First Quarter-Century of Steam Locomotives in North America: Remaining Relics and Operable Replicas, with a Catalog of Locomotive Models in the U.S. National Museum

First Quarter-Century of Steam Locomotives in North America: Remaining Relics and Operable Replicas, with a Catalog of Locomotive Models in the U.S. National Museum

First Quarter-Century of Steam Locomotives in North America: Remaining Relics and Operable Replicas, with a Catalog of Locomotive Models in the U.S. National Museum

First Quarter-Century of Steam Locomotives in North America: Remaining Relics and Operable Replicas, with a Catalog of Locomotive Models in the U.S. National Museum

Excerpt

As the midpoint of the 20th century was reached, the curtain was falling upon the final phases of steam locomotive operation in North America. Almost certainly, after another decade there would remain in service comparatively few representatives of the engine which had been the primary source of motive power of the railroads for over a hundred years.

In that comparatively short time the steam locomotive had changed the United States from a small country with a few seaports, and with towns and settlements little farther inland than river navigation permitted, to a great nation covered with cities and spanning a continent. It had made possible the confederation of the isolated provinces of Canada into a great Dominion. Now, by the 1950's, owing to the emergence of another type of motive power, it had become obsolete and its days could be numbered.

No future generation would experience the thrill enjoyed by its predecessors. No future American could stand awed beside the track and behold the majestic onrush of the iron horse, be deafened by the blast of the exhaust, the crash and clatter of steel on steel, and the hiss of escaping steam, or be momentarily shaken as the locomotive thundered past in a blurred flash of connecting rods, valve mechanism, and pounding wheels.

No child at night would ever again awaken to the eerie echo of a far-off steam whistle crying at a lonely crossing, or by day look out from a hillside at the long white plume of steam that marked a distant train charging down the valley below. The present generation of Americans can gaze back upon these things with nostalgia. The next will never know them.

Here and there a steam engine will be saved, but the people of a different era will note them and quickly pass on, wondering. Only a few will pause to marvel and ponder over the development of the steam locomotive.

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