Retired railroad worker remembers steam engine days - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

Retired railroad worker remembers steam engine days

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AMARILLO - There are few still living who remember how to operate a steam engine like the one on display just north of the Civic Center in downtown Amarillo, but 96-year-old John W. Story remembers it all.

In October of 1943, Story boarded the Madam Queen for the first time. Sunday he boarded again as a birthday surprise from his family, after 33 years off the railroad.

"I'm 96 years old today and this may be the happiest day of my life to be out here," Story said.

Story started working for the Santa Fe railroad in middle of World War II; first as a fireman, then as an engineer.

"They paid good money and it's a pretty good job," Story said.

He says the work was a lot different back in his day with longer hours, a bigger margin for error, and more machinery to operate.

"It's easy now with those diesels," Story said. "You can wear a suit now where as back in my day sometimes there would be coal and oil be all over your face, especially if the wind's blowing it back in your face."

Amarillo's Railroad Artifact Preservation Society restored the Madam Queen cosmetically, but they hope to get her up and running as well.

"If we had all the money we needed right now, we could probably have this running up and down the track in two years," RAPS President and Founder Sam D. Teague said.

The project would cost about two million dollars, but the railroad society believes preserving the past is well worth the cash because those who remember this huge part of our history are numbered.

"To hear that there's even a crew member still left is pretty amazing. For him to be able to come down here and walk on this gravel and go up and down these stairs at 96 is kind of a story in itself," Teague said.

Teague said the Madam Queen was sitting abandoned when he decided to clean it and start RAPS. He's interviewed several crew members of the Santa Fe Steam Locomotive 5000, all of whom have now passed away, and written a book about the machine "The Madam Queen."

"This is all a huge part of history and we'd like to be able to share it," Teague said.

Long term, Teague hopes to build a museum with functioning steam engines, an inn, and gift shop.

But as of right not, RAPS offers free tours of the Madam Queen available by phone reservation any Saturday, weather permitting.

On Saturday May 11th, there will be free tours and food at the site, on 2nd Ave. just north of the Amarillo Civic Center, for National Train Day. At their next meeting, the Amarillo City Commission will sign a proclamation that train day in Amarillo will always be held on May 11.