USA by Rail - steam trains

Steam locomotives seem to possess a soul of their own and to their operators often feel more like living creatures than machines. Early engines were given nicknames such as coffee-pot or peanut-roaster and their drivers were known as hog-jockeys, grunts or eagle-eyes. For many people, to be an engineer on the railroad was a far higher ambition than becoming US President.

More than 180,000 steam locos were built in the USA, culminating in the massive Union Pacific ‘Big Boys’ of the 1940s, weighing in at 600 tons and producing 7,000 horsepower. The Norfolk & Western closed the last major steam-powered line in 1960 but the magic lives on, thanks mainly to the enthusiasm of 40,000 dedicated volunteers. ‘Steam chasers’ continue to delight in the pungent smell of coal smoke, an echoing whistle and the clickety clack of the rails, while the authentic hiss of steam can still be heard at many places throughout the land.

US steam train

Arcade & Attica

Steam trains travel over a historic route to Curriers from the depot in Arcade, New York, using coaches built around 1915. President Grover Cleveland’s honeymoon car, complete with original dishes, is on show at the Arcade station along with other unique items from railroad history, including lanterns, an antique roll-top desk and two wooden telephones. The authentic ticket office has bars in the window. Trains leave Arcade past the current station and pass a building which used to be a station of the Tonawanda Valley & Cuba Railroad, predecessor to the Arcade & Attica. You cross a bridge giving great views of Cattaraugus Creek and continue through an attractive wilderness area to Curriers. There the locomotive switches and pulls onto a siding to provide photo opportunities before returning to Arcade, pulling the train in reverse. Steam trains operate mostly on weekends from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) until September, with foliage specials in October. Special event trains also operate in season and there are diesel-powered trips at other times. The nearest Amtrak stops are Buffalo and Rochester, served by the Lake Shore Limited. Mail address: 278 Main, PO Box 246, Arcade, NY 14009-1223; tel: 585 492 3100 or 585 496 9777; www.anarr.com.

Black Hills Central

Trains travel 20 miles (32km) through forests and mountains between Keystone and a former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy station at Hill City near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Vintage coaches and a 1919 Baldwin locomotive (star of TV’s Gunsmoke and Disney’s Scandalous John) run through the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota along part of what was once a Burlington Railroad line. You pass the Holy Terror mine, Old Baldy Mountain (5,605ft/1,545m) and Elkhorn Mountain (6,200ft/1,890m), climbing grades of up to 6% past the old tin mine route to Hill City. Trains operate daily on a two hour round trip from May to October, with a reduced schedule at other times. Mail address: PO Box 1880, Hill City, South Dakota 57745; tel: 605 574 2222; www.1880train.com.

American steam train

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas

A four-mile (6.5km) journey through the Ozark Mountains, leaving from the 1913 Eureka Springs depot built from local limestone. The ES&NA collection of vintage rolling stock, including the elegant 1920s Eurekan dining car, is one of the Ozarks’ largest. Authentic railroad memorabilia recreate a turn-of-the-century era when the railway first brought visitors to Eureka Springs. Between trains you can check out exhibits such as the restored turntable, a handcar, vintage locomotives and rolling stock that includes an automobile fitted out to run on the rails. Trains operate daily (except Sunday) from April to October. Sunday trains operate on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day weekends. Mail address: PO Box 310, 299 N Main Street, Highway 23 North, Eureka Springs, AR 72632; tel: 479 253 9623; www.esnarailway.com.

Fillmore & Western

This 31-mile (50km) journey through the unspoilt Santa Clara Valley in southern California uses vintage equipment and the original 1887 station at 10th Street in Santa Paula is also a museum. The Fillmore & Western Railway operates many excursions, dinner trains and other speciality trains. It is also engaged in the restoration of historic railroad cars and has recently bought a 1913 Baldwin steam engine originally owned by the Duluth & Northeastern Railroad. The railroad has begun restoring and expanding the track between Fillmore and Piru with a view to running excursions on this route. Steam trains operate mostly on weekends from March to December. Amtrak’s nearest stop is Oxnard, served by the Coast Starlight. Mail address: 351 Santa Clara Av, Fillmore, CA 93015; tel: 805 524 2546 or 1 800 773 8724; www.fwry.com.

Nevada State Railroad Museum

The museum houses over 60 pieces of railroad equipment from Nevada’s past, including five steam locomotives and several restored coaches and freight cars. Most of this material is from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, America’s richest and most famous short line. Museum activities include the operation of historic railroad equipment, lectures, an annual railroad history symposium and other special events. Steam trains operate on some weekends, May to October, and the museum opens daily. Amtrak’s California Zephyr stops at Reno and Truckee. Mail address: 2180 South Carson Street, Carson City, NV 89701; tel: 775 687 6953; www.nevadaculture.org.

New York, Susquehanna & Western

Trains are operated throughout the year by the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society Inc, formed in 1988 to preserve the history of the ‘Susquehanna’ and its ancestor corporations. All proceeds from the trips are used for restoration of passenger cars, the M-1 motorized coach, Steam Locomotive #142, and for educational purposes. Trips are powered by historic locomotives, either steam locomotive Mikado #142 or e-9 Diesels. Passenger equipment consists of coach cars from the 1950s (Long Island RR), deluxe cars from the 1940s (Southern Railway) and a first class dome car (Santa Fe Railroad). Trains travel 44 miles (70km) through attractive countryside over a former Lackawanna Railroad line between Syracuse and Tully, New York, and services operate from Thursday to Sunday between April and December. Mail address: PO Box 121, Rochelle Park, New Jersey 07662; tel: 877 TRAIN RIDE; www.nyswths.org. Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited stops in Syracuse.

US Steam locomotive

St Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern

The route goes from Jackson, Missouri, along a Missouri Pacific branch line. Journeys last one and a half hours (to Gordonville), two hours (Dutchtown) or five hours (Delta). ‘The most daring train robbery on record’ took place here on the Mountain Railroad in 1874 when Jesse James and his gang held up the Little Rock Express at Gad’s Hill. Trains operate on weekends from April to October, and Saturdays in November and March. Mail address: PO Box 244, Jackson, MO 63755; tel: 573 243 1688; www.slimrr.com.

Valley

The Valley Railroad was created soon after the Civil War, when steamboats ruled the Connecticut River. The line failed to prosper though, since the Connecticut River was sparsely settled and there were insufficient passengers or freight for it to succeed. The railroad was resurrected in 1971 with the running of a passenger train, one hundred years to the day after the first one travelled north from Saybrook on the shore of Long Island Sound up the River to Hartford. In 1871 there had been pauses to finish some stretches of track and to saw off pieces of stations that stood too near the tracks. The Essex steam train takes a ten-mile (16km) trip through unspoiled Connecticut countryside between Essex and Chester on a New Haven Railroad branch line, stopping at Deep River. Optional boat trips can be taken on the Connecticut River. Trains operate daily from May to October. Mail address: PO Box 452, Essex, CT 06426; tel: 203 767 0103; www.valleyrr.com. The nearest Amtrak stop is Old Saybrook.

Wilmington & Western

The First State’s oldest steam tourist railroad has been in continuous operation for more than 120 years. Starting from the impressive new Greenbank Station four miles (6.5km) southwest of Wilmington, trains travel to Mount Cuba over part of a Baltimore & Ohio Landenberg branch line (Sundays, May to December). Or you can travel past Mount Cuba along the Red Clay Creek Valley to Yorklyn or Hockessin (from June to October). There are special trains throughout the year, including dinner trains and the Firework Express. Amtrak’s nearest stop is Wilmington. Mail address: PO Box 5787, Wilmington, DE 19808-0787; tel: 302 998 1930; www.wwrr.com.

 

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