InTrans / Sep 20, 2012

Whistlestop in Ames, Iowa

Go! Magazine

Train arriving in Ames, Iowa

Early morning wake-up call

I’ve live across the street from the Union Pacific line-hauling depot, in Boone Iowa. When I first moved into the apartment more than a year ago, I barely slept the first few weeks as the constant sound of trains, the slight vibration from the close proximity, and the shrill horn kept me up. Now, I don’t even notice the sound anymore, unless someone who isn’t used to it is around. This weekend was the exception.

Union Pacific Railroad office and rail lines.
View of the Union Pacific Railroad office and rail lines from Alex Werners’ apartment window


Boone has a yearly festival, Pufferbilly Days celebrating the long railroad history in Boone, Iowa, and especially, the advances of the steam locomotive or Pufferbilly. This weekend the “Living Legend,” the last steam locomotive built by the Union Pacific visited Boone and Ames, Iowa. My first glimpse occurred early on Sunday morning. As I sat in my living room drinking coffee, I noticed that the liquid in my mug was rippling and my chair was vibrating slightly. Then, I heard a sound like running water and thunder.  A hiss like water rushing from the faucet increased until it sounded like a waterfall. I ran to the window, and watched as the Living Legend came by with Union Pacific employees lined up outside their facility waving to their co-workers on the train. I was blown away by how much more noise the train made chugging down the tracks, and how quickly it could move. I expected it to move very slowly like the old steam locomotives from silent films. If I was blown away by the view from my window, I was in store for a real treat in Ames that morning.

Whistlestop in Ames

At 10 a.m., right on time, the whistles could be heard from our position across the street from the Ames High School. The sun shone so brightly we couldn’t see the train, but we could all see the steam above the tree line. I watched as the cloud of steam came closer, and listened to the “chugga chugga” of the train traveling down the line.

Living Legend train on rail lines in Ames, Iowa
The Living Legend in Ames, Iowa

Finally, it was upon us so quickly, I couldn’t help but take a step back, and it felt like you would fall over from the force of the air from beneath the wheels. This is how it feels standing next to the train as it comes to a stop.I could only imagine the experience of some of the spectators further down the road who felt the engine pass at full speed.

Living the legend

Seeing the people surrounding the train, I couldn’t help but imagine Boone and Ames 100 years ago when the first steam locomotives would have come through. I imagined people lined up along the tracks to catch their first glimpse of these giants. I felt connected to the past present and future people of Ames in that moment celebrating the development of rail transportation over the last hundred and fifty years. I couldn’t help imagine future spectators watching as old-fashioned electric locomotives pulled into town. What might be the normal of that future? Hydro-trains, solar trains, or will trains be gone all together in another hundred years?

By Alex Werner, Go! Staff Writer

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