“Oh, it was the biggest thing going in Wausau,” said Englert, 88, of Wausau. “The engine that pulled the Northwoods Hiawatha train was rebuilt with a shroud over the top.”
Englert was 11 that year, 1937. The nation was pulling out of The Great Depression, and the country’s largest train companies were modernizing their fleets of locomotive engines.
Instead of the great angular black engines, the new locomotives had streamlined, art-deco lines that connoted speed, modernity and power. Englert remembers being transfixed - imagine Americans in the 1960s, watching the Apollo missions take off, and you’ll understand his sense of wonder.
“It was really exciting,” he told Daily Herald Media (http://wdhne.ws/1ml4IBC).
The sleekly styled train locomotives represented the pinnacle of train travel in the United States. They were in service from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, and they are the subject of a new book edited by Merrill train buff, author and retired FBI agent Tom Burg, 69. The book is called “The Speedliners: The Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha Steam Locomotives.”
The Speedliners represent “the best of the best” when it comes to style and substance in locomotives, especially in the eyes of train buffs, Burg said. “These have always captured the fancy of rail fans.”
“The Speedliners” is the 23rd book published by Merrill Publishing Associates, the publishing business of Burg and his partner, Sharon Thatcher. The book is the last in a series of 10 books that Merrill Publishing Associates has produced in partnership with the Milwaukee Road Historical Association.
The book-publishing business is an offshoot of Burg’s train mania, a passion that he’s had “all my life” and that even he can’t quite explain. “The best I can say is that train whistles used to wake me from naps when I was small boy,” he said.
He managed the train addiction through a career as a federal law officer with the FBI, but it was unleashed fully after his retirement in 1999. He has used his skills as an investigator - researching, developing relationships, following leads - to learn as much as he can about trains and railroads.
The key to many of his books, including “The Speedliners,” was his friendship with the grandson of Roy Campbell, a Milwaukee businessman, train photographer and train-photo collector. Campbell amassed a collection of thousands of photos, including those published in “The Speedliners.”
Burg was able to use those photos to create the book series, which are really coffee table art books, if you believe trains are art.
Englert certainly does.
“Steamers are fascinating. The smell of that steam. The noise of the engines, that chug, chug,” Englert said. “I practically lived down at the railroad stations when I was a kid. … That was a wonderful part of my life. And still is.”