Trains.com
A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
1

For Steinheimer, it all started in Glendale

Posted 15 hours 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 14 days 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...
7

Reading & Northern 2102 is the comeback kid

Posted 27 days 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...
4

Steam still hooks the next generation

Posted one month 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 one month 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 ...
11

EMD hung its hat on the 567 engine

Posted 2 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 2 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 3 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 3 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 4 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 4 months 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 5 months 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 5 months 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 6 months 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 6 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 8 months 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...
5

New York Central in the boondocks

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The view from the back platform of our business car didn’t look like the legendary Water Level Route. Thick stands of birch and pine hugged the single-track right of way, punctuated by the occasional marsh or small farm or the appearance of deer and great blue herons. Everything about the scene said “Northwoods” — not New York Central. Appearances are deceiving. I was, indeed, riding along the former NYC a few weeks ago as the guest of the Lake States Railway, a successf...
4

Catching up with L&N’s “Old Line”

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Collecting so-called “rare mileage” can be a frustrating hobby. I got started late in the game, inspired by my boss J. David Ingles, then the editor of Trains, who in his lifetime managed to fill his Rand McNally railroad atlases with plenty of inked-in main lines and branches. I knew I’d never catch up, but I jumped in anyway — often to his amusement. But it’s been fun. You get what you can, when you can. Between lots of Amtrak travel, the occasional ride aboard a...
1

Hoosac Tunnel still matters

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Politicians love to talk about infrastructure, even though they rarely get anything done about it. Over the past few months, you would have had to have been a hermit to have missed all the posturing and pontificating in the name of better bridges, highways, and tunnels. One thing you don’t hear as much about is how little of this applies to America’s freight railroads, which are doing fine taking care of business mostly on their own. Funny how much you can get done with private mone...
9

Frank Barry honors the Colorado narrow gauge

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s narrow-gauge lines in southwest Colorado and a bit of northern New Mexico drew photographers like hummingbirds to columbines. And why not? What could be more magical than this Brigadoon-like world of 3-foot-gauge track, wooden cars, and 2-8-2s, surrounded by the majesty of the San Juan Mountains?   An A-list of shooters descended over the years on Antonito, Chama, Durango, Silverton, and other memorable places on th...
3

Giant steps for Santa Fe 2926

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
It was September 1992 and I was standing along the Santa Fe main line just east of Chillicothe, Ill., staring at what looked like a mirage. Seen through waves of heat, an onrushing steam locomotive was only a couple of miles away, its headlight visible from the center of an immense black boiler, coming on at what must have been a good 70 mph. Within moments all hell broke loose as Santa Fe No. 3751 blurred past in a roar, on its way west after a celebrated visit to the Midwest following its res...
8

The Royal Gorge revisited

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The view from 955 feet up can leave you breathless. You stand in the middle of an ever-so-slightly swaying suspension bridge and look down to what appears to be a tiny ribbon of fast-moving water, doing what it’s been doing for 3 million years: cutting its way through the granite uplift of the Rocky Mountains. Alongside the river is the single track of what once upon a time was the mighty Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, from this altitude looking for all the world like a Z-scale...
3

Why K4 1361 matters

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
There are so many mainline steam restorations going on now, the mind reels. Where to begin? Are you excited about the prospect of seeing Santa Fe 4-8-4 2926 rolling again? How about Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4 576? Or Chesapeake & Ohio 2-8-4 2716? We might even see two Reading 4-8-4s before long. And kudos to the Western Maryland Scenic for hitting the finish line a few months ago with C&O 2-6-6-2 1309. What’s really got me excited now is the news out of the Railr...
7

A tale of two Gil Reid paintings

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” — Paul Cezanne My old friend Gil Reid would smack me upside the head if he knew I was using the great French post-Impressionist to make a point about his railroad paintings, but it strikes me that Cezanne could have been talking about Gil and the wonderful body of work he created over a 60-year career. Always self-effacing, I can hear Gil saying, “Keefe! Knock that off!” Sorry, Gil, but I decided the ...
1

Return to Rochelle

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
One of America’s best places to watch trains — maybe I should say “most relaxing” — is only 118 miles from my house in Milwaukee. So why did it take me more than 10 years to get back there? That’s what I was wondering last weekend as Alison and I turned onto N. 9th Street, crossed the Union Pacific tracks, and pulled into the parking lot of the Rochelle Railroad Park, crossroads of UP and BNSF Railway in northern Illinois. The place felt familiar and com...
8

Some classic Memorial Day trains

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
When it came to naming their passenger trains, railroads never lacked in imagination. Great cities, mountain ranges, Native American tribes, poetic imagery, authors and poets, state mascots, historic events, beasts and birds, the self-reverential slogan — all took turns on observation-car drumheads and in the pages of the Official Guide of the Railways. But as I contemplated the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, it occurred to me that the American military rarely got its due. That surpr...
14

Southern where I least expected it

Posted one year ago by Kevin Keefe
Sometimes railroads show up in the darndest places. Or at least that’s what I was thinking as my friends and I drove into the small Indiana town of Huntingburg on a hot day in June 1980. We were there for a steam excursion, but it wasn’t one I normally would have expected, not deep in Hoosier land. What sticks in my mind isn’t so much that day’s steam locomotive — it was Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson 2839 — but rather the railroad. That’s because we wou...

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