The rest of the story: The run of No. 2558
Last week, we told the story of the Burlington Zephyr, Mark Twain's record speed run from McCook to Oxford in 1935, as part of the Flood Reclamation Celebration. This was indeed a memorable day in McCook's history, and the people of Southwest Nebraska were understandably proud of that speed record. But, as the late Paul Harvey would say, "Now for the rest of the story!"
People have always been attracted to races, and man has had a love affair with speed, whether it be events like the International Olympics or races of automobiles or planes. The Indianapolis 500 and stock car races have been important testing arenas for mechanical advancements. It is no different with trains. Important innovations in train technology are tested with attempts at setting new speed records. Many of these attempts at setting U.S. records for trains have taken place through or near McCook.
In 1897, a special train from Chicago to Denver set a speed record. A Chicago man hired a special train to take him to Denver to see his dying son. The fee was $1,000 if the trip could be made in 24 hours. The train (consisting of the Engine No. 210 and B&M President Perkins special car No. 98), left Chicago at 9:58 am, and pulled into Denver's Union Depot 18 hours, 55 minutes later, a distance of 1,028 miles. McCook resident David Magner was the engineer on this run, with fireman Walt Jefferies and conductor Harvey Miller.
Average speed for the entire run was 55.5 mph. Time included all stops, for coal, water and changing engines. The best time, between Hastings and McCook, was 63 mph. Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the railroad and crew, the man's son had passed away by the time they arrived in Denver.
Two years later, in 1899 a Baldwin engine, No. 346, made a record run of 143 miles in 140 minutes between Akron and McCook. This train carried nine cars and one diner.
In 1934, diesel engines began replacing the old steam engines. Diesels were recognized as more efficient than steam engines and much faster -- but were they?
In October 1935 McCook staged a gigantic celebration, the Republican River Valley Reconstruction Celebration -- to highlight the accomplishments of the Valley in its rebuilding efforts after the great Republican River flood in the summer of 1935.
The CB&Q railroad, the telephone company, the counties and the farmers had made great progress in rebuilding the valley following the flood. There had been more than 4,000 men working on the railroad tracks, rights of way and bridges. Phone operators and linemen had put out early warnings about the high water coming down the valley, which had been credited with saving many lives. And now, everyone wanted to celebrate.
During the three days of celebrations in McCook, there were daily parades, speeches by politicians, the Burlington Railroad President Ralph Budd, the governor and local leaders. The railroad held a grand picnic and the famous Burlington Band had a reunion.
There was a tent city set up at the end of Main Street by the American Legion for the Veterans of World War I, who marched in the daily parades. A mounted horse calvary unit performed in parades and offered exhibitions in jumping. Infantry outfits staged mock battles at the fairgrounds.
Hotels and cabin camps were overflowing. The Railroad offered Pullman cars for sleeping space -- $1 for an upper berth, $1.50 for a lower. A miniature steam engine with rubber tires gave rides to children and participated in the parade each day.
One of the objectives of the celebration was to let the nation know that the CB&Q was back in full operation. The main line from Denver to Chicago was again capable of running at high speeds. To point this out the CB&Q brought to McCook a new stainless steel (diesel) Zephyr, "The Mark Twain, No. 9903," to give a high-speed demonstration.
Two half-hour broadcasts over the Columbia Broadcasting System originated in McCook, giving nationwide coverage of the speed trial that the Mark Twain attempted.
The Mark Twain was billed as the latest in railroad technology. It was efficiently propelled by a 660 h.p. engine, which directly powered a main electric generator, which in turn powered 2 traction motors.
The outside of the train was streamlined from front to rear, with satin smooth surfaces, gleaming burnished steel. Interior design was characterized by color harmony, without ostentation. Lighting was diffused and adjustable. Compartments were equipped with radio, and climate controlled ... the last word in comfort and speedy train travel.
After the parade and speeches, reporters and celebrities boarded the Mark Twain for their trip to Oxford, Nebraska, a distance of 54 miles from McCook. They made their trip in the record time of 45 minutes! -- proving that the roadbed was ready for business. During this trip the Mark Twain reached speeds of 122 mph!
At this same time, another train, No. 2558, a steam locomotive carrying three passenger cars and one baggage car, was dispatched from McCook to pick up passengers for the return trip to McCook -- the Mark Twain was scheduled to go on to Hannibal, Missouri, to be formally christened by Mark Twain's granddaughter, then on to St. Louis, where it would be entered into regular service on the run from St. Louis to Burlington, Iowa.
The engineer on No. 2558 was Mart Scott, and the fireman was Sid Hubert. As Engineer Scott picked up his running orders, he asked how fast he was he could go with Old No. 2558 as he followed the train trying to set a speed record. The Superintendent's orders, with some sarcasm, "Just as damn fast and you want to." Mart's reply, probably out of the Superintendent's earshot, was, "I've been waiting a long time to hear that!"
Old No. 2558 followed the sleek new streamliner out of McCook, staying far enough behind to let the Mark Twain clear the block. As the Mark Twain picked up speed, so did No. 2558. Through Edison the Mark Twain was making its top speed. Old No. 2558 had increased its speed to the point that it was catching up with the speed- setting train.
Fireman Hubert was scooping coal at a feverish pace, trying to hit the firebox and keep up the steam pressure. He said the telegraph posts looked like fence posts, they were going by that fast. Engineer Scott calculated their speed using the mileposts. They had covered the last mile in less than 30 seconds -- over 120 mph! Several of the other workmen aboard had also checked their speed. All agreed that Old 2558 had run as fast, and maybe a little faster than the new record-holder. Of course the reporters were writing about their ride aboard the record setting Mark Twain, unaware of the historic event that was taking place just behind them.
When Old No. 2558 arrived back in McCook and had unloaded its celebrities and reporters, the CB&Q Superintendent Caldwell unloaded his thoughts on Engineer Scott and Fireman Hubert.
It was his position that the steam train should not have gone faster than the "record setting brand new diesel." Scott and Hubert took their dressing down, but like all the other CB&Q workers, they were sure that deep down in his heart, Mr. Caldwell was more than a little proud of the fact that the reliable old steam engine was still able to compete with those streamlined beauties, the new diesel-electric locomotives.
Source: An Early History of McCook, by Marion McClelland
The Day Old $2558 Set the Record, by John Hubert, son of Fireman Sid Hubert. You may read John's complete story at www.buffalocommons.org