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Retired BLET member remembers steam trains

Retired BLET member remembers steam trains

(The following story by John R. Pulliam appeared on The (Galesburg) Register-Mail website on August 4, 2010. Glen Pepmeyer is a member of BLET Division 644 in Galesburg, Ill.)

GALESBURG, Ill. There are few people still around who made their living as an engineer during the age of steam. Glen Pepmeyer is one of those men, now retired after working for about 50 years on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy with experience on both steam engines and diesels.

"A steam engine has a personality," Pepmeyer, a constant smile on his face, said. "That's all you ever heard and an engine was always a she. "

Pepmeyer was an engineer on the 3006 steam engine now at the Galesburg Railroad Museum and other 3000 series engines.

"You had your special engine, because it operated better than others," he said.

A good fireman was a must, as well, Pepmeyer said.

"A good fireman was the secret for an engineer," he said. "When he came in, he didn't just look to see what engine he got, he'd look for what fireman he got."

Pepmeyer agreed that the age of steam was the Golden Age of Railroads. He was sent overseas during World War II and had an exotic experience with steam engines. He said many men who were firemen when they went overseas were made engineers.

"They ran us close to the Japanese," Pepmeyer said, "`through the Bengal jungle. You just did the best you could when you went through the jungle. You stayed up in the engine. Sometimes you looked down and you might see a tiger."

Pepmeyer, who along with his wife, Betty, grew up in Burlington, Iowa, was raised in a railroad family. His father received his 50-year button for working on the railroad. He said that, as a young boy playing baseball, the game would stop and the players would run to watch the steam engine go up the hill from Burlington to West Burlington. He said sometimes his father would drive him out of town and they would watch the engine, pouring out steam, pick up speed as it went through Danville and other towns west of Burlington.

"What made me feel good was when I hired out, older engineers would tell me, well, kid, if you're just half as good as your old man, you're going to make it pretty good, " Pepmeyer said with pride for his dad, Harry.

He said being told that by others made him feel "extra good."

Pepmeyer said there was a lot of pride among engineers.

"Almost every engineer thought he was the best," he said. "They'd try to be and there's nothing wrong with that."

Many of the younger men thought the older engineers were grouchy, Pepmeyer said, but he explained that wasn't the case.

"The young guys, a lot of them thought they were a little crabby," he said. "They took their jobs seriously, no monkeyshines in the cab."

Lest someone think progress, in the form of diesel engines, meant steam engines poked along, Pepmeyer quickly laid that idea to rest.

"Those trains weren't slow things," he said. "They ran, they ran like the dickens.

"The railroads, especially back in the steam days, they helped our country advance about as much as any other machine in the country," Pepmeyer said. "I loved my job."

Getting to work for his father for a time was unforgettable, he said.

"I fired for my father for about a year on a way freight. That was a thrill," Pepmeyer said.

His wife marveled at how many experiences her husband remembered and recounted. He said a good wife was also important for a railroader.

"Not too many guys in their life's work can say they loved it," Pepmeyer said. "It was a fascinating job, a steam engine. You got up in the cab and I don't care, it was an experience for about everybody."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


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