Trains.com
A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
7

The Guide is dead; long live the Guide

Posted 2 days ago by Kevin Keefe
A recent email from my friend and colleague Dan Cupper, editor of the venerable R&LHS journal Railroad History, took me by surprise. “Would I be interested in writing a tribute to the passenger edition of the Official Guide?” I said “of course,” but to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know it still existed. Actually, it doesn’t. Last July, publisher PocketList decided to pull the plug. My attempts to reach anyone at PocketList to officially con...
17

Cabooses I have known

Posted 9 days ago by Kevin Keefe
You’d think I’d be over it by now, but I’m not. Every time I watch a freight train pass at a grade crossing, I feel a need to wave to the guys in the caboose. Back in the day, that’s just what you did, an instinct as basic as saying hello to someone on the sidewalk. Except those guys are out of sight now, and so, for the most part, are all their cabooses. It’s been three decades since cabooses — or, if you prefer, hacks, or vans, or cabins — pretty much...
10

Amtrak’s Turboliners vs. winter

Posted 15 days ago by Kevin Keefe
I’ll admit I’ve been fortunate this week, watching the disastrous cold weather play out across most of the U.S. as I sit here in relative comfort along the South Carolina coast, where we’re spending a few weeks away from Milwaukee. I almost feel guilty about it.  The view from here is striking as the national news unfolds a drama of freeway crashes, power outages, even water shortages. The news also has underscored something else: railroads are not always the vaunted &ldq...
3

An interlude in Hamlet

Posted 23 days ago by Kevin Keefe
A year ago, as I rode Amtrak’s Silver Star down through the Carolinas, I made sure I was awake at 11:18 p.m. as the train pulled into Hamlet, N.C., on time, for what turned out to be the outstanding visual impression of the trip.  Seen through my economy bedroom window, one of the largest train stations you could ever expect to see in a small town emerged from the gloom. A “witch’s hat” conical roof loomed over the L-shaped building as a handful of passeng...
8

A toast to Lucius Beebe

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Long before I’d ever heard of David P. Morgan, let alone Wally Abbey or Don Phillips or Fred Frailey or all the other railroad writers I’ve admired, I was a fan of Lucius Beebe.  My parents had a lot to do with it. Aware that their tow-headed little kid loved trains, around 1958 they purchased Hear the Train Blow, a rambling, picture-driven history of American railroads, written by Beebe (co-credited to his partner Charles Clegg) and produced by E. P. Dutton & Co., a m...
11

A train worth remembering: LV’s 'John Wilkes'

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Coming up with topics for this blog every week means occasionally checking various “this day in railroad history” files, and one notation I stumbled upon this week was too good to pass up.   The Lehigh Valley Railroad disappeared on April 1, 1976, as one of the six bankrupt Northeast carriers swallowed up in the creation of Conrail. Thus ended an approximately 130-year run for a railroad known for its attachment to coal (notably anthracite); its huge and capable shops at S...
7

Another appointment in Anniston

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
The route for our road trip last week was straight and simple: head south from Milwaukee for Panama City Beach, Fla., stick to Interstate 65 most of the way, stay on schedule, no detours.  Then I spotted a change in plan. There, 64 miles east of Birmingham off Interstate 20, sat the city of Anniston, Ala., glaring up at me from Google maps. I knew I had to make a brief stop. Surely our relatives in Florida would understand. Anniston! That town has been calling to me off and on for 50 year...
13

Discovering Cecil Hommerding’s photography

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
After looking at and editing tens of thousands of railroad photographs over 45 years, I’m tempted to say I’ve seen it all. But I haven’t. Not by a mile. There are always more surprises out there waiting to be encountered. Case in point: an email I received a couple of weeks ago from my friend Doug Leffler, a veteran railfan photographer from Jackson, Mich. Attached to Doug’s note were a number of black-and-white photographs I’d never seen before, by a man I’d...
3

Wally Abbey’s early days in Chanute

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
For much of the past year, I’ve been immersed in railroading as seen through the eyes of the late Wallace W. Abbey. Wally was a gifted storyteller, as brilliant with his typewriter as he was his camera. That will be proven once again later this year when perhaps his greatest achievement — his book about the development of the FT diesel — is released by Indiana University Press. Entitled The Diesel That Did It, the book traces the story of the FT from the earliest days of Elect...
6

Streetwise in Michigan City

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
To stand on the corner in front of the old First Christian Church on a sunny summer day is to witness a wonderful anachronism of transportation. At first, all you hear are the sounds of passing cars and kids playing on someone’s front porch. But soon, a few blocks away to the west, comes the reassuring blaaaat! of a three-chime air horn. Then you detect a familiar rumble. Moments later, a gleaming train of silver M.U. cars sails through the gentle S-curve, trundling off to the e...
13

Seventy-five years ago, New York Central bet big

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The scene: 230 Park Avenue, Manhattan, the stately 35-story Beaux Arts headquarters of the New York Central Railroad. The date: approximately 75 years ago this week. The decision: spend another big piece of $56 million toward the largest order of passenger cars in U.S. railroad history. With that, NYC expanded its purchase of what eventually would total more than 720 cars, spread across all three major U.S. carbuilders. Flush with postwar excitement — and the promise of the return of peac...
3

For Michael Gross, ‘Santa Fe’ means ‘Grandpa’

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
There’s a good chance anyone reading this blog has a family connection to railroading. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the readers of Classic Trains came to the railroad faith via a relative, mostly likely a father or grandfather or uncle.  That was never truer than for Michael Gross, the film and television actor and Santa Fe devotee. Gross not only has followed the history and fortunes of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway for most of his life, he also mode...
9

Serving Pittsburgh, the right way

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Taking the train these days from Pittsburgh to New York — or vice versa — is a pretty simple and, frankly, a rather sad affair. You’ve got one choice, Amtrak trains 42 and 43, the daily Pennsylvanian, and if you can’t make either one work, you’re left with driving or flying.  The state of Pennsylvania is hoping to improve the situation by adding a second daily train, beginning in the 2023-24 fiscal year, which would be a big improvement. The state predict...
4

An SP photographer who deserves to be known

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Any library with thousands of books and tens of thousands of photographs is bound to have its mysteries, and Kalmbach’s David P. Morgan Memorial Library is no exception. In the countless hours I’ve spent working in that hallowed room, looking for just the right black-and-white print, I’ve run into a familiar puzzle: Who was that photographer?  It happened again this week while digging in the two file drawers of Southern Pacific photos. Here and there, in folders marked &l...
1

Ted Rose’s excellent Mexican adventures

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Six weeks ago, I wrote here about how some prominent American railroad photographers scampered up to Canada to shoot steam as it was disappearing in the U.S. A lot of great photographs were made there, rendered all the more poignant because time was running out in the Dominion as well. I neglected to mention that the same dynamic caused some influential shooters to head south, to Mexico, where some fantastic steam railroading was there for the taking, if you were in the position to travel that ...
5

Seeing C&O 1309 is believing

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
As anyone who follows steam restorations knows, bringing a big engine back to life is a marathon, never a sprint. Union Pacific and its Big Boy notwithstanding, nearly every organization that has gotten into the game quickly discovered it would be a long and sometimes agonizing haul. I have firsthand knowledge. When I began scraping my knuckles on a Berkshire in college, it was 1971. That engine, Pere Marquette 1225, wouldn’t turn a wheel under its own power for another 15 years.  S...
3

A moment with J.D.I.’s diesel

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The scene was a spacious, well-equipped locomotive repair shop. A GP38 straddled an inspection pit, its Chessie System colors of blue, yellow, and vermilion gleaming under bright lights hung far above. It was surrounded by a hum of activity as mechanics went about putting the engine through its 92-day inspection. Soon they’d wrap up their work with signatures on the engine’s FRA Form 6180 blue card. The diesel would thrum to life, then back out the shop doors, ready for another assig...
5

EJ&E 765: another forgotten park engine

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
“There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.” — Robert Musil I had already decided to visit Elgin, Joliet & Eastern 2-8-2 No. 765 last week when I stumbled across this quote by Musil, an Austrian novelist and philosopher, but it seems perfect. Tucked away in obscure Gateway Park, along E. Fourth Avenue (U.S. 12) just east of downtown Gary, Ind., the 765 is about as invisible as a monument can be. But not to me. I have a thing for lonely park engines, and la...
11

Remembering J. David Ingles

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The greater ClassicTrains and Trains family has been reeling this week over the loss of our dear friend and colleague, J. David Ingles. As most of you likely know by now, Dave died last Sunday after a brief illness. He was in a rehabilitation facility following back surgery and fell victim to an unexpected complication. Our hearts go out to his daughter Susan, his two grandchildren, and hundreds, nay thousands more in his orbit. I’m one of them. Dave has been part of m...
8

‘Canadian Steam!’ revisited

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
If all had gone according to plan this year, just about now we’d be packing up the car for a road trip to Canada to visit old friends. Railroading would be on the menu, as well as good restaurants and the golden countryside of Ontario in autumn. Alas, the current Covid-19 restrictions got in the way. Canada will have to wait until next year — if we’re lucky. Meanwhile, what to do about the Canadian mood I’m in? For me, the country and the season go together. It’s ...
5

Return to Alvin

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Most people who read this blog probably have a central, indelible memory of trains from childhood. It’s part of our DNA. For me, that memory traces back to about 1961, when my parents Woody and Marie Keefe would take us kids on a semi-annual car trip from Michigan down to the little farm town of Alvin, Ill., milepost 111.2 on the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad, midway between Hoopeston and Danville.  There, in a neat little white Victorian house on Railroad Avenue, we&rsquo...
10

When passengers rode along the Front Range

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A Trains News Wire item caught my eye not long ago: “Front Range rail line could carry 3 million annually,” said the headline. In a report to the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, the Colorado Department of Transportation estimated such a corridor — with trains running the 179 miles between Pueblo and Fort Collins, with Denver in the middle — would see upwards of 9,200 riders every weekday. It’s an exciting proposition. But it&...
7

New York Central's steam legacy is in good hands

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I’ve seen a lot of good steam locomotive books in my day. I’m guessing close to 50 percent of the stuff in my library is related to the subject. Looking at the spines I see so many familiar names — Staufer, Bruce, Morgan, Withuhn, Lamb, Drury, Huddleston — it’s tempting to think that everything to say about steam has been said. Yet nothing quite prepared me for the books that began showing up on my front porch four years ago from the New York Central System Histori...
8

Of Donald Furler, Linn Westcott, and A.C.K.

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
This has been a pretty good year for railroad books, and none has excited me quite as much as the next one coming from the Center for Railroad Photography & Art (CRPA).  It’s called The Railroad Photography of Donald W. Furler, and it’s a revelation, at least for me. Furler was one of those trailblazing shooters of the 1940s and early ’50’s who put railroad photography on the map and, not incidentally, helped a little magazine out of Milwaukee get off the ground...
3

The view from Trout Lake

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
As you pull into town on Michigan Highway 123, Trout Lake looks like its name — remote, woodsy, like a set from the 1990s TV show Northern Exposure. You arrive after passing miles and miles of birch and pine, skirting the edge of the Sault Ste. Marie State Forest near the eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula, then slow down to pass Mark’s Trading Post, the Trout Lake IGA, and the Buckhorn tavern before you arrive at your destination. There, the adjacent rails still shiny with dai...
1

Most years, ‘summer’ means ‘NRHS’

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
In any normal summer, by this week several of my friends would be packing for a favorite seasonal tradition, the annual convention of the National Railway Historical Society. For years it was also a fixture on my July or August calendars, an event I relished for its usual promise of mainline steam and rare mileage. Mostly, it would be a chance to see old friends. Alas, it’s not happening this year for me, or for anyone else. On June 7, the NRHS announced that its 2020 convention, planned ...
1

What would Ben Heineman do?

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I’ve been trying to follow the long-running dispute between Metra and the Union Pacific, which operates Metra commuter trains on three of Chicago’s busiest routes. Theirs is a tangle of disagreements involving the two railroads’ operating agreement, the Surface Transportation Board, a federal lawsuit, and, always, who is going to pay for what. Analysis of this mess is, fortunately for me, not within the purview of a blog for Classic Trains — it’s better l...
5

High-water mark for the 'Sunset Limited'

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
On a typically muggy summer Sunday in New Orleans, a small crowd gathered in the trainshed of New Orleans’ old red brick and stone Union Station on South Rampart Street, ready for a party.  At some point a vivacious Lindy Boggs, wife of Second District Congressman Hale Boggs and herself a future congresswoman, smiled at Southern Pacific Executive Vice President E. A. Craft and stepped up to the last car of a gleaming new streamlined train. Moments later she doused the train in a loud...
0

Conrail museum will honor Big Blue

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Every railroad deserves its own museum, if you ask me. I can’t think of a single North American railroad company that didn’t have some kind of meaningful impact on the world surrounding it, enough to warrant keeping its legacy alive.  That goes double when you’re talking about Conrail, the Northeastern and Midwestern giant created on April 1, 1976, out of the teetering ruins of six separate railroads. The consolidation of Penn Central, Reading, Erie Lackawanna, Lehigh Val...
1

Reading Camelback is back in the spotlight

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Never underestimate the steam locomotive’s ability to still make news, even in 2020. That goes double if it involves the obscure, the rare, the nearly forgotten. Old engines have a way of creeping back into the spotlight. Case in point: the sale this week of former Philadelphia & Reading 0-4-0 No. 1187, a Camelback-style engine owned and stored for decades by the Strasburg Rail Road, one of our leading tourist lines. Strasburg concluded a long time ago that 1187 didn’t figure in...

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