We Can Dream, Can't We?

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, May 15, 2019

At one point, “foreign”, i.e. non-home road motive power was a pretty novel item.  In steam days, this was understandable, since there was a higher degree of customization of this product to the specifications of individual railroads (who also built them at home, in many cases).  There were examples, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad’s use of Santa Fe 2-10-4s on its Columbus-Sandusky, Ohio line late in the steam era; this also produced a veritable stampede of railroad photographers to this essentially heretofore overlooked piece of property to see the mighty machines in action.

Since diesels are more of a mass-produced, off-the-shelf item than steam locomotives, the use of other railroads’ engines occurred more frequently, including leases that brought Bangor & Aroostook Geeps to the PRR in Ohio on a seasonal basis, and in the 1970s, to the Long Island Rail Road, as well purple-painted E units from the Atlantic Coast Line to the Norfolk & Western in an effort to dieselize the N&W’s passenger trains more quickly. 

The N&W participated in this activity in another way, via “run-through” power on passenger trains that it ran jointly with the Southern Railway between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol via Roanoke; the use of Southern power for the entire runs obviated the need for engine changes at each end of the N&W’s portion of the overall routes. 

I can also remember the news item in TRAINS in the mid-1960s when the New York Central and Burlington Route announced that mixed sets of modern (second-generation) diesels would be used to expedite the movement of specific trains, again obviating the need for an engine change.  The Southern participated in another, also with the CB&Q,between  Louisville, Kentucky and Galesburg via Centralia, Illinois; in 1971, I observed four “Chinese Red” SD24s (by now BN units) departing from Youngtown Yard in Louisville.

In more recent times, it has become fairly common to see diesels straying far from their home territories.  When the Norfolk Southern “Heritage” units were relatively new, the locomotives representing the Lehigh Valley and Reading went on a jaunt to the west coast and back together; online news reports of this included the use of the nicknames “Valley Girl” and “Bee Boy” (the Reading livery on the Heritage unit included the RDG’s “Bee Line” emblem).  For that matter, an afternoon’s railfanning on the NS’s former Southern Railway Piedmont Division in the 1990s produced a meet between NS trains both with Union Pacific power one fine Saturday afternoon.

Thus, this sighting of NS train 290, with its consist of autoracks and intermodal traffic, behind a pair of Union Pacific “flag” units, crossing the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, West Virginia on August 13, 2017 wasn’t particularly startling.  On a railroad where the vast majority of units can be described correctly as “monochrome” in their coloration, Armour Yellow is certainly not unwelcome, and for that matter, it goes nicely with the similar hue on the autoracks behind the units.

Which brings me to a modest request.  Since long-haul locomotive loans have been commonplace, could we hope for the UP 4014 to favor those of us in the east with its presence at this spot?  When the UP’s executive train visited New York State last year, it garnered significant positive attention; why not do something even better? 

Furthermore, there is precedent for this, in the form of the UP’s Challenger traveling to the former Clinchfield for the Santa train not that long ago; why not the NS for the Big Boy? For that matter, if there are too many demands on its time in UP territory, I suspect that we’d even settle for a visit by the 844.  Can we dream of this?  That’s certainly permissible, but hope, at this point, is probably a bit of a stretch.

 (Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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