Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

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Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby 262 » Mon Nov 01, 2004 9:53 pm

Who was the last qualified steam locomotive engineer.To retire,after working in regular revnue,or passenger service into the diesel era on a class one railroad?I have read that Norfolk and Western was one of the last to retire steam from revenu service,could it have been one of their ranks?This would be quite an honor for a rare bird.
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Postby route_rock » Fri Nov 05, 2004 1:48 am

Good question. I read in one of my older Trains(issue escapes me) about a retiring Metro North Engineer.He was there firing cant remember if he ran any steam though. The last issue of Trains I got had a snippet in the back of a BNSF switchtender with 10 months on the job and a picture of an engineer with 50 years on the BNSF(formerly a SF man) if we do the math he would have been a fireman for sure but not sure if he was an engineer for steam.My guess is your right about N&W guys or even UP for bringing some steam back in rush season.My guess is we still have a few old heads that fired steam but I doubt any engineers around.That would be neat to pass on a certificate to that person for sure kind of an end of an era thing.
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Postby 262 » Sat Nov 06, 2004 6:18 pm

Thank you for your information Route_Rock.It occured to me while studying your post,That maybe this person could have went to Amtrak,with all the passenger service cuts,it probably would have taken a lot of seniority to hold a position.
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Postby EDM5970 » Tue Nov 09, 2004 7:43 pm

That is an interesting question, but let me throw in a curve ball. UP never retired 844; it has always been on the active roster. (It did spend some time as 8444, to free up its original number for a GP-30 that it has long outlasted-)

With that thought in mind, UP always having an active steam locomotive, one of the current UP steam crew members could claim that title.

But, take UP (and the words regular and revenue) out of the equation, and I suspect someone with a lot of whiskers who took a job at Amtrak or one of the transit agencies could make that claim, just as 262 has suggested.
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Postby Engineer Spike » Thu Nov 11, 2004 1:56 am

When I hired out for BNSF in the late 90's, there were still steam men.
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Postby 262 » Sat Nov 13, 2004 7:29 am

The railroad its not just a job its a carreer.On C-Span Book TV a few months ago I was watching a fellow who wrote a book about his family,who were three generations of Pullman Porters.He was telling about the time all three were working the same train.It was a special ordered by Southern Railway President,W.Graham Claytor.For new President of the United States Jimmy Carters trip from Georiga to Washington.Mr.Claytor had the lead diesel fitted with a steam whistle,and was engineer for most of the trip.Having hired on as a brakeman an risen through the ranks,was quailified.
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Postby joemato » Sat Jan 01, 2005 7:16 pm

Bernie O'Brien at Steamtown was a D&H Challanger fireman right after WW2 and worked on the D&H for 40 years and is still a hogger on the steam engines. He must be 80 years old, great guy and a joy to be around.
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Claytor

Postby H.F.Malone » Sat Jan 01, 2005 9:13 pm

Not quite, 262. WG Claytor was hired as Southern's VP of Law in 1964. He did not work his way up from brakeman. That said, he was a life-long, card-carrying (NRHS) railfan (complete with cameras!), and was qualified as engineer on the SOU. Anyway, when someone is that high up, or higher, in management, who is gonna boot them out of the cab?

Graham's brother Robert was VP-Law on the N&W (the Claytor family was from Roanoke; father was pres of the Viriginia Power Co.), and as soon as he (Bob) became N&W president, the 611 came out of the park in Roanoke. They were both true railfans and steam fans.
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Postby oddball » Mon Jan 31, 2005 1:50 am

i know a guy who hired on new york central in 1943 and retired in 1992 with metro north....he could be the last in new england? but i think he was a conductor and fire man..
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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby RDGTRANSMUSEUM » Mon May 25, 2009 6:56 pm

On the east end of conrail,I would say Gordon Fegley. Hired 1946 IIRC,retired in the late 1990's. He ran the Reading G's and T-1's last,and fired for his dad who also had 50 years on the Reading Co.
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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby pennsy » Mon May 25, 2009 7:12 pm

Steam locomotive engineers are continually being trained by the various private RRs and tourist RRs. At OERM, it is possible to enter training to operate their # 2 prairie steamer. As one gets more experienced the next step would be to get qualified to operate her on BNSF tracks etc. That part always puzzled me. Just because you are certified to operate engines on BNSF, you may not be certified to operate engines on UP etc. At one time only AMTRAK engineers were allowed to operate Metrolink engines.
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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby Gadfly » Mon May 25, 2009 7:51 pm

pennsy wrote:Steam locomotive engineers are continually being trained by the various private RRs and tourist RRs. At OERM, it is possible to enter training to operate their # 2 prairie steamer. As one gets more experienced the next step would be to get qualified to operate her on BNSF tracks etc. That part always puzzled me. Just because you are certified to operate engines on BNSF, you may not be certified to operate engines on UP etc. At one time only AMTRAK engineers were allowed to operate Metrolink engines.


There are union contracts to consider as well, so while the steam-qualified engineer could operate the engine, he still have to do so under the watchful eye of a current engineer who is qualified on the divison, or sub-division. IOW, you aren't going to jump from one road to another. As I said, there would also be a currently-certified engineer called for the assignment as well.

Trying to determine who might have been the "last" steam engineer isn't so easy. Many of these fellows hired on in the mid to late 40's and remained in service into the 90's. One of these was George Ambrose, PIedmont Division, North End engineer on Southern Railway. He was also the engineer that claimed the job when the SR ran steam excursions on that Division up until he moved over to run the Amtrak Crescent. He ran the steam trains, I rode with him on the head end of some of the FP-7's and E-8's. I can't say if he was the "last", but he was ONE of the last, and quite a character!


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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby bearestir » Sun Apr 15, 2012 8:06 pm

Trying to determine who might have been the "last" steam engineer isn't so easy. Many of these fellows hired on in the mid to late 40's and remained in service into the 90's. One of these was George Ambrose, PIedmont Division, North End engineer on Southern Railway. He was also the engineer that claimed the job when the SR ran steam excursions on that Division up until he moved over to run the Amtrak Crescent. He ran the steam trains, I rode with him on the head end of some of the FP-7's and E-8's. I can't say if he was the "last", but he was ONE of the last, and quite a character!


I have been wondering for years what became of George Ambrose. When I was 12, we had moved from Hawaii, where I lived all my life. On our move from Hawaii to Newport, R.I. (my dad was a pilot in the Marines), we stopped overnight in Spartanburg, S.C. I cajoled my dad into driving me up to the Southern station there. It was already dark, and a Southern mail train (I think piggyback mail, but I'm not sure) was stopped near the station. The engineer was George Ambrose.

He invited me up into the cab, which was quite a treat for a kid who had never even seen a train in real life until the few weeks before this cab visit. Then, he told my dad that I could ride in the cab to Greenville, SC if my dad would meet me there to pick me up. I rode in the cab. It was a sensory overload for a new 12 year old train fan and I will never forget his kindness.

About ten years ago, I tried to track him down through the unions. I could never find him. I owe a great debt to him, as that was one of the best times I had related to railroading.
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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby Gadfly » Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:41 pm

bearestir wrote:
Trying to determine who might have been the "last" steam engineer isn't so easy. Many of these fellows hired on in the mid to late 40's and remained in service into the 90's. One of these was George Ambrose, PIedmont Division, North End engineer on Southern Railway. He was also the engineer that claimed the job when the SR ran steam excursions on that Division up until he moved over to run the Amtrak Crescent. He ran the steam trains, I rode with him on the head end of some of the FP-7's and E-8's. I can't say if he was the "last", but he was ONE of the last, and quite a character!


I have been wondering for years what became of George Ambrose. When I was 12, we had moved from Hawaii, where I lived all my life. On our move from Hawaii to Newport, R.I. (my dad was a pilot in the Marines), we stopped overnight in Spartanburg, S.C. I cajoled my dad into driving me up to the Southern station there. It was already dark, and a Southern mail train (I think piggyback mail, but I'm not sure) was stopped near the station. The engineer was George Ambrose.

He invited me up into the cab, which was quite a treat for a kid who had never even seen a train in real life until the few weeks before this cab visit. Then, he told my dad that I could ride in the cab to Greenville, SC if my dad would meet me there to pick me up. I rode in the cab. It was a sensory overload for a new 12 year old train fan and I will never forget his kindness.

About ten years ago, I tried to track him down through the unions. I could never find him. I owe a great debt to him, as that was one of the best times I had related to railroading.


The last time *I* heard of George he was, of course, retired and living in/around Greenville, SC where the Division (north end) began. I knew George very well, deadheaded with him a few times, rode on the engine with him over the Piedmont Division where I also worked, talked to him over the radio. One time he had bid off the passenger train and was running freight (that may have been at the Amtrak takeover) and after Southern's contract for running the train FOR Amtrak ran out. I was working on Liddell street in Charlotte, NC at the Roadway Shops. George got off the engine and came over to me and we stood and talked for a bit until the radio called him back to move.

If you are familiar with the old Spartanburg station and Rhynes Drug store (it was mostly an eatery when I was there), I worked there and loaded baggage on the Crescent at night. Saw George there, too. It was at that crossing where I caught up (at that time) "Southern" 2716 (steam) to ride back to Charlotte for my car, parked at the N. Tryon St. station.

And one night my wife and I were going to Virginia from Gastonia (NC) and were waiting for #2. When George approached Trenton Street just south of the station, he blew the crossing the usual way with those distinctive Nathan horns, and suddenly broke into a jazzed-up version of "shave & and a haircut--six bits, Cow in the Barnyard, six t-ts!" :) !!!!!!!!!


"Hmm, George must be feeling really good tonight!!" LMAO! :)

He was a fun character, and one of the last Southern Railway steam men.
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Re: Who was the last qualified steam engineer?

Postby Gadfly » Thu Jan 09, 2014 8:29 pm

rwisham wrote:I realize this is a old topic. But how delighted I was to read about George Ambrose. It gave me many fond memories. George was my step grandfather. But always treated me like a grand daughter. George died some time ago. I too rode in the engine with him traveling from Salisbury, NC to Greenville, SC. Against regulations if course and he would gave me duck down if meeting another train. He was a character and was always wonderful to me. His father and his brother were also engineers. Thank you for the memories.


I am proud to have known George personally, and to have worked with him "on the ground" as a clerk, operator, and friend. George was also a "runner" and not afraid to "let 'er rip"! Hee Hee! He got a few speeding tickets from the Trainmasters, too, and scared hell out of me one night when I deadheaded back south one night on the Crescent. I mean he was letting those "oversized Chevrolets" (GM E8's) :-D ROLL. I think I counted 90-something between mileposts as my coach rocked and rolled. ("DAMN! He must be in a hurry to get home!!!"!!! ) Mr. Derreberry was the conductor that night, and he just shook his head.

As I mentioned earlier, Mr Ambrose used to "claim out" on the steam trains as they came thru the Piedmont Division, North End since he was, I believe, the senior engineer on his Roster at the time and had first choice of assignments. He was also qualified on steam, and I watched him work his engines expertly as they departed south out of Charlotte (NC) Yard. There was a difficult hill past the Purina plant that really challenged the engineers AND their steam engines, and George seemed to know that his engine was about to slip down.(After all, He'd done it many times back in the late 40's and early 50's! He'd "catch" it just before the slip by backing off the throttle right before it happened so that as the wheels began to lose traction, he was already on top of it, reducing power and adding sand at just the right time. I suppose the fans weren't as fond of George as they were of some of the others who wouldn't sense the impending slip. Some of the other guys let the engine almost get away from them before catching it giving the fans a thrill that George didn't like to give. It was always quite a show with 45 naught one down in the corner, exhaust rapping and echoing against the tall buildings nearby. A thunderous racket, it was!

I rode with George one night and he had me doing the whistle work (E8's). Standing behind George, I held on with one hand and kept the other on the lanyard.

When we approached Gastonia, and we eased thru town (prior to them digging that horrible train ditch), I let loose with a "TANT-TANT-A TANT-TANT........TANT TANT!"

George grinned back at me and in that "drawl" of his, "Ya tryin' to copy me, eh"! :-D

Proud to know him, and proud of my service (and memories) of the Southern Railway!!!! :-D
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