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Big Saturday night

Cramming 500 soldiers onto Frisco’s Meteor
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Frisco 4501, one of the road’s three 4500-series 4-8-4s assigned to passenger service, rolls the Meteor into St. Louis.
Ben F. Cutler
About midnight on a Saturday in 1944 on the station platform in Neosho, Mo., are 500 guys with suntans, each carrying a one-day pass and probably a railway ticket tucked in his wallet. This last fact doesn’t matter, because there will be no room on the train in the conventional sense for even a few of us.

The Frisco’s Meteor from Oklahoma City to St. Louis comes charging in behind a giant Northern type locomotive. The railroad has on this train as many coaches and baggage cars as it could find and as that big beast of a locomotive can pull. We swarm on board, filling every vestibule and every corner of every car.

Then we are off through the night, following the well-known route out of the Ozarks through Springfield, Mo., to St. Louis. There’s some fast running for a single-track railroad: 311 miles in under eight hours. And of course, while the big Northern can run with this train, there are a few times when it has to struggle to start it—there are just too many of us.

For us 500 there is a sense of escape. We are getting away from good old Camp Crowder and its radio transmitters, teletypes, and the code, plus the chow lines and all that, for just a few hours. Yes, the Sunday night Meteor out of St. Louis will be back in Neosho at 2:40 on Monday morning, and I guess we are all going to be tired.

Tired is not important, though, for we have played a role in the last great hurrah of American railroads in these few years of World War II. Our Saturday night was just one of hundreds, our 500 guys were but a few in millions. The Frisco was but one of dozens of railroads, and its people were doing their darnedest. Yes, it was a mighty big Saturday night.


First published in Winter 2003 Classic Trains magazine.

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Before Penn Central

Before Penn Central

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