There’s something about a train that’s hard not to love. Many of their features are worth noting, but to my way of thinking, it’s the wheels that are most iconic. This is especially true for the drive wheels of steam locomotives. They were, after all, the motive power that moved heavy loads across miles of steel.
Relics of the past, the heaving behemoths they carried were once alive with breath and driving power that was visible for all to see. Though mostly gone now, they remain an indelible part of our heritage and they live on in metaphor and memory, even if rarely seen.
These photos date from the 1970s and 1980s, when the Southern Railroad (now Norfolk Southern), the Chessie System (now CSX), and the Norfolk & Western (also Norfolk Southern) ran steam-powered excursion trains across northern Virginia, where I reside. Trailing dark tinted plumes of smoke, they traversed miles of rural landscape and drew appreciative crowds at every crossing.
I rode behind these giants many times and even more often frequented the yards to watch them being stoked up and readied to depart. It was then that these photos were made. But the trains are now in museums, the yards transmuted into commercial space and parking lots.
The power behind these wheels and the rods that drove them is self-evident. The wheels and the trains they bore were special. And they are missed.