Steam Stories Given To Me

Dick E.DickE. (Story told 1/22/2008) I was born in Smithfield, a small town of less than 200, south of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Everyday, several steam trains with more than 100 coal cars would pass near my home. We would play a game of guessing how many cars the train was pulling. Smithfield had a round house. Trains would often stop for water and coal fuel. My father passed away when I was seven, so my life as a kid included many risky sojourns. I remember one time running up to an overpass bridge knowing that a steam train was approaching. I thought it would be fun to look down the train stack. Bad idea. Got my face singed with small hot pellets. Another time I was coming back from the local swimming hole, age about 10, a steam train was blocking my short cut to our farm, so I simply crawled under one of the coal cars while the train was waiting to continue. I knew this was a dumb idea, but I was really tired and didn't want to walk the extra mile to the overpass. The train started up well after I had cleared the tracks. I think that it was a B&O train. Many of the steam trains passing our place were carrying supplies to the steel mills in Pittsburgh. The train whistle would sound day and night. As children, we would often run along side the train and wave to the engineer; he would always wave back.

We moved to Oregon after WWII. We lived in Southeast Portland and I had a paper route in Dunthorpe. One day, while delivering papers, I decided to take a short cut through the train tunnel between Dunthorpe and Lake Oswego. This I knew I should not do, but kids often take risks. Fortunately, I made it to the other side, before the steam engine arrived. We would swim at High Rocks on the Clackamas River. There happens to be a train trestle near High Rocks that we would jump from while Southern Pacific steam trains approached. Life was full of adventure....


Tom N.Tom N.- (stories told 1/15/2008). (As a boy in Philadelphia.) I'd hear trains at night because we lived one long block from the Delaware River. There was nothing but warehouses in there that they would fill up with stuff that came off the river. I would hear chu-chu-chu-chuchuchuchu where they would put as much steam to it as they could until it would start slipping. That was when I was ages 3-6. (ed: approx 1929-1932).

Also, a lot of hobos lived there. Nobody bothered them. They lived in carboard boxes or wooden crates and they would cook along there, because the streets were extra wide. They were wide because of the tracks in the street. I did see some locomotives down there, when I was walking. I remember taking some pictures with steam coming from the cylinders.

We did go places where we took the train. I'd go fishing with my grandfather. We'd get up real early, like four-thirty or five in the morning, and walk to the ferry that would take us to Camden, New Jersey. Then we'd walk to the Fisherman's Special train that would take us to the New Jersey seacoast and go fishing. It was about a 50 mile trip, plus the ferry. We'd come back with a gunny sack of fish. Probably a lot of the time I would sleep on the train.

During World War II, when fuel was scarce, we'd go by train from Girard College to summer camp in the Pocono Mountians in Pennsylvania, in Canadensis which was near Bushkill Creek, about a mile hike. We would edge along the waterfall and jump in the middle of the pool. Again, it was steam.


Jody S.Jody S.(story told 2/9/2007) When I was a girl my grandmother lived in Newkirk, Oklahoma, in a little one room house with an outhouse. We went to visit, maybe when she died, and they put me in school. I was born in '42 and I think I was in 2nd grade so maybe that was '48? The house was right by, like maybe twenty feet away, the railroad tracks. There were two kinds of trains: the choo-choo trains that were black with stuff whooshing out and a particular kind of whistle, then there was The Zephyr, with a very different kind of whistle. They didn't stop.


Claire N.Claire N. (story told 1/6/2007): In the 1970's when I was in Spain they had really old trains. They were from the Germans in WWII, something they gave to Spain after Spain let them practice on people in the Civil War. They had wooden benches for seats and they made great sounds. I rode the train every day on the coast to Barcelona to the great train station. They made a lot of smoke, that went along the train and out behind it. I think some of them burned coal. There was also a train on Mallorca that went up the mountain.


Bill W.Bill W. (story told 1/3/07) We took train cross the country, from California to New York, when I was eight. (ed: 1956?). The passenger train was diesel but we were waiting on a platform in the midwest when a steam-powered freight came through. People said "cover your eyes" but it was too late and I got cinders in my eyes.


Maude M.Maude M. (story told around 1995) - When I was a girl I rode in a logging locomotive that burned wood. I remember if the fireman got a piece of wood he didn't like he would throw it outside.


Margaret T.Margaret T. (next to the SP cab-forward in the Sacramento Rail Museum when it opened in 1981) Did they used to use these in the snowsheds? ("yes, that's why they put the cab at the other end...") One time when we were skiing in the Sierras, we went through a snowshed, and one of these came through.


Rober T.Robert T. When the train would go into a tunnel smoke would start to come into the cars, so the porter would go through the train and close the vents.

A test of strength for college boys was to be able to open a Pullman window (stuck closed with cinders).

One time I saw some guy in a perfectly pressed suit pompously walking back and forth on a station platform. Just as the guy got up to the engine, the engineer released some steam and took the press right out of the guy's suit. You could just watch it go limp.

(In Palo Alto, California) Along Alma Street when the commute trains were running you could hardly see down the street because of all the smoke.

When I lived in Laramie, Wyoming, when I was about 7 or 8, one of our neighbors worked in the roundhouse. He got us in there one time. The racket from riveting scared the daylights out of me.

There was a whole slew of old engines along the commute route south of San Francisco.


Ray C. (story told 12/19/2007) I grew up on a branch line of the Boston and Maine. The Boston and Maine had very strict rules against non-employees riding in the cab. I got to know some of the crew. So the fireman, Benny, was my friend. The engineer was about ready to retire. One year we had one of those snows, this high. The freight couldn't get through. I heard a train that went by and then went back. I figured that must be the plow. Then I heard another train that I figured was the freight. So I wallowed through the snow, and there was Benny as engineer. He motioned to me like this, and I knew what that meant. I went home and got my bicycle. See, the road was plowed. I went over the hill and down to the freight yard, about 2 miles away. Benny said to me "Get up here!" I'll never forget that!


Shirley B.(story told 2/23/2007) I remember the steam trains. We had the B and A. Of course they were coal. When Roger and I first got together we would ride the train to see each other. It was about an hour and a half. Then after Roger went to Chicago my parents put me on a train to Boston, then I took a train to Chicago. When we got to Indiana they opended the bar car and it got a lot noisier. Whenever we went to a basketball game or anything like that it was always on the train. I remember the sound, kind of an eerie sound. I was a little girl when the war started. They had a ceremony when the National Guard left, with bands playing, and they left on the train. I was too small to completely understand what was going on. The people that worked on them got completely filthy.


Charles M. (story told 2/4/04) In 1947 I'd been working in a cannery all summer in Chehalis. At the end of the summer I bought a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson. I went for motorcycle ride with my buddy. I got real sunburned the first day. We slept outside, in our sleeping bags, and I put some grease on my face to make the sunburn feel better. In the morning a train went by and it was a steamer. My face got covered with soot and cinders.


Ron B. (story told 1/23/07) I remember two in Cottage Grove. They were the ones they used later for the tourist train. There was one that ran up to Bohemia. There was also one that came through town. I remember seeing it sitting by the railroad station. There used to be a railroad station in Cottage Grove, with a bazillion windows. That must have been in the late 50's or early 60's.


Joanne N.(story told 1/14/2007): Oh sure I remember the choo-choos. The last day of 1939 we moved from Illinois to Oregon. We went back the next year, 1940, by train and most of that was steam. I remember they were dirty- the seats got dirt on them. I think it was kind of the transition at that time. During the war the troop trains had steam engines. My sister would wave and they had the windows open so the whole train of guys would wave back- it terrified me. The new trains were in California and the East Coast- they were the streamliners that cost more. We changed in Denver. We would go back to Illinois every two years, but we went back that first year. During the war we took the train because tires were hard to get and all that stuff. So we took the train, but after that we drove.


Charlie N.(story told 1984-1985): I had fired on logging locomotives for years and I decided to try the mainline. So I signed up on the Southern Pacific. I fired the cab-aheads, or go-aheads. They had thick glass on the front, and I was up by the glass looking out and there was a herd of cattle across the tracks. The engineer said "you better get back because there's going to be blood and shit flying everywhere." Then he reached up and opened the throttle all the way. He said 'You gotta hit 'em fast or they'll get under ya and derail ya.' When we hit them there was blood and shit flying all over. I think we hit eight of them. When we got to where we were going I got out and the whole engine was covered with blood and shit and there were strips of hide hanging from it. One of the cattle had gotten stuck on the coupler."


Boston & Main Engr at Rio Vista RR Museum. (about 1982) Some of the firemen were just kids. They would get the fire all messed up, with coal all along one side, and they'd get clinkers. Sometimes I just had to put them on the engineer's seat and fire myself- 2 scoops on one side, 2 down the other side, then hit the Butterfy firedoor... it would scatter the coal over the fire- You'd come into station, there'd be flames like this (index finger 3" above thumb, hand moving around horizontally) over the whole thing. Those were the best years of my life.


Lorne G. (story told around 1982-1983) - During World War Two I went across Canada on a troop train. At one of the stops I went up and talked to engineer. He showed me the rods were all loose and worn out, and he said come back to the engine later. So I went up to the engine at the next stop, and he let me ride in the cab. It was at night. The engineer asked if I knew the crossing signal, and I said yes a long, long, short, and a long. So he put me in the engineer's seat. I was having a great time blowing for the crossings out the middle of Alberta or Saskatchewan in the middle of Canada. We were going 60 70 miles per hour. It had a chain on the whistle and one time when I let go the chain wrapped around something and stuck the whistle open. The engineer was over talking to the fireman and they thought it was real funny. They came over and untangled the chain. I got a cinder in my eye. The next morning back on train I went to the nurse to get help with my eye. One of my buddies said did you hear the engineer just blasting the whistle last night? Then he looked at me, all dirty and realized where I'd been and said "you son-of-a-bitch!"


(neighbor in Corvallis 1974-1975 Johnson St. Showed black and white slides.) Rode on wood-fired train in Yucatan. Stopped twice a day to wood up.


Travis W.- Zimbabwe workstudy (as "Bombazonki 3" or "Jack of All Trades #3") cut tubes w/arc welder, hit coal shovel spilled coal everywhere. Telephone clipped onto wire and you would crank to try to ge the dispatcher's attention. At night noone wanted to telephone since there were lions in the bush, as well as mambas. Mix of Rhodesian rules and Africa time- the crew would run out of hours and stop. A van would pick them up, take them away, left him watching the engine. Hours later a new crew would show up.


Steve M. (1/11/07)- Travelled around world ~1971 still had steam in Austria- commute trains with tank engines. Also Germany and ?. Japan still had steam. Chased steam with John Rossner in Indonesia- oldest were from Holland, newest were Japanese, eg 2-8-2s. Had 2-6-6- 0s with tiny drivers. Took trolleys pulled by steam- had wood enclosure on them. Toward where John Rossner lived there was a terminal. They were coal fired, with several cars pulled by the locomotive. With John saw one 4-4-0 one time stopped- 100 years old? In Africa, in Ghana saw shop with people walking around barefoot rebuilding locos. Saw bullet nosed engines in India.


John Q. - rode trains in Chile for several days- got incredibly dirty- finally after trip was over took shower and watched the dirt go down the drain.


Rick R.- 1979-1980 went to Italy- steam trains went into station and filled it with smoke and dirt.


"Stupid" the Poet (town character that posted "Comments By Stupid" flyers on light poles in Eugene 1979) "She was going fine and then she blew her soft plug." Asked if plug could be unreliable, "oh sure they can get shaled up but she was doing fine then she blew her soft plug"


(passenger on the Sumpter Valley Railway 1995?) Fired wood burners on the SVRy as a teen ager. Wood was cut 4ft long, would fire a little higher on the sides.


Irv P. (story told around 1981)- fired lake steamers on the Great Lakes with coal. They would turn the funnels so cool air would go down to the boiler room. Firing was no problem.


John W. - Watched and photographed trains and donkeys at Valsetz. Saw the Willamette C/N 1, firing donkeys with green wood. The road engines always had green cab interiors and had a piece of old garden hose for the whistle.


(tiny woman visiting a rail museum) had job cleaning locomotives with rag and can of kerosene. They would come in from the fast runs and would be very hot on the top.


(resident of Sumpter at Scoop n Steamer appreciation dinner 2005) trains would loop through town to the sawmill and the water tower.


Paul V.: Last UP steam he saw was in the late 1950's during a flood.


Bob L.- In England, would time trip home from school to see red London Underground steam locos. In S. California watched steamers on Tehachapi loop.


(logging camp person told story to me at Snoqualmie 1984?) Someone jumped in a lokie, took off with no fire. Had no business in the engine. Wrecked firebox staybolts, never fixed the engine.


(ex trainman 1984?) Had an engineer that was a minister in the South- would play hymns on the whistle at night.


EA T.- In Spain ~1972 was with a guy who had an Alpine Sunbeam. Stopped near a bridge and a steam loco went by (underneath?)


DM Turner- Firemen were just as dirty as can be.


January 23, 2008

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