Iron Man Of The Month

| July/August 1973



To Billy Byrd of Madisonville, Ky., there is only one kind of 'Soul Music' - the pulsating bark of a steam engine stack, whether it's an L&N 2-8-2 'Makado' lugging tonnage over the Tennessee hill country or a Nichols & Shepard pulling the belt to a grain separator or sawmill, down on the farm.

'I feel sorry for the young people of today who have never heard the plaintive whistle of a steam locomotive rolling through the countryside at midnight, or watched the flashing rods and valve motion of a passenger train coming into the village depot,' says Billy. 'The people of my generation are lucky in having seen both the old and the new.'

'I never would have started to work for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad if they hadn't had steam,' is the way Billy Byrd sums it up. 'I just didn't think they would ever dieselize here in the coal field division,' pines he, 'And had I known that my last steam trip was coming up that day on engine 1859 - a heavy U.S.R.A. 2-8-3 Mikado on freight   I would have had a tape recorder and made photos too.' (We believe you, Billy boy!)

But, although Billy Byrd made the transition from steam railroad engineer to diesel driver, like all the other engineers, the small compensations of easier riding in a diesel cab, without cinders in the eye, are little comfort to the throttle heroes of yesteryear who gloried in the rhythmic power, the glare of the open firebox door racing through the countryside at night, smell of hot cylinder oil and coal smoke yea the steam whistle that let everyone along the line know that Billy was 'makin' 'er talk' as she dashed by.

'In my affection, nothing will ever take the place of the steam locomotive,' says he. 'It was the most human machine man ever devised and the prettiest music in the world is the exhaust of a steam locomotive with a good square valve motion. And the younger generation will never know the thrill of sitting on the seat box of a 1500 or 1800 class 2-8-2 engine as she fought her way up to 1% grade telling the world who she was and what she was doing - one hand resting on the throttle, the other arm on the armrest, listening to the old girl talk to you in a language you and she could understand, watching the smoke trail back over the train and then reach up and blow her mellow whistle in a style that everyone knew it was you. You watched the motion of the rods and valve gear and the thrill stayed with you long after you had finished your run.'