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Not my favorite picture

Learning to love an ordinary yard goat
RDG-0-6-0-1323
In 1942, for a boy seeking brand-new road power, old Reading Camelback 0-6-0 1323 was nothing special—but would that we could ride her today!
George Gillespie
Younger readers must wonder why we old-timers gloat over some picture taken during our youth. It’s the sentimental attachment and memories of a wonderful period, of course.

My father died when I was 11, and I inherited his Kodak folding camera, which took postcard-size contact negatives. The 122 Verichrome film it used came only six exposures to a roll and strained my meager resources. I was careful to make every shot count.

One of my prime photographic locations was the great Baldwin Locomotive Works at Eddystone, Pa., 3½ miles from our house. The elevated test track provided a great place to shoot the different new locomotives. Since they usually hadn’t received their final painting, I sometimes had trouble identifying the purchasing railroad.

Often my grade-school friend, Donnie Rutherford, accompanied me, but not for the trains so much. Airplanes played the big role in his life, and we would ride our bicycles the additional 41⁄2 miles to Philadelphia’s airport and watch the planes take off and land for hours. Donnie joined the Navy after high school and died in a trainer plane accident at the end of World War II.

The Reading Company had a small locomotive terminal at Darby Creek, three-quarters of a mile past the Baldwin property on the way to the airport. This was another good place to stop, since one might see one of the new T-1 4-8-4’s, maybe an M-1sb 2-8-2, or a heavy I-10sa 2-8-0.

One humid, exceptionally hot day in August 1942 was a real bummer: no new Baldwin locomotives and nothing at Darby Creek. The only locomotive to be seen was a lowly old Reading B-7a 0-6-0 Camelback working a quarter of a mile down the track at the Wanamaker Avenue grade crossing in Essington. I took a picture out of frustration, wondering why I was wasting good money.

Now, nearly 60 years later, I see wonderful things in this photo. There is the bored engineer, whom I had asked to pose on the left side, probably wondering why some crazy kid is taking a picture of his locomotive on such a stinking hot day.

At the time I was disappointed the engineer didn’t wave, yet with each passing year I am more pleased he didn’t. There’s just something special about his expression which a friendly wave would have killed. Back then I thought the open smokestack screen represented careless maintenance, and the light mark on the cab roof annoyed me. Now these are extra touches of interest.

To the kid that was me in 1942, bigger was definitely better, but not now. If you asked me today which locomotive I would like to ride, my choice would be this lowly old Reading goat.

First published in Fall 2002 Classic Trains magazine



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