What could be better than a little farm with some old tractors on it?  Having it be next to a railroad.  I love the history and romance and hardworking nature of both tractors and trains, and there are a lot of parallels between the two.  As with tractors, my favorite engines are the classic streamlined designs--like the EMD E and F units above, shown in images taken at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (the E7, left) and the Steamtown National Historic Site (the FP7s, right).  Click on each of them to go larger versions.

My grandfather lived north of Chicago and was a lifelong railfan, enjoying the heavy traffic on the Milwaukee Road tracks a half-mile from his home and the heavy rail activity in the Chicago area in general, and trainwatching with him was a highlight of my childhood visits in the late 1960s and onward.  At times we visited the junction up in Rondout, Illinois, where the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern crossed the double-track Milwaukee Road main line.  On my last visit there, in 1986, I returned with him to Rondout, where we caught a northbound Soo Line freight (left) still wearing Milwaukee Road colors.  He's gone now but I like to think he'd be glad I've kept up some of his interests.  I photographed another freight (right) some years later on an early morning somewhere in northeast Ohio, but I've lost track of the exact whens and wheres.

In January 2012, through the magic of eBay, I acquired a number board and its original frame from a Milwaukee Road F7, #108A.  I cleaned it up and repainted the back side, carefully outlining in black the un-painted numbers on the white translucent panel, but I left the paint on the front side faded and worn as it had come to me.  I made a simple oak housing for it, with a small lamp inside, and it now serves as the backstop on my dresser.

Shortly thereafter, a Google search led me to this fine photograph (right) of #108A, taken by Don Haskel in July 1965, at, in a nice bit of karma, Rondout, Illinois.  (Photograph copyright Don Haskel, used here by permission).


As a teenager I'd had some HO scale model trains, and a few survived to accompany me into adult life.  An Athearn PA-1 and S-12, both in Erie Lackawanna paint, a simple but serviceable Tyco 4-6-2, and a few boxcars traveled around with me waiting for some future opportunity.  After my grandfather died his elegant B&O “Royal Blue” 4-6-2 joined my model fleet, complete with a clear display cover for a prominent spot on a shelf.  The older models stayed boxed up in a closet, and for decades that was enough.

Several years ago Walthers’ very nice 1950s-era Empire Builder set caught my attention, since stories of the Empire Builder loomed large in my memories of discussions with my grandfather, but the price tag kept me from doing anything other than thinking about it.  That was enough until early 2009, when I saw that the Empire Builder sets were going out of production and I decided I'd regret it if I missed the opportunity, so some beautiful F7s and a bunch of those sleek green and orange cars found their way to a box in my closet to wait with the older stuff for some future date when they’ll get some active use.

That was enough for a few months, until I saw an advertisement for an HO scale Milwaukee Road E-unit in Union Pacific's Armour Yellow color scheme and realized I’d seen that very locomotive or a sister unit during some long-ago trainwatching day with my grandfather.  So I had to have that too, with another long train of cars to someday keep it employed.

That was enough for a few weeks, until I saw an old Varney F3 from the 1940s, solid and heavy, made of shiny cast metal with a few elegantly simple Santa Fe decals still hanging on, going cheap on eBay.  Like ten zillion other kids I’d always admired Santa Fe Fs in the red and silver warbonnet colors.  And unlike the big new Empire Builder and Milwaukee Road sets the F3 didn’t use up about three years’ worth of hobby budget, so I figured what the heck, another one can’t hurt.  

That was enough for a few days, until I saw more and more stuff that each seemed like just one more wouldn’t hurt, and the floodgates opened:  The collection now includes 53 locomotives, 82 passenger cars, and 222 freight cars, all still waiting for an opportunity to see some active use while I wrestle with the practicalities of exactly how much space, time, and money it would take.  I think the big rush is over, but it's still hard to resist browsing eBay and model train shows for good buys.

In the summer of 2011 I stopped at Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona to watch some Norfolk Southern trains rumble around the old Pennsylvania Railroad landmark.  The hillside woods increasingly conceal the tracks so the trains are no longer visible for much of the approaches to the curve itself, but it's still fun to listen to them work up and down the grade and to imagine the old daysDownhill in Altoona, the main line heads southwest toward Horseshoe Curve in the climb across the Allegheny Mountains.  

At the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, E7 #5901 shines in restored splendor, while steam locomotives display their intricate details.  According to the sign in the museum, #5901 is the only surviving EMD E7 locomotive, having narrowly escaped the scrapper's torch when a group of Pennsylvania Railroad employees hid her in an old enginehouse until funds were raised to purchase her from the railroad.

Steamtown National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service at the site of the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad service yard in Scranton, Pennsylvania, offers an interesting mix of classic steam and diesel locomotives, rolling stock, and indoor museum exhibits--all connected to a downtown mall by a pedestrian bridge from which you can watch trains pass directly beneath. 

Canadian National 2-8-2 #3254 chuffs past the Steamtown yard with two vintage coaches and heads out for a short excursion with park visitors.  After the day's last run, #3254 rode the turntable before heading into the roundhouse for the night.


See also: 


An early morning freight rolls toward Alliance, Ohio, sometime in the mid 1980s.

GE ES40DC #7537 leads a westbound freight around Horseshoe Curve on June 29, 2011.

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Thanks for visiting!  E-mail me at if you have any comments.  I'm always glad to talk tractors and such. --Dean Vinson

Copyright notice:  Unless noted otherwise, I wrote all the text and took all the photos.  Feel free to make any personal use of them, but do not make any commercial or public use of them without my specific okay.  The two color photos of the F-units on this page are copyrighted by George Elwood.  The black and white images are from his site as well, but the originals came from operators' manuals for the locomotives pictured.