New documentary seeks input from retired engineers

Steam/diesel engineers preferred

An upcoming documentary film will record the experiences of veteran locomotive engineers around the country during the last 50 years, and BLE members are asked to share theirs.

According to Doug Kirkpatrick of Streamliner Productions in New York, work on the film began in 1998 when his production photographer recorded the last day of service of D&H veteran Bernie O'Brien. Known as something of a legend in northeast U.S. railroad circles, O'Brien was finishing up 50 years of continuous service on the D&H. His recollections inspired Kirkpatrick to begin a series of interviews with retired engineers around the country.

"There is something extraordinarily special about the railroad experience that far transcends the operational and historic aspects of the industry and the craft," says Kirkpatrick. "People who haven't even ridden on a train can still appreciate the wonder and awe of what these veterans went through. That's because they had a human experience of life and work and community that is compelling in its uniqueness. People will understand that when they see it. That's what this film is about."

As it happens, O'Brien and Kirkpatrick are volunteer train service colleagues at Steamtown National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service in Scranton, Pa. "Over a beer at the end of the day, Bernie and his peers would open up and recall the most hilarious and poignant stories about people they worked with, things that happened to them and the memorable characters they met along the way. These recollections reflect the very human element of the work they did. I was fascinated and felt something should be done to capture this sort of personal history before Bernie and his generation are gone forever."

"Railroad engineers are enigmatic to most people, creatures unfairly simplified by popular culture whose real work is a mystery. The film we're doing will become an opportunity for audiences to get very related to the gritty experiences railroad engineers have of the work they did, the people around them and the land they saw from the windows of the locomotives they ran," says Kirkpatrick. "People will also get to see themselves through the eyes of the railroaders being interviewed. Railroad experiences serve as powerful metaphors of life in the communities we live in."

The title of the program has proven to be a vexing challenge for the production team. "We began with 'The Last of the Railroaders' because O'Brien's retirement seemed to us like the end of a generational distinction in railroading - he is one of the few remaining locomotive engineers who began during the sunset of steam power in the U.S. and continued on through the industry upheavals in the 70's and 80's until his retirement 50 years later. But we realized that that title is deceptive relative to the thousands of men and women who go to work on the railroad today."

Production is slated to begin in early 2002. BLE members who began their careers on steam locomotives and who are interested in sharing their recollections of life on the road throughout their careers are encouraged to send their contact information via email to Doug Kirkpatrick at: <>.

A brief outline of the documentary is available online at the following:

< pages/PP_LastRailroaders.html>.


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers