the Executive Director here at the museum noticed that I was giving
a presentation with this title at Winterail, an annual gathering
of railfans in Stockton. I guess the title caught his fancy, because
he invited me to make the same presentation here. Fortunately or
unfortunately, for a bunch of reasons, that specific presentation
could not be brought to Ely. But that also gave me an opportunity
to put together a presentation that I hope will be more appropriate
for this more diverse audience.
I do think it
is a neat title. It is a somewhat tongue in cheek poke at both myself
and the many other folks who are fascinated by trains. Part of my
purpose here is to try to explain why trains are so fascinating.
First off, let
me introduce myself. My name is John West, and I have been "chasing
trains" since I was a kid. Perhaps I never outgrew my Lionel
train set. Trains have always fascinated me, and they have been
both my vocation and avocation. Actually, I made a pretty good living
"chasing trains" while working for Southern Pacific Railroad
and later GATX, a company that leases railcars. And that allowed
me to retire early so that I could become a "professional"
railfan. Even my somewhat normal wife and son occasionally enjoy
chasing trains with me."
bulk of this presentation is a slide show, put together from pictures
I have taken over the last 45 years. I hope it will give you some
indication of why I find trains so fascinating.
The first segment
covers the Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge in the 1960's. It
was the last of the old time railroads, steam powered to the end
and still connecting a rather isolated part of Colorado and New
Mexico with the outside world. Even though narrow gauge, it typifies
the kind of railroading that opened up western America, and allowed
our farms, mines and forests to become an integral part of the national
and international economy. There was a cliché about iron
men and wooden cars, and indeed this kind of railroading was not
only labor intensive, but required great skill and even daring .
. . since it was dangerous work. To me it is amazing that this way
of life still existed when the rest of America was busy putting
men in space. Hopefully these pictures will convey a bit of a way
of life that has largely disappeared.
For many people,
the fascination with railroading began with the giant steam engines.
These machines pulsed with red-hot fire and high-pressure steam.
Standing beside one of these engines, even when it was sitting still,
could be a bit scary. Would it explode right here and now? Go stand
next to the 93 and experience that feeling. And if you were trackside
when a steam engine thundered by at speed with a full load, it could
be a truly soul moving experience . . . if not down right frightening.
I was born to
late to get many pictures of mainline steam in regular service,
but hopefully the following pictures of the big mainline engines
on special fan trips will suffice to convey the fascination of these
the 1930's the diesel locomotive starting replacing steam. The diesel
electric locomotive was more efficient at pulling trains and much
easier to maintain. In some places, especially Europe, steam was
replaced by straight electric locomotives drawing current from an
overhead wire. By 1960 mainline steam had disappeared in the U.S.,
and by the turn of the 21st century steam had disappeared virtually
throughout the world. Today there is only one regular mainline steam
operation left, and it is in China. So soon after retiring I headed
out for China to record the end of an erathe very last steam
mainline. And it too will be dieselized in the near future.
Finally, I want
to show some pictures I've taken over the past several years here
at the Nevada Northern. Hopefully they will convey the ability of
this museum to recreate the past in a truly dramatic fashion. This
is one of the few places where not only you, but your children and
grandchildren will be able to experience what steam railroading
was all about. And it is a whole lot more dramatic than simply looking
at the pictures.