“Honorary steam locomotive”

Ask Trains from March 2011

Q For many years now, fans have been calling Alco PA locomotives “honorary steam locomotives” because of the thick, dense smoke they generate during acceleration. I’ve heard some people mention that TRAINS Editor David P. Morgan wrote an editorial on this citing a statement or caption penned by rail historian Professor George W. Hilton. Can you verify the original quote?
— Tony Reznak Jr., Nanticoke, Pa.

A George Hilton did, indeed, first refer to an Alco PA as an honorary steam locomotive in a review of John A. Rehor and Phillip T. Horning’s book, “The Berkshire Era.” The review appeared on pages 54-55 of the September 1968 issue of TRAINS. Specifically, Hilton wrote, “All of the motive power shown is steam, with the exception of three Alco PA units, which seem generally to have been elevated to the position of honorary steam locomotives.”

Then in March 1971, in his story, “Alco in a Warbonnet,” David P. Morgan described the beauty and power combined in Santa Fe’s warbonnet fleet. On page 22, he ended his tribute: “Without the PA, Alco never would have made it onto the high iron of Santa Fe passenger railroading…. ‘Honorary steam locomotive,’ said George Hilton. It figures that the locomotive, which debuted with a party on a private siding beneath the Waldorf Astoria would exit the roster of its first owner with fantrips.”
— Kathi Kube; Crew Heimer, rail historian; and Andrew Dow, author of “Dow’s Dictionary of Railway Quotations.”
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