Where I grew up, it didn't matter which side of the tracks you lived on, all the trains that passed through were slow. I never saw any train go more than 20 mph. I understood that they had fast ones in Japan and Europe, but I believed that perhaps the fastest train ever in America went maybe 50 or at best 60 miles per hour.
One day at lunch in 1989, I was working in the San Fernando Valley at Rockwell. Just like in 'Office Space', we went to one of those cheesy fern burger joints. This one was called Fuddruckers. Just as we were leaving to go back to the office, a freight train sped by. It made a horrific sound, louder than I'd ever heard any train, and it was going 70 miles an hour, for sure. I could not believe my ears or eyes. I was sure that it was just about to wreck. But it passed by without incident. For me it was a Black Swan moment.
Looking at the Union Pacific 844 rolling as fast as it does is only half as exciting as seeing the machinery pushing the drive wheels. These are called valve gear, and it turns out that there are more than a dozen designs of them.
I find it very difficult to believe that there are any kids in highschool today who will learn how to design, build, maintain or repair valve gear. The knowledge is being destroyed through neglect. More likely, they will grow up believing as I did, that steam technology was primitive and incapable of doing what is currently the engineering fashion.
But there it is. Coal fired speed and power. I understand the romance now - the connection to Jazz music. The inspiration of my grandfather's generation. I look back the Steam Age with awe and respect.