Late winter when a man starts thinking about steam locomotives

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I usually start thinking about planning travel to enjoy what little steam is left running about this time of year. I blame it on Southern Railway and Jim Bistline, who set the railroad’s steam excursion schedule every winter. It was the most anticipated piece of mail that I can recall as a teenager or a young adult in the late 1970s and early 1980s: You could see what locomotives Southern was running, where, and when, and plan a whole year’s worth of steam railroading fun. There were also a lot of really cool locomotives that were running on short lines and tourist railroads that I am glad I got to ride and photograph while they were still active. I was photo researching in my slide boxes when I found three favorite images of locomotives that are no longer running. I share them with the reminder that travel is a real gift, memories are out there for the taking if you’ll just show up, and nothing lasts forever — especially not operating steam. Enjoy, and soon here I’ll share my hopes and dreams for the steam highlights of 2018 as I see them.

1. Hartwell Railroad 2-6-2- No. 11. I knew of this Prairie as a child as it became famous along with sister 2-6-2 No. 108 and 2-8-0 No. 1702 on Arkansas’ Reader Railroad, that 1960s mixed train bastion. Trains covered the Reader often, and Editor David P. Morgan was even on hand for the christening of No. 1702 (now at Great Smoky Mountains Railway in North Carolina). When No. 11 showed up on Georgia’s Hartwell Railroad in the early 1980s, I had to see it. On this late November 1983 day, owner Frank Pollock has the engine running at a gallop with one coach near Airline, Ga. He’d painted the engine in a Southern Railway-inspired green and gold. Sadly, Pollock lost his life in a traffic accident, and No. 11 went wandering to Kentucky, where it ran yet again. Today, it’s on display in Nocholasville.

2. Pennsylvania Railroad 4-4-0 No. 1223. The engine used in the movie, “Hello, Dolly!” A real, operating 4-4-0! A real, operating PRR engine. When I caught up to the engine on Pennsylvania’s iconic tourist railroad, the Strasburg Rail Road, I had no idea that No. 1223’s days were numbered. When it needed heavy work to keep it operating, the adjacent Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania declined the railroad’s offer, citing the desire to keep the engine original. It was good while it lasted, and at least No. 1223 is safe inside at the museum. But boy, was she ever a sight to behold in steam, especially on this day, Oct. 2, 1989 at the Groff’s Grove picnic area.

3. Texas & Pacific 2-10-4 No. 610. One of the original Lima Superpower locomotives of the late 1920s, No. 610 proved to be an exciting addition to Southern’s excursion stable between 1977 and 1981. I rode the engine on Atlanta-Toccoa, Ga., and Chattanooga-Harriman, Tenn., excursions in 1978 and 1979, respectively, and spent high quality hours in the open Dutch door, where I could soak up the sights, sounds, and smells of the big Texas-type eating up mile after mile at 50 mph. Today, she’s kept under cover at the Texas State Railroad near Rusk, and pulled out into the sunlight from time to time. I am glad to have ridden behind her and photographed her in action, such as this July 1978 day near Black Mountain, N.C., on the way to the Eastern Continental Divide at Ridgecrest.

 Learn more about massive historic locomotives that are still in operation with Big Steam is Back, our 100-page special issue, and its companion DVD, both available at



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