Trains.com
A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
3

The quiet passing of BO Tower

Posted 10 days 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 23 days 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 month 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 month 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...
7

Amtrak’s first timetable was a labor of love

Posted 2 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 2 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 3 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 3 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 4 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 4 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 5 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 5 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 6 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 6 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 8 months 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...
13

Southern where I least expected it

Posted 8 months 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...
9

Amtrak's rainbow connection

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
People who love passenger trains are hearkening back 50 years to May 1, 1971, the day Amtrak, created by Congress nearly out of whole cloth the previous year, began operations. It was an inaugural both anxious and auspicious, the former because this brand-new railroad would inevitably have its fits and starts, the latter because there was so much at stake. We all remember red-letter days like May 10, 1869 (needs no introduction) and April 1, 1976 (Conrail Day), but Amtrak’s big debut ...
5

Mr. DeMille, Union Station is ready for its close-up

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
On Sunday night, ABC will broadcast that annual self-congratulatory feast of art and hokum known as the Oscars. If it’s true to form, it will be a mix of inspiring moments and bad taste. For this movie fanatic, it will be irresistible.  Oscar shows tend to blend together, but one thing that will set 2021’s apart will be the surroundings. That’s because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is trading up — way up — on its real estate. In this pandem...
6

Beloved Princeton Branch might be on borrowed time

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
It was July 1968, and I was standing on a station platform, suitcase in hand, staring down a sleepy-looking piece of track that seemed to disappear into the woods. Catenary wire hung over the right of way. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn I was standing along the South Shore Line at Hudson Lake, Ind. Far from it. In fact, just behind my back I could hear the roar of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s electrified main line, alive with GG1s, long freights, and commuter trai...
12

Recalling a classic: 'Journey to Amtrak'

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
With the 50th anniversary of Amtrak’s inaugural just around the corner, thoughts are turning to that moment when, supposedly, “the trains were worth traveling again.” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that May 1, 1971, ranks among the most important dates in railroading.  But this inevitably makes me think of everything we lost at 11:59 p.m. the night before, on April 30. That’s when for all practical purposes more than 125 years of the privately...
7

New L&N home won’t be old, but it will be reliable

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The familiar story is not merely apocryphal: Countless times over recent decades, railroad-specific historical societies were the only alternative to the literal or figurative dumpster, often swooping in to save a railroad company’s paper heritage in the nick of time. Some railroads were callous about their heritage, but thank goodness their fans weren’t. One of our most accomplished groups is the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Historical Society, which has been preaching the g...
3

KCS has been making news for a long time

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
It seems inevitable when you think about it. For decades, Kansas City Southern has stood out as a feisty, independent creature in a world of monsters. Beyond the omnipresent Big Six of Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific, there has been KCS, carrying on with a 120-year-old name, a brilliant retro paint scheme, and a successful business strategy capitalizing on Mexican trade. An entity that interesting can’t last, can it? Apparently not. On J...
12

Back to sleep on the Corridor

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I clearly remember the reassuring feeling as I left the rat’s nest of Penn Station’s concourse and descended the stairs to a nearly empty platform. I normally wouldn’t be rapturous about a staircase, but the old railing I was hanging onto was one of the last small bits of the original Penn Station, and it felt good. Better yet was the sight that lay ahead: gleaming in the subterranean dankness, a Budd 10-6 Heritage sleeper awaited, promising all the old familiar comforts. An A...
12

The Tallulah Falls lives on, thanks to Disney

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent part of my evenings getting to know a long-lost uncle, or at least someone who felt like one.  Author Neal Gabler’s epic biography of Walt Disney — Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (Knopf, 2006) — has been an eye opener for this one-time member of the Mickey Mouse Club. I already knew Disney wasn’t always the lovable adult figure who came to talk to us Boomer kids on Sunday nights on TV. Ga...
13

The Guide is dead; long live the Guide

Posted 10 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A recent email from my friend and colleague Dan Cupper, editor of the venerable R&LHS journal Railroad History, took me by surprise. “Would I be interested in writing a tribute to the passenger edition of the Official Guide?” I said “of course,” but to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know it still existed. Actually, it doesn’t. Last July, publisher PocketList decided to pull the plug. My attempts to reach anyone at PocketList to officially con...
19

Cabooses I have known

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
You’d think I’d be over it by now, but I’m not. Every time I watch a freight train pass at a grade crossing, I feel a need to wave to the guys in the caboose. Back in the day, that’s just what you did, an instinct as basic as saying hello to someone on the sidewalk. Except those guys are out of sight now, and so, for the most part, are all their cabooses. It’s been three decades since cabooses — or, if you prefer, hacks, or vans, or cabins — pretty much...
11

Amtrak’s Turboliners vs. winter

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I’ll admit I’ve been fortunate this week, watching the disastrous cold weather play out across most of the U.S. as I sit here in relative comfort along the South Carolina coast, where we’re spending a few weeks away from Milwaukee. I almost feel guilty about it.  The view from here is striking as the national news unfolds a drama of freeway crashes, power outages, even water shortages. The news also has underscored something else: railroads are not always the vaunted &ldq...
4

An interlude in Hamlet

Posted 11 months ago by Kevin Keefe
A year ago, as I rode Amtrak’s Silver Star down through the Carolinas, I made sure I was awake at 11:18 p.m. as the train pulled into Hamlet, N.C., on time, for what turned out to be the outstanding visual impression of the trip.  Seen through my economy bedroom window, one of the largest train stations you could ever expect to see in a small town emerged from the gloom. A “witch’s hat” conical roof loomed over the L-shaped building as a handful of passeng...

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