Friday, September 30, 2011

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie – Me and Trains

I was looking at youtube videos of real trains and made a few discoveries which sent me into deep memories and internet research.

One of the momentous events when I was five in 1949 was that I rode the Silver Streak passenger train from Omaha to Kansas City. This was the famous Midwest Zephyr, streamlined stainless steel class transportation. We left Sioux City, Iowa, and changed trains in Omaha at the huge Union Pacific railroad station there. I am disappointed that I can’t find any photos of the great train station that once existed in Sioux City.

The Zephyr was a Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad train. In Kansas City we boarded a dirty old train pulled by a belching steam engine to visit my uncle Merle in Sedalia. He worked at the K-T or Burlington railroad yards there.

In Sedalia as we got off the train, I saw double water fountains, for White and Colored, which made a lasting impression on me. This photo is very much like what I remembered.

In the ‘50's my aunt Verrelle from DeWitt, Iowa would drive north to Maquokeda and catch the Milwaukee Midwest Hiawatha to Sioux City. These were classy yellow-orange and red trains with compartments, a fancy dining car and rounded lounge car at the rear. I begged for a ride, so my Mom and Aunt took me to Sioux Falls and back for a shopping trip.
When the railroads died, Sioux City displayed a Great Northern locomotive near the city auditorium. It has since been restored (for display only) and so has the loco house and roundtable next to the Sioux River and Hwy 12 just west and north of the city. I thought that was a cool place when I was a kid. (It is clearly visible on Google Maps; search for Sioux City Iowa roundtable.)

Carol and I rode a dinner train in Kentucky through the bourbon distillery countryside in the ‘90's. That was neat. And now there is a Saratoga and North Creek Railway ( that stops in Hadley across the Hudson from us. (Oddly, this railroad is owned and operated by Iowa Pacific Holdlings.) So it is now possible to travel by rail from Penn Station to Saratoga Springs and change trains to the Adirondacks. The photo here shows the bridge over the Sacandaga just before it joins the Hudson at Hadley. (The Sacandaga is controlled by a dam, and when the water is released it makes a great white water river over those rocks.)

But the real deal is the Iowa Interstate Railroad.  (Oddly, owned by a group in Delaware.) They haul a lot of freight around Iowa and Illinois on track that used to be silent. And they have added two gigantic Chinese QJ model locos, which haul freight and passengers. You can sit for several hours watching the videos.
These things somehow passed the EPA tests, but I don’t see how. The modern diesels behind the loco are not for power, but are pulled by the steam engine. They are there to provide electricity from their generators for the passenger cars. There were 1,800+ tickets sold for this trip. The whistle that let's you know something really big is coming is an American Illinois Central whistle (A Bb minor triad?).  Here is a video of the other engine with what I think was the original Chinese whistle.  Wonderful video from alongside on a road at its powerful loping speed.

The Chinese built more than 4,000 of these locos in the ‘50's to the ‘90's, based on a Soviet Russian design. This reminds me of the Strelnikov armoured train in Dr. Zhivago.  (No one seems to know if it was a real Soviet loco or one patched together for the film.)

These are all monsters, but not as large as the articulated locos used in the western US during WWII, such as the “Big Boy” 4-8-8-4.  This one is in Proctor, MN, and there is one in the Lake Superior Rail Museum in Duluth.  There are videos on YouTube.
I knew Mel Alderink, a wonderful, gracious man, an Elder at Glen Avon Presbyterian Church there, who was General Superintendent of the DM&IR Railroad during the '70's. Every year I think of another question I should have asked him before he left us.

“Take me right back to the track, Jack.”
 “Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
   Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?”


green ant said...

the memories that just came flooding back nearly knocked me sideways---which one of these museums did you take me to when i was very small? i remember being somewhere like this with you. didn't we tour some huge indoor space with a locomotive in it? we went inside a train, and even handled the engineer's driving gear. i remember the smell of that oil on cold metal everywhere--it was strangely sweet and made me dizzy...maybe i got my first big whiff of wd40. anyway, even as a little kid i could tell how unique all the equipment was. it was great. thanks for the story, and all the leads!

Anonymous said...

You need to do some study. There was no MIDWEST ZEPHYR. There was the PIONEER ZEPHYR and the SILVER STREAK ZEPHYR and a whole fleet of other ones. What Sioux City station do you want a picture of? Union Station at 3rd & Douglas, Nebraska Street Station at 2nd & Nebraska or the Milwaukee Road Station also on Douglas. Watch out, I'm a Bohemian Brethren/Particular Baptist in Lincoln, Nebraska with a BA in History and a dedicated Ferroequinologist. Mark D. Budka