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OPPOSITE: Bill Byers, a retired steam man, assisted by Dave Cox and Rob Kramer make a repair to 765 at the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum. OPPOSITE BELOW: Foreman Steve Byers. LEFT: Steve Winicker would train the author in the finer points of being a steam lo- comotive fireman. BELOW: The author at work as a fireman aboard 765.


Railroad Depot we talked about every- thing we would experience and how our photos and videos would be a source of delight for years to come. The road was clear, our breakfast was just what we hoped for and the weather could not have been better. We had a beautiful blue sky, bright sunshine and nothing but the thought of adventure. There was not a hint of what might go wrong. There was no inkling of disaster. The mournful note of a steam whistle


I caught a glimpse of Rich Melvin, the engineer who most often ran the #765. Rich and I knew each other... “Eliot,” he waved, “You look like a real engineer.” Could I have heard more beautiful words? I hardly thought so.


told us 765 was on her first trip that morning as we arrived for our adven- ture. There was a hint of coal smoke in the air and a bunch of happy railroad- ers gathered about the depot. Eddie and I would be the next crew and I was happy to show off my engineer’s regalia to anyone who looked my way. Our cameras were clicking as Eddie and I took photo after photo and made ready for the arrival of our locomotive. Mo- ments later we heard another pattern of whistle blasts and 765 backed down the track for her next assignment. As the first crew climbed down the


about. I re-created all of those moments running my model railroad or watching movies of steamers in action. So many opportunities to imagine myself at the throttle of a belching, bellowing, howl- ing beast, never allowing myself to ac- cept it would one day come true. I would have gladly accepted the


chance to blow the whistle once. Today I would blow it at every railroad cross- ing. How cool was that? We rose and got dressed and I planned to do what I had always wanted to do. I was going to climb aboard the 765 just as if I had been doing that for years. If I was going to be the engineer, I was going to act like the engineer. A few photos before we climbed into the cab, perhaps, but real engineers do that, too. I practiced my “engineer wave” as we got into the


car. All those railroad crossings and so many smiles and waves for the kids. I was for real. Prior to the trip I purchased “real” railroad hickory striped coveralls, a blue denim shirt, and the requisite en- gineer’s cap. There are few hats I know of that scream “all aboard” more than that icon or railroading. Ginny made certain I had the complete outfit. She gave me the red bandana and a kiss be- fore she left me at the airport. The morning of our adventure, I donned my outfit like a tuxedo for a wedding. Nothing would be left to chance. How the local Indianans would think of me as we ate breakfast was never a concern. I was a railroad man. Real railroad men wear denim. As we drove to the Hoosier Valley


cab ladder and spoke of how much they enjoyed their experience, I caught a glimpse of Rich Melvin, the engineer who most often ran the 765. Rich and I knew each other as he is the owner of O Gauge Railroading magazine and we would often see each other at train shows. “Eliot,” he waved, “You look like a real engineer.” Could I have heard more beautiful words? I hardly thought so. We shook hands and Rich asked if I was ready. I told him I was ready six months earlier. He laughed and Eddie and I climbed aboard. No sooner had I entered the cab be-


fore I was handed a large shovel and I began my career as a fireman. Surely, many engineers before me followed the same path into the seat I longed for. I would take my apprenticeship serious- ly. I prepared to throw some coal. My fireman trainer, Steve Winicker, ex- plained how I could step on the firebox door mechanism on the cab floor, allow the firebox doors to swing open, and throw in my load of coal. The firebox area was much bigger than I had imag- ined and the fire burned white hot like the core of the sun. “You see that area toward the side and back where there are empty spots?” Steve yelled. “Throw your coal over there.”


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