Rocket train makes final run

Eli Kitchell stands on the Oklahoma Centennial Sooner Rocket grate during the train’s stop on Main Street Thursday. The train was the last steam locomotive ever built for Union Pacific Railroad.

It might have been a few hours late, but the Oklahoma Centennial Sooner Rocket, Union Pacific Locomotive No. 844, still made an impression.

“(It’s) a big train,” Eli Kitchell told me. And he should know. The locomotive towers over his 2 1-2 year-old frame, and while he won’t tell me anymore than that, he’s said it all.

It is huge.

The crowd, buzzing with excitement, is dwarfed by the train. Some have never been this close to one before, and still others are enthusiasts, excited to get a chance to see the legendary U.P. Steam Locomotive No. 844.

The locomotive could be heard coming down the tracks from who knows how far away. The whistle sounding then, while it was still barely visible, wasn’t as loud as when it pulled up alongside the spectators dotting Main Street.

Plumes of smoke rose out of the stacks and, when the whistle sounded its warning again, I instinctively covered my ears.

I found out the train was late because of track congestion, something I had never really thought of before. Stopping to allow another train to pass through might have been a slight inconvenience, but it prevented a head-on accident which would have been much worse.

As the dignitaries lined up on the train exit, I spotted Fred Jackson. He’s every bit of what I imagined a train conductor would look like. It’s almost liked he stepped off of the pages of “The Polar Express” and into the world, real to us all.

While I would like to linger a little longer at the train’s side, taking it all in like the other members of the crowd, I have work to do so I move on down the track, which is where I find Eli and his family enjoying a day in history.

Eli’s mom, Holli Kitchell, echoes Eli’s earlier sentiments.

“It’s just so big,” she says. “It’s wonderful. Just that something like this would come to Duncan ...” she stops in the amazement of it all.

I tend to agree with her. What else can really be said without experiencing the train itself?

Unfortunately, for many, riding the train isn’t an option. The event was done to honor first responders, EMS, police officers, other law enforcement, firefighters, the military, educators and many others who are often forgotten until their services are needed.

All of them are men and women who serve our community and our country daily, putting their lives on the line. They are the ones who rode this historic locomotive. It’s a thank-you from Union Pacific for everything they do. It’s well deserved.

I am fortunate enough to be invited at the last moment to ride the train to Waurika. For all of you who couldn’t experience it, I’d like to take you with me on my journey.

The giant steam locomotive moving leisurely down the winding track is over 60 years old and in no hurry to get anywhere.

The Oklahoma air rushing by is cooling as I stand in the luggage car. There are no windows here, just doors with what I’ll call giant holes above them. You can lean out and see the world, but I’m quite happy with keeping all of my body parts in the car.

The wood floors are beautiful. I’m told that sometimes bands entertain in the car and the wood floors are great to dance on — when there’s no luggage, that is.

I’ve never been in a train before and even though the breeze coming in feels wonderful after standing under the hot September sun, I want to explore. It’s not often one gets a chance to ride Union Pacific Steam Locomotive No. 844. Once it leaves Oklahoma, I probably won’t have the chance to do it again.

Fields and streams pass by, bits of Oklahoma I’ve never seen because they’re tucked away beyond the highway and pass any roads I might travel. I feel like I should be in a southern gown of some sort, with a white lace umbrella, on my way to meet my beau at the depot as we go off on some Wild West adventure.

I start by moving toward the back of the train. Passing through the cars, I feel a little frightened when I think of western movies where the cars come unhinged. The train is squeaking and groaning, the joints between the cars shaking a little. But it’s safe and secure. I won’t be going anywhere.

The first car I come to reminds me of the first-class portion of a plane, only much better. The seats are huge, two on each side of the aisle, and a plush green carpet pads my feet as I move through.

The corridors in the individual cars are narrow and I find myself thinking that people must have been a lot smaller back then. It’s a challenge to get my footing correct. The train sways a bit and I sit down for a moment to collect myself before getting up to try again.

When I do, I find my walking has improved and I move on. There’s still so much more to see.

I come to a door and press a rectangular button about the size of my hand to activate it. It opens with a small whoosh, like a door would open in a “Star Wars” movie. I’m surprised. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I move through.

This car is similar, same plush green carpet and chairs, only it has a set of stairs that allow passengers to access what’s called a dome car.

The dome car is basically another little car that sits above the train. You get a 360-degree view up here and it’s spectacular.

But being up high is making me a little sick, a side of effect of being terrified of heights, I believe, so I move on yet again. The smell starts to change as I move through cars and I find myself unable to pin point, what, exactly, the smell is.

When I reach the dining car, the entire mood of the train changes. I have also located the reason for the different smell. It’s a melody of something familiar, and I kind of like it.

Mahogany wood surrounds a beautiful area with little tables and chairs. I can only speculate who sat here in the past, gazing out at the landscape rushing past them, drinking tea and enjoying a meal.

As I progress down the train, I find each car to be more magnificent than the last. I am not disappointed when I reach the last car. The mahogany continues here and the seats face backward, sloped auditorium style. The very back of the car is a huge window that showcases where you’ve come from.

I am amazed at the number of people waiting at the tracks as the train goes by. They are there, waving and snapping photos. Who knows if they’ll ever see this train again.

Points start to fade away into the horizon and I find myself drifting away into myself as I take it all in, knowing that I’m sitting in a piece of history.

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