and the elusive pufferbellies. I think you’re correct when you state that we travel faster, but not better. Isn’t it sad that we’ve never developed efficient commuter travel with rail throughout this country? As always, wonderful post!

    1. That’s one of my favorite memories of my dad, and I have quite a few. I’m glad you enjoyed the reminiscing!

      As for commuter rail, my sense is that it’s rather good in some places, absolutely excellent in others, and totally absent everywhere else. The proposed bullet train between Houston and Dallas is a sort-of-good idea, and it might serve the business communities of both cities, but I’d really like to be able to travel by train to Austin, or San Antonio, or Corpus. I’ve never thought about it, but there surely were tracks back in the past. They’ve probaby been torn up — another of our huge mistakes.

  28. What a wonderful post, and as always, your reminiscences are the best part. That pufferbellies story is just so great. I grew up with a train track at the bottom of my street, and when I was a kid, would run down to watch the freight trains go by. I’ve ridden modern, electric, and steam ones, trams, funiculars and cog RRs, etc. and stopped by train museums whenever I could. The one in Scranton has a Big Boy, and my great-uncle told me, that when they were setting up the Steamtown museum there, they left that giant locomotive parked on a bridge over the winter, which sagged so much under the weight, it was quite a job to get it ashore the next spring.
    This was really a noteworthy post, Linda, enjoyed the heck out of it! :)

    1. What wonderful experiences you’ve had! The only thing about your list of railroads is that it’s firmly implanted “Funiculi, Funicula” into my head, and now I can’t stop singing along.

      Have you seen the Big Boy in Scranton? It’s interesting that I picked the photo of that one to use without knowing anything about its final resting place. I read that there are hopes of getting it restored, too — how wonderful would that be? The fellow who took the photo of it in operation — Otto Perry — was a Denver mailman who also happened to be a railfan. His collection of photographs is held by the Denver Public Library: over 20,000 negatives, which are now part of Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection. He got arrested once, just before WWII, for suspicious activity in Woodward, Oklahoma. Of course he was photographing trains.

      There’s a great letter written to him by the President of the Tiara and Tidewater Railroad after they’d done a little chasing together in 1966. The RR president ended the letter by saying, “Trust you arrived back home safe and sound, and that you didn’t put too many rolls of film in backwards. I will get my film back Tuesday, and then I’ll see how I did. I hope I didn’t do too many things wrong.”

      I love that.

  29. What a great story. I have to say that I’ve never seen a working pufferbelly. I went to a museum that had one, and it was huge and beautiful and fantastic. But I’d love to see one rolling down the tracks.

    1. It really is quite an experience. When you read the detailed specifications on those engines — like a mile of steam piping inside the locomotive — it’s nearly unbelievable. Of all the details in the story of the restoration of UP 4014, the thing I kept going back to was that the men who did it had to do much more than just duplicate an existing engine. They had to figure out HOW to do it, since so much of the knowledge that went into building it in the first place had nearly disappeared. They even had to re-create some of the tools they used. They certainly succeeded!

  30. I have always been fascinated with railroads and locomotives. Growing up in Montana, railroads were a visible part of our transportation system (not quite as much today).

    1. I’ve never been to Montana, but I follow a couple of bloggers who live there, and their photos make clear what a beautiful place it is. I imagine it as a great place to grow up — who doesn’t like big sky? Combined with trains, it seems as though it could be pure pleasure.

    1. Funny, that I’ve ridden more trains in England than I have here, including that pre-Chunnel night train to Paris that involved the ferry ride across the Channel from Dover. I suppose I could count New York subways and San Francisco’s BART as trains, but I’d rather not –my experiences on “real trains” have been ever so much more interesting.

  31. It’s wonderful to read that one of these wonderful old engines has been restored. I also have good memories of occasionally walking the tracks when I was a teen-ager. It was a good short-cut – though, similarly to you, I can remember worrying that a train might come along.

    1. I wonder if it wasn’t safer then because the rail system itself was more dependable. We knew the schedules for the trains, and the railroads kept to them. If they said the afternoon freight would come through at 3:18, that’s when it showed up. Of course, rail traffic’s heavier now, and the schedules are more complex, because the railroads are having to share increasingly limited track.

      Sometimes, of course we’d go down to the park just to watch the trains go by. If we were lucky, the engineer or the man in the caboose would wave to us. I do wish the train that UP 4014 was pulling had been outfitted with a caboose!

  32. My better half is a great steam-train aficionado, so when we are within striking distance of a restored steam train while on vacation, it becomes a must stop. In our own backyard, more or less, the Hopewell Junction Depot is being lovingly restored, and if you happen by when the depot is open, train aficionado volunteers are on hand to tell you everything you want to know, and then some. http://hopewelldepot.org/

    1. I confess it amused me to see that the Hopewell Depot annual meeting was held at the East Fishkill Community Center, but that was only because of the name. I enjoyed looking through the gallery of photos, and the history. Those sorts of projects can do so much to bind a community together. And next weekend’s bluegrass. I wish I were in the area — I’d be there for sure.

      I’ve been thinking of you and your blog recently. I’ve been peach-picking (already!) and I’ll be posting an etheree in the near future that’s at least one answer to J. Alfred’s question about daring to eat a peach. I still laugh when I remember this cartoon.

  33. Fascinating recollections and observations about train travel years ago and now. I went over to the L.A. County Fairgrounds some years ago with my young grandson to see train exhibit there but discovered limited exhibit days and times with volunteers. Regrettably, we weren’t able to make it back before my family returned home. I recall how attractive the cross country trips were portrayed in the movies portraying WWII days. When I lived in Great Lakes State those years I do recall a colorful overnight trip in coach between several states as we travelled hoping to see my brother before he shipped out to where no one knew then. Have thought numerous times i might find traveling cross country via train more pleasant today than the cattle car travel flying has become.

    1. Several of my relatives and friends have taken the train in the past two or three years, and found it a pleasant experience. The biggest problem they had with the Amtrak system was a certain inconvenience involved with getting to the trains, since the network doesn’t cover the country completely, and there was the added expense of having to rent a car for touring. Still, they enjoyed it.

      I’ve read that the development of YouTube, social media, drones, and other forms of technology actually are increasing interest in railroads, and involvement with them. People are able to see things they never could see before without physically going down to the tracks to watch a passing train, and increased publicity about events like the Golden Spike celebration is drawing more crowds. The Union Pacific Steam Twitter account had thousands of people clicking in to see exactly where the train was, and responding to their experience of seeing it.

    1. I knew before I clicked the link which you had selected, and it fits perfectly. Arlo’s version is my favorite, and I can’t hear the song without growing wistful. I know we can’t go back, but I wish in our moving forward we hadn’t left so much behind.

    1. I suspect that any of us who grew up with trains of any sort continue to appreciate them throughout our lives. Granted, some are more pleasant than others to actually ride, at least today, but still — the magic endures. I’m glad you’ve had the chance to enjoy them.

        1. There’s something about those repetitive sounds that is soothing. I still remember sleeping in the back of my parents’ car when I was a kid. Given the nature of the Iowa roads at the time, a certain clickety-clack was present as the tires went over the joints between the sections of pavement. I’m sure it would have been similar.

          1. True. Another sound I remember was the sound of my grandfather’s feet on the gravel path in the park where we often went. The sound of my blood pumping was the similar.

    1. Wouldn’t that be fun? It occurs to me, too, that “trains” of various sorts have been part of your photos over the months: trams, streetcars, and such. Even where the trains aren’t visible, the wires associated with them have been.

    1. No, that video of 4014 under power’s from someone who was able to track it through the west. I wish I could have seen it — being there would have been ever so much fun. I did create the video at the end of the post; that was a different kind of enjoyment, not to mention a reminder of how much technology has changed in just the last decade. I was browsing camera backpacks and such the other day, and noted with some amusement that a few provide a way to tote your drone along with you!

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