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  Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Wednesday, 25 November, 2020

A Dream Come True

Date: 15 April, 2011

By: Chief

Imagereams can, and far more importantly, do come true. I know this to be a fact for the simple reason — it happened to me. And it happened quite recently too. Not like when I was a young child and I am just reciting it to you now, some 50 years later. Oh no. Additionally, it is one I shall never forget it.

Its been a long time

Ever since I was a small kid (about six years of age), I have always wanted to be an engineer on a train. For the unenlightened, the train engineer is the guy who actually drives the train. The rumble of the massive diesel engines. The hissing of the air from the bleed off of the brakes. The "clickity clack" of the wheels on the tracks. And the view. Oh my God. From the dome car of the San Francisco Chief was the same as that of the train's engineer. Talk about a view. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Well for reasons I won't get completely into my dream did not come true. Military service did. 30 years worth. And yeah I did enjoy what I did. I wouldn't have lasted any other way. However it wasn't the same as my dream. Not even close.

Mine is bigger than yours

Well it finally happened. About three weeks ago. Occupying the main at Dexter, New Mexico, was a northbound BNSF unit grain train sitting at idle.

I pulled over, parked the truck and hopped out (my wife stayed in the cab). As I walked toward the lead engine, a big mammoth, monstrous GE ES44DC rumbling away (you could feel the vibrations from the engine through the ground. God I was in love.), the two man crew was just departing the train. They had it fully tied down — it wasn't going anywhere without them (damnit). I walked up to them, introductions and handshakes were exchanged all round and we talked for a very few minutes. It was so very cool.

Then it happened — the conductor asked me if I wanted to go onboard the lead locomotive and check her out. Let me tell y'all something right here and now — the conductor had not even finished asking me when I said, quite loudly:

"Hell yes. Can I bring my wife as well?"

The conductor smiled and then replied in the affirmative and I ran to the truck, shouted at my wife to come on and we were off and ... climbing up the forward ladder (five or six real steep steps as I recall) and Yahoo into the cab we go.

Now comes the part of why "mine is bigger than yours" — some of the common GE ES44DC locomotive specifications:

Told ya that "mine is bigger than yours" and I was absolutely correct about that.

In the cab

Also known as what it feels like in Disneyland (it's a lot better than a grown up fella's Chuck E Cheese I can tell you that).

Unless or until you have been in the cab of a locomotive you simply cannot appreciate, comprehend or even imagine what it is like. It is truly a unique experience and, without any doubt, a mind blowing one as well.

The coolest part of the cab is, as you would imagine, the engineer's station. It is so cool. The important components are located to the engineer's left hand. Items such as the:

Of course one cannot forget the:

There is a bunch of other stuff as well. Needless to say I was in heaven. And yes, to you non-believers — heaven does smell of diesel. It's great. Trainman cologne.

The engineer occupies the right side of the locomotive while the conductor has the left side.

There is not much to the conductor's side. He has a single VDT and an emergency brake lever. His responsibility is the entire train and its cargo. Hence, he has most of the paperwork. What cars get dropped off or picked up where. Believe it or not it is demanding as the dickens.

The engineer is responsible for the safe operation of the locomotive(s). Only makes sense. After all he is the driver of upwards of 7,000 feet of cars and engines. Over a mile of train which can be doing 70 MPH. Wow.


After about 20 - 30 minutes of me drooling all over the cab the conductor said they had to leave so that they could grab some chow and then hit the rails. Truthfully — I didn't want to leave but they will be back and so shall I.

My wife and I debarked the train, hopped into our truck and drove home sad but thrilled. About 40 minutes later, from our living room, we heard the sound of a whistle of a northbound train. We just looked at each other and smiled.

A dream had indeed become a reality.

[Ed. note: Photographs courtesy of]

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