Friday, October 24, 2014

The Red-Eyed Guard: A History of Grade Crossing Signs and Signals

For most people, the railroad is, in a literal sense, background noise.  Those who do not commute or work in the railroad industry only get a look at a train when it blocks the road and prevents them from getting to their destination. Since being stopped at a grade crossing is the universal and singular way in which most of us encounter the railroads, the crossbuck, gates and and blinking lights have become an instantly recognizable symbol of the railroad industry as a whole. In this article, we’ll look at the history of grade crossings, and the longstanding question of whether the public or the railroad companies bears the responsibility for preventing collisions.

Before the invention of the railroads, collisions between multiple vehicles were rare. Even the largest wagons were limited to the speed at which a horse could travel, and bearing a runaway carriage or a spooked horse, there was no difficulty in stopping a moving vehicle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Conversation with Steve Lee

Steve Lee, former director of the Union Pacific Heritage Program,  is one of those people who needs no introduction. During his tenure, he managed excursion trips headed by the Union Pacific’s two steam locomotives, the 844 and the 3985, as well as several vintage diesel locomotives. He is quite generous with his time, and granted me the great honor and privilege of an interview for the F-O-F. 

Since there is already quite a bit of technical information about the locomotives in the Heritage Fleet, I decided instead to ask Mr. Lee about the staggering amount of  planning and logistics that went into putting together a mainline steam excursion. Mr. Lee stressed several times during the interview that he cannot speak for the way that the program was managed before or after his tenure. 


First, give us a brief biography of yourself. 

I began as an engineer for the Illinois Central Line from 1972-1977. After that, I was a road foreman and trainmaster on the Rock Island Line.  In 1982 I became the operating officer for the Union Pacific’s Heritage Program. In this position I oversaw the crew members and was responsible for their safety. In 1988, I became the road foreman of the entire heritage program and the steam shop, and kept this position until I retired in 2011.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

15 Things the Public Wants to Know About Steam

 Author's collection. 

Ed. Note: There is now an app in the upper right of the screen where you can sign up to have F-O-F articles delivered right to your inbox. Please take advantage! 

Most railfans have a basic understanding of how a steam locomotive works. There’s enough information out there to get figure out that the fire fire make steam, the steam goes through the pistons, then is exhausted through the smokestack, help create a draft to suck the exhaust from the fire through the boiler.

Step outside of this little iron bubble, though, and the knowledge of how steam power works has almost entirely disappeared from the public consciousness. The physics and chemical reactions involved are so mysterious that  steam locomotives might as well run on magic.