Thursday, February 11, 2010

The splendor that was steam: Nickel Plate and Pere Marquette Berkshires in action.

To get the full effect of this video, double click twice to bring it to full screen size, and crank up the volume.

Because I was born on the leading edge of the baby boom, I was able to witness what train buffs, among whom I count myself, call the "transition period", during which steam still supplied a significant portion of motive power on railroads. My childhood memories include Union Pacific's enormous Big Boy and Challenger articulated locomotives pulling seemingly endless blocks of bright yellow-orange refrigerator cars over Sherman Hill in Wyoming, streamlined steamers on high-speed passenger runs on British Railways, and the Pennsylvania Railroad's formidable array of steam power on both freight and passenger trains that thundered past my mother's home town, Tyrone, Pennsylvania.

So I was delighted to find this short (ten minutes) video of two locomotives from the last years of steam (both built in the late '40s or early '50s) that have been preserved in working order, pulling a train of restored transition era freight cars, running on the tracks of the Great Lakes Central Railroad across the flat farmland of central Michigan. Both are of the "Berkshire", or 2-8-4, type, with two (one on each side) forward small "pilot" wheels; eight large, powered driving wheels; and four small trailing wheels under the large firebox. They are of virtually identical design, having been built for railroads under common ownership, that followed parallel routes. The Nickel Plate, officially the New York, Chicago & St. Louis (it got its nickname because it was a high-speed route with top quality trackage, built entirely for cash), followed the southern shore of Lake Erie from Buffalo across Ohio to Chicago. The Pere Marquette, named for a French priest and explorer, followed the most direct route from Buffalo to Detroit, across southern Ontario to the north of Lake Erie. Today, these roads are under different ownership. Nickel Plate is part of Norfolk Southern, one of the two great surviving rail systems in the eastern U.S., while Pere Marquette is part of its rival, CSX.

This video is by Lerro Productions and JoMiFu. Thanks to silverprint2002 of NYC Maritime for the link.