Out of Steam

Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato

My mother took this picture in about 1954 or 5. It shows yellowstone mallets, among the largest steam engines ever built, right before they were replaced by diesels. This is in the railroad yards in Two Harbors. The ore docks would be behind my mother and me as she took this picture. I remember being there when she took it.

The end of the daily rain of soot on the town was appreciated after they were gone. But I missed their pulsing throb as I went to sleep at night, on those summer nights when the wind was right and my bedroom window was open.

Very few of these engines are left, none working. One sits just to the right of this picture. If you have been to Two Harbors, you have likely seen it. Another is in the wonderful train museum at the old depot in Duluth.

Are you a lover of trains?

55 thoughts on “Out of Steam”

  1. there is something about trains that brings about the feeling of history. i guess i have never thought much about my love or level of train interaction on the planet.
    they remind me of dick harris. he was a guy who was the funny dad when i was growing up. he was a little like the jerry lewis personality always doing funny things to make the kids laugh and there in a bigger than life way when a group of people was gathered around. he was involved in my parents church group stuff and when my dad decided to get out of the bridge construction business he went into sales with dick and another guy. dick moved his family form bloomington out to lake minnetonka and into a nice house on the lake and in his basement he put up on the wall a collection of railroad cars and he put a track around the family room that was cool and eccentric it initially seemed like a whim that he chose to follow. he got into it way way deeper than i ever would have guessed. in the days before the internet it was different belonging to a group of collectors or enthusiasts of a category but dick got into the world of train collecting and knowledge in a way that few others could have shared. he became the encyclopedia of trains reciting the makers the places where they had been used and the history of all the different trains in the history of the train world
    i seee them and like them and have enjoyed riding them in europe and china where they are a great way to get around. on my bucket list is the canadian rockies train ride. i have always meant to take the train to the west coast across the dakota flatland and over the mountains being able to look out the window at ground level instead of the fly over i always do frm 30,000 feet in an afternoon instead of a couple of days. it harkens back to a time when the internet didnt beat you up and time was slower and the pulse of the clack clack clack of the wheels on the rails brought a rheumatic relaxation to the air. there is a sidewalk outside trader joes in st louis park that does that for me now. nothing else does. the trains used to.
    two weeks ago we were in chicago and the trains got us form the burbs (i do not like the burbs in chicago) to the center of the city (i do like the center of the city in chicago) with a bunch of other people every day and it was a nice brotherhood and a nice way to travel. i have seen and touched and appreciate the train in the duluth area and the museum in two harbors where it is parked and it is a glorious thing to behold. i am hoping the light rail in the eden prairie corner of the world gets ramrodded through the house this year so we can get the trains running from the city to the place where i live. it would be wonderful.
    thanks clyde for the nice way to start the day, its a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norway’s Slow TV shows, including the 7 hour train from Bergen to Oslo, are available from Netflix. Coincidentally to your post, Clyde, I was watching the train show yesterday….I was just a little past Voss before sleep hit (just about 2.5 hours from Bergen. A bit disconcerting when going through the many tunnels, don’t know if it’s the computer, the internet or the train…at least not the first time.) Next I’m thinking I’ll try is the 5 day boat ride up the west coast of Norway from Bergen to Kirkenes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve taken the train from Bergen to Oslo and back twice, but always at night, so it is fun to see what I missed from the comfort of home. Love the British and European trains, even the old ones…even the segment of the old Orient Express I took in 1967.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love train travel, and found the trains in Europe wonderful. We have several trains pass through our town on a regular basis, and hear their lonely horns at all hours of the night. They mainly carry coal from Wyoming to the power plants north of Bismarck. The Amtra k route is north through Willison and Minot. Some towns ban train horns in the xity limits. I think I would miss the sound.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Coal trains pass through here from WY. The railroad has been, ass they often were in history, a big bad bully about these trains and their greater wishes. I heard them from our first st house, not here very often. I hear a humping yard a couple miles down the hill when the windows are open, later in a quiet evening with the right wind.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. BTW latest thought from PT: good for me to use my fingers like for typing despite pain. But for back and legs avoid things that cause pain (like living) until two more scans and two more dr. Visits.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a train fan. When I was 12 or 13, my parents and I took the Amtrak to Duluth, and even then I thought that was *the* way to travel–food and restrooms right there, room to stretch and move, and a pace that allowed you to take in the scenery. Why would anyone bother with flying? In 2000, friends and I took the train to Chicago for Worldcon, and since I’d driven to Chicago for graduate school, I was even more grateful for the train’s amenities. I’m also a fan of English mysteries, the kinds in which people are constantly taking trains to the countryside, and of Depression-era through WWII blues, folk, and swing music–trains had important roles to play in many songs of that era.

    The light rail line opened just a few years before Roommate and I moved into this place, and I was thrilled to be able to take the train to work downtown. The sound of the whistle isn’t quite right, but one can still pretend they’re on the Orient Express. And it still beats driving, hands down.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. No. After living in Fargo-Moorhead for many years, the accumulated time waiting for trains to pass and navigating the traffic that backed up…No. For decades there was one single underpass at University Avenue that offered a little relief from wait times.


    1. We, too, had only one way to cross from north to south parts of town when trains pass through. It was an underpass that floods easily during rain storms. We will soon have a big, beautiful overpass to use.


    2. john t jones construction is on the other side of the underpass in fargo .
      i love the trains in fargo. my cousin the painter used to wax poetic about the whistles and the guy who would choose that signature rope pull to mark his passing through.


      1. A rule of driving in the FM area is if your destination is on the other side of the tracks, do not delay. Get across the tracks as soon as possible. Then proceed east or west.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Generally, yes. I like the romance of train travel in “the olden days” and European trains, especially high-speed lines like the TGV in France, are cutting edge fantastic.

    But we lived a block from a train line in Chicagoland for almost 6 years and the midnight freight would rumble past almost every day, rattling the windows and usually waking me up. And waiting for a long slow train at a crossing when you are late for something and have no quick alternate route is a pain in the you-know-what.

    Amtrak seems to be hit or miss. Some say it’s great, others relay horror stories of delays, bad food, dirty bathrooms, broken AC, etc. But the idea of doing a train trip around the country, as one of the Babooners did about a year ago (BiR? reneeinND? Can’t remember) is appealing, especially taking the Empire Builder out west.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I took a train for part of my 2 week “personal voyage of exploration,” as Steve so nicely phrased it. That was last year, in March. I have mixed feelings about train travel. The train portion of my trip was 3 nights and 3 days, with just about an hour between trains in L.A. and we were several hours late pulling into Portland, so the third day was very long. If I was rich and could have afforded a roomette or bedroom, I probably would have enjoyed the trip a lot more. I found it very difficult to get a decent sleep while traveling coach and certain parts of my body were very sore by the time I arrived in Portland. I also thought the food left a great deal to be desired. There was also a certain bathroom that I would lock, but the lock didn’t hold – I actually saw the lock turn and then the door swung open…luckily I was just brushing my teeth at the time.

      However, the plus side is that it is very relaxing to travel by train (which also means that on a long trip, boredom can set in) and the scenery – in parts – is wonderful. You get a completely different feel than you do from a car and I think that is great.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. great story, insight and vignette. more please

      Something in the mallets was absent from the diesels. The massiveness, the stink and dirtiness, the image of a conqueror, the maleness, Jon Wayne at all his worst and best—that’s what the diesels lacked. The diesels were more technical, more civilized, too modern in a region still trying to recover from a second World War back in the Fifties. “Maybe that was our problem in the 50’s,” Jon told the vision. “The U.S. rushed itself right into modernity without pausing for recovery.”

      great line

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I wouldn’t say I’m an aficionado, but I have taken some fun trains in my life. Bullet train from Paris to Loire Valley. Cogwheel train up the side of the Jungfrau in Switzerland. Last leg of the Empire Builder from Minneapolis to Chicago with Child. And one of my favorites – the Zooline at the St. Louis Zoo….

    Liked by 4 people

  8. One of my earliest memories was of a train trip. I might have been two at the time, although more probably I was three. I remember the red velvet seats in a car built mostly of dark wood. At one point I slipped away from my mother and discovered a wonderful big old metal wheel. I was turning it round and round when I was discovered. A man at a train museum recently told me that wheel would have been the brakes for that car.

    As a kid I often played on train tracks. I once crossed a high trestle on tracks, exactly like that scene from Stand By Me (the film), only no train came when we did it. We used to find half-burned flares on the tracks. We’d take them home and light them at night. We put pennies on the tracks so the trains would squish them flat.

    Trains were important for personal travel when I was a kid. Each March we put my dad on a train to New York city for the national Toy Fair, and later we’d meet him on the return train. Trains were exciting and romantic. Some kids memorized train schedules. At night I would hear them moaning as they swept through town.

    I rediscovered my childhood fascination with trains when I used the Arlo Guthrie recording of “The City of New Orleans” as a topic for my U of MN freshman writing students to discuss.

    Alas, I’ve lived long enough to experience how sadly train travel has degenerated. Trips on the Empire Builder to and from Montana only proved how incompetent and frustrating train travel has become. Ah, but the idea of train travel still thrills me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have many more memories. Ames was built where it was because it was a good place to run trains, so trains were a big deal there. I grew up a feral kid who was outdoors more often than indoors, so trains were a normal part of my life. We often encountered long trains parked on tracks. Since it took so long to walk around them, we’d run at the train, drop to the ground and roll through to the other side (hoping the train would stay in place). We learned to place our ears on the tracks to tell if a train was coming soon.

        We once discovered a cave used by hobos (guys who traveled all around by hiding in rail cars). They had stolen cans of frozen orange juice, which I remember because I’d never encountered frozen foods before that moment. We were in that cave when a train rolled through. A bunch of hobos jumped off and came running at us hollering.

        We once dared each other to stand near the tracks when a train blasted by. I can tell you that a moving train is a mighty impressive presence when you stand on the ground next to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Love, love, love train travel, even with its imperfections. Pretty much everything Crow Girl said, and I like this from tim: “time was slower and the pulse of the clack clack clack of the wheels on the rails brought a rheumatic relaxation to the air.”

    I’m going to cheat now – have posted this before, then saved it in a file…
    I must have been about eight, and my mom took us on the train from Storm Lake to visit my grandma in Sioux City, just an hour and a half, maybe. I remember standing at the station and being thrilled as the train approached, finding our seats in the coach car, and that’s about it for what I remember
    I didn’t realize I was in love with trains till we took a trip to Utah in 1995 – son Joel was 14, and we brought his cousin Vin, 17, with us. Drove to Omaha to catch the California Zephyr (at 10 pm – the good news is you sleep through Nebraska). Since our coach seats we “two behind two”, when we put our seat backs down for the bed, we figured two of us could sleep underneath on the blanket, and two above, which seemed to work for that one night. (Of course, we were all much younger then!) We had the next day to travel through the Rocky Mountains – it was so incredibly dramatic with all those tunnels and sheer dropoffs.

    For my 50th birthday, I asked for (and got) an Amtrak/Via (Canada) Rail Pass (traveling in both countries was required) – 30 days with (at that time) unlimited stops. The idea was basically to go around the perimeter of the USA, stopping to visit friends or relatives along the way. I planned a week-long stop in the Bay Area, and 3 day stops in Deming, NM; Folly Beach, NC; and outside Indianapolis. (I ran out of time and didn’t get to NYC.) The visits were great, too, but the train trip itself was exquisite.
    Have been on a couple more trips, by now, and next time will take enough photos to do a proper blog essay. By now I am more comfortable in a “roomette”…


  10. Here is a bit of train trivia I loved when I heard it (on Car Talk). When they park a bunch of cars on a sidetrack they often do a maneuver involving a sharp move backward. When cars are coupled, there is a bit of slack (like a couple of inches) in the coupling. That backward jolt sends all the cars rolling a few inches back. This makes a bang you can hear far away.

    Trains are built for sustained speed. They are not especially designed for starting and stopping. That backward jolt means that when the train starts up again, The engine moves forward an inch or two before it takes up the slack and begins moving the first car behind. It then moves an inch or two before taking up the slack to the third car. And so it goes. Because of that reverse jolt, a train that begins moving forward will start with a load of just itself, then itself and two cars, then itself and three cars . . . etc. Cute trick.


  11. Fargo-Moorhead is currently a mess with road and street construction everywhere on both sides of the river. Hopping a freight to get across town sometimes seems like a good option. Either that or swimming the Red River.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. When I was a kid, the Gopher and Badger ran between Minneapolis and Duluth. Initially there was a northbound and southbound both morning and evening. Later there was one southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening. In junior high school, some of my friends and I would take the train to the Cities in the morning, spend the day shopping (Dayton’s, Powers, Donaldson’s, Rothschild’s with the elevator lady, etc) or go to a movie and return home at night.
    The train tracks were only about two small town blocks from our house. When the freight trains came through during daylight, we kids would run into the street to count the cars. There was very little auto traffic in town so we never worried about getting run over. If the freight trains came through at night, we would vibrate in our beds. One of my classmates lived right across the road from the tracks – her whole house would shake when trains came by.

    I haven’t ridden a train here in the U.S for many years. But I have enjoyed train travel overseas. The Japanese bullet train was more like flying than riding. And those trains are so prompt – right down to the second! Our first class car in India was more akin to second or third class elsewhere but way more comfy than a second class car there. In Wales I did a circular day tour by train, including a side trip on the cog railway at Festiniog. My compartment mates were from Australia and we had an interesting conversation. More recently, the PeruRail trip to Machu Picchu was quite comfortable with lovely scenery. The trip back to Cusco included a fashion show (with the option to purchase, of course!).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There is an unending laundry train that winds its way through our house , daily. It is amazing the amount of laundry we generate with work clothes and garden clothes. I am the engineer. Husband is the conductor and folds the clean clothes and puts them away.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I don’t LOVE trains like some people do. I find them interesting, but I view them with a sense of respect. One of my favorite family stories is about my Great Grandfather, age 4 years in 1864, who sat on his father’s shoulders in Nevada, Iowa where they watched the first train come through town.

    Now let’s see if this posts with my name.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Robin and I just got back from a week in Grand Marais with only sporadic internet connection.
    I’ve never had a bad train ride. But all my experiences on American trains range from ancient to antidiluvian. When I was very young, my mother’s mother and her brother’s family both lived in Milwaukee. This was before the freeway, so the drive to Milwaukee would have been on highway 12 and a substantial undertaking. Consequently, we usually took the Milwaukee Road, leaving from the station at 3rd Street and Washington.
    It seems as if, by the mid fifties, that all the steam locomotives would have been replaced by diesel, but I have this distinct recollection of going out on the platform at the Milwaukee Road station sometime in the cold part of the year and having clouds of steam roll across the platform from under the cars.
    When I was about 8, we went to visit my father’s uncle in Washington D. C. He worked for the Department of Census. We took the train. I remember that we first went to Chicago and from there took a train east. The east-bound train had one of those hyper-streamlined diesel engines with a name like SuperChief or something similar. I remember the dome observation car. I remember the dining car with linen tablecloths and chicken and noodles in a special covered china dish.
    My last train ride on an American train was in 1967, when I took the Milwaukee Road to my grandmother’s funeral.

    Liked by 1 person

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