Old Smoky introduced generations of kids to railroading
You don't have to be THAT old to remember the days when Old Smoky used to serve Bay View. Actually the steam locomotive didn't go anywhere, but folks loved it just the same.
Kids would visit it and gaze in awe at the massive example of industrial achievement. Although some of us thought it was ancient, Smoky wasn't all that old.
The American Locomotive Company built Smoky -- aka locomotive No. 265 -- in 1944 and delivered it to the Milwaukee Road in August of that year with a price tag of $195.926.73.
It had a relatively short life hauling 80-90 freight cars between Milwaukee, Bensenville, Illinois and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Smoky racked up 900,000 miles of service, which also included passenger service between Milwaukee and Minneapolis and Chicago and Omaha.
Just 10 years after it was delivered, Smoky was retired and the Milwaukee Road gave Smoky to Milwaukee to be used as an exhibit. She was placed on a spot near East Conway and South Bay Streets on November 18, 1956.
The city erected a chain-link fence and some floodlighting and a life-like crew was installed in the cab by Milwaukee Public Museum artist Adolphe Seebach. A number of local labor unions donated time, effort and materials to set up the exhibit, at which two generations of kids would marvel.
The 4-8-4 engine (which meant it had four wheels up front, eight main drive wheels and four more smaller wheels at the back) was immediately popular and a group of citizens raised $7,000 for a fund created to maintain Old Smoky.
Although it sat immobile on a short section of track, behind a fence, the 412-ton Smoky was in full working order (oh, if only we kids had known THAT!).
Alas, all good things must come to an end and Smoky's tenure in Milwaukee was to be relatively short-lived. In the 1970s Smoky went south, to Illinois. But Smoky's former Bay View location still maintains remnants of the great railroading days as diesels still ride the rails that run along Bay Street.
On most days, you can see (and hear) a Union Pacific or Soo engine idling as it prepares to move freight cars around the railyard at the southern end of Jones Island. And one of my youngest neighborhood friends, 3-year-old Dominic, still stares at them in awe. When he saw a diesel moving along the tracks recently, he exclaimed, "that's the coolest train ever!" If only he'd met Smoky.
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