When I was growing up on the farm in the late 50s and 60s, we lived very close to the C&O railroad tracks.
Our farm did not quite butt up to the tracks, but some of our neighbors’ property, that my father farmed, did.
They had a crossing on their property to get back to the fields on the other side of the tracks. I was always impressed by the trains on the railroad. Remembering the trains during the summer that set the grass on fire from the sparks coming off the engines. My favorite time was at night. You could see the lights from the passenger cars headed south. I would fall asleep while listening to the clickety-clack of the wheels crossing the seams on the rails. I cannot tell you how many nights I fell asleep listening to the music of the rails.
When I was young, it was one of the most interesting times on the rails. C&O was phasing out their steam engines.
But from time to time, you would see or hear the steam engine coming up the rail. To a young lad, it was very impressive. Our house was on top of a hill. A valley ran north between our home and the neighbors. My room was on the top west side of the house, facing the C&O railroad. In the early mornings, I would lie in my bed listening to the engines breaking the silence over the mist in the valley. To our east was the Norfolk and Southern tracks. I was not able to see their trains, but I could hear them. The whistles coming across the valley in the mornings were like an orchestra. The low roar of the freight trains was music to my ears.
I got a rare privilege when I was very young. My parents took me back to one of the farm crossings, and we got to stand there for awhile. Being young, it seemed like for hours. Then Mom said, “Here it comes!” There was an E class engine headed north with a few cars I could see. Behind it, I could see a large stream of smoke. The thing the smoke was coming out of was much larger than the E class engine. That thing was roaring and chugging. I could see it as it chugged. It would sway to the left, then to the right, with the sound of the chug. As it got closer, the ground was vibrating. The engineer blew his whistle at the crossing south of us. I bet my eyes were like saucers at that time. As it got closer, it kept getting bigger and bigger. As it crossed in front of us, the engineer hit the whistle with two short blasts. That was the biggest steam engine I had ever seen. It was a C&O Big Boy. I remember my mother saying it was headed to Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum.
I remember some stories that my mother had about that engine. It was one of the last Big Boys that C&O still had that worked. I believe it was lost in a roundhouse fire, sometime in the late 40s. There were a lot of stories about getting it up and running, so it could go to the museum. But, other than that, I don’t remember much more. That engine was mammoth!
The tender car was just as large. I can still feel the earth shaking when I think about it. I wish my family had been the photo-taking type. It would be something to have had a photo of that day. There was another engine with cars behind the Big Boy. But I don’t remember much about it after the Big Boy. I also remember the gas turbine engines in the days of train-watching. The loud whine of the engine and the service car being pulled behind.
I had a very good childhood, and trains were a very large part of it.
Loren Pool is a retired Delaware County deputy sheriff.