Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Little Engine That Could, on steroids

For a few months back in 1960, I worked as a stenographer/typist in the Fort Worth, Texas, office of the Gulf, Colorado, & Santa Fe Railroad (GCSF). My superior was a venerable old white-haired gentleman who began every letter he dictated with the words “I beg to advise” and closed with, I kid you not, “your obedient servant.” It drove me crazy at the time, but now it makes me smile.

While employed there, I learned many railroad abbreviations I probably never would have noticed, such as ATSF (Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe), MKT (Missouri, Kansas & Texas, known as the “Katy”), SLSF (St. Louis & San Francisco, or “Frisco” for short), L&N (Louisville & Nashville), NYC (New York Central), PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad), DLW (Delaware & Lackawanna, which later merged with Erie and became ELW, the Erie Lackawanna), and lots more. Anybody out there remember the Milwaukee Road?

Shown below is a photograph that has been called “one of the classic icons of American imagery.” It captures the ceremony marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across North America over 150 years ago. The joining of the rails linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads occurred on May 10, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah. CPRR’s “Jupiter” engine is on the left, arriving from the west. UPRR’s engine “No. 119” is on the right, arriving from the East. On the golden Last Spike of the first transcontinental railroad were engraved the words, “May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”

I learned from Wikipedia that the ceremony took place “after track was laid over a 1,756-mile (2,826-km) gap between Sacramento [California] and Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa in six years by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad. Although through train service was in operation as of that date, the road was not deemed to have been officially completed until November 6, 1869. A physical connection between Omaha, Nebraska and the statutory Eastern terminus of the Pacific road at Council Bluffs located immediately across the Missouri River was also not finally established until the opening of the UPRR railroad bridge across the river on March 25, 1873, prior to which transfers were made by ferry operated by the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry Company.”

It took thousands of workers to accomplish this great feat.

Well, hold on to your hat. Things have come a long way, baby.

Rube, my eighty-something-year-old neighbor who lives on the hill just above me, likes trains too. Yesterday he sent me the neatest video entitled, “The train that lays its own track.” (5:17).

Yes, you read that correctly. You simply must watch it, all 5:17 of it, to believe it. The human workers are almost superfluous.

The Little Engine That Could, on steroids. Indeed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it can also make a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry on top.

I couldn’t help noticing, though, that everything in the video occurs in a straight line and on flat terrain. I hope they’re working on a version 2.0 that can go up and down hills and around the sides of a mountain.


  1. Fascinating video! I watched all 5 minutes, 17 seconds of it. I don't understand much of what I viewed, but decided that the behemoth was creating its own road bed as it went. I either didn't take early enough notice or didn't get a clear view of the name on the side of the machine. French? Asian? Whatever, the equipment is amazing!

    You may have had to write "Your obedient servant" but I'd be willing to bet that you never had to end an epistle with "QBSM." (If you have, please let me know.)

    Verification word for this comment is "aggle." The track-laying engine aggled my mind. :)

  2. When you were working in the GCSF office in 1960, it was less than a hundred years since America was connected by rail. The old grey-haired man you were working with may have been born around 1890? Just 21 years after the great connection so his mother and father will probably have remembered that newsworthy moment. Time. A strange phenomenon.

  3. Pat, I had to look up QBSM, and the answer is: I have not! But I have seen envelopes that saw S.W.A.K.

    YP, but probably not as strange as some of the phenomena you are about to encounter in Thailand!

  4. Pat, I watched the video again, and the big yellow and black thingie is labeled "Plasser & Theural" and "Infrabel"....German, maybe?

  5. This was very interesting Thank you :)

  6. i have been there putz

  7. Lady's Life, glad you liked it. I think you will like the next one too.

    Putz, I was going to ask "where?" but then I realized you must mean Promontory Point, Utah. Tell me, after the ceremony, did those two locomotives have to back all the way to Sacramento and Omaha/Council Bluffs, respectively?