Usually if you are waiting on a train, you plan to get aboard. No so for the many people who gathered along the tracks in Trempealeau. They waited in anticipation. They followed tweets on Twitter. They clung to cell phones calling friends spread geographically along the track. Some stood, Ed sat. All hoped to get a photo, a video, a glimpse of the world famous steam engine SP 4449.
The Southern Pacific Daylight no. 4449, manufactured in 1941, was among the last mainline steam locomotives to be built. Coming out of retirement, SP 4449 is traveling across America on an Amtrak sponsored trip hauling passengers on a rare excursion.
Just by luck, Ed and I stopped in Trempealeau, Wisconsin on the morning of Saturday, July 18th as we traveled along The Great River Road. A train enthusiast told us about engine SP 4449. He’d driven for more than 2-hours from his home to be trackside. With each rumble of the tracks, he and others jumped with excitement. These false-alarms were diesel engines hauling industrial cars on the tracks across the Mississippi River.
More waiting. Someone got a call! “The train just breezed through Cochrane,” he announced to anyone wanting a progress report. Serious calculations began – time and distance – guesses about arrival time rumored through the waiting crowd.
Soon we could felt the vibration of the ground and glimpsed the puff of steam. The engine approached without slowing at all. Someone with a stopwatch clocked 62 mph. SP 4449 thundered past then faded as quickly as it appeared.
July 18, 2009