Here is a wonderful short documentary done in 1959, logged in the National Film Board of Canada, documenting a small window panning across the middle of the last days of steam locomotive dominance in Canada in the late 50s to early 60s.
By 1960, all but preserved tourist locomotives were gone in the United States. But in Canada, a few steam locomotives were in service in the 60s.
In the UK and most of Europe and Japan, a few mainline steam trains were operating through the 60s and into the early to mid-70s. It is also true that in North America, trains in general, were becoming less important as the automobile and airline industries worked hard to push the railroad out of public consciousness (and did not succeed in many ways).
In Europe and Japan, for instance, the railroads have continued to play a major role. The nostalgic emotions for steam locomotives are still a major aspect of most cultures around the world. This beautiful documentary uses interviews and the lives of those who had worked intimately with steam trains, to portray loss, change, and the contradictions of the passing of steam locomotives into the category of ‘relic.’ However, train travel in North America is again on the rise. The railroads also understand the steam locomotive to be strong central figures in the bedrock of most modern societies and reminders of colonial and imperial might and industrial-technological advancement and and nation-building itself. The steam locomotive will most likely not go away from human consciousness completely.
This documentary is certainly worth a quiet 30 minutes of our time with a hot drink along with our deepest connections to our histories and where we are headed as humans.
End of the Line by Terence Macartney-Filgate, 30 minutes, 1959.
This is a superb short film for any steam and/or railroad fan or historian/anthropologist.
Often, unknowing people only see toy trains and tour trains that travel slowly, making the people of today have unrealistic memories and images of how steam travel was. Although I can say that in Europe, many steam excursion trains run at speed, sometimes, most of the steam trains in Japan and the United States travel at slower speeds than what it would have been like in the days when steam was everyday normal.
These videos give a glimpse of what some of the “at-speed” speeds were like. Most of the express passenger trains pulled by steam locomotives in the 1930s through the early 50s, traveled at speeds exceeding 80 mph and the best of them traveled at over 100 mph.
Today, the fastest electric and magnet-driven trains can go over 300 mph. In the United States, this has not been seen yet. The United States, at the moment, does not seem to care too much about rail travel, even as more and more people are returning to the joys of train travel today, becoming tired of the monopoly of air, bus and car long-distance travel.
Below, from 1995, is a clip from a PSOV DVD, of the Princess Elizabeth #46203 locomotive speeding by at over 60 mph, and at 80 mph at stations.
This is one of those sensual memories for those of us who grew up with steam trains.
Although I grew up in Japan in the 50s and 60s, the sight of a running steam train coming through the crossing while we stopped, heard, felt, smelled—is forever burned in memory, no matter what country.
Below is an example from the UK. User willhayfield has posted this wonderful short video of 34067 Tangmere pulling the Cathedrals Express special through Mottisfont and Dunbridge on October 2011.
Turn up the volume!
This is a great music video recently loaded onto YouTube by the young man “The Action Effect.” This is of American trains of the 40s to the 50s.
It’s a nice montage of Vintage Train action put to the music of Bruce Springstein’s “Land of Hopes and Dreams.”
From the 1920s through the 1960s, the railroads played a huge part in the imagination of the American people. While the rest of the world continued their respect for trains, the United States concentrated on planes and cars. But in the U.S., there was the “Golden Age” and “revival.”
From its inception through the Golden Age of Passenger travel, trains were a strong part of American cultural identity due to its major role in the movement of goods and people, connecting lands and cultures and dreams as well as the violence and destruction and isolation that comes with these dreams.
Railroads leaders were usually ruthless, crushing smaller opponents and collecting their power to rule the land to lay the rails and rule the movements of food, shelter, clothing, oil, coal, stone. Moving mountains and shaping the lands to mold as well as adjusting to the lands, the rails created and destroyed lives, like dreams.
Young boys and girls stole away in the middle of the night to escape, perhaps, a boring and heavy life, or perhaps abuse and confinement, poverty and despair. Taking what little they had in bags, meeting a friend or two, perhaps, at a pre-arranged meeting at midnight, jumping onto the trains, yearning for adventure and a “better life.”
African-American and Asian-American workers, searching for work and perhaps dignity in those days of a more emboldened and accepted dominant racist society, sought to work on the railroads to have livable wages and to be respected. Porters and waiters and some of the best chefs of the lands, sought to work on the fancy and comfortable railroads, upon the trains that company executives, sports and entertainment stars and presidents often traveled. To wear the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad or the Pennsylvania, or the New York Central, or the Santa Fe or Northern Pacific and the countless other ‘Name-train” railroads were a mark of pride. Young boys and some girls, dreamed of becoming engineers and agents on these railroads.
Promises of distant lands and different lives, promises of living wages and being looked at with dignity. Back-breaking grimy work in track-laying and oil-loading and tunnel-making, marked sources of pride as well as resentment.
Love, hate, beauty, grime, political intrigue, assassination, assimilation and resistance– like life, are all present in the beautiful and grimy trains that passed in the day and the night.
Today, the workers and trains still work in America, albeit no longer in the mainstream cultural imagination. But perhaps those days are slowly returning, in new forms. The train is an important part of human consciousness and life. It cannot be forgotten.
Enjoy this video put together and loaded by “The Action Effect.” Song is by Bruce Springstein.
One of the largest and strongest railroad conglomerates in the United States, from 1838 through the Golden Age of Railroads in the US, was the Norfolk & Western Railroad (NW or N&W).
Through the years, as all large and powerful corporations do, the company bought out smaller and medium-sized rail companies as they all began losing business to the ever-increasing airline business and the automobile industries in the US. Unlike Europe and Asian, where rail companies continued to play an important role in community lives and transportation, the US chose to relegate rail to the carrying of freight. The NW merged with Southern Railway in 1982, to form the Norfolk Southern.
After the demise of steam in the late 1950s, certain rail companies continued to run excursion trips with steam locomotives, which were a large part of the steam and rail preservation consciousness. The Norfolk Southern steam excursion program was one of the most beloved by fans. Its main locomotives included the N&W 611 and the N&W 1218 which are now displayed in museums but not running. The excursion program ran its final steam excursion in 1994 . . . . . . . . until NOW!!
In 2010, the Norfolk Southern announced its plans to run steam excursions to celebrate its 30th Anniversary, working closely with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
In August-September 2011, the Southern Railway (SR) 630 was the first steam locomotive to kick-off the program, called: 21st Century Steam.
The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society announced that is big and popular locomotive, Nickel Plate (NKP) 765 is also slated to run (photo above, and last video). The NKP 765 video is of an earlier trip for you to enjoy, anticipating the upcoming excursion.
The trains carry the most number of tourists from around the world and also serves as a community system linking various mountain communities. It was built before the splitting of Germany into two, and today, serves as a most scenic and interesting system for locals and for tourists.