An Ode to Steam Locomotives

Ode to Steam Locomotives

By Cory Ramsey

It was a “Dirty Job” before Mike Rowe was there to narrate it. Steam power and the iron horse era was, in all honesty, a hot mess. Volatile. Temperamental. Dangerous in the face of travel, and with it, financial payoff for owners of the railroad. But… it was beautiful as well! That chugging monster, a bigger contraption than most city folk or mountain men had ever seen aside from maybe an equally ornery steam powered boat that plied the rivers. “Bells and Whistles” would become a fancied American catch phrase. It was at once a machine with both equal parts showpiece and sweat. A rolling art form not afraid of a hard day’s work like hauling coal or transporting everything else under the southern sun. The machine shakes today’s faded, rusty steam engine retired to some city park into service. Imagine the whole fleet of that old world, which in their own time was modern technology from the 1800s, chugging through Bowling Green past the L&N Depot. Envision the smoke. Visualize the thick bands of smoke. Imagine it, a rich black color. Money clouds of the stuff gushing like Faithful skywards with Kentucky breezes blowing it all where it lasted. It wasn’t hard to know where the engine was at any given time. Just eyeball the black smoke out of downtown, across Barren River towards Louisville. Or south towards Cumberland, Nashville… and to beyond. The blue-collar power from blue collar heroes shoveling and twisting levers and knobs, tending to the ever-constant attention required to keep the beast happy. See that? Hear that? Feel that? It’s the L&N. And that steady sound says she’s happy today.