Our Native American ancestors nicknamed the steam locomotive, The Iron Horse, after this new mode of transportation began rolling across freshly laid tracks in the vast western United States. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. The locomotives then were much smaller than this giant, but performed well enough to carry millions of passengers and freight across plains, mountains and deserts over the course of 1900 miles (3000 kilometers) of steel rails.
I wish I could state that the advent of transcontinental rail travel was a success for everyone, but that is not the case. Certainly, the myriads of settlers heading to the Promised Lands of the West Coast were overjoyed to abandon the wagon trains which preceded them. However, our Native American brethren (they were called Indians) suffered much as the railroad basically cut their living and hunting domain in half, and quickly brought about the wholesale slaughter of buffalo and added to the demise of their nations.
As technology advanced, locomotives became more powerful as the terrain and loads dictated. The Union Pacific commissioned a score of these behemoths, the largest steamers built, between 1941 and 1944. They traversed the steep grades of the Rocky Mountains until 1962. Diesel Electric locomotives eventually replaced these marvels of steel and steam.
Two key ingredients are necessary to make steam: water and heat. Steam locomotives have large boilers which accept water from their holding tanks. Heat is created by burning wood, coal or oil. Just as todays vehicles need refueling / recharging so did the steamers require frequent stops for taking on water and fuel.
The Union Pacific recently finished an extensive refurbishing of this locomotive, and it is currently operating along their rail lines from Cheyenne, Wyoming to New Orleans, Louisiana; making a ten-state, round-trip tour. Kansas City is fortunate to be one of the longer stops. The Golden Age of Rail may be over, but nostalgia isn’t as can be attested to by the throngs of folks who flock to see this steam engine and its train.
As with all things related to man, technology and the ability to produce it creates blessings and curses. How we view innovation and use technology often determines the end result…I try to remain positive in this accelerated world we live in.
P.S. I DO like my air conditioning, refrigerator, house, car, fresh food, etc. Oh, and the freedom to enjoy them. Grateful, hopeful, and cautious.