Created
06 Dec 1998
The Lounge Modified
07 Dec 2014


Railroads
Real or model, ferroequinology fascinates!

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ON THIS PAGE


THE OBSESSION

It was my grandfather who, having worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in his pre-college days, first instilled in me a love of trains.  Although my interest has waxed and waned from time to time, it has never left me.  This is undoubtedly due to the enchanting nature of the mechanical giant, who, with fiery breath and thunderous gait, treads gleaming ribbons of steel to wage an endless battle against time, distance, and gravity.

The steam locomotive, especially, creates such a spectacle of motion and sound that it, of all man's inventions, seems most alive.  Its glaring eye and its billowing tower of smoke and condensate proclaim its presence for miles.  The unrelenting bark of its exhaust, the dire scream of its whistle, and the warning clang of its bell assault not only the ear but the entire body with a brutally percussive yet curiously heart-rending song of places far away.  And there is no denying the sexual suggestiveness of the thrusting of its drive rods and the churning of its counterweighted wheels, as they speak unmistakably of speed and power and desperate intent.

Granted, sunsets have their splendor, mountains their majesty, and the sea its mystery; airplanes fire the imagination and great ships enthrall the spirit.  But there is nothing, nothing*, which rivals the adrenalin punch of witnessing 400 tons of locomotive thundering toward you at a mile a minute, shaking the very earth under your feet as it passes!

*I concede that, for those lucky enough to be able to view one, a space shuttle lift-off might well be more thrilling!



THE PROTOTYPE

My earliest modeling interest was attracted to the lightning stripes of the New York Central, whose double-tracked Cincinnati - Cleveland mainline, now part of the Norfolk Southern, still bisects our city.  This line still carries much freight traffic, and in my younger years there were several passenger trains each day as well.  I remember the husky Mohawk (4-8-2), racehorse Hudson (4-6-4), and elephant-eared Niagara (4-8-4) steam locomotives, as well as the variety of diesel-electric power — from ALCO, Baldwin, Electromotive, and Fairbanks-Morse — which replaced them. And I was occasionally treated to a ride on the Ohio State Limited when visiting my grandparents in Cincinnati.

But by the time I had returned home from military duty in 1969 my sentiments had shifted to the blue-and-gray of the Baltimore and Ohio¤ (now CSX), whose once double-tracked mainline also runs near my hometown.  (This main was single-tracked, and the semaphore signals upgraded to B&O's unique color-position lights, following a major derailment in the early 1960's.) Besides the fast freight traffic which continues to this day, during my younger years the spectacular heavyweight streamliner, the Cincinnatian,¤ ran daily between Cincinnati and Detroit on this line.  The B&O also operates a freight-only branch into town, serving a number of local industries and businesses, especially the Armco (now A-K) steel mill.  This branch also interchanged locally with both the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad (both subsequently Penn Central, then Conrail, and now NS).  The B&O's lonely Q4b Mikado (2-8-2) steam locomotive number 456, which served this branch during my boyhood, was finally retired in 1958, replaced by a gleaming royal-blue EMD GP-9.

Yet the conversion of mainline railroads to diesel-electric operation in the 1950s did not silence the steam locomotive's staccato exhaust and wailing whistle altogether.  Private clubs preserved a number of these giants, and as the United States observed its bicentennial in 1976, some of them were revived for a spectacular role in the celebration.  The unexpected degree of public enthusiasm for the American Freedom Train prompted revival of steam excursion operations¤ by some mainline railroad companies.

SUBJECT DATE
American Mainline Steam in the Late 20th Century New 04 Jan 2004



THE MODEL

I received my first electric toy train set (American Flyer) when I was age six.  It absorbed much of my leisure until I was in my teens, when I graduated from toy trains to scale-model railroading.  I have been in the hobby ever since, even if only in "armchair mode" at times.

I have had several model railroad layouts, only one of which has yet evolved to completion.  (Perhaps it is the constant cycle of building and planning and rebuilding which appeals to me, as much as seeing these miniature iron horses in operation.)  I currently model the Baltimore and Ohio in HO (1:87) scale, the project (a-building) seeking to represent the B&O of the early 1950's in western Pennsylvania and Maryland.  During this period big steam was still hauling tonnage up Sand Patch Grade on the Pittsburgh Division, but the flashy, growling, blue-and-gray diesel-electrics of ALCO, Baldwin, and EMD were asserting themselves as the new masters of the Alleghenies.

As things take shape, I'll snap a few photos of the layout and post them here.  Enthusiasm and construction seem to flow in spurts, so I can never be certain that even this latest and best planned effort will finally grow to completion.  Whether or no, I am having fun, and that's the whole point of model railroading!

SUBJECT DATE
My Model Railroad: memories of an era Mod. 05 Feb 2010
My American Flyer Experience: a boy's train fever and an adult's nostalgia Mod. 06 Dec 2014
Faux Flyer Frolic: reconstituting the American Flyer experience—in HO Mod. 06 Dec 2014
General Information: for those unacquainted with the hobby
(Clue: If you call a model railroad a "train set," you probably ought to read this.)
New 06 Dec 2009

Some of the listed pages include numerous photos.  Though compressed for web viewing, they might load slowly over a dialup Internet connection.



LINKS

I am a lifetime member of the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) and have recently become a member of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Historical Society.

Although I am not a member of the NRHS (National Railroad Historical Society), its publications and activities have also been a major source of information and inspiration to me.

Also of general interest to railroaders and railfans are the following web sites, which in turn contain further links to a vast array of rail-related sites of more specific interest.



A WORD ABOUT SAFETY

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The safety record of America's railroads has improved dramatically since the inception of the industry in 1827.  Indeed, with the possible exception of elevators, it is hard to find a safer mode of moving people or freight.  Yet there is one area where casualties continue to mount — railroad grade crossings.  Most railroad-related deaths occur where tracks and roads intersect, and railroad crossing accidents are as frequent today as ever.  This is not because trains are too fast, maintenance is deficient, or crews are inattentive.  Nor is it because someone changed the rules and forgot to tell us, the driving and walking public.  There is no one to blame, except those drivers and pedestrians who attempt to cross the tracks when or where they shouldn't.

Perhaps this is partly because some people are ignorant of both the fundamental laws of physics and the rules of the road.  And perhaps a few try to "race" a train, either while under the influence of intoxicants or out of sheer stupidity.  But all too often it is because people simply fail to pay adequate attention to what they're doing and to what's going on around them.  For as long as any of us has been alive, railroad tracks have been a fact of life, and crossing them has always been, and continues to be, one of those tasks requiring undivided attention.

Nowadays accustomed to living in what might often seem a fool-proof environment, we become inattentive, distracted, victims of our own negligence.  Barriers, bells, and flashing red lights may remind us of the challenge of a video game, but when crossing a railroad track in the real world, there is no "TRY AGAIN?" message if we make a mistake.  Though the laws of man can sometimes be violated, the laws of physics cannot.  Principles of mass, energy, and friction remain inexorably in effect, regardless of our mood, inattention, or hurry.  Anti-lock brakes, air bags, seat belts, and door beams afford a measure of security on the highway, but offer no protection against 5,000 tons of train moving at 50 miles per hour.  The only effective defenses are our own eyes, ears, and brains.  There is no way to bargain, blame, bully, cheat, cry, excuse, lie, plead, pray, or rationalize our way out of the responsibility.  It is ours alone.  If we do not accept it voluntarily, it will be imposed posthumously.