Trains.com
A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
4

SP’s gambit to abandon its commuter trains

Posted 7 days ago by Kevin Keefe
Of all the railroads that tried various gambits to get out of the passenger business in the 1960s, perhaps none attracted as much vitriol as Southern Pacific. Not that SP downgraded or got rid of the most trains — that honor probably goes to New York Central — but its 1966 substitution of an automat car for a diner on the railroad’s storied Sunset Limited was hugely symbolic and unusually cynical. It attracted widespread condemnation, none of which deterred SP President Ben Bia...
5

Al Kalmbach captures train time at Calera, Ala.

Posted 14 days ago by Kevin Keefe
Some photographs grab your imagination and won’t let go. Case in point: this simple but quietly affecting portrait of what I’m guessing are some teenage girls giving two friends a sendoff as they board Louisville & Nashville train No. 3 on the platform of the joint L&N and Southern Railway station in Calera, Ala., in the spring of 1942. The photographer was Al Kalmbach, founder of the company that brings you these words. For years, I have been making regular trips throu...
16

NW5s, RDCs, ‘Chicagoland,’ and other goofs

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
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 s...
1

Honoring the legacy of Ashtabula

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
My first railroad book has stuck with me ever since my parents gave it to me when I was 9. Lucius Beebe’s “Hear the Train Blow” was a massive scrapbook of American railroad history, full of the author’s outrageous prose and uncanny skill at digging up illustration. I still love looking through it 62 years later.   Nothing in it has stayed with me more than his chapter “The Open Switch,” a look at railroad safety in the 19th and early 20th cent...
3

Now arriving, Wally Abbey’s magnum opus

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Some books seem to have a will of their own. Nothing, not the passing of decades, not even the passing of the author, will keep them down. If the story is compelling enough — and if it is blessed with passionate believers — the story will win out.  That’s how I feel about “The Diesel That Did It,” by the late Wallace W. Abbey, just published by Indiana University Press. Ostensibly about the introduction of the pioneering FT diesel in 1940 and ’41, it&rsq...
1

Pullman: a town worth celebrating

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Even if you don’t know the history, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special as you drive east on 111thStreet on Chicago’s south side, duck under the tracks of Metra’s Electric District, and suddenly encounter one of the gems of American architecture and urban planning. Welcome to Pullman, the one-time home of the Pullman Palace Car Co., its famous company town, and today the site of an exciting urban revival.  Pullman has been a lot of things over its nearly 150-...
5

Linn Westcott knew his way around a railroad

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
If anyone had a more wildly diverse set of talents than Linn H. Westcott, I haven’t heard of them yet.   The man who would come to be known as “Mr. Model Railroader” could write and edit, of course — he served 16 years as editor in chief of the magazine we call “MR,” a memorable run at the helm of any magazine. But he was so much more.   Linn knew his way around carpentry, as his pioneering ideas about benchwork demonstrated. His wiring schemes m...
4

BNSF’s new Sandpoint bridge shares a rich heritage

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Right now, BNSF Railway construction crews are close to putting the finishing touches on one of the most strategic railroad bridges in the U.S., a new 4,800-foot span over Lake Pend Oreille at Sandpoint, Idaho, a bottleneck with a long history.    Fortunately for those of us with a fondness for the past, the old bridge isn’t going anywhere. Together, the old and new bridges will constitute a new stretch of double track and should help BNSF significantly speed up traffic across ...
4

John Dziobko’s photographic legacy will endure

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I never met John Dziobko. Now, after reading all the recent tributes to him on social media, I realize I really missed out. This wildly prolific and unfailingly enthusiastic railroad photographer obviously touched a lot of lives. Dziobko died Aug. 5 at age 89 in Madison, Wis. He leaves behind not only a huge archive of mostly 35mm color slides, but an entire community of admirers, who often referred to him as “the Godfather.” You can see why when you check out his personal website, ...
6

Marjory Collins showed us an intimate Penn Station

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
New York City’s long-lost Penn Station is almost always described in grandiose terms, and for good reason. Its main entrance on Seventh Avenue was an imposing wall of Doric columns, comparable to anything in Europe. Inside, the vaulted, coffered waiting room was flanked by six-story Corinthian columns, the station’s concourse topped by soaring arches of glass and steel. Descriptions never fail to mention the station’s architect, Charles McKim of the blue-chip firm McKim, Mead ...
5

More trains where 'Eagles' flew

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Over the past several months, Amtrak has been slowly getting back to a full schedule of post-pandemic passenger trains, and that’s good news. Here in Milwaukee, I never knew how much I missed our seven daily Chicago trains until suddenly some were missing. It was a relief last year to get back to our full Hiawatha lineup. Train riders in Missouri know the feeling after the announcement last week that Amtrak is restoring a second St. Louis-Kansas City round trip of its Misso...
4

For Steinheimer, it all started in Glendale

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The world of railroad photography has been buzzing for a couple of weeks since the announcement that most of the personal archives of famed photographer Richard Steinheimer have been acquired by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.   This is one of those “big deals” that easily lives up to the term. Arguably the dean of American railroad photographers, Dick Steinheimer not only produced some of the most memorable images in all of mid- to late-20th-century railroading,...
5

Looking ahead to Crawford Notch

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
In the April 2004 issue of Trains, Editor Mark W. Hemphill assembled one of the magazine’s all-time great special issues, an entire edition devoted to mountain railroading. The issue paid lavish attention to the passes and summits that are often the defining test of a railroad. Richly illustrated with elevation diagrams, the issue celebrated all the famous places across North America where railroads conquered obstacles: Gallitzin and Sand Patch, Tennessee Pass and Donner Pass, Sherman Hil...
8

Reading & Northern 2102 is the comeback kid

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
It would have been good to be in northeastern Pennsylvania last weekend, there to witness one of the truly great steam revivals, the return of Reading & Northern 4-8-4 No. 2102 in excursion service. By all accounts — including a flood of thrilling action photos and video all over social media — it was a highly successful performance by the former Reading Co. workhorse, hauling 19 cars and nearly 900 riders in what’s been described as nearly a perfect performance. And no die...
5

Steam still hooks the next generation

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
When I look back on my first involvement with steam locomotives — that would be in 1970 at Michigan State University, where I joined a band of dreamers working on Pere Marquette 2-8-4 1225 — I can’t help but remember the myths of the naysayers, those opinionated people who told us why we were wasting our time.   Most of it came from railfans, but the baloney occasionally came from railroaders. The mantras were familiar: “You won’t find a railroad to run on.&rd...
4

Silvis will be on everyone’s radar

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
When it comes to railroad preservation, big things often appear in the unlikeliest of places. How else to explain an amazingly authentic roundhouse popping up in a cornfield on the edge of little Sugar Creek, Ohio? Or the presence of regal Norfolk & Western J-class 4-8-4 No. 611 gracing the 4.5-mile Strasburg Rail Road? Add Silvis, Ill., to your list of delightful surprises. There, an organization with a mouthful of a name — Railroading Heritage of Midwest America, or RHMA — is ...
12

EMD hung its hat on the 567 engine

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Hard as it is to believe for a firm once considered an upstart, this is the centennial year of Electro-Motive, the company that in so many ways put the steam locomotive out of business.  Centennial celebrations seem a bit muted, although the Trains staff has produced a handsome one-off magazine called “EMD at 100,” now on sale, and Caterpillar’s Progress Rail, the current manufacturer of the Electro-Motive Diesel brand, honors the past with a nice historical review o...
11

For Jim Wrinn, it was three strikes and you’re in

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Sometimes the sharp pang of missing someone comes at unexpected moments. I was sitting on our sofa in the TV room on Saturday night, caught up in the super-hyped Final Four matchup of North Carolina and Duke. When Tar Heel guard R. J. Davis seized the final rebound to ice the game, I instinctively reached for my phone to tap out a text I’d sent to Jim Wrinn so many times before: “Down goes Dook!” Then I reminded myself, “He’ll never see it.” I put the cell p...
9

Coaling towers: revenge via rebar

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I have a thing for railroad coaling towers. Like modern-day Colossi of Rhodes, they punctuate the landscape, giant reminders of the steam locomotive culture that held sway for more than a century. Locomotives have been scrapped, roundhouses leveled, crew districts stretched beyond 100 miles, but those stately slabs of reinforced concrete linger on the horizon, protected merely because they’re too damned expensive to tear down. Call it rebar revenge. My attachment to these monoliths began ...
5

Four phone calls I’ll never forget

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A magazine editor’s phone never stops ringing. Contributors call with story ideas. Art department people call with stuff they want you to look at. Production managers call about deadlines, and ad sales people are always trying to get one more into the magazine. And at Kalmbach, there was always another meeting, and another after that. Looking back to my time as Trains editor in the 1990s, all those calls tend to disappear from memory. But not always. Every once in a while, that beepi...
4

Born 75 years ago: B&O’s Cincinnatian

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
What if a railroad ran a passenger train that couldn’t make money in one market, then simply flipped it at one of its end points, chose a new destination, but kept the same name? Sounds easy, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what the Baltimore & Ohio did with its Cincinnatian, a homebuilt steam-powered streamliner that arrived 75 years ago to much fanfare, connecting Baltimore and Washington, D.C., with its namesake city on a reasonably convenient daytime schedule. Then, ju...
2

Why C&O 2716 really matters

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
One day in 1929, the top mechanical talent of the Van Sweringen railroads — at that point including Chesapeake & Ohio, Erie, Nickel Plate, and Pere Marquette — met to change the trajectory, if not the fate, of the American steam locomotive. They called themselves the Advisory Mechanical Committee. Gathering, presumably, inside the then-new Terminal Tower in Cleveland, they charged themselves with coming up with new machines that could deliver more ton miles at higher speeds and ...
9

Mike Schafer and me

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
Sometimes you meet lifelong friends and colleagues in surprising places.  For instance, on a Saturday night in 1972 I found myself taking an elevator up to the top floor of Detroit’s venerable Fort Shelby Hotel, there to see a Michigan Railroad Club program being presented by an up-and-coming star of railroad photography.  I already knew the name Mike Schafer from his photo credits in Trains magazine. You might remember his bravura feature from the July 1972 issue ent...
3

The quiet passing of BO Tower

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
“Do you share the vision of the lonely tower operator, a solitary watchful sentinel, sitting in his dilapidated second-story ‘office,’ from which glows the only light in the darkened country crossroads town? Etch it well in your mind, because it’s history.” With those eloquent words, my colleague J. David Ingles reported on the state of interlocking towers across the U.S., part of our special package on towers in the April 1995 issue of Trains. At that point, ...
4

Western rail photographers remember Don Sims

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
Railroad photography came of age as a genre — maybe even an art form — with the November 1955 issue of Trains magazine. Therein, Editor David P. Morgan showcased the work of a dozen photographers, most of whom would go on to become legends. It was one of the first times that photographs of trains were celebrated for their own sake. Specific subject matter was irrelevant. For anyone reading this, the names in those pages should be familiar: Phil Hastings, Dick Steinheimer, ...
4

Penn Central, Conrail vets remember Dick Hasselman

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
I never met Dick Hasselman, but I’d sure as hell heard of him. Living in a Penn Central backwater in Michigan back in the early 1970s, I’d gotten to know a number of local railroaders, and many of them referred one time or another to the respected but feared VP-transportation. You got the feeling they prayed for plenty of warning should Hasselman decide to drop by. Then, last week, I got a chance to know him, albeit from afar. Richard B. Hasselman died Dec. 5 at the age of 95, and T...
9

Say it ain’t so: Rob McGonigal is moving on

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
Of course, I already knew this, but reading it in black and white on page 3 of the Winter 2021 issue of didn’t make it any more believable: Rob McGonigal has retired as the editor of Classic Trains after 22 years at the helm, and nearly 29 years at parent company Kalmbach.  How did this happen? I mean, didn’t I just hire this guy as the youngster on the staff of Trains? The guy we came to know as “RSM”? Wasn’t that just yesterday? Well, it wasn...
8

Amtrak’s first timetable was a labor of love

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
Of the many deprivations endured over the past couple of years on Amtrak, one that has frustrated me the most has been the disappearance of the printed system timetable. I can’t begin to count how many system TTs I’ve had on my desk over the years, but it must have been dozens. The darn thing is so incredibly useful, and for so many reasons: confirming the times for Milwaukee’s morning trains to Chicago, figuring how to string together long trips with multiple connections, dou...
11

You never forget your first fantrip

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
To this day, I don’t know how I found out about the first steam excursion I ever rode, 55 years ago this past weekend. I’ve scoured several 1966 issues of Trains magazines and can’t find a thing. No announcement in the “Running Extra” classified ads, no small display ad, nothing in Editor David P. Morgan’s news coverage. But there I was, standing on the platform at Chicago’s Dearborn Station, waiting to join hundreds of other railfans on what ...
5

Recalling D&H’s champion, Bruce Sterzing

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
The death last week of former Delaware & Hudson President Carl “Bruce” Sterzing is an occasion to remember a man who was definitely a maverick, an executive who believed in his railroad and never passed up a chance to say so. Sterzing passed away October 9 at age 88 at home in Virginia Beach, surrounded by family and, one hopes, secure in the knowledge that he’d had a good career. Certainly, his long and varied résumé — which, in addition to railroading...

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