Farewell To Steam


The steam lover appeared early on the scene. He insisted on a special preview ride, before regular service began, on the very first train in America. He went on camera excursions to Harpers Ferry before the Civil War. He reappeared in sizable numbers, in the middle twenties of this century, camera in hand and eager to be allowed, please, in the locomotive cab. Just as resolutely, at first, management ignored this unexpected offer of good will. Then, at last, it offered to show the fan around, but it failed abysmally to understand him. Come over here, said management, and see the streamliner. See our new dieself But the fan wanted to ride a local and climb over a rusting steamer out behind the roundhouse. Management might as well have offered a date with a chorus girl to a man standing by the deathbed of his childhood sweetheart.


Perhaps the most outstanding example of what this organized enthusiasm can do is the story of the narrow-gauge Silverton passenger service of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, last survivor of a network of narrow-gauge lines hacked out of the Colorado mountains many decades ago—last, indeed, of all narrow-gauge passenger lines in America. A few years ago, it had dwindled to a twice-weekly mixed train, with a single passenger car, and application was made for its abandonment. Then the steam admirers took notice and moved in, until now, throughout the summer tourist months, the astonished railroad runs a train every day, with all its ten surviving cars packed solid. Not the least of the lures is that the power at the head end is honest old-fashioned steam. As in a horse opera, the rescue came in the nick of time, for the company had been gradually getting rid of its steamers by destroying them in head-on collisions staged for the movies.

From the steam fancier’s standpoint, there is one more heartening piece of news, the situation at Lionel Lines, one of the healthiest corporations in the railroad business. Lionel, which manufactures model trains, has paid steady dividends since 1937 and the future looks only optimistic. As its president explains, he considers that his market comprises some 60 per cent of American males, young and old, and that demand for his product simply goes along with the birth rate. He has nowhere to go but up, and he plans to keep right on making steam engines.