March 25, 2018
Story and photography by James Burke
©San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.
LEGEND. Long before Casey Jones rode off to glory in the darkness of a 1900 Mississippi night, locomotive engineers had become living legends. The man with his hand on the mane of the Iron Horse was center stage as trains pulled into stations across the country.
And, as the engineer tended to his iron steed, you could walk right up and touch him. Well…maybe not quite. He was real, yet he was so regal. Watching him depart astride his steed with whistle screaming, smokestack roaring, flashing firebox and hissing steam, there were few at trackside who did not covet the engineer’s crown.
WHISTLE. The engineer’s most glamorous device is the whistle. With it, he demands the right-of-way, warning all within
hearing distance of his intentions. The engineer is obligated
by the rules to respond with his whistle to signals received from his or other train crews.
In Steam Engine Days, many engineers stylized their whistling such that they were recognizable from afar. Casey Jones was a legendary example of this, and some such stylization prevails today. On his roaring Iron Horse with his screaming whistle, the engineer captured the imagination of young America.
And he still has it!
Photographs Of Engineer Mike Nichols, © James Burke
The Silverton Magazine was published by San Juan Publishing from 2000-2010. All content is copyright, in perpetuity, San Juan Publishing, Group, Inc. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact the publisher.