A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe

Hunter Harrison harkens back to Bill Deramus III

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
For this news junkie, last week was a roller coaster, and not for the reasons you might think. Instead of getting sucked into all the drama in Washington, D.C., I found myself more mesmerized by a sideshow of another kind, the latest turn in the career of railroading’s bad boy, E. Hunter Harrison. The story is complicated, as reported by the staff over at Trains magazine, but to boil it down to its essence, Harrison was suddenly released from his obligations as chairman of Canadian Pacifi...

Ringling Bros. news would sadden Chappie Fox

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
The news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus plans to call it quits comes as a shock not only to the world of the circus and the entertainment industry, but also to those of us who love the circus’s railroad connections. Florida-based Feld Entertainment, longtime owners of the Ringling operation, announced last week that the circus would be shut down after performances in May. The news throws the lives of hundreds of circus performers and workers into limbo, as well as ...

Sad outcome in Chicago, but R&LHS remains strong

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
Chicago has been on my mind lately. One reason is what arrived in my mail last week, the new Trains special edition called Chicago: America’s Railroad Capital. It’s really terrific, 98 pages of reporting, analysis, photographs, and wonderful maps, all showing why Chicago always will be what poet Carl Sandburg called “Player with Railroads, and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” Kudos to the publication’s editor, David Lassen, and the entire staff for doing the W...

Dispatches from the Boomer

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
One of my favorite railroad writers is the great E. W. “Ed” King Jr., better known as the Boomer. A lot of railroaders call themselves boomers, but I like to think we sanctified it for Ed when he became the bimonthly columnist in Trains under the rubric “The Boomer.” For a little over five years, from the January 1996 issue through November 2001, Ed regaled readers with trainloads of anecdotes from a long career, not to mention plenty of pithy and sometimes provocative op...

Ron Ziel: An appreciation

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
For legions of baby boomers, the steam locomotive was a tantalizing but ultimately frustrating presence. If you were born in the early 1950s like me, you grew up feeling like you knew the steam locomotive, but it’s more likely you didn’t. By the time a lot of us were 8 or 9, steam was gone. I think back to my parents and their uncanny ability to move to two different places before I was 6, each about a year after the last steam locomotive rolled through town. That didn’t kee...

Great (railroad) things under the tree

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
Tony Jaroch was a railroader right out of central casting. Outwardly gruff, he had enough of a twinkle in his eye that you knew it’d be OK to talk to him, especially if you were just a high school kid with innocent questions. I got to know Tony around 1968, on long summer afternoons when I wasn’t stocking grocery-store shelves. To this day I don’t know what his job title was — superintendent? trainmaster? agent? — but he ruled the roost from a tiny office across the...

Railroad books you can curl up with

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
I suppose the first impulse in picking up a railroad book is to look at the pictures. For most of us, I’m guessing, the fundamental appeal of railroading is visual, and so I frequently find myself passing the time with yet another glance through a Richard Steinheimer book or a favorite title from Morning Sun. What can be more fun than that? But some books transcend the visual. Too often, railroad writing is merely loaded with facts and figures, research and analysis. Yet there are some wr...

Forward-thinking Jim McClellan always looked back

Posted 5 years ago by Kevin Keefe
The encomiums that have poured from various quarters since the death of Jim McClellan are proof that we lost someone extraordinary on October 14. We’ve seen a lot of railroading’s giants pass in recent years, but I can’t recall anyone who triggered the kind of deep, emotional response accorded Jim. The basic facts of Jim’s incredible life are impressive enough. One of railroading’s great true believers, he managed to have a critical role in most of the sweeping cha...


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