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Edition #239  February 1, 2015

Cold Day, Hot Train, Cold War

Photographer: R.G. Edmonson

                                                                                   Photo by R.G. Edmonson

Cold Day, Hot Train, Cold War

My memory sucks. Too often when I'm going through my collection of slides from the Jurassic Period (mechanical cameras and film) I find myself asking, "Where the hell is that? And when?"

I recently scanned this image, and I recalled this much: 1984, the legendary 8444 was traveling from Kansas City to St. Louis on its way to the World's Fair in New Orleans. I remembered the snow: a freak early-spring snowstorm had hit central Missouri.

So much for the broad view, but what about the details? I went online. It wasn't too difficult to pin down the date: March 12, 1984. But where? For a long time I'd assumed that the great white expanse in the background was the Missouri River, as the Missouri Pacific's River Sub follows the river for most of its course across the state.

No, wait. The train is on the MoP's Sedalia Sub, several miles south, bound for a water stop at Jefferson City. That great expanse of white in the background is somebody's corn field. Earlier I'd caught a westbound Katy freight at Sedalia, so I must be somewhere west of there.

My first clue is the 44-tonner on the siding to the left. U.S. Air Force 1243, built February 1952, my online sources told me. OK, what Air Force base? On to the satellite imagery. Got it, Knob Noster, Missouri. The locomotive is parked at the head of a spur leading to Whiteman Air Force base. In fact the sat photo shows the flat-roofed building to the right and the bridge I was standing on to record 8444's passing.

I thought that was the end of the story. Not quite. When I showed the photo to a friend, he pointed out that in '84, Whiteman was the locus for 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman II missiles poised to rain death and destruction on our enemies from silos hidden in the heart of Missouri.

There you have it: a cold day, and a World War II-vintage steam locomotive passing through a Cold War hot spot.

R.G. Edmonson

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