You see, I ran a passenger train today. Make no mistake, it was GREAT to get out of the Yard Limits and stretch the legs again! (For me, few things in railroading are as personally rewarding as makin' speed aboard a hustlin' engine. If it weren't for certain circumstances, I would hit the road again in a heartbeat.) But, it wasn't only the fact of getting out of the yard and clickin' along the main. It was some other things, too. It sort of goes like this...
It was a GORGEOUS day in the Ozarks. The morning dawned nice and clear... but a crisp 24 degrees. The heaters aboard A&M 58 were up to the task though, and when I arrived at the terminal, Cherokee Bob (of our Mech. Dept.) already had the engine idling and waiting... fully serviced and rearin' to go. Climbing aboard with my grip and small ice cooler... the cab was toasty warm and I just had a feeling a great day was ahead.
I informed Jeremy (the Conductor) that today we were going to be doing some detective work.
You see, I had taken an old Frisco 1908 Employe Time Table and jotted down some milepost locations for some obscure towns that were listed on said TT. Towns that I've always wondered about, in regards to just exactly "where" these places were. Also, I wanted to compare what I was seeing in RE to a location to the real world. (Didn't seem right in the RE DEM terrain.)
The goals were to find the following town locations:
MP 407.8 Smeltzer (Siding/spur length not noted)
MP 403.6 Meadows 49 cars
MP 398.2 Stewart (Siding/spur length not noted)
MP 382.7 Walkers 15 cars
Smeltzer turned out to be just about under where I-40 passes overhead leaving Van Buren.
Meadows turned out to be where it wasn't supposed to be. You see, I've seen diesel era photos near the road crossing we call "Bond Special" labeled as being near Meadows. It ain't... not even close. However, NOW I know where the sure'nuf Meadows was!
Next up was Stewart. This little hamlet was in a beautiful and isolated area north of the existing town of Rudy that has a large creek of emerald blue water (Frog Creek) that runs along some 80' bluffs, complete with pine trees, cedar trees, and hardwoods along the top. Accenting the scene today was the snow that was highlighting all the areas it had stuck to. I've always loved this scene... but had no idea a small town had been a stones throw away!
Last detective work was Walkers. Another isolated location, but nothing near as impressive as Stewart.
As I motored smartly along this line that I've known so long... I found myself time-tripping to what it must have been like "back then". I'm talking about a time when carbon arc headlights were gallantly trying to light the way ahead... albeit dimly. The terms "Mogul" and "Ten Wheeler" and "Consolidated" were synonomous with railroading. A time when a mountain grade typically meant helpers... and helpers typically meant a helper station.
As I rattled over the south switch at Chester at the allowable... I took in the scene before me as well as railside. Make no mistake, Chester still has a aura about it that is about as backwoods as you can get... but my how things were different "back then". Today, I again saw the truncated siding that occasionally holds MOW equipment. Almost model railroad in length, it is so small.
Well, "back when", Chester was a going place. There was a small roundhouse here, a turntable, water, coal, depot, a full length pass track... even a small yard. There was light industry that received rail service... AND... it was a helper station. It had assigned locomotives and crews that operated out of Chester, shoving heavy freights and helping passenger trains up Boston Mountain grade to the summit town of Winslow. And talking of trains to help: Did you know every day in 1908 there were FOURTEEN scheduled passenger trains through Chester? There were four SECOND CLASS freights two scheduled locals... and according to records a whole slug of extras north and south. Railroading.
Then of course there is Winslow. Top of a grade both ways. This is where helpers would hole up until they had a slot where they could ease back down the grades to help another train up and over. Even though today's Winslow still retains a charm its own... today's Winslow cannot COMPARE to the Winslow of "back when": Helpers in town simmering and waiting their turn to head back downgrade. Freights storming out of the tunnel with a smokey display of gritty railroading and taking the siding to make way for First Class psgr train #4, the "Texas Limited", to storm past and plunge into the tunnel and start its harrowing decent of Boston Mountain grade.
This is good stuff, Maynard.
And so today was a great day. I got to get out and run a train through the mountains that I've known and loved for so long aboard rails that I've also been fascinated with for a long time. I got to imprint visualizations of some obscure locations I've wondered about for years. AND, I really did some heavy time tripping to "back then".
My remembrances of experiences of the Frisco's diesel years on this line are great. But you know, I get to enjoy very, very similar experiences pretty often on this railroad in its present incarnation as the A&M. However... can you IMAGINE what this line must have been like "back when"?
Man, I sure can. That is why I am SOOO PUMPED!
Anyway... below are a couple of quick pics from Winslow I took today that I want to share. First one was during our runaround move, second one I was on the train and getting ready to whistle off and head for the tunnel.
Oh, by the way... I shot a series of pictures the other snowy day at work. Soon I intend to share a pictorial essay with you about one day on the railroad. However, that will wait for another time.
Tonight though, it's Winslow, Arkansas: A town that left an everlasting impression upon me back in the early '70's.
Wow... wonder what it would look like to build a 1900's version of Winslow?