Hear That Mournful Whistle Blow
March 23, 2012 3 Comments
You know when I was a kid, I loved watching the trains go by. Where I grew up you could hear the whistles on the Nickel Plate Berkshires in the night, and during the day it was only 3 miles to “The Standard Railroad of the World” the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Actually the western extension more properly called the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway (or the Fort Wayne). The Nickel Plate was a specialist in high speed freight, while the Pennsy was the western end of the Great Trunk Route from New York to Chicago (along with the New York Central, Lake Shore and Michigan Central).
This was such a route that James J. Hill, the Empire Builder of the Great Northern seriously doubted that the Panama Canal was needed, the American Railroads could handle freight cheaper from the Orient to Europe. It wasn’t true then, quite. It is now through the incredible efficiencies of container freight. There are quite a few ships that unload on our west coast ports, are loaded onto container on flat cars (COFC) trains, that run nearly nonstop to east coast ports, and are then reloaded for transshipment to Europe.
As I was growing up, I watched government nearly kill the American Railroad through regulation. I’ve written some on it and no doubt will more, but not today. I watched as the Pennsylvania went from running The Broadway Limited as one of the premier, not only all Pullman but all compartment trains in the world to that train being a forlorn E-8 locomotive with one daycoach. Then came Penn-Central which spread the misery all over the northeast.
I can remember Dad talking about the Pennsy during World War II. One train every three minutes day and night. He used to talk about waiting 3 hours to get across the tracks. Sometime in the 90s, Trains magazine ran a picture of the Fort Wayne near where I grew up, when Norfolk Southern wanted to buy it, with a high-railer pickup pushing an abandoned couch off the tracks. Thanks, US government.
But when Conrail got too ridiculous, Congress passed the Staggers Act, that deregulated a lot of the railroads, and they came roaring back.
Where I live now is about a block from the mainline of the Union Pacific, the Transcontinental itself. About four miles away is where the Plum Creek Massacre happened on 8 August 1864. There’s lots of history here.
Anyway, like everybody else, I get frustrated by having to go far out of my way to get across the tracks, particularly since I live on the wrong side of the tracks, anyway. By the way, the phrase itself came from the railroads, in the days of steam locomotives and no air conditioning it was preferable to live upwind from the railroad. But, there are days.
This morning I went for a walk as I do most days. This day was rather special though. I was a few blocks from home when I heard that sound; the mournful sound of a steam whistle, for me its a sound of my childhood. Now it means one thing: the Union Pacific’s steam program is working. And it was, I gravitated toward the track and watched as UP engine 844 pulled into town. Here she is:
This is the last steam engine built for the Union Pacific, in 1944, here’s some more information.
One of the really neat things about the UP is that it has vibrant steam program, headquartered at Cheyenne, Wyoming. Here we get to see 844 and the Challenger 3985 reasonably often, since the Union Pacific uses them on their executive train fairly often. I’ve got to tell you, It’s always a thrill to see and hear though.
Where’s 844 off to this time? Memphis roughly, if your curious about her, here is her page at the UP.
And here she is at 75 mph.
And just because the railroads are so much of what made America what she is today.
- Norfolk Southern (USA) Running Steam Excursions Again! (worldsteamsite.wordpress.com)
- The “Copper King” (Feb, 1939) (modernmechanix.com)