by Jeffrey B. Roth, photography by Phil Grout
The mournful cry of a steam locomotive whistle elicits emotions ranging from nostalgia to desolation. Each whistle has a unique and distinctive style.
Train whistle sounds sometimes are used as code – combinations of short and long sounds – to communicate with railroad workers, as an emergency alert, as a warning that a train approaches a road crossing; and to signal it is backing up. Not all train whistle codes mean the same thing – they differ from company to company, from region to region, from country to country.
More than 50 passengers boarded the 11 a.m., May 28, Steam Into History Lincoln Funeral Train and were soon immersed into the sights, sounds, smells and motion experienced by mid-Nineteenth Century American rail travelers. They stepped onto The William H. Simpson #17 steam locomotive that left New Freedom for an hour-long round trip to Glen Rock.
A replica of a Civil War-era locomotive, the #17 began transporting guests on June 2, 2013, said Hillary Hess, visitor service manager for the attraction.
“The train was delivered in May of 2013,” said Hess, who was dressed as a Civil War-era lady. “It was built new for us to our specs and it represents an 1860s, American 4-4-0 wood-burner. The 4-4-0 refers to its wheel arrangement – four pilot truck wheels, four drivers and no trailer wheels.”
On April 21, 1865, a week after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by actor and Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theater, a funeral train departed from Washington, D.C., on its way to Springfield, Illinois. It carried both Lincoln’s body and that of his 11-year-old son, Willie, for burial on May 4, 1865.
Called “The Lincoln Special,” there were actually 22 different railroads involved in transporting the body of the 16th President of the United States through 180 cities. The #17 is an amalgam of many of those steam engines, Hess said.
“If you look at a photograph of the Pennsylvania Railroad train, in Harrisburg, in 1865, there is a strong resemblance to that one,” Hess said. “We operate almost year-round, basically from the middle of March to the end of December.”
On Saturday, the front of #17 was mounted with a black and white portrait of Lincoln framed by garlands of greens and white flowers. U.S. style flags, with star-shaped clusters on fields of blue, flanked both sides of Lincoln’s photo. Black and blue-striped funerary drapes hung on the sides of the engine, passenger cars and on the end of the last car.
“We don’t want to make it, (the Lincoln Funeral Train trip), too downbeat or sad,” Hess said, describing the Memorial Day weekend trip. “It’s more patriotic than anything else. We have one of our popular singers, Kent Courtney, on the train. What he likes doing is to weave history stories with music, (from the Civil War, World War I and II). He honors Lincoln as commander and chief and ties that in with those other servicemen, who served in wars, and never came home.”
With the “all aboard” shouted by conductor, Jack Molnar, the #17 began the journey of about 10 miles round trip. Passengers included young children, parents, grandparents and one 12-year-old white, Bichon Frise named Sparkle. Owned by Joanne and Del Becke of Mundelein, Ill., Sparkle rotated between standing with his paws on the open passenger car window, to watching the scenery, greeting strangers and sitting beside Joanne.
“It’s our first time riding this train,” Joanne said. “We’re not going to Gettysburg this trip, but we’ve been there before.”
Dressed as a Civil War-era civilian, Dave Henderson said he has ridden on the #17 about 50 times. A procurement officer with the Baltimore County Police Department Training Academy, Henderson said he first took the trip when the attraction opened in 2013.
“It was like a dream come true, having a Civil War-era steam engine up here,” Henderson said. “I’ve gotten to know all the staff here, pretty much. On occasion, I help them out. Right before their steam run started this spring, I came up and helped them polish the brass on the locomotive.”
Henderson said there are many Civil War attractions, such as Gettysburg, that welcome people attired in period costume. For events, such as July Fourth and Veterans Day parades, he dresses in the context of what is going on, as he did for the Lincoln Funeral Train event.
“I always check first to see if it’s okay,” Henderson said. “I enjoy it. The people here are really dedicated. They have a fine staff. They take it seriously and they try to make it a fun ride. They’re knowledgeable and they know what they’re doing. They try to be a good neighbor to the community. They really enjoy what they’re doing and I think that gets passed on to the people who ride it.”
Courtney, a Hanover resident, who plays guitar, sings and tells stories on the train, is originally from New Orleans. Recently, he completed a three-month engagement at the Bourbon Bar and Grill, on Carlisle St., Hanover. In addition to historic music, he performs pop music from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Alex Horneman, the superintendent and engineer for Steam Into History, has operated steam engines for 16 years. He’s been with the company since it opened.
“We are certified,” Horneman said. “It takes two to three years of on-the-job training, book work and a series of tests. “The job is fun most days. The engine has its own attitude, even though it’s new. It does get hot, sometimes up to 120 degrees in the cab.”
The Lincoln Funeral Train excursion is one of a number of events, Hess said. They do seasonal and special excursions.
“We do a bit of everything,” Hess said a few days before the Saturday excursion. “Just today we did a Reading Express, in which we have someone on the train reading storybooks to children, on a reduced fare ride. We have Confederate encampments and Union encampments where the train visits. With the Confederate encampment, the Confederate soldiers raid the train. On the same basic idea, we have a Wild West Train Robbery too.”
In November, they recreate Lincoln’s ride to Gettysburg to deliver the Gettysburg Address. There are also Easter Bunny Trains, but the most popular is at Christmas, Hess said.
“At Christmas time, we have our signature ride—the Tannenbaum Train,” Hess said. “On that trip, the steam engine takes you to Bricker’s Tree Farm, about eight miles north of here, in Seven Valleys. You can go to the (Christmas) tree farm and choose the tree you want and cut it down; and, we’ll bring it back for you. We have Santa Claus on the train and we sing Christmas songs. It’s like you’ve fallen into a Currier & Ives print. We also do Santa Claus rides, which are very popular too.”
There are two different rides – a one-hour trip from New Freedom to Glen Rock and back; and a full, two-and-a-half-hour round trip from New Freedom to Hanover Junction Station, where President Lincoln stopped, November 18, 1863, on his way to Gettysburg. The station, which houses a museum, has been restored to its 1863 appearance, Hess said.
For more information on Steam Into History, visit www.steamintohistory.com.