01 September 2014
Update from the Heartland
25.8.14 – 31.8.14
I returned to Abilene, Kansas, on Saturday evening, this time with Jeanne and by automobile since Jeanne was not up for a long bike ride and I was not up for an extended night ride.
Our purpose: an evening, dinner, heritage railroad excursion, and specifically to experience the locomotive in operation.
Once a month, during the summer months, the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad Association (ASVR) operates an old, steam locomotive on a short stretch of former Rock Island Railroad track between Abilene and Enterprise, Kansas. The train begins at and returns to the old, relocated, Rock Island station house that began serving rail travelers in 1885. The station is located on the south side of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum and Presidential Library complex. Several period buildings that date back to the early statehood and frontier days are also located near the station to give the area some historical significance. The train was comprised of the locomotive, tender, service car, converted dining car, two open flatbed cars with canopies installed for shade, and a caboose. The train moved along the tracks at a blazing speed of about 10 mph and gently swayed like a sturdy, old, rocking chair. They served dinner on the outbound leg, which in our case was smoked, beef brisket with a tangy BBQ sauce on the side, corn & potato mash, country green beans, cole slaw and iced tea; a rather tasty meal, I must say. After crossing the Smoky Hill River and passing through a small forest, we stopped in Enterprise and were allowed to disembark to watch the repositioning of the locomotive and tender to the caboose for the return journey. We moved to the flatbed car for a more sensory experience. The weather was perfect – not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze, and warm but not hot temperature; sunset occurred about halfway back, and a beautiful specimen it was. The train passed through farm fields of corn, soybeans, milo, as well as freshly plowed fields that offered the rich aroma of bountiful soil. The crops were so close to the track I could reach out and touch the corn stalks. Several patches of mature sunflowers grew next to the tracks, adding color and a touch of Kansas. The clank and clatter of the wheels on the rails as well as the groaning, screeching and scraping of the steel provided an old musical quality to the return trip. I was a bit surprised we did not hear the locomotive more than we did. When we did hear the engine, it was the ringing of its bell or the distinctive whistle that shot 30-foot pillars of steam upward that I am certain could be heard for miles around, as we approached the few crossing roads marked with old railroad-crossing signs and no traffic guards. While the accommodations are simple and perhaps even rudimentary by rail standards, the ASVR steam excursion is well worth the effort.
Of course, being an engineer and curious at heart, I could not ignore the history and details of the locomotive that was apparently so popular during the heyday of rail transportation in the first half of the 20th Century. The ASVR steam engine was marked as Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad Company (ATSF) number 3415. The 3415 locomotive was built, completed and entered service with ATSF in June 1919. It is a 3400-class, 4-6-2 configuration, “Pacific” type locomotive manufactured by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, serial number 51861, and has two drive pistons per side. The engine was capable of speeds up to 100 mph on appropriate track, and was originally built as a coal-fired machine with its tender loaded with, as the Tennessee Ernie Ford song goes, “16 tons of number nine coal.” By 1938, the 3400-class engines were converted to burn “Bunker C” fuel oil – the common fuel oil in the days of steam – and now using no.2 diesel (kerosene) oil, which is more readily available and cleaner burning. During the fuel conversion, the six, main drive wheels were also changed from 72 to 79-inches in diameter. The tender capacity carries 12,000 gallons of water and 4,000 gallons of fuel oil. The engine uses about 160 gallons of water and 10 gallons of oil per mile of operation. The 3415 locomotive had been removed from commercial service in 1946, and was donated to and displayed at the Eisenhower Museum, until it was restored to operating condition and transferred to ASVR for public demonstrations of a bygone era. The restoration process took four years and was completed in 2009.
The ATSF Locomotive 3415 + tender
The Scale of the 3415 Locomotive
The 3415 Locomotive at the Switch in Enterprise
The last two images offer an impression of the scale of this magnificent engineering specimen in operating condition. The last image was taken as the locomotive prepares to hook up to the caboose and pull the train in reverse back to Abilene.
OK, so this edition of the Update turned out to be more of a travelogue, reminiscent of the Family Update from Italy days, and hopefully it is a welcome respite from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the brutality and naked aggression of ISIL, the hapless Malaysian Airlines, and the tit-for-tat exchanges in Gaza Palestine. This is not to lessen the significance of disturbing world events, but this is the extent of my capacity this week.
Comments and contributions from Update no.662:
Comment to the Blog:
“What I noticed here is that (a) the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision and (b) that decision protects individual civil rights. Unanimous decisions have become a rarity in that venue, and this one favors ordinary citizens. That may not be controversial but it reads like a change of direction. If more such decisions come from the Court, they could be part of a restoration of the representative form of government in the USA. I would certainly welcome that.
“I still await conviction of even one of the criminals who crashed the US economy in 2007-08.”
My response to the Blog:
Re: Riley. Accurate observations. We can always hope.
Re: criminal financial convictions. Likewise, I want to see guys like Mozilo in prison and forfeiture of their ill-gotten gains in toto.
“Just a comment: I'm concerned with the militarization of police in this country. I've read a number of articles lately, and that hardened military equipment and counter insurgency tactics combined the broken relationship between law enforcement and the community they police that exists in many places is a recipe for tragedy.”
The Press has certainly hyped up the militarization of the police. As is so often the case, the issue is not the equipment; it is the training and application. There was clearly a brewing situation and dysfunction in Ferguson. I do agree with your observation regarding the “broken relationship” in Ferguson . . . as well as other municipalities in this Grand Republic, I am certain. My word of caution: let us NOT focus on the wrong elements and concentrate on the real issue – the broken relationship. The “militarization of the police” is a distraction.
My very best wishes to all. Take care of yourselves and each other.