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Edition #105, July 1, 2009

Memorial Day Remembrance

Photographer: Lance Wales

                                                                                  Photo by Lance Wales

Memorial Day Remembrance

This dirty and dog-eared 5x7 inch black and white print has sat in the top of my brown Kennedy machinist tool box at work for more than 25 years. Actually just about 26 years, now that I think about it. The picture has brought me quite a few smiles over the years when I glance at it. It is probably one of my all-time favorite railroad images. This was the first real 'railfan trip' I ever took. I went with Rory and Kurt Peterson out to north-central Ohio over Memorial Day weekend, 1983 to chase and ride behind the Fort Wayne Historical Society's Nickel Plate Road #765 from Brewster to Toledo, Ohio. We left our hometown of Belvidere, IL on Thursday evening to get us in place at Bellevue, Ohio early on Friday morning. Kurt had heard that the ferry move to get the train down to Brewster would occur that afternoon and when we arrived that morning the NKP 765 was steaming on one of the whisker tracks of the Bellevue roundhouse. As the train left that afternoon we were chasing right alongside as the Lima Berkshire romped down the Norfolk & Western line toward Brewster; it was a spirited chase. At one point we were neck and neck with the locomotive and the speedometer in Kurt's Malibu Classic showed that we were moving at close to 70 mph. This was my first encounter with mainline steam and I was certainly impressed!

As we got down to Lodi, OH the train stopped just beyond the last crossing in town for some reason. We got back ahead of it a couple of miles outside of town. The shot directly at the grade crossing wasn't that good, so Kurt and I walked back down the tracks. The curve looked promising from the road. But as we got down there, the grade sloped down pretty steep. That shot wouldn't work. The inside of the curve was sort of blah and the train was whistling off. We heard the sharp exhaust of the 765 coming our way, we were stuck at this spot. As luck would have it there was a two-aspect signal mast standing at the end of the siding. It had two platforms and Kurt and I just looked at each other and silently climbed the mast to each occupy the area behind a signal. A short time later the 2-8-4 came storming around the corner with the whistle screaming, the safety valve popping and a black tornado of exhaust at the stack. The signal was certainly shaking as he pounded past and the whole experience brought chills to me that I can remember to this day just by looking at this dirty 5x7 inch print.

We had a great weekend riding one excursion and chasing another. I got a number of good images from that weekend of May 20-23, 1983 but nothing was better than this shot taken at 5:39 p.m. on May 20, 1983.

Kurt was a good friend and we chased a number of steam trains together or just had our paths cross as we stood in the same photo lines while we both enjoyed museum and mainline steam excursions over the next 20 years. We both got married and had families and those encounters became less and less over time. Back in 2003 I found out that Kurt had cancer and that disease would claim him less than a year later. I may think of this black steam loco when I view this image, but I also think of Kurt. Spending time with him was just as fun (or sometimes more-so) than chasing and catching trains.

So when I encountered a rebuilt and live Nickel Plate Road 765 on Memorial Day weekend, 2009 I certainly thought about the times I spent with the loco, and also to those that weren't around to smell the smoke, hear the whistle and feel it thunder the earth as it passed. 

Lance Wales

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Revised: 07/15/09 10:26:59 -0400