My Train Recollections: Mike Harrison – Best Train Trip Ever – Part 3

“Still in Colorado Springs, Tuesday morning, 5/31/05 we met early and took off in Bob’s rental car, Pike’s Peak or bust. Zeb Pike spotted the mountain on an expedition ~ 1814 and tried a couple of times to climb it but never got to the top. Locals probably felt sorry for him and named it after him in consolation. These days they hold several foot races up the side of the mountain and the world record holder made it in just 2 hrs. Now there’s a dirt road to the top and several hiking trails, but there is also the Pike’s Peak cog railway. We took the train naturally, in the lead car of a 2-car consist, every seat taken. 14,100 ft to the top (from sea level) but we started at the original Manitou Springs station at about 6000 ft. The ride up takes an hour at about 10 miles/hr, so we were all pretty impressed with that world record holding runner. Scenery on a clear day would be phenomenal, but our weather was partial overcast, with partially phenomenal views. (Clear to the west, clouds to the east) I took some pictures from the top, but the perspective is missing. You have to be there and see what inspired “America the Beautiful” yourself. One other thing – it is cold at 14,100 ft, even in late May. Smart people had bundled up, even though they looked a little odd in the 80 degree warmth in Manitou. One fool was freezing in shorts and tee shirt, though I’ll deny it if asked. 

After the ride back down to Manitou Springs we loaded up on Cog RR souvenirs and found a gourmet Chicago-style hotdog stand for lunch and an obligatory case of heartburn. I ate a normal chili/slaw dog and for dessert a “Chicago-style” hotdog which is a hot dog with a tomato, onion and a pepper each sliced in half and all somehow packed on a normal sized bun. Filling. Just a few miles north was the Garden of the Gods, a CO Springs public park with an excellent visitors’ center. Loaded up on more souvenirs before we drove through and took some pictures of each other and the spectacular rock formations. They are all over the place in this part of CO, but these were Park-protected and pretty well preserved except for natural erosion and the ignoramuses that ignored the prolific “DO NOT CLIMB” signs. The view of Pike’s Peak from the Garden is awesome, though not so much the other way around. The Garden was well advertised by the Denver and Rio Grande and Santa Fe RRs, and is still high on the list of CO tourist attractions with good reason.

From the Garden we drove just a few more miles north to the Flying W ranch, actually a 100-acre outdoor restaurant with a bunch of western-style shops and amusements. In addition to the locale and western motif, their claim to fame was that they could serve 1000 people dinner in < 15 minutes. There were probably 600-700 there that evening, but Bob had reserved a stage-front table for dinner and the show, a very good quartet of cowboy musicians. The secret to the fast service was that you went through their chow lines with your platter held out and they plopped your serving on it for you, Army mess-hall style. No hold ups trying to spot the biggest piece of meat or best potato. We had ham, chicken, potatos, baked applesauce, beans, cowboy-coffee or lemonade (reserved for sissies), all you could eat either until it was gone or the show started. The three of us stopped one bite short of gluttony. Except for my brother. And his brother. [June 2012 update – the Flying W was totally destroyed by wild fires. USAFA also brushed.]

Wednesday, 6/1, we were car-less as Bob had to work that morning. So, Dad and I ate the complimentary motel breakfast and walked 3 blocks to the American Numismatic Society/Museum. We toured until Bob was finished and met us back at Econo Lodge. The money museum was exhibiting what must be the finest privately held (Harry Bass Jr.) antique gold/silver coin collection in the world. Many of the coins were one of a kind, most were examples of 2-12 of a kind known to exist, and this collection had all or most of those! It was chilling to read that only three US 1877 $5 gold Seated Liberties with double-struck obverses were ever minted, and you are looking at all three together! The curator said she knew the value of the collection (which filled a 30 x 30 ft room) but for security reasons would not disclose it. But she did say the number would require “at least eight figures.” More than I make in a week. The basement had an exhibit of Treasury Department mint and engraving/printing blunders through the years. In the souvenir shop, you could buy $1000 for $2.95, but the $1000 came in a little glass vial and was chopped into micro-confetti.

We checked out of the Econo Lodge when Bob came and got us on the road back to Denver. Tried to find James Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters for lunch at Whit’s End, but we got lost and missed it, ended up taking a really straight and sparsely-traveled back road to Denver until we hit Littleton. Then for the next 20 miles it was pretty much Interstate 25 gridlock into downtown Denver. We had planned to go through the US Mint, but all tours for the day had been booked long before we showed up, and they no longer let you go through on your own. They don’t even let you stop your car long enough to ask if a tour is available. If you stop in front of the Mint, a Jack Bauer wannabee leaps out of his little guard kiosk and screams, “Move your car–NOW!!!” They were kind enough to let us spend money in the gift shop outside where I got some fresh Denver-minted Minnesota quarters and a few Scaggies. Found a Chinese place for lunch, then Bob dropped us at the hotel, Comfort Inn Downtown and returned to CO Springs. Hated to see him go. He’s a generous host and a good brother. We wandered around the hotel and found it connected by a skyway to the Brown Palace across the street. I knew it had been built as a turn-of-the-century (20th) luxury hotel by the Unsinkable Molly Brown, until the girl I was impressing with my knowledge of history explained it was built by some other rich guy named Brown (no relation) as an office building, and had been fairly recently renovated as a Luxury Hotel. But she was only the Brown Palace Concierge, so what did she know? Besides, what my version lacked in veracity it made up with flair. We took the free city-center tandem bus about a mile to Denver Union Station, looked around, picked up some Amtrak collectibles (baggage tickets) and came back, deciding to get a cab in the morning rather than walk or try to bus with the luggage.

Thursday morning 6/2/05, 6 am, we partook of a huge complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel and caught a cab to the station. We were a little early, which turned out to be a great thing because I’d no sooner checked our bags than 100’s of people descended on the place to do the same. Conductors there checked each ticket and photo ID before you left the station to board. We walked down a ramp through the tunnel under the tracks to the California Zephyr gate, then up a ramp and onto the concourse for our train 5. We found our car, boarded immediately, and got settled in the roomette about 7:45 am. Purely out of curiosity I asked our attendant if the Diner was still serving breakfast. Oh yes, until 0830. However, since we’d both had a big breakfast already, we went to the diner just for coffee. And maybe some juice. What the heck, maybe an omelet, bacon and toast. And a small fruit cup. Since we’d already eaten. (Yes, of course a Denver omelet.)

We pulled out of Union Station on the advertised, 0805, and quickly started climbing the eastern slope of the Rockies, known locally as the Front Range, on our way to Sacramento, CA via the Rocky Mountains, (Moffatt Tunnel Route), seven separate Colorado River Canyons (including Glen and Ruby), Soldier Summit, the Lucien Cut-off over the Great Salt Lake, Great Basin, and the original Transcontinental Railroad route over the Sierra Nevada Range. Weather was crystal-clear beautiful. The observation car stayed SRO for the most scenic 30 hours of travel anywhere in the world.

Next – thru the Rockies, Ruby Canyon, Helper, Soldier, Provo, SLC, Reno, and Donner Pass. 

(Question – what kind of wine goes good with people?)”

Rock on Trains © 2023, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

My Train Recollections: Mike Harrison – Best Train Trip Ever – Part 2

“OK – Am focused on our trip again so will take up the saga having just arrived in Colorado Springs, Sunday afternoon, May 29, in a slight drizzle. We first stopped at the National Rodeo Hall of Fame Museum, easily recognizable by the big statue of Casey Tibbs on a bucking bronco out front. I remembered Tibbs, Jim Shoulders, and Larry Mahan from my youth, but haven’t kept up. Very interesting in that the Hall of Fame also inducts the great bulls and horses as well. One bull was cited as having participated in 1500 attempted rides. Only one time was he ridden for the full 8-seconds. 1499 wins, 1 loss – imagine a baseball pitcher or a boxer with that record! I think his name was Tornado. Almost no female members. Apparently the women’s lib movements are somewhat less insistent that girls learn to ride a 1700 lb bull than drive a tank. We went on into town and checked into the Econo-Lodge Downtown. Not recommended, although it was cheap and convenient. AAA gave it 2.5 stars. My grade would be one moon, but like I said it was cheap which (in the pre-bedbug era) pretty much meets all my imperative criteria. We had dinner in the old Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) RR station which is now an Italian restaurant decorated to look like a railroad station. It was full of antique RR stuff, and a big BNSF freight would go by about every 15 minutes. A terrific restaurant, ideal location, highly recommended, and as a bonus the service and food weren’t bad.

My brother Robert picked us up early enough Monday morning. We drove down thru Canon City and up the mesa to the Royal Gorge Bridge. The views from the suspension bridge are exceptional, not adequately described by me so I won’t try except to say that during creation our Father glorified Himself there about a billion times moreso than in Louisiana or South Texas. From the bridge deck its over 1000 ft to the Arkansas River below, where the D&RG “Scenic Line of the World” ran. I took a lot of pictures, my favorite, the “No fishing from Bridge” sign, but the postcards are better. We all walked across the bridge (~ 1/2 mile) and back, but they allow vehicles on it also. The bridge has a wooden deck and it shakes when a car or bus goes by. There is an aerial gondola crossing the Gorge in addition to the bridge, and the steepest inclined railway in the world that will take you to the Hanging Bridge at the bottom of the Gorge and back. 

After experiencing the grandeur of the Gorge from its rims, we drove back into Canon City to the restored Santa Fe RR station and boarded the Canon City and Royal Gorge excursion train to see the Gorge up close, Arkansas river level. Bob had reservations for us for lunch on the train in the exquisitely-appointed 1st class dining car. The train is pulled by a pair of old C&NW F7’s liveried up to look like the original D&RG diesels. Food was the best we had on the whole trip, 5 stars. And the same scenery we saw from the top of the plateau on the bridge we now saw from the diner (or open observation cars) and it was even better than the food. We went all the way through the canyon (They call it the Royal Gorge because of all the food we consumed during the trip), then stopped for a photo op 1090 ft under the suspension bridge and right on top of the world-famous “hanging bridge.” Santa Fe/D&RG had to suspend their RR tracks along the river for a few hundred yards where there was no room or way to cut a right-of-way into the side of the cliffs, so they invented the hanging bridge. Its an engineering marvel, about 100 years old, and best seen to be appreciated, so you will either have to go, or look at my souvenir book or photos, a weak, unendorsed choice. I watched the videotape I bought as a souvenir just this weekend, and can claim that the Royal Gorge trip rivals the White Pass and Yukon excursion from Skagway AK to the top of the Pass for pure, unadulterated scenic beauty. And if you throw in the great food, Royal Gorge is the winner. 

Leaving Canon City, we drove by the old CO Territorial Prison. It is now a museum, a tourist attraction, and …State prison. Reminded me of Brushy at Petros TN the way it was cut back into the mountain. We headed back north to Cripple Creek, one of a bunch of mining towns in the area that are still taking a lot of gold and silver out of the ground. At Cripple Creek we went through the Cripple Creek and Victor RR station/museum and got on the Cripple Creek and Victor narrow gauge excursion train. It doesn’t go all the way to Victor anymore, just 4-5 miles out of town, past 2 -3 dozen gold mines, some shut down, some working, some big, some small. Our engineer/fireman/conductor/brakeman/tour guide said that the biggest gold mine in the area now is located in downtown Cripple Creek on Main Street, the new casino/hotel. The ones that dig it out of the ground only make a couple million each year. The casino does that every few days. P.T. Barnum was right.

After Cripple Creek we drove around the base of Pike’s Peak and back to CO Springs, where our Dad had a peanut butter cracker fit. We stopped at 3-4 different places looking for square, peanut butter-filled cheese-crackers. We discovered Dad can be a tad persnickety when it comes to peanut butter-filled cheese-crackers. They shall not be round (place # 1). They shall not be peanut-butter filled cookie-crackers (place # 2). They shall not be cheese-filled cheese crackers (place # 3). Needless to say, when we found a place that passed muster (place # 4, a 7-11), we bought every square, peanut butter-filled cheese-cracker they had. We finished the trip 14 days later with 2 packs left.

Weather all day had been good but it was now raining pretty steadily, so we called it a night. Pike’s Peak or bust, Garden of the gods, coins, Brown Palace, and back on the Zephyr in the next installment.”

Rock on Trains © 2023, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

My Train Recollections: Mike Harrison – Best Train Trip Ever – Part 1

“Sunday afternoon, June 12, 2005, at 5 pm my father, Joe Harrison, retired FBI Identification Division Supervisor of La Plata, MD, and his oldest son Michael, pulled into Union Station Washington, DC on Amtrak’s Capital Limited having just completed THE BEST TRAIN TRIP EVER!!! Of course for a true rail fan, the best trip is always the longest, and this one, the scenic route from Manassas, VA to DC’s Union Station, was 17 days, 7,000 miles, including some brief stops for layovers and sightseeing (and more train-riding) in Chicago, Denver/Colorado Springs, Sacramento, Seattle, and Glacier Park, MT. My 84-year-old Dad loved it, and I didn’t wear him out any worse than I did my 58-year-old self. 

The best train trip ever started 2 pm Friday afternoon, 27 May 2005 when we boarded Amtrak’s west bound Cardinal at Manassas, VA instead of Washington’s Union Station, to avoid the worst of the deplorable DC traffic. My brother Kevin and his wife Sherrie took us to the restored and fully operational Manassas depot about an hour early so we could look around and get some depot souvenirs. The Cardinal arrived on time. Our car was brand new, the nicest one of the whole trip. The little sleeping compartment, a two-person roomette, had its own well-disguised toilet and windows for both the lower berth and for the short-straw-drawing-loser who had to climb into the upper berth at night (which occurred near Huntington, WV). Because I was slightly more limber than Dad, I always drew the short straw, which turned out to be a good thing. Around Portsmouth, OH our Car Attendant came through to make up the berths (think narrow bunk beds). I climbed up and explored the small upper berth storage spaces intended for books, undies etc., and joyously discovered a nasty cereal-encrusted bowl and spoon, that looked like they’d been there for years. I asked the Steward if I could clean them up and keep them, but he said nothing; just took them. I was excessively peeved at his clear violation of the ‘finders-keepers’ law but minutes later he was back with the cereal bowl now spotless, the matching coffee cup and saucer, and a full set of Amtrak monogrammed silverware, all now reposing on the dedicated Amtrak shelf in my RR collection room and office. Thank GOD for the short straw and our patient, understanding Car Attendant, whose very jeopardized tip was not only restored, but augmented.

After passing through Culpepper and Orange, VA, we took an almost never used old C&O/Southern bridge line to Gordonsville, then on to Charlottesville where CSX and NS have a grade-crossing at the station. Meaningless, except we both expected to take the Southern Ry double-tracked main line through Barboursville where my Mom grew up and go right past (within 100 ft) her childhood home. No lasting disappointment though – we knew every inch of that part of the line, since her dad, Jesse Strickland, ran Southern’s Weyburn coaling tower halfway between the homestead and Somerset, VA, and we had explored it all as kids. We were pleasantly surprised to take the C&O branch that no one had used in years. The track was in bad shape, and we had a 20-mph slow order for the nine miles to Gordonsville before rejoining the C&O (CSX) main from Richmond. After quick stops in Charlottesville and Crozet, we climbed to the Afton Mountain tunnel and crossed the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah Valley where we stopped briefly at the restored Staunton, VA station/Pullman restaurant. We had a tolerable airline-style microwaved chicken cacciatore dinner in the diner while passing through the vast but hauntingly, depressingly empty Clifton Forge coal yards, and after we left White Sulphur Springs in WV, home of C&O’s $500/night Greenbriar Hotel, I was on brand new, never before explored (by me) track. 

All meals on the train for the whole trip were included in the price of our “first class” sleeper tickets and the prepared food turned out to be very good. We ate steak most nights since it was the most expensive thing on the menu, $22, and we figured we had to get our money’s worth. Omelets or RR French toast for breakfast, Reubens or burgers for lunch. (The hoi polloi in Coach have to pay extra for everything – but they get to see out of both sides of the train. In the roomette section of sleepers, unless your across-the-aisle car-mate leaves their curtain open, you only see out one side.) We took turns saying grace before each meal. There was much to be thankful for. GOD really outdid Himself in the mountains. 

We began using the bunks in earnest after midnight somewhere between Ashland, KY and Portsmouth, OH, and totally missed the beautifully restored Cincinnati Union Terminal (CUT), passing through around 2:30am. Saturday morning, 5/28 came well before Indianapolis but I was up, showered and shaved by 4 am. (I was always up early (3:30 – 4:30 am) to beat the sunrise and the crowd to the communal showers on the lower level.  Coffee was available in our car shortly thereafter, and breakfast in the diner from 6 am on. Coming into Chicago was glorious for a railfan. I have never seen so many RR yards, locomotives, cars, trains, crossings, facilities, in one spot ever, and it’s now only a small percent of what it was during the 1880’s-‘1940’s rail heyday. The old Union Station, one of 11 major class I RR stations in Chicago and the only one still standing, has been restored and is beautiful. We had a 2-hr layover until boarding the famous Genesis-drawn California Zephyr. The Zephyr’s bi-level Superliner cars were great, with higher elevated viewing, but not as well appointed as the Cardinal’s new single decked eastern corridor cars – no window for the upper-berth straw loser, no personal privy, and slightly less storage space, though we were traveling pretty light and didn’t need too much. We were outbound for Denver and Bob exactly on the advertised.

We stopped briefly at the restored CB&Q depot/museum in Galesburg, IL, crossed the Mississippi at Burlington, IA and made it well past the crew-change/smoke stop at Ottumwa, IA before dark. We deliberately picked this time of year to travel for maximum daylight for maximum sightseeing. From my quite limited perspective, Iowa is the neatest State in the Union. Every single house/yard we saw appeared to be not just clean and well-kept, but manicured. It’s just like River City in the Music Man. Wouldn’t mind having a house overlooking the little Burlington RR yard at all. And it seemed as though every RR station we passed had an old CB&Q 2-8-4 Berkshire superpower steam locomotive on display.

We crossed the wide Missouri at historic Council Bluffs, IA in the dark and had an extended crew-change stop at the once magnificent now abjectly deteriorating union station in Omaha, NE before midnight. Crossing NE/CO plains in the dark was spooky. I could tell we were flying but could only see a light outside every 5 – 10 minutes and probably went for 1 – 1.5 hours before seeing a car’s headlights. Lots and lots of not much on the Great Plains. The Zephyr got into Denver an hour early, but my brother, Robert, was already there waiting for us. He took us to our cousin Elizabeth’s new condo in Littleton, where we visited, had lunch and visited some more. Then we drove on south to Colorado Springs in a sporadic drizzle on I-25, paralleling the old D&RGW line. We toured the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, got some souvenirs, took photos and left a major credit card (later returned by a gracious clerk) before finding our motel, where I’ll pick up on the next installment.”

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My Train Recollections: John Uhelski

Mr. John Uhelski, my friend and fellow train buff, shares his train recollections with us this month. Thanks for your memories, John!

johnuhelskiMy train watching addiction began at and early age; I, too, remember the trains at the Detroit Zoo, but also grew up with Grand Trunk Western steam at places like Brush Street Station and Eastern Market in Detroit. I also recall freight and passenger trains at the classic Birmingham Station with the high platforms.

My dad was a salaried Ford Motor Company employee, so he took my brother and me on a GTW steam-powered trip from Detroit to Pontiac in the late 1950s. Years later, I was at one of the meetings of the AATTW when Emery Gulash was showing his GTW steam slides and I saw the photos he’d taken. I mentioned that I was on this trip, and he replied, “This was a private Ford employees special; how did you get to ride on it?” I told him about my dad and it all made sense. Mr. Gulash and I remained friends for many years and stood side by side along the ROW in future train journeys over the years before his passing.

Not to dismiss the diesel engines that replaced the iron horses of my youth, my Dad often took us to the many junctions in the Detroit area. We spent much time at places like Wayne Jct, Romulus, Carleton, Milan and South Lyon, watching the growlers bounce over the diamonds in the 1960s. Great memories of climbing the tower steps to visit the operators, waiting for the bell announcing an upcoming train, throwing switch and semaphore levers to “help” the operator. All that’s left now are silver boxes trackside and memories.

In the late 50s and early 60s, we vacationed “up north” around the Petoskey, Michigan area of the northern lower peninsula. The C&O and EJ&S got the once-over by my family. I have vivid memories of C&O spotless E-Units on passenger trains and GP-30s on freights. Old #6 on the EJ&S was a treat for us steam-starved train nuts then.

My first real freight ride was in 1967 on the C&O from Petoskey to Central Lake, MI. We were at the Petoskey station and the train was about to depart southbound when a request was made to hitch a ride.  The friendly conductor told me, “You cannot ride in the caboose, but if you find an open box car, I will turn my head while you jump on.” To this day, I cannot believe that my parents allowed this trip. It was a perfect Michigan summer day with blue sky and lakeside breezes. The trip was magical for me and I only wish I had taken my Kodak Instamatic along for the ride. The crew dropped me off at the Drawbridge Road crossing, just north of Central Lake, MI, where I had a short walk back to my grandparents’ cabin on Benway Lake.  I was walking on air, a railfan for life!

I have countless more snapshot memories like this and could go on for days. My first ever train photo was of an eastbound NYC freight at the Henry Ruff Road crossing in Inkster, MI, led by a set of ALCO cab units. The B&W image is speed- and nerve-blurred , but I have it to this day. First color photos were of cigar band NYC E-Units on long passenger trains at the classic depot in Ann Arbor, MI. My aunt and uncle lived in this town , walking distance from the depot. Our tradition was as follows: visit with Ethyl and Rolland, eat dinner at the Old German Restaurant, then head to the depot in the late afternoon/evening for the passenger rush. I can remember the massive waiting room there, foot steps echoing on the tile floors. Then the show began, east and west bound varnish, pulled by sets of big E-Units. The spotless stainless steel cars hinted of exotic far away places and had to be documented with my trusty Instamatic camera — then, the wait for processing soon after.  All quaint memories in this digital age of instant gratification.

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My Train Recollections: Richard Leonard

Thank you for sharing your fond memories with us, Richard!

My Railfan Story Richard C. Leonard, Ph.D.

I was born to be a railroad fan. My grandfather, Don M. Leonard, was an official of the Boston & Albany in the early twentieth century, and my father, Richard D. Leonard, grew up with a regular exposure to trains and railroads. It was inevitable that he should pass the interest along to me and my younger brother, David. While other dads took their sons camping, or to baseball games, our dad took us trackside to watch trains. I will never forget, for example, watching beside the busy New York Central main line west of Toledo and seeing the stream of high-speed limiteds hauled by the Central’s famous Hudsons – whistle wailing, rods flailing, smoke trailing as they rushed by our vantage point. Of course the New York Central, which leased the Boston & Albany, was my father’s favorite railroad. (He despised the rival Pennsylvania!)

But until I became a teenager, I was dependent on my father to take us to places where we could observe the world of railroading — for example, to the Michigan Central’s shops in Jackson, Michigan, where I had my first cab ride in a steam locomotive, the NYC’s class H-10 2-8-2 No. 2345. That changed in 1951, when my father transitioned from college teaching at Adrian, Michigan, to become pastor of the Methodist church in the small town of Bellevue, just northeast of Battle Creek on the Grand Trunk Western main line — at that time all steam-powered except for some EMD F7 “A” units on manifest freights. Dad had never been a regular photographer of rail subjects, but seizing the opportunity to record the passage of steam power through our village I borrowed his old Kodak folding cartridge camera that used size 116 film and spent many an hour at trackside. Other ventures through Michigan and environs permitted photography of GTW steam at Durand or Battle Creek, or of NYC locomotives in Detroit or elsewhere.

When Dad became a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1954, our move brought exposure to the trains and facilities of other railroads. At first the Illinois Central was still steam-powered in the area, but when that faded away I was reduced to “fanning” the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio’s all-diesel operations in Bloomington, which featured an important terminal and shop. One trip to the Chicago area took us to the Nickel Plate’s Calumet Yard in Chicago during the last months of the NKP’s famous Berkshires. A family trip to New England via Canada yielded views of Canadian Pacific steam, while a visit to Galesburg with railfan friends permitted photography of some late Burlington Route steam. In 1957 a family trip to Colorado and Wyoming allowed us to see and photograph steam on the Colorado & Southern in Denver and the Union Pacific at Laramie, where we captured views of the earlier gas turbines and the famous “Big Boy” 4-8-8-4s. Returning to Illinois along the UP’s main line we photographed 4-6-6-4 Challengers and a few 4-8-4s as well. By that time I was using a 35mm camera for both black-and-white film and color transparencies, and my brother had a good-quality camera using larger film.

As you might guess, steam was my dominant interest. With the passing of steam my railfan activities waned, supplanted by the responsibilities of graduate study at Boston University (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, 1972) followed by episodes of college teaching, theological writing, and serving various pastorates, along with a twenty-year career as a transportation data analyst with Rand McNally. I didn’t entirely drop rail photography, but it lacked the urgency of my efforts during the steam era. For almost four decades railfanning, for me, was generally on the “back burner,” although my rail background was put to good use at Rand McNally when I headed a group of analysts coding the entire U.S. rail network into the computer for a product called “Railroad MileMaker.” After a few years Rand McNally, not well positioned to market to the rail industry, leased the product to another firm and returned me to the highway side of transportation.

The rise of the Internet brought me back to serious railfan activities. In 1998, realizing there was an online interest in rail photography, I built the Steam Locomotive Archive web site based on the photos I had taken back in the 1950s, with pages for all the railroads mentioned above. This became the “flagship” site of “Richard Leonard’s Rail Archive” (, which eventually incorporated separate sections for my “New York Central Collection,” “GM&O Gallery,” “Random Steam Photo Collection,” “Vintage Diesel Miscellany,” and much more. The Rail Archive now includes photos contributed by many others, especially the work of my late brother David V. Leonard (some of his Canada images, and mine, are in the “Canadian Corner” section of this blog). But many others, including Tom Rock, have happily loaned images from their collections to the Rail Archive, for which I am thoroughly grateful. The Rail Archive now includes twenty-one sections comprising more than 1800 individual pages containing photos and commentary, or reproducing pages from vintage publications.

Today, in retirement, I am a director of the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation, which is restoring this historic 1891 structure. I maintain the Depot’s web site ( and Facebook page. And some years ago, fulfilling a desire to “own” a railroad, I purchased stock in Pioneer Railcorp, parent company of the Keokuk Junction Railway that operates through our town of Hamilton, Illinois.

As a final note, it’s striking how many steam locomotives I photographed in the 1950s still exist in various museums or displays, or even in operable condition. These include my very first steam photo, GTW Pacific 5030, but also GTW 0-8-0 8380, 2-8-2 3734 (renumbered to 4070), 4-8-4s 6323 and 6325; CPR 2-8-2 5361; CB&Q 4-6-4 4000; NKP 2-8-4 765; IC 2-8-2 1518; Rahway Valley 2-8-0 15; CNR 2-6-0 911; UP 4-8-4 814, 4-8-8-4 4023, and, amazingly, 4-6-6-4 (Challenger) 3985! (I also photographed the famous GTW Pacific 5629 and CB&Q 4-8-4 5632, which had careers in the post-steam era but were later scrapped.) If I really wanted to, I could take digital photos today of around fourteen steam locomotives I photographed in the 1950s on size 116 or 35mm film (and have done so in a few cases)!

Richard Leonard’s Rail Hamilton, Illinois – 800-440-4043

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