The Steam Locomotive- page 3 | Travel | Smithsonian
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The Steam Locomotive

Even in the computer age, a thousand-ton train driven by fire and water inspires awe

Withuhn, 57, mourns the passing of the hands-on days of machinery. There is nothing delicate about those steel monsters, but the men who ran them developed a kind of artistry in handling them. He loves puttering about in the back shops at Steamtown, where mechanics are doing the same jobs railroad men did a century ago.

In 1981 the Smithsonian trotted out the John Bull and ran it down some tracks in northwest Washington. "It was the most fun I ever had," says Withuhn. "There we were, all set to go, with all the Smithsonian brass watching, and the bunting draped over things, and the Marine Corps Band playing. Big drumroll. Everyone sat up on their folding chairs.

"And it didn't go. The throttle stuck.

"But Roger Kennedy, the head of the museum at the time, was smooth. 'Now we'll get to see the staff fix it!' he announced over the loudspeaker. So we had to take the throttle apart — it was jammed with grit — but we got the old Bull moving.

"Oh, it took a couple of hours. But we made it go."

By Michael Kernan


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