Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Texas State Railroad Visit

Last week, we were watching a special on trains on PBS and they showed the Texas State Railroad. My son said he wanted to ride on that train that he saw and so my wife told him that we would that Friday. Unbeknownst to us, it was going to be almost a 2 1/2 hour drive and cost $84.00 just for tickets (meals are available to pre-order for an additional $10.00 per person), but a promise is a promise. 
We went to the closest depot, Palestine Station in Palestine, Texas, one of the Union Pacific Railroad's Train Town, USA cities, as it was closest. In reading the online reviews, most people suggest taking this route, from Palestine, Texas to Rusk, Texas. My son really wanted to ride "the black train", not "the red, green, and black train", and thankfully the black steam engine, #316 was running the Palestine to Rusk route, while the black, red, and green steamie, #300 was departing from Rusk Depot and travelling to Palestine and back.

When we got there, we saw that the gift shop was closed down at this station, but they did allow the kids to get in the steam engine and take a tour, including a look at the firebox. My son was very excited to see this. We had purchased tickets for the open air coach, so the wind could blow freely around us, keeping us cool. There is also an option of a closed coach or more expensive air conditioned coaches with servers. The open-air coach was in the front for the first leg of the ride and in the back for the final leg. My son thought the whistle was too loud and kept his ears plugged most of the way to Rusk, but on the way back this was not an issue and he enjoyed it much more, playing with the other kids at the very back of the train.

At the halfway point, the train headed from Rusk Depot to Palestine Depot goes on a siding and allows the eastbound train to pass, which was really neat. Along the way there were a number of railroad sights, such and roundtables, and y-tracks, along with a lot of crossings, but mostly it was nice to see the forest, rivers, and swamps. We also saw a black bear. Others told us that you can often see deer on the ride as well.

In Rusk there are some nice sites and a huge lake, so it was a nice 1 1/2 hour stop after riding the rails for 1 1/2 hours. The gift shop only had a few Thomas and Friends items remaining, as they used to be a Day Out With Thomas Destination, but no longer are with their new owners, Iowa Pacific/American Heritage Railways. Thankfully there are still 3 Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway tables for the kids to play with.

All in all, my son had a fun time, but wants to ride a Diesel next time since the Steamies are too loud. I wrote the railway about that and they informed me that this year on July 7th, the train from Rusk Station to Palestine Station will be pulled by a diesel. So maybe he will get his wish!

As an aside, if you are looking for old Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway engines and destinations, check out your local Buy Buy Baby, I have found old engines like Lady that cannot be found anywhere else! You will not find any of the current toys or movies, however.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

UP History of Steamies vs. Diesels

Although diesel locomotives first came to American railroads in the 1920s, their use was confined to switch engines, and later to passenger train locomotives. It wasn't until 1940 that the Electro Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) demonstrated that diesels could practically replace steam locomotives in heavy-duty service. A pioneer freight diesel, model "FT," toured the nation's railroads and changed history. Much like its sister passenger locomotives of the day, it was styled with an automobile-like nose and windshield, a design that prevailed until the late 1950s.

Although commonly called "diesels," the locomotives actually are electrically driven. The diesel engine drives an alternator, which produces electricity to run electric motors mounted on the locomotive's axles. The internal combustion engine was a dramatic improvement in efficiency over the steam locomotive, making substantial savings possible in maintenance and the elimination of widespread facilities. Extra units could be coupled together and run by one engineer from the lead unit, creating very powerful combinations.

Many railroads, including Union Pacific, were unable to take quick advantage of the new technology due to material shortages caused by World War II. Union Pacific's fleet of modern steam locomotives and plentiful on-line coal reserves in Wyoming were another factor in UP's late entry into the dieselization race. After the war however, railroads began sweeping the rails clear of the classic steamers. Union Pacific began its sweep in the late 1940s on the line running through the southwestern deserts, where water was difficult to obtain for steam engines.

By the end of the 1950s the steam era was over and increasingly powerful diesels ruled the rails.

No other railroad in this country has retained its historical equipment and honored its past like the Union Pacific. The preservation of its fleet speaks to the high value Union Pacific places on its heritage and its role in America's history.