Trains.com
A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
2

Catching up with L&N’s “Old Line”

Posted 15 hours 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 15 days 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...
8

Frank Barry honors the Colorado narrow gauge

Posted one month 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 one month 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...
7

The Royal Gorge revisited

Posted 2 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 2 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 3 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 3 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...
6

Some classic Memorial Day trains

Posted 4 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 4 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 4 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 5 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 5 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 5 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 5 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 7 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 7 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...
8

A toast to Lucius Beebe

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Long before I’d ever heard of David P. Morgan, let alone Wally Abbey or Don Phillips or Fred Frailey or all the other railroad writers I’ve admired, I was a fan of Lucius Beebe.  My parents had a lot to do with it. Aware that their tow-headed little kid loved trains, around 1958 they purchased Hear the Train Blow, a rambling, picture-driven history of American railroads, written by Beebe (co-credited to his partner Charles Clegg) and produced by E. P. Dutton & Co., a m...
12

A train worth remembering: LV’s 'John Wilkes'

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Coming up with topics for this blog every week means occasionally checking various “this day in railroad history” files, and one notation I stumbled upon this week was too good to pass up.   The Lehigh Valley Railroad disappeared on April 1, 1976, as one of the six bankrupt Northeast carriers swallowed up in the creation of Conrail. Thus ended an approximately 130-year run for a railroad known for its attachment to coal (notably anthracite); its huge and capable shops at S...
7

Another appointment in Anniston

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The route for our road trip last week was straight and simple: head south from Milwaukee for Panama City Beach, Fla., stick to Interstate 65 most of the way, stay on schedule, no detours.  Then I spotted a change in plan. There, 64 miles east of Birmingham off Interstate 20, sat the city of Anniston, Ala., glaring up at me from Google maps. I knew I had to make a brief stop. Surely our relatives in Florida would understand. Anniston! That town has been calling to me off and on for 50 year...
13

Discovering Cecil Hommerding’s photography

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
After looking at and editing tens of thousands of railroad photographs over 45 years, I’m tempted to say I’ve seen it all. But I haven’t. Not by a mile. There are always more surprises out there waiting to be encountered. Case in point: an email I received a couple of weeks ago from my friend Doug Leffler, a veteran railfan photographer from Jackson, Mich. Attached to Doug’s note were a number of black-and-white photographs I’d never seen before, by a man I’d...
3

Wally Abbey’s early days in Chanute

Posted 8 months ago by Kevin Keefe
For much of the past year, I’ve been immersed in railroading as seen through the eyes of the late Wallace W. Abbey. Wally was a gifted storyteller, as brilliant with his typewriter as he was his camera. That will be proven once again later this year when perhaps his greatest achievement — his book about the development of the FT diesel — is released by Indiana University Press. Entitled The Diesel That Did It, the book traces the story of the FT from the earliest days of Elect...
6

Streetwise in Michigan City

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
To stand on the corner in front of the old First Christian Church on a sunny summer day is to witness a wonderful anachronism of transportation. At first, all you hear are the sounds of passing cars and kids playing on someone’s front porch. But soon, a few blocks away to the west, comes the reassuring blaaaat! of a three-chime air horn. Then you detect a familiar rumble. Moments later, a gleaming train of silver M.U. cars sails through the gentle S-curve, trundling off to the e...
13

Seventy-five years ago, New York Central bet big

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The scene: 230 Park Avenue, Manhattan, the stately 35-story Beaux Arts headquarters of the New York Central Railroad. The date: approximately 75 years ago this week. The decision: spend another big piece of $56 million toward the largest order of passenger cars in U.S. railroad history. With that, NYC expanded its purchase of what eventually would total more than 720 cars, spread across all three major U.S. carbuilders. Flush with postwar excitement — and the promise of the return of peac...
3

For Michael Gross, ‘Santa Fe’ means ‘Grandpa’

Posted 9 months ago by Kevin Keefe
There’s a good chance anyone reading this blog has a family connection to railroading. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the readers of Classic Trains came to the railroad faith via a relative, mostly likely a father or grandfather or uncle.  That was never truer than for Michael Gross, the film and television actor and Santa Fe devotee. Gross not only has followed the history and fortunes of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway for most of his life, he also mode...

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