Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Roll Call!

Durango and Silverton provides one of the rare cases of multiple locomotives from the same class
 still existing in functional condition

A while ago, a friend and I got together and discussed our recent experiences volunteering on heritage railroads. He is associated with the Alaska Railroad, and has been active in the restoration of the ARR 557. Our shared excitement about the 557, as well as the numerous other restoration projects currently in progress, led to quite a bit of pondering about one question: Exactly how many operating steam locomotives are left in the United States?

Both of us expected a quick, concise answer from Google or Wikipedia. As it turned out, though, we had broached one of those questions that appears simple when it is asked, but defies an easy answer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Sense of Loss


“In their heyday, the old steam engines seemed immortal. To a boy [one hundred] years ago, they were the most powerful thing he knew. Two hundred tons of steel, tugging grain freights a quarter of a mile across the prairie, now on the sidelines...sold at forty dollars a ton to end up, perhaps, as a railing around a park.”

                                  --"End of the Line"

There is an astonishing amount of emotion wrapped up in a steam locomotive, especially now, when the few that still remain in functional condition are as scarce as condors. It’s difficult to put a finger on why they have found such a special place in our hearts, considering they are made of the same materials and work on the same physics as many other machines, but I’ve observed it to be the rule that most people regard steam with a mixture of awe and that tender fondness one might reserve for a favorite grandchild.