The following are some remembrances of funny or interesting stories that happened during our time with the 1522. They are in no particular order and, where necessary, some names have been withheld to protect the guilty (!!). All stories are from George Rees unless noted otherwise.
I was often asked how I managed to get involved in the St. Louis Steam Train Association. After all, steam crews are rather rare - especially outside of tourist operations. I lucked out in that I had an inside lead - a man I worked with was already on the crew and was keeping me informed of what they were doing. When he informed me they were up and running and heading to Wisconsin for testing, I took a morning off from work and chased the engine through the city as it worked North on its way out of town. That was when the hook was set, but I still didn't see myself joining the crew - especially since they had done all this work and probably wouldn't be interested in some newbie coming along to share the fun.
The event that finally did it was when my friend asked if I had any drawing skills. He informed me that the MKT 411, an older, smaller steam engine in the Museum collection, was going to be evaluated for possible restoration just for operating around the Museum. They needed someone with drawing skills to sketch the fire brick layout in the firebox as it had to be removed for analysis of the steel underneath. I'm not a professional draftsman but have some skills so I accepted his request and showed up that Saturdays in coveralls with pencils and a sketch pad. I was introduced to some of the crew and promptly stuffed inside the firebox with my equipment and a work light. While I worked, the rest of the crew was busy pounding on various things outside the engine and on the boiler. I suspect, but was never able to prove, that they were pounding a lot more than necessary for the benefit of the newbie stuck inside the boiler. After lunch, I finished my sketch and handed the paper out of the firebox door and asked them if that was what they needed. They took my pad, pronounced the drawing fine, then handed a prybar in to me and told me to take the firebrick out! I only wish I'd had a dust mask as it was a mess in there - amazing I didn't get silicosis or something. But I did the best I could in removing them and believe I got them all out.
The restoration of the 411 never happened. I have no idea where my sketches ended up - hopefully someone saved them. But, I was hooked and now a 'probationary' member of the crew and started coming back for more. It was an interesting time - I was working full time plus mandatory overtime, going to night school for my Master's degree and flying as a private pilot trying to keep my instrument rating current. Eventually I gave up on the flying - that would always be available but the steam train might not and, as we know, eventually it wasn't. But another 13 years of steam crew work would follow and I don't regret my decision to be part of it.
During our tour across Iowa in 1995, we pulled into Creston, Iowa, dropped our passenger cars off on a siding adjacent to the main line across from the beautiful old Burlington station, and pulled 1522 and her support cars for display onto what had been the old entrance track into the roundhouse – remains of which we could clearly see in the dirt. A couple of us junior crewmen were dispatched to walk around and find a fire hydrant from which we could take water. Naturally, the nearby town water tower did not have an adjacent hydrant but we kept walking and found one across the street next to a parking lot. Having found the hydrant, procedure next called for us to flush it. There is always an initial bunch of rust, gunk and who knows what else before the hydrant starts putting out clean water and we don't want that junk in our boiler. We had brought along our hydrant wrench so having found a suitable candidate, my colleague (who shall remain nameless as we are unsure of the statute of limitations on this matter) opened up one of the hose connections on the hydrant, put the wrench on the valve rod on top and pulled...the top of the rod right off! Fortunately, everyone in town was ogling the locomotive so nobody noticed us doing this and we quickly put the cap back on the hydrant and kept on walking. Eventually found another nearby in a different direction which worked and let us take water. However, my colleague still gets very nervous when he takes the California Zephyr through Creston!
What do Red Oak, Iowa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, have in common? Non-standard fire hose fittings! They aren't the same as everyone else's and that can make for an interesting situation when you pull into town with your locomotive low on water and need a drink quick!
We arrived in Red Oak in the evening after a good run from Lincoln. We had to service the locomotive and were looking forward to a nice meal in the BN dome diner later on. Servicing was going well until the water crew reported back that they could not attach the hose to the hydrant. Eventually, the local fire department was summoned and after rummaging through their pumper's equipment bins they found an adapter fitting that did the trick and we were able to get 1522 watered.
It was nearly the same with Oklahoma City – pulled in to the BN yard late afternoon with the engine getting very low on water and found the hose would not connect. Again, the local fire department came out and eventually produced an adapter that saved the day. One wonders about this – you would think there would be a common standard and indeed most of the hydrants we used had the same size connection. That would make it easy for fire departments to assist each other. But just like languages, measurements and other things in life, not everyone uses the same!
Nowadays just about everyone has cell phone communications but back in the early days of our operations cell phones were not at all prevalent. When we were not pulling BN sponsored trips, we often drove our personal cars to chase the train so we would have transportation in the evenings to get to/from hotels, meals, etc. This also gave the foamers in the group a great way to photograph the train from the ground enroute. On one of these trips, I was to drive Dale Green's car from St Louis to Newburg, MO, where I would then board the train and either Dale or someone else would keep driving. 1522 was hauling a train of ballast cars added before our departure in St Louis just to have some weight to pull and extra braking. After shooting some photos of the train leaving St Louis, I drove out past Pacific to where the tracks parallel I-44. After waiting a while for the train to catch up, I thought I must have missed it and it's in front of me so kept driving. I think I got to Sullivan before reaching the conclusion that I must be in front of the train and started driving back to St. Louis. I had no way to call anyone figured there's no way I could miss something as big, noisy and smoky as a steam train as I drove along the highway but saw nothing. Forget where I turned back and this time drove to Cuba, MO – still nothing. I finally walked into the BN office there in Cuba, in full SLSTA uniform, and sheepishly asked if they had any idea where my train was. Turns out there had been some flooding in the area and before the 1522 had gone too far, she had been called back to Lindenwood Yard in St. Louis, from where she had departed, to give back her cars full of ballast which were suddenly needed for track repairs. I don't remember how I finally caught up with her but poor Dale was left to wonder where all his car's gas had gone and why it had so much mileage on it since that morning! And what must those folks in the office in Cuba thought – this idiot has lost his train!
Before we connect our fire hose to a water hydrant we always flushed it to get any rust, crud, scale or whatever out of the line. We obviously didn't want any of that getting into the boiler since it would stay behind when the water evaporated. Once clean water was flowing, we shut off the hydrant and connected our hoses and turned it on again. In one Missouri town, though, things did not go well. We were heading back to St Louis on a dead head move and were put in the siding in this town to await an opposing freight. Since we were going to be waiting a while, and the 1522's tender was getting a bit low on water, we decided to take the opportunity to add some water and eliminate any issues the rest of the way home. The water crew was called into action and since the rest of the service crew wasn't busy, they pitched in to help. Hoses were offloaded and soon a nearby hydrant was found and flushing began. Usually flushing only takes 10-15 seconds before clean water appears but sometimes takes longer. This time everything kept coming out dirty. One minute became several minutes and the water still kept coming out dirty with no signs of improvement. We finally gave up, reassembled the hydrant, rolled up and stowed the hoses and hoped we could make it home on the water we had left – which we did. However, we left behind a rather interesting controversy – seems people in this town had been complaining about the water quality to the town council for years and were never taken seriously. Now they could say that even the steam engine would not drink their bad water!
Railfans come in all shapes, sizes and species. On our 2001 BNSF Employee Appreciation Special in Texas, we spent several days in the Fort Worth area giving rides to the employees and families from the BNSF Corporate office, Alliance Yard and other nearby facilities. We made 2 trips a day and when we were done, backed the train into an auto unloading facility next to the tracks in Haslet. As we backed in, the tracks crossed a small creek on a bridge and there was a large turtle down in the creek, every time, swimming in place and looking up at us as we went over. Guess we were something different in his life.
While on our long trip through Texas in 2001 we spent our nights in Fort Worth parked in the auto unloading facility in Haslet. One of the crew had brought along a TV and antenna (this was pre-digital TV) which we would rig up in the evenings – the TV in our lounge car and the antenna outside on the ground away from the train clamped to a bar stool from the Firefly. One evening we were especially interested to watch the local news as they had been following and filming us that day. Sure enough, the news came on and eventually our story came up. The reporter said, "Everyone is waiting for the train!" As he or she said this, the video was of a small group of people along the tracks with cameras, then another small group of people waiting as well, then a shot of two large vultures sitting on a phone pole next to the tracks! That did wonders for morale……
One of the things that struck me about our trips with the 1522 was that she retained her original identity in her new life. I can't speak for the NS, UP or other roads, but on BNSF wherever we went, she was always called by her proper road and number. I had never really noticed this until on an early trip to Galesburg, the crew was offered a tour of the dispatching center by one of the dispatchers (pre centralized dispatching days!). He showed us the desk where our train had been worked coming up from Quincy and the log sheet where our train was labeled SLSF 1522. The BNSF could just as easily have labeled us an EXTRA something but made the effort to keep her original road and number. I thought that very classy at the time and still do – although one also has to consider the irony that the 1522 likely never had a radio in her until after the restoration!
Engineer Jeff Schmid adds: The above was typical and, if we didn't have a diesel cut in behind the 1522, it was really the only option they had. However, if a train received an order by radio restricting its movement, such as a newly posted slow order, there was a more stringent protocol. The train might be identified as "STL-GAL-1 NORTH, N...O...R...T...H, Engine SLSF, Saint Louis San Francisco, 1522, ONE...FIVE...TWO...TWO," followed by the text of the order, such as "Do not exceed xx miles per hour at Mile Post 37, etc."
Dispatchers had repeated BNSF engine numbers hundreds of times, like BNSF, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Engine Number 1234, ONE...TWO...THREE...FOUR...etc., where SF always meant "Santa Fe." Thus it was not too surprising one day when we got an order on the radio to "Engine SLSF, Saint Louis Santa Fe, engine 1522 etc."
On our trip through Oklahoma and Texas, we began to notice more and more issues with the water the further South we went. We were having issues with scale and finding we had to use the blow downs more and more often to clean the scale out of the boiler. By the time we reached Houston, the fireman's side of the locomotive was a pale white from it all. We ran from there to Beaumont and Silsbee and aboard that day were a couple of guys who were in with the Union Pacific steam program. As we steamed along and struggled with the water, one of them pulled out his phone, dialed it and handed it to me. On the other end was Steve Lee, head of the UP Steam program. I mentioned the water issues and that drew a laugh and, "Welcome to Texas, Boys!"
On my first trip with the 1522 as a crewman, we were on the NS out to Mexico, MO, and back. That evening, as we sat in the yard in St Louis unloading the passengers, we exhausted crew were sitting around in the small utility compartment in the lead NS coach behind the engine. Our crew chief came by on the ground and yelled up into the car that we were going to be here a while longer so if anyone wanted to get out and stretch their legs, there was plenty of time to do so. Nobody moved – but Dick Sopp, who had a wooden leg, did reply, "If I hand you my leg, will you stretch it for me?"
Most of our runs were on single track lines so when we were making a trip to Topeka, KS, we were in for a shock. Taking the single track main from Kansas City to Topeka would have put our train backwards for the display track and apparently there was no place to turn the train in Topeka itself, so the railroad made the decision to send us on the Santa Fe mainline to Emporia where, after a short display stop, we would turn North and head into Topeka from the South and end up properly pointed for our display.
Heading SW on the Santa Fe main we could tell we were in the big time. Train after train of intermodal cars passed us heading into Kansas City on very short headways. We normally tried to maintain whatever speed the track allowed so we would fit in with other operations but in this case the railroad held our speed to 50 – rather slow for track that allowed 79 MPH. Eventually, we were impeding a train behind us so the dispatcher took advantage in a lull of opposing traffic to put us on the opposing main so the train behind could pass. In due time, our engineer sees the yellow signal in the distance for the diverging path through the crossover and did what he normally would do – start setting some air to slow down. This time, however, the SF engineer riding with us starts hollering at him – "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" "Slowing down for the switch," he replied. "This is a 50MPH crossover!!!!!!" So kick off the air, accelerate back to 50, go racing thru the switch with hardly a bump and we're now on the opposing main as neat as could be. The train behind caught and passed us shortly thereafter and soon another 50 MPH switch put us back on the westbound main. Yup, definitely in the big time!
One of the side effects of burning a fuel and exhausting it through flue tubes in the boiler to the smoke stack is that soot from the fuel will build up on the walls of the flues. To keep this soot from getting too thick and thereby impeding the heat transfer, a process of sanding the flues was used to knock the soot loose. A bag of fine silica sand was kept next to the firebox door and the fireman would grab a scoop of sand and hold it in front of the open window in the door where the draft of the fire would suck the sand from the scoop through the flues, in effect sand blasting the flues clean again. If you've ever been going up a hill behind an oil fired locomotive and felt grit hitting you, this is probably why!
To make this work properly, there has to be a good draft on the fire. Sitting still, there would not be enough suction to ingest the sand and even running at speed, the throttle is set such that there is not a great draft going. So the best time to sand flues is climbing a hill. The throttle is wide open, the reverse is full down or close to it and there is a tremendous draft on the fire as it's needed to produce the extra steam the locomotive is using as it climbs. The fireman usually will take advantage of this to sand the flues – or in our case usually get one of us riding in the cab to do the honors while he concentrated on keeping up the steam.
What if you're in a flat area without hills? I forget the trip and circumstances but we were running all day with little or no grades (the Midwest US is pretty flat except when we headed into the Ozarks). On this particular day, we had a diesel locomotive cut in behind us 'just-in-case' so our crew asked the engineer in the diesel if he would put it into dynamic braking mode to provide a load which would cause the 1522 to work harder and give the fireman the chance to sand flues. The diesel engineer gladly did so, our engineer opened up 1522's throttle and she started working much harder even though we were still rolling along a flat grade. As the fireman finished up, the diesel engineer radioed, "I don't believe this – she's drawing 900 amps (of braking) and ACCELLERATING!"
The 1522 could pull the load when she wanted to!
With 1522 under steam and out on the road, we had to shift our mindset to that of a railroader and constantly be thinking safety! This was not always easy as most of us on the crew were not railroaders by profession. We were trained on, and expected to use, proper techniques for getting on and off equipment, keeping an eye out for danger and use of proper protective equipment. In fact, it was often quite startling to arrive at a location to find that our crew was wearing much more protective gear than our host employees – although to the railroad's credit, this changed rapidly over the years as their safety programs gained momentum.
With this in mind, I encountered a situation while sitting with the stationary fireman in the cab of 1522 in Hall St Yard, North St Louis. Not sure which trip this was but believe we had ferried the 1522 and train from the Museum to Hall St to position it for an early departure the following morning up towards Galesburg, a normal occurrence for that trip. The sun was setting and I had nothing better to do so was just enjoying the ambience of the cab and chatting with the fireman. As we talked, a BNSF freight appeared, headed North on the bypass track around the yard. As I said, we were not railroaders but we instinctively started watching the train go by, looking for anything amiss. Usually, nothing was but tonight was different.
About a third of the way back in the train, a wheel on a blue trailer flat was smoking as it rolled by. This is not normal – probably the wheel bearing starting to melt. We understood the gravity of the situation but now, what to do about it? There were no railroad employees around to notify, we didn't know whom to call on the phone...but we had the 1522's radio still installed. We had no training in its operation since we did not operate the locomotive on the road – and we weren't even sure if it was set on the correct frequency. Suspected it was still set to the local frequency since there would be no reason to change it as we entered the yard. I was familiar with radio technique from my days as a pilot but railroading protocol was different. After thinking for a moment, I grabbed the transmitter and called:
"Steam Locomotive 1522 in the Hall St yard calling BNSF freight Northbound through Hall St yard, over!"
I half expected not to get a reply but immediately the freight crew answered:
"Steam Locomotive 1522, go ahead."
"1522 – be advised we saw a wheel bearing smoking on a blue trailer flat about 1/3 of the way back in your train, fireman's side, over."
"Roger, 1522. Out."
Never heard if there was an issue or not but we saw no derailments as we headed North the following day so hopefully they checked the car or a trackside detector found the problem, too.
Firing the 1522 was an important job – perhaps even more so than operating the locomotive/train. Steam locomotive boilers are designed to supply a given quantity of steam, the use of which varies according to what the locomotive is doing. If it's dragging a heavy load up a long, steep hill, the locomotive will require a lot of steam and the fireman will be busy operating the boiler to supply it. Conversely, cruising at 60 with a medium sized train on flat terrain, the demands on the boiler are surprisingly small. The fireman should have no issues making steam short of providing TOO much steam which gets vented off wasting both oil and water. Railroad rights of way are rarely the same from mile to mile - having changes in grade (steepness) both up and down, curves which sap some momentum, flat stretches, etc. Journeying around the country on unfamiliar track, you can see why obtaining a profile of the track we planned to use was so crucial and why it was studied so closely. And that doesn't even include other duties like watching for signals, maintaining a smoke free fire, sanding the flues, etc.
On our crew, we had 3 men qualified to 'road' fire the engine while it moved. These guys had to receive train operations training and railroad certification to operate as firemen – in a diesel environment – but then also know how to fire the locomotive on top of that. We also had a number of people qualified to stationary fire the engine – to keep the boiler hot while we sat on display, during service stops or any time we weren't moving. They didn't need to have railroad certification for operations but still had to have the training to safely operate the boiler. I wasn't any of these – although I did get some training on how to put water into the boiler, evaluate the fire, etc. The one time I was sent up to learn to stationary fire, the guy firing told me, "I've got everything set – don't touch anything!" Not a good way to train a newbie and I didn't press it at the time since I had other duties.
I did get one shot at firing on the run, though. When we were on display at the Museum open houses, we would back the engine from next to our engine house down the hill and out the gate onto the tail track next to the main line. We would then pull forward again and come back up the 'hill' to the shop, usually with the brakes set a little to make the show even more impressive. Best we could do in a small space but the visitors enjoyed the show. During one open house, I happened to be sitting up in the cab in the fireman's seat talking to Willie, one of our road firemen who was sitting on the tender seat. He was glad to be away from the heat of the engine and I was happy to just be in the cab so I didn't mind the heat. It was top of the hour and time to move so our engineer dutifully appeared up the ladder and I started to get out to turn the fireman's seat over to the expert. However, Willie waved me back into the seat telling me to go ahead and fire for the move. Wow, I actually get to fire a moving steam engine. This is gonna be SO cool...!
And it was, until the engineer whistled off and started backing up. I was watching the water glass since it had been hammered into me that letting the water level get too low and exposing the top of the crown sheet was a serious, deadly thing to let happen. The water level was right in the middle of the glass where it should be when the throttle was opened – then it suddenly descended and disappeared out the bottom of the glass. I must have looked a sight sitting there, with my mouth open, aghast at letting this horrible sin befall me. Did opening the throttle really use up that much steam???? I yelled at Willie that the water had dropped out the bottom of the glass – what do I do?????? "Put more water in!" he yells back. I frantically open the water valve to prime the injector, praying that it will hook up on the first attempt (it often did not) and got lucky – it started putting water in. I just hoped it would go in fast enough to prevent the disaster that I was facing and save the engine, myself and the whole operation. It was a real panic attack!!!!
About this time, the water in the boiler, which had remained more or less stationary as the locomotive backed out from under it, bounced off the front sheet of the boiler and started coming back at me. We also started cresting the 'hill' and the locomotive was heading a bit downhill as it backed. All that water suddenly arrived back at the backhead and not only reappeared in the water glass but shot all the way to the top of it! It finally dawned on me what had happened and sheepishly, I turned to look at Willie. He was doing his best not to fall off his seat while he laughed at me. The engineer had his head out the window and missed it all – but I'm sure Willie shared it with him later. It was a lesson well learned – the water sloshed around in the boiler and you had to account for that movement as well. I never did get to fire on the road but I will always remember my first attempt at road firing for the panic that ensued!
I forget which trip this was but we had an early departure out of Lindenwood Yard, St Louis, heading west on the old Frisco tracks with a medium sized train, probably just our crew cars. On the drive down to the yard that morning, I had heard a song on the radio that sort of stuck in my head: Mama Let Him Play by Doucette. As we departed, the tracks start climbing the hill to Kirkwood and, as she usually did in the early morning, 1522 was really rocking along. Her exhaust and whistle were definitely being noticed by the many residents along the way who were not aware she was coming and you could see their surprise and delight. With a relatively light load, 1522 was slowly accelerating as track speed allowed. Suddenly, Mama Let Him Play popped back into my head. About 2/3 of the way into the song, there is an instrumental solo that starts out slow but then gradually picks up speed. That solo perfectly matched 1522's charge up Kirkwood Hill – slowly gathering speed yet still rocking along. A modern tune perfectly matched with 1920s technology.
Call me crazy, sentimental, stupid, or worse (and many have), but I am positive that 1522 could sense being back on home rails. She ran very well wherever she went but for some reason, it always seemed like she was running just a tad better when running on the old Frisco right of way. Granted, the railroads designed and tuned their equipment for the tracks they used which may explain it. Running to Newburg and back from St Louis, continuing to Springfield, Springfield to Kansas City – she must have enjoyed being in her old home element. Rolling through Ft Scott, Kansas, where she'd spent several years in storage before her donation, must have been fun for her – all these years later I'm back and running here again. Shame she's not still doing so.
What word starts out S-H-I- and is obscene among SLSTA crewmen? Well, it's not the one you're probably thinking of although we said that one a lot as well. The word is SHIM and it became a very derogatory word among the crew.
The reason behind this is our crew cars – especially the Black Gold. The cars utilized tightlock couplers – a modern invention used to keep couplers locked together in case of an accident. A big blunt nub stucks out of one side of the coupler and meshes into a pocket on the corresponding side of the mating coupler, locking the two together so they could not move vertically against each other. Tightlock couplers have been a tremendous safety improvement for derailments – instead of cars coming uncoupled and stacking up sideways like cordwood when their couplers moved apart vertically, they stay coupled together and the train stays more or less intact, reducing damage and injuries. Shelf couplers, popular on tank cars, also work to prevent the couplers from separating in a derailment, but are impractical for passenger cars since the buffer plate of the car's diaphragm is right above the coupler where the upper shelf would be. Lots of passenger cars being ferried in freight service have had their diaphragms damaged by being coupled to shelf couplers.
While tightlocks are a great benefit, they do have a downside. In order to properly mate with the next car's couplers, the tightlock coupler must be at a very specific height off the rail. As I recall, there was maybe an inch leeway up or down. Normal couplers can still adequately mate even if there is a vertical offset of a couple inches – much more forgiving. There is no adjustment built into the coupler/draft gear for setting vertical height – to get the coupler to the right height meant raising and lowering the entire car and adding and removing round plywood shims from above and below the springs in the trucks. That resulted in a lot of jacking the car up and down – very heavy, backbreaking work since we lacked a good set of car jacks. When you add or remove heavy equipment, which we did quite often, the car would be checked for coupler height and inevitably have to be re-shimmed to get the coupler back to proper height. We also had to balance the shims in the trucks themselves to keep the pieces of the truck in proper alignment. Our passenger car guru, Jeff Schmid, was a stickler for having the cars at the proper height which paid off in excellent performance on the road. However, when he got the coupler height gauge out he was not too popular with us crew. We even joked that we had summer shims and winter shims since, for a while, we were adjusting the cars twice a year. What made that even more ironic is that we never took the cars out in the winter so that made the joke even more painful. Fortunately, once we had the cars outfitted to their final configuration the requirement to constantly re-shim them finally went away. Poor Jeff, though, will be forever linked to shims and is often mentioned when we talk about adjusting anything.
So if you happen to meet a former SLSTA crewman, watch your language. You're likely to get a dirty look if you use the S word!
I was not a personal witness to this incident as I was busy in the Souvenir Tent selling things. It was our first trip to Springfield, MO and it was like a huge Homecoming event. Springfield had been the heart of the Frisco Railway and we were bringing home an old friend. Anything I had for sale with FRISCO on it sold like crazy – I joked I could have written FRISCO on a piece of paper and probably sold it. I even had a big burly trainman get mad and physically threaten me because he only just got into town and off duty and I didn't have any Frisco items left. But I digress...
The incident in question involved refueling the 1522. The locomotive burned #6 diesel fuel, also known as Bunker C. I've been told this is the last grade above asphalt and that seems about right. It is very viscous and has to be heated to flow. When we were out on the road and within a couple hundred miles of St. Louis, it was easier to contract with a St. Louis firm to provide us the fuel rather than looking for local suppliers. They would deliver it in an insulated tanker truck which kept the oil hot so it would flow. On arrival, they would hook a hose from the tank to a pump mounted on the truck and another hose from the pump to a fill connection under the tender on the engineer's side. To vent the air from the tender tank, the crewman supervising the filling would open up the vent hatch on the top of the tender's fuel tank. This also gave him the viewpoint to see when the tender was full and signal the truck to stop pumping. Most of the time, this worked well but this particular trip, our crew chief got distracted somehow...
As I said, I never personally saw the incident but heard a lot about it afterwards. There was a large effort to clean up all that spilled oil on the top of the tender. I was spared that as I was busy elsewhere. There were advantages to being on souvenir crew!
As a child, my family had enjoyed 3 trips on Delta Queen, an authentic stern-wheel steamboat which traveled the inland rivers of the Midwest and South. Ironically, the Delta Queen is just a year younger than the 1522 and when I got involved with the 1522, I had occasionally thought what a thrill it would be to have the two big steam powered machines meet each other sometime. One fall morning, it actually happened!
The story starts with a display in Galesburg, Illinois. We were staying on the BN's executive train and some circumstances resulted in most of us not getting much, if any, decent sleep that night before we came home. I was scheduled to drive my auto to Hannibal and from there it would be driven by someone else back to St Louis. We chased the train south of Galesburg for a ways, but then it swung West to cross the river at Quincy and we headed South to get ready to meet the train in Hannibal. As the highway rose up to the Mississippi River bridge, I looked left toward downtown Hannibal and there she was – the Delta Queen – tied up at the riverfront. My dream had actually happened.
The 1522's arrival in town brought an interesting exchange of whistles. Since she had crossed the river further up at Quincy, the engine crew could not readily see the Delta Queen tied up to the riverfront. Our engineer, especially, could not see her since he was on the opposite side of the cab. He became very puzzled when his whistle blasts on the 1522 were answered in a different pattern by a much throatier steam whistle!
This incredible meeting was not without some problems. First, the Delta Queen's boilers and passengers needed fresh water just like our boiler did and they had their hose taking water from the same hydrant we were planning to use. We had to kick them off for a while so we could refill. Next, the Delta Queen was getting ready to leave shortly after we arrived and a lot of her passengers were now trapped on the wrong side of our train. Some of them attempted to get under or through our train and others got very mad at us. We had to keep assuring them that the boat knew they were over there and would not leave without them. Wish the steamboat had sent a crewman over to talk to reassure them but we could point to the Delta Queen's firehose that we had disconnected and tell the passengers that it belonged to their steamboat and they were not about to leave without it – or them.
We met the Delta Queen a second time on another trip up the river line. This time, she had just left Hannibal and was moving South on the river as we passed her heading North. We exchanged whistle greetings and went on our way. It's a shame neither the Delta Queen or 1522 is still running but at least there is hope that the Delta Queen will return to the rivers someday.
Working on 1522 presented a lot of interesting opportunities one never would have expected. One summer when 1522 was living on the tracks behind St. Louis Union Station, I had the chance to play along with none other than Arlo Guthrie! This despite the fact that I have absolutely no musical talents whatsoever. The Station was giving free summer concerts under the train shed on weekday evenings and Mr. Guthrie was the featured performer for one of those concerts. It just happened that we had 1522 fired up that evening – why, I don't remember.
It was a beautiful, clear summer evening. There were just a couple of us in the cab while the engine simmered. 1522 was a couple tracks over from the concert area with some passenger cars between us. We couldn't see anything and they couldn't see us, but we could hear the music clearly. Of course, singing under a train shed meant that Mr. Guthrie had to play his signature song CITY OF NEW ORLEANS! What could be more appropriate for a sad train song than a steam train whistle? The only dilemma was whether to blow it during the song or after. I figured the audience, and probably Arlo too, would not appreciate the song being disrupted. When the song was over, I blew an appropriate salute to it on 1522's whistle. I don't remember Arlo acknowledging it but regardless I can say I got to play along with him in concert.
One spring, after 1522 had spent the winter stored at St. Louis Union Station, it was time to fire her up and start getting her ready for the season. I remember it was a cold, blustery, overcast day in March but warm enough to fire her up and get some work done. After hours of slowly bringing up the temperature, a lot of soot had accumulated in the boiler flues so it would be necessary to do a flue sanding to clean them out. In this operation, the fireman holds a scoop of sand in front of the firebox and the draft of air across the fire draws the sand out of the scoop. The sand travels through the boiler tubes and knocks off the soot which gets blown out the stack. To do this properly, the engine has to be working hard so as to create a strong draft. This would be tough to do in the confines of the Union Station tracks but we gave it a shot. 1522 was backed as far under the train shed as possible then came roaring out belching black smoke, probably with the brakes lightly set for some resistance. By the time she started around the curve of the track, she was just drifting and eventually slowed to a stop under the highway overpass. One had to be careful spotting her under the highway – we did not want her exhaust to start heating up any of the steel beams on the roadway. Her stack was right under the open wedge gap where an on ramp was joining the highway and a light curl of smoke was drifting up. Not sure why the engine crew just sat there – I guess they were attending to something.
After a couple minutes, we heard a distant siren. A police car or ambulance, probably – not the least unusual for the city. We didn't pay it much attention at first but it was definitely coming closer. Soon we could see a fire truck turning down Clark Ave heading toward the station. I even remember casually remarking to one of the other crew, "Hey, we got a fire over here for ya!" Well, turns out that we WERE their fire call. Someone had reported smoke from under the highway and presumed a trash fire. The fire truck pulled into the parking lot, not without having to stop to take a ticket since it was a pay lot. As they turned the corner around some buildings and saw the 1522 parked under there, you could see the firefighters start smiling and laughing. They parked the truck by the engine, climbed out and immediately were invited up in the cab for a look around. Firefighters seemed drawn to steam engines and are always interested. Eventually they got back in the truck and headed back to their station.
Well, they tried to - the parking lot attendant would not let them out. We could see the firefighters arguing with him/her and finally one of them climbed off the truck and manually swung the gate up so the truck could get out. GR
I won't say where this took place to protect the guilty. We were pulling in to a BN yard to park for the night but had no instructions on where they wanted us to go. One of the carmen out there met us and said, "You can park your motor over on track 4." That choice of words didn't sit well with our engineer………GR
In August of 1994, 1522 was used in a photo for the 1995 BN/Operation Lifesaver wall calendar as shown below. Here are some recollections of this event from two different viewpoints.
In 1988 the Springfield Division of the BN Railroad established a Crossing Safety Program, and a Crossing Safety Team. The Springfield Division consisted mostly of the former Frisco Railroad, and I was one of the Team members. The Team worked closely with the national Operation Lifesaver program, focusing on reducing railroad crossing and trespasser incidents.
In 1993 the Team decided to issue an annual calendar. The full year, large single sheet calendar would include a photo featuring some aspect of crossing safety. The first calendar photo featured an elaborately staged scene including police and fire equipment, a school bus, and just about every type of vehicle imaginable. The photo was taken at Turners Station, southeast of Springfield on the line to Memphis.
In 1994 the Crossing Safety Team was expanded to include the entire Burlington Northern. This meant a huge increase in the production of calendars. For the 1995 calendar, it was decided to do an "Old-New" theme photo, and use 1522 for the "old" part. A contemporary diesel locomotive would do the honors for the "new" portion of the photo
On August 31, 1994, the 1522 along with Firefly, Black Gold, Cimarron River, and Silurian left St. Louis for Springfield, Missouri to do the calendar shot. There was some trepidation; the weather forecast called for rain, plus it could easily be a long trip. For added drama, the train was flagged down by a BN Trainmaster and Road Foreman about Niangua, Missouri. Turned out they were relieving the BN pilot engineer and conductor due to an infraction by the conductor on their deadhead ride up to St. Louis the preceding day. They brought out a replacement pilot engineer, Buzz Stone, who was also involved in the calendar shot. Buzz was relieved to see me at the throttle, since I knew the territory well and he wouldn't have to coach me while running.
We arrived at Springfield and left the cars in the yard. A diesel locomotive, 1506, accompanied us out to Nichols Junction just west of Springfield, where the routes to Tulsa and Kansas City diverged, and also where the old passenger main headed for downtown.
The photographer, Aubrey McBride, and all the props and extras were waiting for us. 1522 and the diesel were placed next to each other on the switch turnout. A boom truck lifted Aubrey up into position for the photo. The Missouri Highway Patrol provided a vintage patrol car from their museum, and a Trooper dressed in a period uniform ticketing the driver of another classic car. Don Morice, myself and someone dressed as a conductor observe the scene on the "old" half of the picture. On the "new" half, Tim Stipp and Buzz Stone observe a trooper ticketing a modern Dodge Viper and driver, represented by Bob Hosutt.
After the completion of photography, the 1506 diesel was coupled to the 1522, and they backed into the Springfield yard. 1522 coupled on to the three cars brought from St. Louis and tied up for the night. Next morning the train left for Topeka and the Labor Day weekend celebration of Topeka Railroad Days.
A supposedly routine day with the 1522 on the Burlington Northern (BN) had me crawling out of my bed in St. Louis in the morning and at the throttle of a GP28M in Springfield, MO, later that afternoon. This despite the fact I had absolutely no experience operating a diesel locomotive! Here's how that went down:
We were on our way to Topeka for their Railroad Days festival and were out of St. Louis bright and early in the morning heading down 1522's home rails to Springfield. I don't recall anything unusual about the trip down there. When we arrived, 1522 was cut off the rest of the train and followed freshly scrubbed BN locomotive 1506 west from the BN (Frisco) yards.
The BN railroad published a yearly calendar and wanted to use the opportunity of 1522's visit to shoot a special photo for their 1995 calendar. The idea was to juxtaposition 1522 with the modern diesel and have period autos at the crossing. The appropriately named Junction St crossed the track just past the switch to give a perfect stage for the photos. The Missouri State Troopers were part of this photo shoot which would also bear an Operation Lifesaver message. When we arrived at the junction, an old auto, an old trooper car, a modern state trooper car and a Dodge Viper were waiting for us along with a BN bucket truck. First order was to position the locomotives next to each other on either side of the switch. That took several minutes of jockeying to get them just right. Then, the autos were positioned on either side of the tracks to simulate the troopers pulling over people for grade crossing violations. Our 1522 engine crew of Jeff Schmid and Don Morice were dressed in period bibs and made sure they didn't have their radios on them. They were posed with a conductor, the head of the Frisco Railroad Museum in correct uniform if I remember correctly, in front of the 1522. I presume we had someone stationary firing the 1522 and, since they were on the far side of the cab from the photographer, they were out of shot. A BN crew in more contemporary attire was also posed in front of the 1506. The rest of us were out of shot behind the boom truck. With everything ready, numerous photos were taken.
It must have been a slow day on the Tulsa main as once the main shots were done, the State Troopers repositioned their cars for additional photos. One of them even got the idea to lift their light bar off their Mustang and put it atop the Dodge Viper for some shots. I guess if you're going to dream, dream big! Finally, when all was done, it was time to return the locomotives to the yard. Here's where it got interesting. Since we did not have our crew cars, I rode out in 1522's cab. For the trip back to the yard, the BN engineer wanted very much to ride in 1522's cab – who could blame him! The 1506 was coupled onto the front of the 1522 and 1522's engineer would control the move. However, someone had to stay in the cab of the 1506 to man the alerter button. If the alerter came on and the button wasn't pushed, the 1506's brakes would set and stop the train. Not sure if this was due to some kind of maintenance issue or what – I would think they could have set it up to be 'in tow' so the alerter would not go off. Regardless, since I was available, I was put in the engineer's seat of the 1506 with the direction that when the alerter came on, push the response button. I guess I managed to get it right as we made it back to the yard without issue!
The photo was printed to become the 1995 BN/Operation Lifesaver calendar. It was available in 2 sizes of wall calendar and a small calendar with rip off pages. The photography studio used an interesting effect to retain the color on the modern diesel side of the photo but put 1522 and her older cars in black and white. As a follow-up, the line that 1506 is resting upon is no longer there – the loop of track through downtown Springfield has been ripped up between downtown and this junction.
When we were in Galesburg trying to fix something (coming back from the failed Minnesota trip) we worked late on it. We were going to take the engine out in the yard on a long track and run back and forth for a while. Wellie Lazier said he would take it since I was first out the next morning to run so I went back to the caboose the BN sent with us and crashed on the "bed". Got woken up the next morning by somebody coming in saying he had breakfast for Don. I thought that was really a nice gesture and enjoyed pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. Got dressed and got on the engine to check it out so we could come home.
About that time, Don Miller came up in the cab and asked if I ate his breakfast. Poor Don.
I should have known nobody cared whether the engineer ate or not. I was so picked on.
With 1522 ailing, we had to bring her home from Galesburg, IL at slow speed. The trip began after dark and the slow, agonizing progress of the train matched the mood of the crew. It had been a miserable trip and we faced an uncertain future with lots of work ahead of us – not the least to get our baby home without further issues.
Gradually, we noticed a spectacular scene around us. Millions of fireflies, or lightning bugs if you prefer, were rising out of the open fields alongside the tracks. With few lights around us, there was nothing to distract from their beauty. Field after field rolled slowly by, all of which were speckled with thousands of small lights slowly floating upwards. It wasn't just a small area, either – this phenomena continued mile after mile.
While upset at the fate that had caused us to be running in that place at slow speed at night, we had to marvel at the rare opportunity afforded to us. To witness such a sight was a rare treat and we on the crew still remember it vividly to this day.
1522 and train were on the move again and, instead of riding, I had been offered a chance to join Charlie Dischinger who was chasing the train in his car. I grabbed my camera gear and off we went. We got several miles out in front of the train on the usual 2 lane country road which paralleled the track and started setting up our camera gear. Ready for action, we noticed a car approaching. The woman driving was obviously wondering what these two strangely dressed guys were doing with all the fancy camera gear. She rolled down the window as she pulled up next to us and asked, "What's going on?" With obvious pride, Charlie replied, "Steam Train's a comin'!" Her indifference was instantaneous, and with a disgusted look on her face, she yelled back, "MEH!" and drove off. Sure took the wind out of our sails………
One would think that with all the hard work of restoring and operating such a large piece of American history, 1522 would be of great interest everywhere she went. And, for the most part, she was. We on the crew would enjoy the view of rolling through towns while we waved back at everyone waving at us. After a while, one tends to ignore the usual railfans chasing us and instead starts observing the regular folks we pass along the way. Many knew we were coming and were lined up to see us. Many more had no idea we were coming and they were the most fun to watch. They would hear the 1522 and then their mouths would literally fall open when they saw her. Deep down, I think many of us on the crew lived for moments like that – all the hard work paying off and bringing our fellow Americans a rare treat.
However, there were always a few who couldn't care less. I remember well seeing a man walking from his car parked next to the track toward the hardware store. Guess he had a lot on his mind as he totally ignored us blasting by 70 feet away. He wasn't the only one – I remember plenty of others who just kept going about their lives, oblivious to all the noise and commotion around them. I guess the world is full of all kinds.
During a steam locomotive excursion, usually the locomotive and train are the main attraction. However, when you are part of the crew on the train and looking back at the world, you see other entertainment as well. My first trip as a crewman on the 1522 is a good example.
1522 was pulling an NRHS excursion to Moberly, MO. It was a bright, sunny day and things seemed to be going fairly well. Several of us crew were in the bag area of the combine just behind the locomotive watching the railfans who were watching us. A large convoy of chase vehicles was following us on the two lane country road paralleling the track. Turned out to be quite a show.
Those of you who are used to pacing steam excursions already know about all the jockeying for positions, trying to pass people, dealing with innocent civilian traffic, police, etc. It gets really crazy in those chase packs and it's truly amazing more people don't get hurt. Two incidents stand out from this trip. One was a guy on a motorcycle. He had a big camera in his lap and, when he wanted to take a photo, would reach across with his left hand to take the right throttle grip, then pick up the camera with his right hand and fire off a few frames before replacing the camera and swapping hands back. The other was a gent in white Ford Tempo. Somehow, he managed to pass everyone in the pack and floored the gas to get ahead of it and the train. Once well ahead, he pulled to the side, threw open his door with camera in hand and started racing across the road. He wasn't THAT far ahead and he almost got flattened by the pack which had now caught up with him. Somehow he made it across the road alive but we on the crew got a good scare from watching it. He wasted no time firing off shots of 1522 as she thundered past. Truly an interesting sight to see!
So was watching his car slowly rolling down into the deep gully on the other side of the road!
Seems that the radio frequency that the 1522 crew used for communicating among themselves is the same one that McDonald's uses for their drive through window communications. Every now and then we'd pass a McDonald's and suddenly pick up an order being placed on our radio. Did we ever mess around with any customer drive through orders? We'll never tell!
When we took 1522 on the road, we either stayed in hotels or host railroad provided sleeping cars. Since either option had two of us per room, we were paired off with roommates. Usually my roommate was Jim Butler, ex submariner and computer programmer with whom I got along very well. Jim, however, had one constant complaint about me. At the time, I still had good eyesight and the habit of reading myself to sleep every night. I would usually bring a few train magazines (when in Rome!) and start reading one once in bed. Normally, I didn't get very far reading as we were usually exhausted every night and sleep came quickly. This habit wasn't an issue in hotel rooms but was very much a problem for Jim when we stayed in sleeper cars. Since Jim was older than I, I always took the top bunk so he didn't have to crawl up and down the ladder. There is a small gap between the upper bunk and the wall from which it folds out – just wide enough for a magazine. Sometime during the night, it was common for my magazine to slip into that gap, fall down and clunk Jim in the head! He still never lets me forget about that!
Final Crew Score: 1 dead, 2 injured, 1 missing and the rest totally fried
The 1522 was invited to the 1994 NRHS Convention in Atlanta where she would be a featured star alongside the Norfolk Western 611. An inbound excursion train was planned using mostly the Norfolk Southern excursion train set. The St. Louis Chapter of the NRHS was the host for the first two days of the excursion – St. Louis to Springfield, MO and Springfield to Memphis. Another group was the sponsor the next day from Memphis to Birmingham, AL (see below) and finally the Dixie Chapter NRHS, I believe, was the sponsor from Birmingham to Atlanta.
Unfortunately, none of us could have predicted that the dates of this trip would coincide with some of the hottest weather of the summer. A huge heat wave had parked itself on the Midwest and South and we were steaming right through the middle of it. I jokingly stated that the crew was evaporating water at about the same rate as 1522 and, at times, I think that might have been accurate. Crew cars without air conditioning as well as the hot engine cab had the crew baking in between service stops – when they would get out in the hot sun directly for even more heat. Add to that the need to water all the passenger cars at the end of the day, a job we don't normally do, and we were really exhausted. Still not sure how we got roped into that.
Although I don't recall any particular issues with the 1522, our trip got off to a bad start when one of the crew badly burned his hands removing the stack cover the morning of departure. Apparently some steam had built up inside the boiler and got into his gloves when he pulled off the cover. He refused to go to the hospital so was treated by one of the crew the entire trip.
My recollections of the trip were working in the souvenir car when we were moving, selling souvenirs out of the bag car when we stopped, hauling hoses in the evening while watering cars, vaguely eating meals and being shuttled to some nameless hotel late at night and back to the train early in the morning. We did this for 4 days -–along with cleaning out all the Gatorade from seemingly every grocery store along the route!
As we arrived in Memphis, the heat finally got to one of the ladies in my souvenir crew and she had to be hauled to the hospital. Injury number 2! After wrapping up servicing work and a quick dinner, we visited her in the hospital, too. Fortunately, she mostly just needed to cool off and was able to catch back up to us in Atlanta but her loss also meant her husband stayed behind, too. Another anonymous hotel and we were on the road to Birmingham. Again, I don't remember the hotel but I do remember an incident at the diner next door. Four of us staggered over for a late dinner and were seated at a table together. The waitress brought over four glasses of ice water and said she would be right back to take our orders. Four hands reached out in unison, four glasses of water were raised up and drained, four glasses came back down on the table, all in unison. When she returned, one of the guys told the waitress, 'Ma'am, you forgot to put water in the glasses'. She looked at the glasses, then at us and finally said, "I'll bring a pitcher!"
That night, one of the crew went missing. He was a newer member who was on one of his first trips and just couldn't take all the heat. He headed home from there but we continued on. We were a mess when we finally got to Atlanta. Fortunately, we didn't have much planned the following day so we were able to sleep in. That night, we cranked the room air conditioners down as low as they would go, crawled under the covers and started getting our body temperatures closer to normal. Fortunately, the heat wave eventually abated and we were able to bring 1522 home in somewhat milder temperatures. To this day, however, every time there is a heat wave here in St. Louis, the former crew still feel like we should be out running our steam engine!
Oh, the final score included a death, didn't it? That happened in West Plains, MO. We pulled into town for a service stop and the 1522 happened to be spotted next to a pig pen with a dead pig in it. A lot of us sympathized with it and wondered if we were going to join it.
The St. Louis Steam Train Association was mainly focused on operating the 1522. If we were operating a public excursion, we left all of that effort to the trip sponsor. We were basically a subcontractor hired to provide the motive power of interest up front. For the most part, our trip sponsors were excellent. Many of our trips were sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) which had become very skilled at running trips. Likewise, other NRHS chapters ran excursions behind 1522 with equal skill. Since I was running 1522's souvenir operation, I was often mid train in the middle of the public side of the excursion and had a front row seat to observe how the trips were operating. Not all excursions ran smoothly but a good group could deal well with problems that cropped up – everything from food shortages to medical issues can and do happen. It was interesting to be in the midst of the action as these problems got resolved.
One sponsor, however, will always be remembered. I won't say the group's name but they sponsored the portion of our 1994 Convention inbound trip from Memphis to Birmingham. As mentioned above, we were already 2 days out of St. Louis in a horrible heatwave and were pretty much exhausted and fried. Nevertheless, we were manning the train early that morning as scheduled. The train itself was still locked up and inaccessible to the public – my souvenir crew and I were mid train at our sales counter getting ready and I assume we got there via our crew cars and walking through the train. When the passengers started arriving, nobody from the sponsor was there to open up the train and board them. Finally, some of the St. Louis Chapter NRHS members who were now passengers themselves started opening up traps and getting the passengers aboard.
A half hour or so before scheduled departure time, a beautifully restored stretched 1930s vintage Yellow Cab appeared along the train. Out of it emerged our sponsors' crew for the trip. They brought with them their radios and several young boys. Somehow, they got the train buttoned up and moving but otherwise left everyone to their own devices on the trip. I don't remember how food service went or if there even was any. The boys ended up grabbing the radios and running up and down the train playing walkie talkie man with them, bothering everyone. We were happy to arrive in Birmingham that afternoon and wrap up the trip with this group.
The following 2 stories did not happen with the 1522 or her crew but are too good not to tell.
The first story was on a St. Louis Chapter NRHS diesel excursion from St. Louis to Pekin, IL (near Peoria), and back using the Union Pacific diesels and passenger train. The train stopped enroute several times for photo runbys. At one stop, a farmer's field had been selected as the place for the passengers to get out and set up for the runby. It was a sunny day and the light was perfect. Unfortunately, from the time the field was scouted until we showed up with the train, the farmer had run his manure spreader through the field so it didn't smell too good! I'm sure the UP crew was not happy about all of what was brought back aboard on people's shoes.
The second story involves a trip I made with another steam crew. I was there to bolster their souvenir sales crew as well as an exchange and learning opportunity. It was a real honor to be asked to join them. One of the other invitees was a young lady from California, mid 20s or so. After our first day on the road, we tied up in a medium sized country town for the night and headed for the hotel that railroad crews used. Nothing fancy, but clean and comfortable. Next morning we gathered in the 24 hour diner next door for breakfast. Again, not a fancy place but clean and good food – just what we needed. Well, most of us needed. The young lady was very particular about her food. She was asking the waitress about how various things were prepared, if there were substitutions, etc. The poor waitress, the only one there at the time I recall, was getting quite exasperated with her. Finally, the young lady ordered something and then asked whether the orange juice was fresh squeezed. The waitress told her no so she ordered milk instead. When the waitress brought the milk, she set it down and said, "This isn't fresh squeezed either, hon!" The rest of the steam crew and other patrons were then wondering why one whole table was laughing so hard and so long. I can't remember laughing so hard before or since. When I paid my check, I gave the waitress a $10 tip and told her it was the best laugh ever!