A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
4

A reverie at San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot

Posted 5 days ago by Kevin Keefe
Is San Diego’s old Santa Fe Depot the most attractive big-city station in America? I found myself asking that question after a brief visit not long ago. It’s a logical question, and for a lot of reasons. First, there’s the sheer beauty of the station building. With its elegant twin campaniles, finished atop in tile with the Santa Fe “cross” emblem on all four sides, and its spacious promenades outside, it’s a nearly perfect expression of Spanish Mission archi...
7

Cotton Belt 819 deserves to run again

Posted 12 days ago by Kevin Keefe
When the first of Northern Pacific’s Class A 4-8-4s rolled out of Alco’s Schenectady plant in 1926, a new standard for North American locomotives was set. The “Northern,” as it was ultimately dubbed, not only produced unprecedented power at speed in both passenger and freight service, it turned out to be an ideal platform for all the other improvements bubbling up in steam technology, from feedwater heating and combustion chambers to disc drivers and roller bearings. Wit...
4

Remembering Kalmbach’s Jim King

Posted 19 days ago by Kevin Keefe
I suspect that many of you reading this were, like me, devoted readers of Trains magazine back in the 1960s. Devoted might be putting it mildly. As a teenager, I got to where I was so enthralled by the magazine that I made a point of trying to read every last word in every last issue. That even meant the editorial masthead on page 3, including the list of Kalmbach’s corporate staff, way down at the bottom in tiny agate type. I knew all the names, including that of the second guy on the li...
4

Storybook ending for Morehead & North Fork No. 12

Posted 26 days ago by Kevin Keefe
A couple of months ago I stood inside what, for me, is a very exciting place: beneath the 30-ton overhead crane in the spacious, gleaming locomotive shop at the Age of Steam Roundhouse (AoSRH) in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Surrounding me were examples of the Age of Steam crew’s handiwork, including former Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 No. 33 and Yreka Western 2-8-2 No. 19, the former nearing completion, the other not far behind. And over in the corner, minding its own business, was Morehead ...
10

In a Mountain State town, ghosts of the Virginian

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Summer brings road trips and, inevitably, a visit to a railroad town, defunct or otherwise. There’s something irresistible to me about seeing a small place that once depended on a railroad, or still does.   Princeton, W.Va., belongs in the former category, now that its claim to fame, the old Virginian Railway, is mostly gone. Decades of retrenchments brought about by the VGN’s successors, first Norfolk & Western and then Norfolk Southern, have left the town pretty quiet.&nb...
8

The survivor: Nickel Plate 587

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
If you follow the world of railroad preservation closely, you know that most of the reports this week coming out of that charnel house known as the Indiana Transportation Museum (ITM) are bad. The scene in Forest Park at Noblesville, Ind., has been almost impossible to believe: traction equipment and locomotives cut up on the spot; workers, trucks, and acetylene torches everywhere; hurried deals thrown together to save as much equipment as possible; outside groups tagging rolling stock, getting...
8

The perils of 1968

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Of all the crazy years in American history, 1968 is near the top. Entire books have been written about it. Television documentaries have sanctified it. “The most turbulent twelve months of the postwar period and one of the most disturbing intervals we have lived through since the Civil War,” wrote Charles Kaiser in his 1988 book 1968 in America. It was a year defined by the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Riots in cities and on...
6

A miracle for Michigan Central Station

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I usually don’t believe in miracles. But I can’t think of another word for what’s happening in Detroit, where a savior has stepped up to not only rescue but also transform one of America’s greatest and most notoriously derelict train stations. The unlikely savior is Ford Motor Co. The miracle is what Ford promises to do with Michigan Central Station, the towering 1913 monument whose fall from grace became a symbol of Detroit’s historic decline. Ford is scheduled t...
6

DPM’s best book, 50 years later

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The ad on page 2 of the February 1969 issue of Trainsmagazine had an intriguing headline: “The Biography of a 2-8-2.” It was Kalmbach’s way of announcing a new book, a perhaps an unprecedented book, a book about a single locomotive. “We can’t recall a previous book devoted to one engine; but then, there’s never been one engine quite like the 4501,” said the copy. Thus did the world learn of the arrival of David P. Morgan’s Locomotive 45...
11

South Shore’s interurban time machine

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a favorite train ride, one that stands out above all others, one you’d take tomorrow and the day after and even the day after that, if you had the chance. A ride you never tire of.  My choice is easy. It’s short. It’s cheap. It’s available any day of the week, all year long. More than anything else, in 2018 America, it’s unique. Meaning, as Merriam-Webster says, “without qualifying modifiers.”&nb...
3

Contemplating a K4 1361 comeback

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
With all the exciting news percolating out there these days about new restorations of mainline steam locomotives, I’ve found myself looking back to a similar period, the 1980s and early ’90s.  You had to pinch yourself in those years, there was so much going on. You had the stalwarts — Union Pacific 844 and 3985, Norfolk & Western 611 and 1218, Nickel Plate 765, Southern Pacific 4449 — but also a host of newcomers, including Frisco 1522, Santa Fe 3751, and Pere ...
4

New book charts John W. Barriger’s incredible life

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
John W. Barriger III, the legendary president of the Monon Railroad, among others, loved running inspection trains. It was his way of ensuring he knew what made his railroad — or any railroad — really tick. It also fulfilled his lifelong desire to know as many employees as possible, something that drove him throughout his storied, peripatetic career. Thus we have this wonderful, sunny vignette from a lost time in railroading, a photograph of Barriger making a brief stop in the late ...
5

When the train stops in the Delta

Posted 3 months 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 3 months 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 3 months 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...
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A glimpse of the old Tennessee Central

Posted 3 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 4 months 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 5 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,...
9

The 'Southwest Chief' belongs where it is

Posted 5 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 5 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 5 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 7 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&...

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