369 South Harrig Street, Madisonville, Kentucky 42431. Taken from the Madisonuille, Kentucky Messenger.
Madisonville's Billy Byrd has made the news again. He was interviewed by Charlton Ogburn of the National Geographic Society, along with dozens of other railroaders, and part of the interview appears in a book called 'Railroads The Great American Adventure' published recently by the National Geographic Society.
Byrd was a part of a Bicentennial Festival of Folklife display of the Association of American Railroads in Washington last year. He was interviewed by Ogburn while there. During the exhibit, Byrd explained railroading to hundreds of people who came through the trains set up near the Washington Monument in the capital city.
In discussing the switch from steam to diesel power, Louisville and Nashville Railroad Engineer Byrd is quoted as saying 'There were tears in my eyes. I began railroading on steam and it nearly killed me when the railroads were dieselized. The author describes Byrd as a 'sturdy coal train engineer.'
'The steam locomotive was the most human machine ever designed,' Byrd said. 'She had a soul and there was a bond between her and the engineer. In the cab on a moonlight night, seeing the light flashing, the flames dancing in the firebox, looking back at the smoke trailing over the train, the steam gauge steady at 200 pounds, and hearing that old girl talking in the language only she and you understood, there was nothing like it in the world.'
The railroad display on the Washington Mall included a diesel locomotive with two cars and operating personnel. Four engineers were selected to participate in the Festival display. Byrd was the only one from Kentucky.
'The steam locomotive, as often as I saw that masterwork barreling down the main line in a white surf, wheels tucked beneath her, six foot drivers pounding the shining rails, her plume of smoke laid down on her back, it brought my heart to my throat,' reminisces author Ogburn.
'Such iron horses thundering across the continent stirred the soul, whetted the appetite for adventure and nourished the pioneering spirit,' Ogburn wrote.
'The story of the American railroads is the story of the growth of a nation. Towns mushroomed, industries flourished, and the country boomed along the new routes of travel, and commerce linked cultural groups as well as geographic regions. For the most of our history, railroads have been a vital part of our American life.'
Byrd, a veteran of more than 35 years with the L&N, is a real steam buff. He is a familiar sight in parades, driving his coal powered steam engine with the black smoke a-rolling.
Last year, the Crab Orchard and Egyptian Railroad in Marion, Illinois, had 'Billy Byrd Day' when Billy was at the throttle of an old steam engine which pulled several old passenger cars down the line 14 miles and back, just for the fun of the thing. People came from everywhere to ride.
When Billy gets 'all wound up' talking about the days when steam was king, he holds an audience spellbound, telling tales of railroads and railroaders.