A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
7

When passengers rode along the Front Range

Posted 4 days 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 19 days 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 26 days 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 one month 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 one month 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 one month 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...
4

High-water mark for the 'Sunset Limited'

Posted one month 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 2 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 2 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...
4

Rio Grande Southern No. 20 ready for its star turn

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
As if the legend of the fabulous Colorado narrow gauge needs further burnishing, we’ll have a new icon to admire come August 1, when the Colorado Railroad Museum dedicates the latest addition to its roster of operating equipment.  On that Saturday, the museum is scheduled to dedicate former Rio Grande Southern (RGS) 4-6-0 No. 20, the object of a 14-year restoration. As you can see here, the compact Ten-Wheeler is a jewel, likely more gorgeous today than it was when the plan...
6

Union Railroad’s king of steam switchers

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Nowhere is the pace of change over the past 20 years more evident than what has happened to U.S. Steel’s various railroads. Once upon a time, the names Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range; Elgin, Joliet & Eastern; and Bessemer & Lake Erie were as emblematic of America’s biggest steelmaker as the belching mills of Gary and Pittsburgh. Now U.S. Steel appears poised to end its long and celebrated role as a railroad operator. The Trains News Wire recently reported that US...
2

Hall of Fame honors Woodard, Gurley

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The National Railroad Hall of Fame continues to distinguish itself by calling attention to some of the giants of railroading. Last week, the Hall, based in Galesburg, Ill., added two more names to its gallery of inductees: William E. Woodard, famed designer at Lima Locomotive Works; and Fred Gurley, legendary president during Santa Fe’s glory years of the 1940s and ’50s. Organized in 1992, the Hall has done a lot to bring the names of prominent railroaders to a wider audie...
10

In the wake of June 21, 1970

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Monday, June 22, 1970, was a busy news day, judging by the front page of the New York Times. Any of a half-dozen stories could have led the paper: revelations the U.S. was bombing insurgent trails in Cambodia; 220 killed as the “Indochina War” intensified; Attorney General John Mitchell heralding drug raids in 10 cities; protest groups descending on an American Medical Association meeting in Chicago. But all of that was pushed aside for the top spot, the upper-right corner of t...
6

Looking back on DPM’s “finest railroad”

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The United States reached its peak railroad mileage around 1920, when there were approximately 252,000 route miles across the country. You might say it’s been downhill ever since, although railroad economists would tell you that’s a good thing. But it’s also a good thing to see a substantial new railroad built, like what’s planned for remote northeastern Utah. There, a consortium of public and private interests — notably the railroad holding company Rio Grande Paci...
6

H. Reid could shoot as well as he could write

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A few weeks ago, before the pandemic interrupted regular visits to the Kalmbach library, I was pawing through some photo files to help illustrate a program I’m scheduled to give this fall in Washington, D.C. Photo research in the library is always fun — in those deep files, you never know what’s going to pop up next. I was in the Chesapeake & Ohio drawer, in a folder marked “Steam Passenger – Virginia,” when my thumb suddenly turned up a real head turner,...
5

Amfleet enters its own classic era

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
You know the world is shifting below your feet when, one after the other, the routine or the mundane hangs around long enough to become what we all call “classic.”  Case in point: Amtrak’s Amfleet. Recently it was announced that Rail Excursion Management Co., which manages a fleet of private cars for the excursion and heritage railroad biz, has acquired two Amfleet coaches and an Amcafé. The company is said to be the first private operator to acquire examples of th...
5

Nobody could write like Pete Hansen

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Successful magazine editors are in an endless search for talent, especially if most of their content comes from freelance writers. That’s basically the editorial model for Classic Trains and Trains magazines: readers write the stories and the staff edits them. You never know when a manila envelope from the next Fred Frailey is going to land on your desk, or in your email inbox, and when you do, you jump on it.   That these two magazines have done well with this mo...
5

Reading 2124 was a scene stealer

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I’m easily drawn to the intersection of railroads and movies, especially now with so much time at home. No NBA, no baseball, worn down by pandemic news — I’m ripe for seeing trains on the big screen. If it’s a film I haven’t seen before, even better. That’s why page 9 in the May 1960 issue of Trains magazine caught my eye. Headlined “20th Century-Fox Stars 4-8-4,” the brief photo story shows the platforms of a big-city station and the ar...
3

Rx for the homebound: a new Fred Frailey book

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Sometime in January of 1988, Trains magazine’s production editor, Nancy Bartol, handed me the lineup — we called it the dope sheet — for the May 1988 issue. Listed there for pages 26–45 was something quite exciting: “River Wars,” the first installment of a two-part story by Fred W. Frailey. I had admired Frailey the writer ever since I first encountered his auspicious August 1979 debut in Trains. Reading his Kansas City Southern saga, I thought...
10

When a Hiawatha man championed the 400

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Last week marked a bittersweet occasion: the 25th anniversary of the day Union Pacific absorbed the late, great Chicago & North Western. My social media channels fed me several tributes by former C&NW employees and fans. Many of them echoed what writer Michael Blaszak wrote in his news analysis from the June 1995 issue of Trains: “What can be said of the 147-year run of the North Western is that the company finished up as a success. Not every one of its old Granger neighbors c...
0

The Motive Power Survey had a great run

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
This week I was digging back into my old bound volumes of Trains and headed for the April 1950 issue, 70 years ago. In there I found an early example of what would become a staple of the magazine, the annual Motive Power Survey. I’m sure many of you remember the series.  In this case the story was “The Locomotive in 1949.” It was a doozy, a 4,500-word example of great journalism straddling the end of the steam locomotive and the blossoming of the diesel. My edit...
1

Joe Lesser had his own L.A. story

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
“Los Angeles remains the most photographed and least remembered city in the world.” You don’t have to look very far to find great quotes about Los Angeles — everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Andy Warhol have had plenty to say about the city — but I like the one above, from Norman M. Klein, a California urban historian and writer whose 1997 book, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, landed on a lot of “best of L.A.” li...
5

Random notes on the Rock Island

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Last week’s anniversary of the end of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific — March 31, 1980 — had me reaching for Rock memories. I couldn’t find many. I’d grown up in Michigan, on the entirely wrong side of Chicago, and to me the Rock Island was the stuff of myth, informed by the song sung by Lead Belly and the Weavers, by pictures of the Rocket and the Golden State in Trains magazine, and by glimpses of commuters hustling past the wi...
5

As 1918 shows, railroads have been through this before

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
All the worrisome news on the coronavirus front seems unprecedented, and railroads aren’t getting a pass. Railroaders are still out there on the job, delivering freight and hauling passengers, but they are performing in an increasingly difficult environment.   That’s most visible on the passenger and transit side, where empty trains and draconian schedule reductions have rendered busy main lines eerily quiet. Here in Milwaukee, we’re down to two daily trains between here ...
9

The 'Badger' still feels like the C&O

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Some idle time online earlier this week (aren’t a lot of us doing that these days?) led me to a historical tidbit that caught my attention, thanks to the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society. Last Saturday, March 21, was the 67th anniversary of the day the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway put the carferry Badger into cross-Lake Michigan service. The boat began its career with a departure from Manitowoc, Wis., carrying 32 boxcars loaded with paper from Fox Valley mills.  Si...
7

Mike Yuhas is a great teammate

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
One of the great things about working in Kalmbach’s old headquarters in downtown Milwaukee was the tendency for visitors to show up, unannounced, at any time. Most companies would discourage that, but not Al Kalmbach’s. When a Trains reader showed up at 1027 N. Seventh Street, someone on the staff would be expected to drop everything and — with a smile on their face — show the visitor around. Thus it was on a hot, humid weekday in August 1987 when the phone ran...
4

Hanging out with the "Best Friend of Charleston"

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Over the years I’ve tried to visit as many famous sites in American railroading as possible, not merely just to say I’ve been there, but to see if maybe witnessing them somehow deepens my appreciation of the entire sweep of the industry’s history. Sounds a bit pretentious, perhaps, but that’s been my motivation. I’ve gotten a quiet thrill out of walking the tracks at Promontory when no one was there. I’ve stood where Casey Jones met his fate in lonely Vaughan...
5

The day Burlington Northern showed the way

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
March 2, 1970, was a foggy morning at the former Burlington yard in Cicero, just west of Chicago. Pete Briggs, a former public relations manager with the Q and suddenly doing the same work for brand-new Burlington Northern, stood in the yard with Hedrich-Blessing photographer Bob Harr to get shots of BN’s first Seattle-bound train featuring all BN power, a sextet of brand new GP38s in Cascade green. “Alas,” says Pete, “that morning was totally foggy and the diesels disap...
4

NS can’t take the glory out of Roanoke

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Some cities and machines belong together. Imagine Renton without 707s, or Dearborn without Mustangs, or Groton without submarines. Unthinkable. Maybe that puts Norfolk Southern’s announcement of last week in perspective. The company has decided to shift what remains of its locomotive maintenance and repair in Roanoke, Va., to its Juniata Shop in Altoona, Pa. The company is giving 85 mechanical staff an opportunity to transfer to Altoona, but 19 clerical people will lose their jobs. To NS...
1

Where the Central of Georgia lives on

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The South is home to several notable railroad museums, including two — the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga — that are among the nation’s best. But there are others worth visiting, including one of my newest favorites, the Georgia State Railroad Museum in Savannah. Although it’s home to a modest collection of locomotives and cars, GSRM can boast of something very special: a campus of buildin...

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