Voyages et Plein air
Great Trains Freight

Great Trains Freight

Great Trains Freight

The 124-page special issue, Great Trains Freight, revisits the classic age of railroading when freight trains carried America to unprecedented prosperity. Read about way freights, coal trains, and hotshots on the nation's great railroads, including the Santa Fe, Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania, Illinois Central, and more.

United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
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2 min.
the world of freight

When we launched the Great Trains series of special publications nearly two years ago, we focused on passenger trains, the side of railroading we remember best. As the principal point of contact between the carriers and the public, trains like the Super Chief, 20th Century Limited, and Panama Limited were the very symbols of the railroads that operated them. But on all but a handful of roads, the revenues derived from freight service dwarfed passenger receipts. Other metrics — such as employees, rolling stock, and physical plant — also reflected freight’s overwhelming dominance. And by the mid-20th century “classic era,” the profit picture was even more lopsided. Freight was where the action was, the (to borrow one railroad’s slogan) road to the future. Hence, Great Trains Freight. Like its three passenger-oriented, regionally…

16 min.
one day on a way freight

The heavy rails beyond the platform edge begin to vibrate with that strange anticipatory hum that precedes a fast train down the track. Now a long-drawn grade-crossing whistle floats through the cloudless sky. This isn’t what I’m waiting for. It’s coming too fast! The crossing warning begins to tinkle. She whizzes past! No. 20 from Madison, Wis., is through Morton Grove; a gray mail bag plummets onto the station lawn as a dark steel finger snatches a similar bag from the mail crane and whisks it along in that cavalcade of motion. The clatter of rails and the roar of exhaust dwindle in the distance, the acrid aroma of coal smoke dissolves, and silence descends once more on the small town, 14 miles northwest of Chicago on the Milwaukee Road…

26 min.
like a blue streak

“Hot rail!” someone shouts, and the crew of a work extra in a siding divides to take up inspecting positions on each side of the high iron as a Cotton Belt freight streaks by. One way to be a money-making railroad today is to be a bridge line, and in the Southwest the 1,554-mile St. Louis Southwestern (a.k.a. “Cotton Belt”) — from East St. Louis to Fort Worth, Dallas, and other Texas interchange points — is just such a road. Bridge lines are fortunate in not having to maintain large yards to break up and classify all trains; they can just haul them straight through as-is. They aren’t plagued with the costs and delays of terminal switching. Bridge lines mean speed and tonnage; together the two mean efficiency. Both require good…

19 min.
summer frenzy on lake erie

Spring warmth melts the ice on the Great Lakes, and the annual ritual begins. The elongated lake freighters steam out of winter storage, and from points south of Lake Erie, railroad hopper cars begin moving toward the docks to feed coal into the huge hulls and pick up iron ore for inland steel mills. For the next seven months or so, the exchange of bulk mineral cargoes over the waterside transfer facilities goes on in an erratic frenzy. By late November or early December, all is quiet again. This basic ritual is much the same in the early 21st century as it was at the end of the 19th, although the volumes and details have dramatically changed — particularly in the past four or five decades. Today there are far fewer…

16 min.
case history of a spud train

What is Extra 261 East? As of 8:52 a.m., June 4, 1953, it is white flags flapping over the cab windows of a 6,000 h.p. Electro- Motive diesel dressed in blue and yellow and wearing the Santa Fe cross on its nose . . . 3,574 tons on the wheel report: 66 yellow reefers and a dull-red caboose . . . and a two-unit diesel helper idling behind the hack as the tonnage ahead on track 19 lies alongside the icing platforms in the warmth of morning at Bakersfield, Calif. Extra 261 East is men and machines and lading awaiting the highball for a 2,195-mile, 107-hour straight shot to Chicago. It is sacks of washed potatoes stacked up behind thick sealed doors; it is conductor Charlie Harding picking up his waybills;…

9 min.
first 56, engine 758

You are a Fort Wayne Division engineman and you have received a 2:15 p.m. call to pilot Nickel Plate Fast Freight No. 56, the CB-12, from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Bellevue, Ohio. You report to the East Wayne yard office, pick up your clearance card and a 19 order which reads: Eng 758 seven five eight displays signals and will run as First 56 fifty six East Wayne to Bellevue Yard. At 2:40 p.m. your train arrives from Calumet Yard in Chicago on 24 track, the 758 is cut off, and her Chicago Division engineman runs her up to the big concrete coal dock before calling it a day. Now it’s your turn. As you board the big Berkshire, the hostling force is already filling the tender and sand dome to capacity,…