"Look at Those High Cars Roll"

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

I’m indebted to two people for the quote that is the title of this article:  F.E. Williamson, former President of the New York Central, for uttering it, and railfan author/photographer Lucius Beebe, for recording and immortalizing it in his 1962 book 20th Century.

I’ll let Mr. Beebe’s prose explain:

Another New York Central president who rode The Century in preference to the fine business car No. 1 which was at his disposal was F.E. Williamson.  …he took pleasure in the same amenities of luxury travel as he shared with other Century regulars: cocktails in the club car, a breath of fresh air on the open observation platform that survived into his regime, The Century Dinner and a long night’s sleep as the train rolled tranquilly under the stars.

Once encountered on the observation platform by the author as The Century rocketed through the Indiana countryside to overtake and pass a long merchandise train doing a mere sixty on the adjacent track…

“Look at those high cars roll”, he exclaimed, as we passed the head end of the swiftly moving freight.  “There’s nothing so beautiful in the world as a money making train going places fast on a spring evening!”

Fast-forward a few years from the 1930s (Williamson served as NYC President from January 1, 1932 until August 31, 1944), and shift the locale to Green Spring, West Virginia, on the former B&O, June 18, 1995. 

Amtrak’s westbound “Capitol Limited” had sped through here on its westbound journey a short while before.  Soon after its passage, the scanner alerted us to an eastbound approaching as the twilight gathered.  Shortly thereafter, CSX Q216 appeared, with the waning sun glinting off its lengthy string of auto racks, “high cars”, indeed.

Would Williamson have been impressed?  I suspect so, although he might have been taken aback at just how high freight cars had become.  I’m less optimistic about Beebe and the mid-90s version of the Capitol, however; I doubt that the diner, in particular, would have lived up to his expectations, and perish the thought that Lucius had lasted long enough to learn of, much less experience, the current dining experience on the 2020 version. 

(George W. Hamlin photo)

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