I was lucky to be one of the last hires on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, starting in June 1968, six short months before the Penn Central takeover of my railroad. What later turned out to be Amtrak was being discussed at the time. Passenger trains were being discontinued, and the ones still operating were losing money. It was obvious that many long distance trains were on the ropes; if a railroad trip across North America was to be taken, there was no time to waste.
My introduction to a railroad paycheck was during the summer of 1969. During junior and senior high school years, 1967-1968 at Alexandria (Virginia), I frequented Alexandria Union Station to meet Railway Post Office trains. The ticket sellers and baggage-mail porters became familiar and friendly to me. I had found a summer job during June, 1969, at Arrow Moving Company in the west end of Alexandria. It paid two dollars per hour, but only if you went out on a moving assignment. I was thin and immature, so the coordinator would look around the room of candidates and pick those who appeared more athletic. I did my share of moving refrigerators up three flights of stairs, but on many days I wasn’t assigned to a move by 11 a.m. after having arrived at the office by 7 a.m. On those days there was no pay and nothing to do except to go home and try again the following morning.
Most of us remember graduating from a Train Watcher to a Railroad Enthusiast. Much like graduating from one school grade to the next, making that transition took education and a drive to learn. Sometimes, locations served as “schools,” helping us move forward. Frequently, those schools were filled with teachers in the form of friends or family who had an interest in railroads. However, there are times when railroad employees step into that teaching role. Such was the case with my “graduation” from Train Watcher to Railroad Enthusiast.
By 1880, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway had an operating depot in the City of Topeka, Kansas. For roughly the next 120 years, that depot was manned daily by a ticket agent until Amtrak went to a five day work week for the agent. During the days when the Santa Fe operated the depot, trains like the California Limited, Grand Canyon, Antelope, Kansas Cityan, and Scout all made stops at Topeka, along with many nameless trains known only by a number. The number of trains would decrease in the years leading up to the inception of Amtrak. When Amtrak began operating over the Santa Fe, trains like the Super Chief, El Capitan, and Texas Chief all made stops in Topeka during the early years of Amtrak Service.
1933 – 2018
In 1959, a third grade boy borrowed a train book from the school library and sat down to enjoy it in the school cafeteria. Soon special pictures filled his imagination.
There was a nocturnal image of the 1852 train shed in St. Albans, Vermont, displaying a immense Central Vermont Mountain locomotive . . . Read more
Waking a steel horse from her slumber
The morning of July 16, I got up with the sunrise to the sounds of a local radio station’s morning show. The sun had not even risen above the horizon, but there were already some wispy clouds illuminated in a magenta color. I had no time to waste; I had an 8:00 a.m. rendezvous with my friend Ross Gochenaur at the Strasburg Railroad enginehouse. Ross has worked for the Strasburg Railroad for twenty years as an engineer, fireman, and shop worker. Today, however, I would get to observe and photograph the hostling of the engine pulling the railroad’s hourly train for the day.