NW5s, RDCs, ‘Chicagoland,’ and other goofs

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Boston & Maine RDCs at North Troy, Vt. — with engines below the frame. J. David Ingles photo, Brian M. Schmidt collection
A few weeks ago, I made an embarrassing blunder in the pages of Classic Trains. In a brief, bylined description of the Budd Rail Diesel Car, or RDC, I had casually and quite spectacularly goofed by describing its diesel engines as “rooftop.” Yes, rooftop.

What was I thinking? I knew its V-6 diesel engines were actually slung under the frame and the blister on top held radiators and cooling fans. I really did. The emails and texts and Facebook comments that rolled in wondered the same thing: What was I thinking? Most of the comments expressed amusement, but some were harsh; such is the way of online discourse. Meanwhile, I was kicking myself. The mistake pretty much ruined my day.

That’s when I thought of J. David Ingles, my longtime friend, boss, and colleague. If I learned anything from Dave during my years with him on the Trains staff — and I learned a thousand things — it was to take mistakes in stride. He was amazingly unflappable, even when the blunder was a doozy, even when it was his. “Aw, get over it,” he’d say, smiling as he talked me down. “We haven’t put out the perfect issue yet, and we never will.”

That always helped. After I calmed down a bit over that RDC thing, I started looking back on other errors, most of them involving Dave in one way or the other. One of them occurred long before I even worked for Trains.

Great Northern NW5 No. 187: that’s an EMD, not a Baldwin! EMD photo
It was late in the 1970s — I can’t recall the year or issue — but I was editing Passenger Train Journal and committed the sin of writing a caption that described a “Baldwin NW5.” It got into print that way. Of course, anyone worth his diesel bonafides knows there is no such thing as a Baldwin NW5. No, it was the late, great Electro-Motive Division that built a handful of these unusual 1,000-horsepower switchers in the years 1946 and ’47, notably 10 for Great Northern. But there it was, in print. Baldwin.

I was already friends with Dave from an earlier stint at Kalmbach, and he really let me have it over the phone. After all, this was a guy who put Extra 2200 South right up there with the Bible. “Keefe! Baldwin NW5. Are you serious?!” I might as well have called Mickey Mantle a Dodger. Or the Mustang a Chevy. He ribbed me about that NW5 for another 40 years.

But J.D.I. was also a savior, never more so than in early June 1993. We had put together an all-Chicago issue for the month of July. This was a big deal for all of us, devoting an entire issue to the Railroad Capital, a place we revered. In my editor’s note, I attempted to set the stage for our tribute by evoking “Chicagoland,” a word with almost magical power for some of us. Without looking anything up, I attributed the term to the legendary publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

Robert McCormick, newspaper publisher, not reaper inventor.
Except I said he was Cyrus McCormick, not Robert McCormick. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with Chicago knows, Cyrus invented the first practical mechanical reaper. Robert published the newspaper. (Cyrus also was Robert’s great-uncle.)

Dave had been out of the office when I banged out the column and hadn’t seen it until after it went to the printer. But looking over a proof later that night he discovered the error and called me at home. “Uh, Keefe, you got the wrong McCormick.” What!? Oh, no. Trouble was, the magazine page negatives had already been FedEx’d that day to R.R. Donnelley’s printing plant in Danville, Ky. Press time for the July issue was set for 4 a.m.

Lead off our special issue with a laugher like that? I was born in Chicago. This was a mistake that had to be fixed.

God bless the people at Donnelley. Dave Koteski, Kalmbach’s production manager, wasn’t optimistic but we were friends and he was sympathetic and got me the phone number for a plant manager in Danville. “Good luck, K.P.K.”

I called the manager about 11 p.m. and pleaded my case, almost pathetically so. Luckily for me, the guy was game for a challenge. He put me through to someone in the plate room, where personnel converted full-spread negatives into offset press plates. (This was just a few years before everything would be sent digitally.) Long story short, I got a printer on the line and he agreed to look through the rest of the issue for the word “Robert” somewhere, duplicate it, and, using an X-acto knife, carefully substitute it for “Cyrus” on page 6. It worked.

Under the category of “misery loves company,” I checked in with another fellow Kalmbacher, Rob McGonigal, now retired after editing Classic Trains for 20 years. There’s one particular memory that makes him wince.

“I’ve definitely made my share of boneheaded goofs over the years,” Rob recounts. “One that stands out was in Classic Trains’ 2012 special edition, Fantastic 4-8-4 Locomotives. It was an ambitious, comprehensive study of what one British author once called ‘the king of wheel arrangements.’ 

“We devoted the last page to a list of the 57 preserved 4-8-4s, listed alphabetically by their original owners, with their current locations. The four Union Pacific survivors came last: No. 814, Council Bluffs, Iowa; 833, Ogden, Utah; and, finally, 838 and 844, Cheyenne, Nebraska. Yes, the very last bit of editorial content in that 108-page issue was a ludicrously elementary error that moved the largest city in Wyoming to an adjacent state.” 

I feel your pain, RSM. I committed plenty of other errors over the years, putting CP Rail’s easternmost terminal in Halifax, Nova Scotia, instead of Saint John, New Brunswick. Reporting that Blackstone Capital Partners and Union Pacific had leveraged a buyout of Chicago & North Western for $950 (I missed six more zeros). Writing a caption for a photo of a Seaboard System hogger on a B30-7, his foot resting on the “dead man’s pedal,” long after the device was eliminated. It was just a footrest.

There were more errors, believe me. I know I’ll never completely eliminate them. No one in this business will. So, I comfort myself with J.D.I.’s sage words from 30 years ago: “We haven’t put out the perfect issue yet, and we never will.”

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