Wandering 2-8-2 deserves a new home

Posted 7 days ago by Kevin Keefe
Wanted: New home for a clean, smooth-running 2-8-2. Great pulling power. Equipped with 44-inch drivers, one pair without flanges. Perfect for tight curves and light track. Not a classified ad you’d expect to ever see these days, but one that’s theoretically possible after last week’s surprising news that an arbitrator has ruled for the owner of just such a steam locomotive and against a venerable railroad museum, to the tune of $200,000 in damages. That’s the situation ...

Memo to railroad authors: honor the index

Posted 14 days ago by Kevin Keefe
In my nearly 30 years working in the Kalmbach offices, my colleagues Rob McGonigal and Dave Ingles got used to my various rants. Trust me, there were a million of them. Judging by the reaction I got from Rob and Dave, most of them were promptly and wisely dismissed. But if there was one thing that consistently got me worked up — and often got them to nod in agreement — was the frequent exclusion of indexes in many railroad books. That might seem trivial, but when your job includes ...

The way to Indianapolis

Posted 20 days ago by Kevin Keefe
I love riding steam excursions as much as the next person, not to mention tourist lines and private cars. And I wouldn’t mind joining one of those high-end “photo-freight” charters one of these days, as soon as I save enough money. But I also have a hang-up about authenticity, probably a lingering malady from journalism school, or just plain obstinance. None of these operations, it seems to me, is authentic in the strictest sense of the word. All of them are replications of so...

Dispatches from the Boomer, Part II

Posted 28 days ago by Kevin Keefe
A few weeks ago in this space I caught up with my friend E.W. “Ed” King Jr., after a visit to his home in Largo, Fla. The story, posted on January 3, in part described how he came to be known as the Boomer. It was great to see my old colleague again, and not only because his home seems like a tropical paradise compared with Milwaukee in winter. With Ed, it’s all about the conversation, which is always engaging. Now retired after a fulfilling career on Norfolk & Western, Ro...

Hunter Harrison harkens back to Bill Deramus III

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
For this news junkie, last week was a roller coaster, and not for the reasons you might think. Instead of getting sucked into all the drama in Washington, D.C., I found myself more mesmerized by a sideshow of another kind, the latest turn in the career of railroading’s bad boy, E. Hunter Harrison. The story is complicated, as reported by the staff over at Trains magazine, but to boil it down to its essence, Harrison was suddenly released from his obligations as chairman of Canadian Pacifi...

Ringling Bros. news would sadden Chappie Fox

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
The news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus plans to call it quits comes as a shock not only to the world of the circus and the entertainment industry, but also to those of us who love the circus’s railroad connections. Florida-based Feld Entertainment, longtime owners of the Ringling operation, announced last week that the circus would be shut down after performances in May. The news throws the lives of hundreds of circus performers and workers into limbo, as well as ...

Sad outcome in Chicago, but R&LHS remains strong

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Chicago has been on my mind lately. One reason is what arrived in my mail last week, the new Trains special edition called Chicago: America’s Railroad Capital. It’s really terrific, 98 pages of reporting, analysis, photographs, and wonderful maps, all showing why Chicago always will be what poet Carl Sandburg called “Player with Railroads, and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” Kudos to the publication’s editor, David Lassen, and the entire staff for doing the W...

Dispatches from the Boomer

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
One of my favorite railroad writers is the great E. W. “Ed” King Jr., better known as the Boomer. A lot of railroaders call themselves boomers, but I like to think we sanctified it for Ed when he became the bimonthly columnist in Trains under the rubric “The Boomer.” For a little over five years, from the January 1996 issue through November 2001, Ed regaled readers with trainloads of anecdotes from a long career, not to mention plenty of pithy and sometimes provocative op...

Ron Ziel: An appreciation

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
For legions of baby boomers, the steam locomotive was a tantalizing but ultimately frustrating presence. If you were born in the early 1950s like me, you grew up feeling like you knew the steam locomotive, but it’s more likely you didn’t. By the time a lot of us were 8 or 9, steam was gone. I think back to my parents and their uncanny ability to move to two different places before I was 6, each about a year after the last steam locomotive rolled through town. That didn’t kee...

Great (railroad) things under the tree

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Tony Jaroch was a railroader right out of central casting. Outwardly gruff, he had enough of a twinkle in his eye that you knew it’d be OK to talk to him, especially if you were just a high school kid with innocent questions. I got to know Tony around 1968, on long summer afternoons when I wasn’t stocking grocery-store shelves. To this day I don’t know what his job title was — superintendent? trainmaster? agent? — but he ruled the roost from a tiny office across the...

Railroad books you can curl up with

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I suppose the first impulse in picking up a railroad book is to look at the pictures. For most of us, I’m guessing, the fundamental appeal of railroading is visual, and so I frequently find myself passing the time with yet another glance through a Richard Steinheimer book or a favorite title from Morning Sun. What can be more fun than that? But some books transcend the visual. Too often, railroad writing is merely loaded with facts and figures, research and analysis. Yet there are some wr...

Forward-thinking Jim McClellan always looked back

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The encomiums that have poured from various quarters since the death of Jim McClellan are proof that we lost someone extraordinary on October 14. We’ve seen a lot of railroading’s giants pass in recent years, but I can’t recall anyone who triggered the kind of deep, emotional response accorded Jim. The basic facts of Jim’s incredible life are impressive enough. One of railroading’s great true believers, he managed to have a critical role in most of the sweeping cha...


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