A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
2

When the train stops in the Delta

Posted 6 days ago by Kevin Keefe
With all the current gloom surrounding the prospects for Amtrak’s long-distance service, it might be surprising to see the railroad actually make an improvement to an overnight train. But that’s just what happened, effective a few days ago, as the Chicago–New Orleans City of New Orleansbegan making regular stops at tiny Marks, Miss. With a population of about 1,500, Marks won’t tip the scales much for trains 58 and 59. Still, local government and citizens as well as...
3

Stand fast, Berea!

Posted 13 days ago by Kevin Keefe
So often, the search for constancy in railroading seems futile. I guess that’s the natural order. You think some things are immutable — like humps yard in Louisville or Cumberland, or building locomotives in Erie, or having a steak dinner on the Lake Shore Limited— then poof! They can be gone in the time it takes a CEO to hit “send” on an email. That’s why it was reassuring on Sunday morning to drive up over the crest of the Front Street/Ohio 237 viaduct...
3

PRR steam: still haughty after all these years

Posted 20 days ago by Kevin Keefe
It’s impossible to keep track of all the steam restoration projects going on these days. Some have the lofty goal of operating under steam again. Others simply want to perform static restorations for the sake of posterity, or even to simply save threatened engines. I can’t think of any that aren’t worthy of support.  One that recently caught my attention strikes me as having special merit: the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania’s effort to complete the restoration...
9

A glimpse of the old Tennessee Central

Posted 26 days ago by Kevin Keefe
Bilevel commuter trains and short lines normally don’t have much to do with each other. That is, unless you’re standing on the station platform of the Music City Star on a nice spring afternoon in Lebanon, Tenn. That’s where my friend Dave Busse and I found ourselves earlier this month. We were in Nashville for a few days, attending the annual convention of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. But the lure of Nashville’s unusual commuter train got t...
3

Donald Furler: champion of the wedge shot

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
For a trailblazer, timing is everything. That’s certainly true in railroad photography, which has seen its share of tectonic shifts over the years. Most of us don’t think of the classic three-quarter “wedge” action photo as trailblazing. That standard and very obvious approach to shooting trains has been around at least since the late 1930s, when consumer cameras finally were capable of effectively stopping motion. We’ve moved way beyond that over the ensuing three...
1

Heritage railroading still builds families

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
So often, railroading is a family affair, with a love of the business handed down from generation to generation. We all know people who are third- or even fourth-generation railroaders. My own grandfather took the same job his father did, manning levers in interlocking towers on the Chicago & Eastern Illinois, and for a time my own father worked on a C&EI track gang. Doubtless many of you reading this blog can make a similar claim. When I say “love of the business,” I includ...
21

Amtrak’s decision is classically bad

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Amtrak’s announcement last week that it intends to shut down most of its haulage of private cars and its support for special trains was a stunner. Within hours, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people working in the heritage end of railroading scrambled to react. It hasn’t taken long for a credible protest movement to take root. An official objection was made to Amtrak on behalf of the American Association of Private Car Owners, and a similar move is expected from the Rail Passenger...
8

Some classic cabooses

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
An item on my Facebook timeline caught my eye last week: “Caboose Days 2018”, coming to the Southeastern Railway Museum on April 7-8 in Duluth, Ga., just outside of Atlanta. The museum, home to magnificent Atlanta & West Point 4-6-2 No. 290, will be giving demonstration rides on two of the cabooses from its collection. One is a Southern Railway transfer caboose built around 1950. The other is Norfolk & Western 500837, built in 1944 by Pittsburgh & West Virginia and acqui...
7

Architect’s passing ends an era of Milwaukee depots

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
An obituary last week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel caught my eye: “Architect Who Designed the Milwaukee Domes Has Died.” The name of Donald Grieb won’t mean much to most readers of Mileposts, but his passing a few weeks ago at the age of 99 is noteworthy for his connection to Milwaukee’s longtime train station. A station that, thanks to the strong performance of Amtrak’s Hiawatha corridor service, remains one of the most vital in the Midwest. To Milwaukeeans,...
8

The 'Southwest Chief' belongs where it is

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Of all of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, the one that appeals to me the most — hands down — is the Southwest Chief’s trek from Chicago to Los Angeles, especially that loneliest of sections across Kansas and southeast Colorado into northern New Mexico, the original main line of the Santa Fe Railway. I think it would be hard to imagine a more remote piece of passenger railroad. Not so much because of the terrain or the climate — the routes of the California Zephyr, t...
6

The AEM7 has become a classic

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A news item last week from the world of railroad preservation brought me up short: an Amtrak AEM7 electric locomotive is headed to the Illinois Railway Museum. The unit, No. 945, is already stored at Amtrak’s 18th Street facility in Chicago, awaiting delivery to the museum in Union. This will be the second time an AEM7 has gone to a museum. In 2015, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg acquired Amtrak 915. An AEM7 as a museum piece? It seems like only last week these nimble l...
10

Why Louisiana & Arkansas 503 deserves to be saved

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
One fine day in April 1920, a crew at Baldwin’s plant in Philadelphia pulled a burly but entirely ordinary 4-6-0 out into the sunlight for its first photograph. The Ten-Wheeler was still hanging on as a standard wheel arrangement in those days, and lord knows how many hundreds of them BLW and its competitors would turn out that year. So the craftsmen at Baldwin might be forgiven if they’d considered the completion of Louisiana & Arkansas No. 503 to be no big deal. Ah, but how w...
6

Florida railroading, away from the glitz

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
When you think of the Sunshine State and railroads, it’s unlikely Panama City comes to mind. Most of the action in Florida is far to the southeast, along the CSX and Florida East Coast main lines that feed Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. And now there’s Brightline, the sleek new privately owned (by FEC) passenger service recently launched between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Panama City might be the antithesis of all that Florida glitz. It has more the feel of a qui...
6

A balmy night in ACL country

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
When it’s 16 degrees with 9 inches of snow on the ground back in Milwaukee, this is a good place to be: enjoying the balmy evening air surrounding the old Atlantic Coast Line depot in North Charleston, S.C. Family visits have brought me here often in recent years, and even though it’s not the most picturesque of American train stations, it has its advantages, not the least of which is civilized weather in the dead of winter. But there’s more than that. North Charleston is a t...
17

After 125 years, my favorite ticket window closes

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A friend forwarded me a news item a couple of weeks ago and the headline brought me up short: “Niles Amtrak station to cease ticket window operations March 1.” As most who know me have heard ad nauseam, I grew up in Niles, Michigan, and the old Michigan Central station there was my hangout. In childhood. In high school. Even during the first years of my newspaper career. The building was as much a home to me as my family’s little ranch house a mile away. So the news was a sho...
7

Putting you in the cab of a Santa Fe 4-6-4

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
One of the top items on any railfan bucket list is also mighty difficult to get: a ride on a mainline steam locomotive. Operators of today’s big engines don’t exactly invite people into the cab on a whim, and the occasional “engineer-for-an-hour” experience doesn’t come cheaply. There are always cab-ride videos, of course, which give you a taste of the experience. But current ones are generally made under the controlled circumstances of excursions or short trips ar...
6

Last call for Santa Fe’s celebrated Hi-Level cars

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
What was the greatest product of the late, great Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Co.? The Burlington Zephyr of 1934, the first successful lightweight, diesel-powered passenger train? The Vista-Dome of 1945, which forever changed the notion of what it meant to view scenery from a train? The Rail Diesel Car of 1949, the tonic (temporarily) for money-losing local and branchline service?  This week, given the recent news from Amtrak, I’d be inclined to give the honor to the revolutionary do...
23

Railroading, like the movies, has memorable quotes

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
My weakness for old movies in general, and Turner Classic Movies in particular, has me often turning to the American Film Institute’s website to check its “100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time.” You could start a lot of arguments over what should be on that list, or where a given quote should rank, but it’s always fun to look it over. Try to imagine our collective cultural lexicon without “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” or “Here&...
4

The appeal of steam knows no demographic

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I used to worry that my generation would be the last one to care all that much about steam locomotives. Steam disappeared right smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boomers, and it seemed hard to imagine its appeal would last more than two or three more decades. Even railroad friends in my general age range hadn’t seen that much steam, truth be told, unless they grew up around the Grand Trunk Western or the Norfolk & Western or Illinois Central or some of those other railroads where st...
3

Top honors for Joe McMillan and Steve Patterson

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
This is awards season across the cultural spectrum, and that includes railroading. Time for the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s annual Railroad History Awards, just announced on the R&LHS website.  I took special notice last week of the winners of this year’s Fred A. and Jane R. Stindt Photography Award. Yes, that’s winners, plural. The honor goes equally to Joe McMillan and Steve Patterson. These two shouldn’t need much introduction to anyone who...
11

Remembering Katie McMullen, an early '50s "Trains" staffer

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
My wife Alison is an inveterate obituary reader, so I have to give her credit for checking the fine print this weekend in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and spotting the December 15 death of Catherine E. “Katie” McMullen at age 90. That name probably won’t mean much to you, but if you were a Trains magazine reader in the early 1950s, or, like me, you have a bit of an obsession with the history of Trains and Kalmbach Publishing Co., then McMullen’s passing is worth...
7

Big transition at the home of N&W’s Big Three

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
This wouldn’t ordinarily be the place to report on the comings and goings of railroad museum personnel, but the transition announced last week by the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke is momentous. The city is, after all, the place David P. Morgan called “the Alamo for Steam.” After a hard fought and successful 11-year run, the museum’s executive director Bev Fitzpatrick is retiring on January 1. Succeeding him will be Lisa Sphar, a marketing and community dev...
10

Catching up with Don Hofsommer

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A brief assignment last week in St. Cloud, Minn., afforded me the chance to catch up with an old friend and one of our most accomplished authors. Don Hofsommer is familiar to a couple of generations of Classic Trains and Trains readers. He’s been a frequent contributor to both magazines over the years, and he’s written (by my count) at least 17 books on railroading. Some of them are indispensable, especially when it comes to railroads of the granger Midwest. Don is retired now afte...
13

Fifty years later, the Century refuses to die

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I don’t know what I was doing on the afternoon of December 3, 1967, but I know where I should have been: on the platform of Union Station in South Bend, Ind., awaiting the passage of the last westbound edition of New York Central’s legendary 20th Century Limited. That’s right, it’s been 50 years since NYC pulled the plug on what was generally considered the “world’s most famous train.” The final runs of trains 25 and 26 were unceremonious, as depicted i...
5

Home for Thanksgiving from Farm Lane station

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Thanksgiving week is for riding passenger trains — time for Amtrak’s annual trial by fire. The holiday conjures images of swollen consists on the Northeast Corridor, standing-room-only coaches, station concourses overrun with humanity. My favorite Thanksgiving memory takes me to a place more prosaic: a windswept wooden platform at an isolated grade crossing, unremarkable except for the fact that the place was swarming with hundreds of college students. I was in that crowd, huddled ...
4

Riding the cab of Clinchfield 800

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Amid all the sound and fury over what CSX is doing these days under E. Hunter Harrison, it was nice this week to see the railroad make some positive news, and for the most positive of reasons. On Monday, the railroad unveiled Clinchfield F7 No. 800, fully restored to its original 1948 appearance by shop forces in Huntington, W.Va. The beautiful, fully operational F unit, gleaming in its original gray-and-yellow livery, will be on the head end of CSX’s annual Santa Train on November 18 whe...
6

Fifty years of the Palmdale cutoff

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A random search the other day through back issues of Trains magazine brought me up short. There, on page 8 of the October 1967 issue, was a photo of Southern Pacific SD40 No. 8478, about to punch through a banner at Palmdale, Calif., heralding the opening of the brand new Colton-Palmdale Cutoff, a shortcut around Los Angeles via Cajon Pass. Fifty years! It’s a bit hard to believe. I can remember when news coverage of the opening was proof that at least some railroads could embrace the fut...
9

Richard J. Cook made powerful photographs

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A few days ago I was spending some time in the Classic Trains library, leafing through some folders in the photo archives, when an old familiar name, stamped on the back in customary red italic, jumped out at me: Richard J. Cook. Dick Cook! He’s one of my all-time favorites, in my opinion a major figure in the world of postwar railroad photography. Although perhaps not as famous as Phil Hastings or Jim Shaughnessy or Dick Steinheimer or some others in the pantheon, Cook was a craftsman wh...
11

Izaak Walton Inn lives up to its reputation

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
What makes a great railfan hotel? It seems to me the criteria should be pretty simple. After checking off things like creature comforts, cleanliness, and good food — the basics about which there should be little debate — you’re basically left with one question: are there lots of trains, and are they easily seen, felt, and heard? I can think of a lot of places that basically qualify. One of my favorites is La Posada, the beautiful Fred Harvey remake in Winslow, Ariz., hard by t...
5

Bringing light back to Chicago Union Station

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Chicago likes to brag about its architectural heritage, and for good reason. The city nurtured some of the greats, among them Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and, in the postwar era, the powerful international firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (think “Sears Tower”). Chicago’s great buildings — from the Monadnock Building to the Auditorium Theater to Tribune Tower to Wright’s Oak Park homes — are staples of its popular architectural to...

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