- Historic Sites
The John Bull Steams Again
August/september 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 5
By suppertime we were left alone with the engine. Bill took his boy home so he would not miss another day of school. John and Larry and I decided to take a break and refuel ourselves after a long and exciting day. Now it was dark and we were ready to drop the fire and blow down the boiler so the truckers would find a cool engine to reload in the morning. But there was still some wood left and a fair head of steam showing on the dial. What about one last run—a moonlit ride on an open-deck woodburner? We put a big flashlight in the headlight case and built up the fire. Once under way we were amazed by the dense shower of fine sparks flowing out of the stack. Now I know what Charles Dickens saw when he looked out a coach window at “a whirlwind of bright sparks, which showered about us like a storm of fiery snow.” This magical ride began a new phase in my twenty-year association with the John Bull. I could no longer think of the engine only as a symbol of America’s industrial past. I now can see her as a working piece of machinery, used by ordinary people as a tool to ease the burden of everyday life. The people are long gone but the locomotive remains, a link with a distant past.