A vintage steam railroad engine, Union Pacific 844, is passing through Missouri on its way from Kansas City to Little Rock, Arkansas, reenacting the Little Rock Express—it’s one of Union Pacific’s “goodwill tours” of its historic steam locomotive.
Young folks, naturally, haven’t experienced the spectacle of a huge engine like this, with its hissing steam, enormous wheels, and the hot flame underneath. Even the rivets are huge.
This visitor was showing the train to some young fellows, who were clearly impressed! I show you the picture of this gentleman to give you an idea of the wheels’ size.
This machine is clearly something extraordinary. Yet, of course, during World War II such trains were the norm. As I reflect on that, I start to realize not just the importance trains had on the nation’s transportation industry—but also the incredible impact they made on people’s emotions; their symbolic value.
Most of us probably have at least one relative or ancestor who was connected somehow with trains. Maybe a great-uncle was a Pullman porter (at one point, that was one of the best jobs available to African American men); maybe someone in your family worked at a ticket counter, or sold concessions; if you’re Chinese American, there’s a good chance an immigrant forefather might have helped build the railroads out west.
The railroad industry was so big and so important, Americans of all categories were involved with it. Maybe your grandparents rode trains a lot, or had a farm through which the trains passed. My own great-grandpa was a Missouri Pacific line foreman west of town.
Before air transportation became the norm, trains were certainly the primary vehicle associated with joyful reunions and tearful goodbyes; or the line to opportunity—fortune, fame, education, the exotic, the unknown. To small-town folks, the cities where those unending rails led must have seemed as foreign and exciting as Nepal and Peru seem to us now.
And the blowing, hissing, chugging, million-pound locomotives must have intensified all those impressions, as they did for me this morning as we watched the train depart Jefferson City for whistle-stops at Chamois, Hermann, Washington, Pacific, Kirkwood, and then to St. Louis . . .
When something like this comes through your town, I hope you take a few moments to see it!
Special thanks to Op Op friend Jenice Taggart for cluing me in on this train’s arrival and the coolness thereof!