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Night Freight: 1943

March 1943. "Santa Fe R.R. yard at night, Kansas City, Kansas." Note the light trails made by the yard workers' torches in this time exposure, as well as a phantom number (3167, at right) on a train that paused in front of the camera. 4x5 inch Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano. View full size.

March 1943. "Santa Fe R.R. yard at night, Kansas City, Kansas." Note the light trails made by the yard workers' torches in this time exposure, as well as a phantom number (3167, at right) on a train that paused in front of the camera. 4x5 inch Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano. View full size.


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East is east and west is west

... and never the trains shall meet. Or something.

I went back through the other Delano photos in Argentine Yard and I think, maybe, I have an improved location for this photo. It's on the Goddard Avenue viaduct, looking west. Probably.

In the big daytime picture of Argentine seen previously on Shorpy, I am pretty sure that 1) Jack was looking east and 2) the elevated roadway that is easiest to see is 42nd Street.

In the daytime photo, you can see some other bridges over the tracks, further east of 42nd Street. You can also see the layout of the yard on the right (south) - rows of parallel tracks, punctuated in at least two places by a few tracks running at a very acute angle.

In the daytime photo, the nearer set of acute tracks doesn't quite make it to the furthest right (south) parallel tracks until east of the 42nd Street bridge. The further set of acute tracks does seem to make it to the furthest right parallel tracks, right before one of the other bridges in the background; if you were on that bridge and looking west, it would probably look like this photo.

The 1957 USGS topo map (Shawnee quadrangle) shows bridges over the yard at Goddard Avenue (between 28th and 29th Streets), 42nd Street, and 55th Street.

I'm pretty sure this photo was taken from the same vantage point as Heart of Darkness. I previously identified that photo as being on the 42nd Street bridge, looking west. However, if we are looking at the *engine* of the westbound train in that photo... then we should be looking east in that photo. (Or maybe the direction in the caption was reversed on purpose for wartime security!)

However, this photo shows another bridge over the yard in the background. I think, now, that this photo is from Goddard, looking west, and the bridge visible in the distance is 42nd Street. The moon would be setting, if that is true.

I tried to match the layout at the left (track with signal, pole line, two doubletrack dirt roads, and nothing) with the daytime photo, with no luck - but then again, even in 1943, the yard extended for some distance behind that photo as well. On the other hand, the USGS topo shows a small triangle of apparently-unused land just west of Goddard, with the western section of it marked "Park", that might correspond to the open space at the left of this photo.

Argentine Yard is still there today and is the biggest yard in the BNSF system.

The other Alco.

Slekjr is correct, the only diesel in this photo is the leftmost loco, which I think is an S-1. The other two are 0-8-0 steam switchers, converted by the Santa Fe shops from 2-8-0 road engines originally built by Baldwin and Alco's Rhode Island works respectively.

The other important reason that diesels were first used in yard service was their greater availability compared to steam locos. A diesel could probably work all three shifts in a yard without needing any attention at the engine terminal, whereas the steamers would need to be watered, fuelled, sanded, lubricated, and have their fires cleaned and ashpan emptied at least once or twice during the course of a 24 hour period. So their productivity was much greater than the steam engines they replaced.

Found that too

@Olentzero: Ghost #843 was yet _another_ early-1930s 0-8-0 yard engine, no surprise at all to see in this environment.

Chasing the motive power

According to, #3167 was a Mikado built by Baldwin in 1917, lost in a flood in 1951 or '52, and now living at the bottom of the Kaw River in Topeka.

#737 appears to be an 0-8-0 yard engine built in the Santa Fe's own shops around 1929; #831 is also an 0-8-0 built sometime in the early 1930s. Both would make eminent sense to be working in a big switchyard. (Source)

Meanwhile, four years ago

The elusive 3167 was spotted attempting to flee the yard.

3167, Found and Lost

This mysterious steam locomotive was a Baldwin 2-8-2 "Mikado" type that was lost in the Kaw River flood in Topeka in 1951.


Judging from the lantern trail next to the tank car, the yard worker was giving the engineer in the ghost engine the signal to proceed.

Ten years on

and no one's spotted the Phantom 843 mid-picture?

American Locomotive

The only diesel switcher I see is on the left, either an ALCo S-1 or an S-2 the others are tenders for steam locomotives. I operated an ALCo S-1 that was built in 1943, for 14 years, and it still hits the tracks daily.

See something, Say something.

I wonder if anyone ever called the Cops on Mr Delano, taking photos of strategic locations in the dead of night?

KC and the Moonshine Band

This looks to be a waxing crescent moon (upper left), which would mean this image was exposed on March 10, 1943, give or take a day, according to this moon phase chart:

Disclaimer: I am not an astronomer, nor do I play one on TV.

There's the moon

The streak in the upper left is a crescent moon, being occasionally obscured by clouds in a very long exposure. Nifty!

Diesel Switchers

For a long time, it was thought best to keep the new and high maintenance diesels in the yard, where they could do less damage if they broke down. Also, it was thought that diesel-electrics were not well siuted to hauling main line fast freight. The EMD (originally EMC) FT demonstrator tour had a lot to do with changing that attitude, by proving that a stock diesel locomotive design could replace steam locomotives in everyday road service all over the country.

Oh yes!

I'm surprised that all the shunters are diesel/electric. I would've expected that they would've been the last changed, not the first.


Best photo ever.




holy shitakies thats creepy

Phantom Number

The number 3167 was most likely from an engine. The boxcar numbers would not have been that large, and the font is the same as the other engines.

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