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|I think my fascination with steam locomotives began with one of my uncles. Uncle Eddie would
break into song at the slightest provocation - especially on the occasions when he was "in his
cups," as my grandmother used to say. His favorite tune was The Wreck of the Old 97. By the
time I was 3 or 4, I'd learned the words and would, at his urging, join him in a rousing rendition.
This didn't sit particularly well with my mother, who didn't appreciate his spirited performances (or
approve of the "spirits" that brought them on). Nor did she believe that a somewhat morbid tune
about a train wreck was appropriate musical material for a small child. But he was such a
wonderful man and we all had such affection for him, that she overlooked these things.
And it's well for me that she did. Throughout my childhood, in addition to his beloved railroad
songs, I learned many old folk songs from the Ozark Mountains, which had been Uncle Eddie's
childhood home before he moved to New Orleans. I developed an appreciation for music I might
never have even encountered, had it not been for Uncle Eddie.
And I suspect that the seed was planted for a life-long interest in old steam locomotives because
of those childhood duets and the poignant tale of The Old 97.
Some steam locomotives continue to run on tourist and heritage lines, but, unfortunately, many
more have been lost - abandoned and allowed to rust away. I'd like to believe, though, that
somewhere, on forgotten tracks, leading to forgotten stations, the ghosts of old steam engines still
pull cars filled with enthusiastic passengers, crossing the country on a never-ending adventure,
smoke billowing to the sky, as the cars lumber down the track.
Someplace where, even as the train moves, time stands still.
And I hope that, once in awhile, Uncle Eddie can take a ride.
|Ghosts of Railroads Past
|I always program the music on my pages to start automatically, but in this case,
since it's not just a background instrumental, I leave it for you to choose whether
you'd like to hear the song now or after you've finished looking at the page,
when it won't be distracting to you.
Many artists have recorded the song, this one was done by Lester Flatt and
Earl Scruggs. I may be prejudiced, but I have to say that none of them compare
to the heartfelt a cappella performance by my Uncle Eddie. Or maybe that's
because the childhood memories of family gatherings and my uncle's songs
are so dear to me.
Just click on the arrow to play.
|In another ten years, you’re going to be hard pressed to find any steam engines
available for operation, unless they’re strictly in a tourist setting. Railroad museums and
tour companies may continue to keep the old steam trains on hand for demonstrations,
posterity or simple nostalgia. But for true rail fans, seeing the old iron horse in the wild -
what rail fans call 'live steam' - is worth a journey of thousands of miles.
-- Chris Skow, Trains & Travel International
|The only thing sadder than an abandoned set of railroad tracks is a boneyard of
rusting locomotives. I don't wax nostalgic over a junkyard filled with rusted out
washers, driers and refrigerators. But the sight of old steam locomotives - once
proud and powerful, the moving force of our country - sitting forlornly, waiting to
crumble to dust, very nearly brings tears to my eyes. -- Walter Davies
|The train at Pershore station was waiting that Sunday night,
Gas light on the platform, in my carriage, electric light,
Gas light on frosty evergreens, electric on Empire wood,
The Victorian world and the present in a moment's neighbourhood.
-- John Betjeman, "Pershore Station"
|Not by car and not by plane,
Give me instead an old-fashioned train -
Not a sterile, modern thing,
But an engine built when train was king:
A black locomotive, trailing steam,
With steel and brass shined to a gleam,
The kind g-grandpa used to ride
When he rolled across the countryside.
-- Nancy Brister
|Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson, "From a Railway Carriage"
|The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines
from one city to another, almost as fast as birds can fly, 15 or 20 miles an hour! A
carriage will start from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at
Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup in New York the same day.
-- Oliver Evans, written in 1800