Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & More
0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Ride A Steam Train From Coldwater To Quincy

steam_train.jpg
Chris Killian, WMUK
/

The Little River Steam Train in Coldwater is one of only four operating steam locomotives in Michigan, and 150 still working nationwide. You can see the train ride schedule here.

Steam trains may be long gone, but there’s still an attraction by both young and old to the shrill of the steam whistle, the hissing chug of pistons pushing this behemoth down the track. It’s basic, “analog” style transportation. There’s no sparks or wires, no fancy electronics. Just steam made by water boiled by wood and coal powering this hulking iron monster.

Terry Bloom has been taking care of the locomotive since 1974, when he incorporated the train. It’s been a family affair ever since – in more ways than one.

“They’re very interesting machines. They’re very…they have personalities and once you get to know them they kind of get into you," says Bloom. "It’s hard to let them go. The kids have all grown up with the engines and now the grandkids are growing up with the engines so it’s almost like part of the family. You can’t get rid of your family so you just keep going.”

The locomotive, a 462 Pacific Type, was custom built in 1911 for the Little River Railroad and Lumber Co. of Townsend, Tennessee. One of the most compact ever made in its class, the engine is finicky, and only gets run about 30 days out of the year. Still, it works, year after year, kept going by an all-volunteer crew, from the engineers to the ticket sellers. 

A volunteer engineer at the Little River Railroad
Credit Chris Killian, WMUK
/
A volunteer engineer at the Little River Railroad

Little River is a not-for-profit organization, using ticket sales to pay for upkeep and fuel.

The knowledge of how to maintain these engines is becoming more precious, Terry says, as fewer and fewer folks work on them. He’s handed his knowledge off to his son, Travis, who’s executive director of Little River.

“Most of the first guys who really knew it when they were running are gone now. It’s only what’s been passed on that survives,” says Bloom.

The engine has had homes in Angola, Indiana and White Pigeon before Terry brought it to Coldwater.

Little River now gives rides, mostly on the weekends as well as special holidays, six miles east to Quincy and back. The round-trip takes a little less than two hours, just enough time for the little ones, says Travis. The season runs through the end of October.

“It hold their attention long enough to remember it and on the way back they’re all asleep,”says Travis.

Travis says parents, especially fathers, love the train because of models they used to build in garages and basements. Kids love it because of a certain cartoon train that took the nation by storm. Either way, it’s a shared love, and Little River lets them have a shared experience in real life.

“Every kid has a fascination with trains of course. Thomas the Tank Engine and things like that have helped throughout the years. A lot of it is people getting older and remembering the trains they rode on," says Travis.

"Not many people today can say they’ve actually ridden a train. It’s a quick experience for families to have. They can bring their kids. They can climb in the engine and look around, something you can’t do anywhere else.”

Randy Seilheimer, of Kalamazoo, came out to the train on a recent Sunday afternoon with his family, including daughter-in-law Audrey and grandson Lucas Seilheimer, looking for a unique activity they could all enjoy. It’s safe to say he found it.

“Well about a year ago we were riding through Coldwater and we had to wait for this train and I hadn’t seen a steam locomotive since I was about 12 years old so I asked around and they said, ‘Yeah, you can ride the train," says Seilheimer. "So I’m here with my family – my kids and my grandkids – and at Christmastime we try and get together and I said, let’s do something this summer and nobody could think of anything so I brought up the train.”

With the pull of some levers, an engineer lets super-heated steam into the locomotive’s cylinders, and the drive components of the engine slowly come to life, like a waking giant, moving the train down the track on puffs of steam and labored chugs, on the six mile run east to Quincy.

The Little River Steam Train lives for another day.

Related Content