LIVING IN THE DAYS OF STEAM POWER


| March/April 1978



Old John shop

This is a picture of ''old John'' in his ''sanctum sanctorium'' (shop) where he has spent many hours in putting things in shape to be seen and appreciated by others as well as by himself. Only a portion of his collection is shown in the picture.

304 Glover Drive, Longview, Texas 75601

You have heard it said that certain individuals were born 'too soon' or 'too late' to get the most out of life. Well, if 'the days of steam power' counts for the most in life, I am in luck. I have lived most of my life of 83 years in the prime years of steam power. I was born and reared in a section of our state traversed by many different railroads, all of which, up till a few years past, used steam powered locomotives to haul their passenger and freight trains. The diesel-electric powered locomotives existed only in the dreams and imaginations of men in those days. Likewise, all the various plants including factories, lumber mills, cotton gins, cotton compresses, cotton oil mills, oil field drilling rigs, tractors, and even the first automobile, known as 'Stanley's Steamer' were steam-powered. There were no 'whining' electric motors to speak of no 'popping Johnnies,' when I came on the scene in 'THE GAY NINETIES!'

On the day when the diesel-electric locomotives took the place of the old steam locomotives 'the rail was taken out of railroading.' The railroads became 'truck roads,' at least in my eyes. When the fog horns of the diesels called for the crossings and railroad stations in the land instead of the clear, crisp, sharp tones of the steam whistles atop the boilers of the steam locomotives, something was lost to the listening ears of the people. The fascination of the steam locomotives with their steam and smoke shooting high into the air, the struggling exhaust sounds piercing the air, their whirling drivers and flashing side rods, all this was lost to the eyes of the people. The diesel-electrics, while more economical and efficient in operation than the old steamers, have not 'stolen the show' by attracting the attention of the people, and especially attracting attention on the part of the 'men of steam power.'

I grew up on a farm deep in east Texas. The old I.&G.N. (International and Great Northern) railroad ran through that farm, and it was here that I got my first introduction to steam power. I had a certain spot on a high hill overlooking the curved tracks from which I could see the trains as they would come into sight. With smoke and steam shooting high into the air and the chime whistle calling for the crossing just down the way, the show was on for me. As my 'astronaut,' the man at the throttle, noticed my hand waving, he would wave back with a gloved hand and big smile. Upon seeing that I was all 'wrapped up' at what I was seeing and hearing, he would give the whistle cord a quick jerk and I would almost lose my pants! With me, those fellows were men of steam and smoke and steel. They seemed to hold the whole world of railroading in their hands.

In our area, there were many different plants, as already mentioned, powered by steam engines, each of which had different type and tone whistles. Each one could be identified by its own peculiar whistle sound. At times, particularly at the noon hour, when all of the whistles would turn loose at the same time, we had both 'cords' and 'discords,' but it was all music to my young ears. With me the world was alive and steam power reigned supreme!

This picture shows a complete duplication of the first steam locomotive operated by the Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1870. It is 42' in length, cab 13' high complete with brass bell and whistle, blown by compressed air. It was powered by a completely conceiled tractor mounted beneath the boiler. It took first award over more than 200 floats in our centennial parade in May 1970. We had a lot of fun in building and operating it. Of course, I was the 'hoghead' on it.