by Bob Ciminel
October 06, 2004
It was unfortunate that I received the train the same day I met my sister for the first time. It forced me to make a decision that choice no seven-year-old should have to make; should I go see my new sister or my new train? The choice was simple; I went over and played with the train.
Photo by Bob Ciminel
In a way, that train is a lot like some of my elderly relatives. It was new and shiny once, but over the years, it has bounced around a lot. Some of its parts aren't worn out. The horn doesn't blow, and it needs to be oiled more frequently. The engines can't pull as many cars as they used too. The train spends most of its time in the attic, except for the holidays, when we bring it out for a few weeks. Then, it goes back into the attic where it's ignored for another year. The attic has become the equivalent of a really bad nursing home.
When I received my train in 1954, America's railroads were making the switch from steam locomotives to diesels. General Motors, General Electric, and the American Locomotive Company were the major players in what was becoming a high-tech industry. As freight trains became longer and heavier, and passenger trains ran faster, the railroads were using two, and sometimes three steam engines on a single train. Each steam engine had a crew of two. When General Motors introduced its 1,500 horsepower diesel locomotive, four or five units could be operated from a single cab with a crew of two. That put 6,000 horsepower on the rails that didn't need coal or water to keep it going. In one fell swoop, the steam locomotive became obsolete. Soon, the romance of chuffing smokestacks and melodic steam whistles were replaced with the monotonous sounds of diesel engines and monotone air horns. That was the price of progress.
Photo by Bob Ciminel
To capture that pinnacle in steam locomotive development for my son and grandson, I began collecting 1/4-inch scale models of those final few engines that represented the best of the best. I've included photos of two that I would like to share with you. The first is a Chesapeake & Ohio Railway class H-8 "Allegheny" with six sets of driving wheels and weighing just shy of a million pounds. The second is a Union Pacific Railroad "Big Boy," which weighed in at over a million pounds and had sixteen sets of driving wheels. These engines were designed to move tons of freight over the mountains at passenger train speeds. They were only around for about a decade, but what a piece of work they were.
And so, 50 years later, I am still playing with trains. These big engines can only go around a curve that is eight feet in diameter, and the wife does not smile when I lay track in the living room, but I only run them at Christmas. Besides, the dog and the cats like to play with them. One of these days, I've got to grow up and get serious about life. Yep, one of these days I will do just that.