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Railroaders' Nostalgia > the oldest fireman I ever knew

Date: 05/22/23 17:34
the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

Mr Galen Prestwood passed away on the 13th at age 98. He was the oldest “fireman” I ever knew. This will of course, need some explanation...

In 2010 I retired from a 32 year career in train & yard service over 3 different railroads. Coming back home to Manhattan, KS also meant taking up with an old girlfriend from my high school days. After a few short years that relationship fizzled out. But I did get to know and admire her father. Mr Prestwood was born in 1925 in Olsburg, Kansas. He was a lifetime farmer, acquiring & working a spread in Pottawatomie County NE of the Riley County seat of Manhattan. He was not an actual railfan as such. But overall he was an avid history buff! There were many times I would take him on drives around the extended countryside. He loved looking at farmsteads here & there. Quite often Galen would see a farm and recall its inhabitants from over a half-century earlier. It was amazing! And we might see a train once in a great while. Through my subtle influence he developed a small interest in railroading. Galen Prestwood was the only living witness I ever talked to who could recall seeing trains rolling through his hometown of Olsburg. The old Kansas Central (narrow gauge)/LK&W/Union Pacific trackage ran from Leavenworth on the Missouri River through northeastern Kansas out to a connection with the Santa Fe at Miltonvale, KS. The segment through Olsburg was abandoned & torn out during the Great Depression. So Galen couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 at the time.

My being a railfan opened up his memory banks up to a few amazing RR tidbits. In 2014 Galen gave me a great tip on an LK&W artifact that I don’t think I would have ever known about: ( Ghost of the LK&W! (trainorders.com) ). In January of 2015 he & I took a special drive up to the ghost town area still known as “Lasita” (luh-SIGH-tuh). He steered me to the rural Riley County intersection of Senn & Lasita Rds. Lo and behold there sat an ancient elevator that I might never have seen. Nor would I have known it was once served by a railroad. Hopefully this latitude-longitude link ( 39.408835, -96.941511 ) will get you there in Google Maps. I was stunned to know this structure from ancient RR history was still standing, less than an hour from my hometown... Some railfan I am, eh??! Less than a year later 4 of us TO members set up a “walk-in-the-weeds” trip to go trace the western half of the KC/LK&W/UP right-of-way. I told Galen about our plans to see if I could interest him in going. He never hesitated and became a 5th member. We started at Miltonvale and worked our way east, stopping at the convenient halfway point of Onaga on UP’s Topeka ~ Marysville mainline. Galen was a great addition to our escapade, providing some interesting conversation along the way.

When UP 4-8-8-4 #4014 passed through Manhattan Galen was eager to see it. On its 2nd pass through Kansas I took him over to Lawrence and we gave the 4014 a chase back to Manhattan. He could remember seeing Union Pacific steam on trips through Wyoming in the 1950s. And without being told so, he could definitely ID the 4014 as a “Big Boy” seven decades later.

And finally, in the summer of 2021 I took Galen over to Abilene and procured for him (& me) a ride in the Smoky Valley’s ex-Santa Fe 4-6-2 #3415. We made the full excursion round-trip to & from Enterprise. At times it became a bit of a buckaroo ride. But ex-cowboy Galen rode it well, not quite having to hang on for dear life. I don’t know who had more fun... Galen or Smoky Valley engineer Steve Schwarting. Steve told me later how much he enjoyed my bringing along the “oldest fireman the A&SV ever had”! :^)

The end came very quickly for Mr Prestwood. In less than a month he went from living just fine by himself to having to be put in a Hospice. He passed away in his sleep in less than 24 hours at the Hospice. It was truly my great privilege to know this man & share a mutual love of history with him...

1. Galen Prestwood was still a spry 87 in this photo. It was arranged for me to take him over to Topeka for a special doctor visit on October 1, 2012. After the visit he was game to go check out the ex-Santa Fe 4-6-4 #3463 sitting below the Kansas Expocentre grounds along Topeka Blvd. And we took a sort of long way home by chasing a re-routed BNSF manifest south (TT west) toward Burlingame. He enjoyed seeing the countryside...

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/22/23 17:36 by santafe199.

Date: 05/22/23 17:36
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

2. 3. & 4. In September of ‘20 I took Galen over to Abilene to see the Smoky Valley’s darling 4-6-3 #3415 in operation. We got there early and he was able to climb right up into the cab for a spirited Q&A session with Steve Schwarting, A&SV’s main man for all things mechanical, especially steam on the Smoky Valley. I was amazed to hear the depth of some of Galen’s questions. Turns out he had watched many History Channel-type TV shows about “trains & railroading”, and had retained enough of what he saw to ask some pretty savvy questions!

Date: 05/22/23 17:38
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

5. 6. & 7. Still on the same visit I had a sneaky plan already worked out. Knowing the routine of how the 3415 comes out of its barn to get on its train, I sat Galen down on the bench in front of what was once A&SV’s first “depot”. I knew the 3415 would stop right in front of him to let the flagman walk ahead and protect the busy Buckeye Avenue (main drag) crossing. And I knew the hogger would be whistling off to make the move across the avenue.

Date: 05/22/23 17:39
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

8. My grand scheme went off even better that I thought it would! In images 6-8 you will notice Galen sitting where I strategically placed him, watching the 3415 approach & stop right in front of him. With the flagman now protecting the crossing the hogger pulled 2 sharp blasts on the whistle to move forward. I regret not staying on the north side of the engine so I could shoot Galen’s reaction. I chose instead to shoot the flagman. By the time the engine cleared my line of sight, Galen was already up off the bench with an ear-to-ear grin on his face. With an excited voice almost like that of a grade-school kid he proclaimed: “That right there was worth the price of admission!!!
Photos 2-8 taken September 6, 2020

Date: 05/22/23 17:41
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

9. & 10 We’re now aboard the 3415 enroute to Enterprise. Galen is carrying on a lively chat with the actual fireman, Joe Minnick. I also grabbed a shot of Steve Schwarting, who was taking a shift as the engineer. Steve is actually A&SV’s “Head of the Steam Program”.

11. While at the Enterprise layover Galen & I opted to just remain in the cab. I took advantage of that and posed him in the fireman’s seat. Looks just like a veteran rail, eh?

Date: 05/22/23 17:42
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

12. After riding backwards back to Abilene I went to get my car while Steve and another A&SV crewman helped Galen down the ladder of the 3415. After his first & only ride in a RR locomotive, Galen & I did what many railroaders do after a run. We found a place to sit down and have a bite to eat...
Photos 9-12 taken July 4, 2021. ALL photos previously posted.

Thanks for reading & looking!
Lance Garrels

Date: 05/22/23 18:01
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: texchief1

Great story, Lance!


Date: 05/22/23 18:12
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: ironmtn

Absolutely super story, Lance. Thanks for showing and telling it to us. And thanks for making that day so special for Mr. Prestwood. You earned a few extra points with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates for making that experience happen.


Date: 05/22/23 18:25
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: monaddave

Thanks for posting. I still wish other old timers that we knew over the year, Humphreys, Stagner, Berglund, et al had still be around to see what we have for steam running and soon to run.

Dave in MT

Date: 05/22/23 19:30
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: rkboelling

Great story Lance!!  The train that you photographed Sunday had a father/son riding in the cab, probably the dads last opportunity. . I've set up several "last trip" rides the past two years. 

Date: 05/22/23 19:53
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: santafe199

rkboelling Wrote: > ... had a father/son riding in the cab ...

Cool! Odds area, I probably shot them in my "people" shots. For a few years now, I have made it routine to shoot crewmen*, passengers & other people in conjunction with the train(s). I talked to Steve about this thread on the phone before I posted it. So you might wanna show it to him when you get the chance. And I am looking forward burning lotsa pixels this weekend. I'll never tire of shooting the 3415... :^)


*Did I see a crew-person (girl) last Saturday, the 20th???  

Date: 05/23/23 04:33
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: atsfer

Great story Lance, memories are the one thing you always have and he clearly had a lot of them that were very interesting.

Date: 05/23/23 06:30
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: KCRW287

Lance, I am sorry to read about the passing of Galen. My father was the only other person who talked about riding the KC/LK&W/UP, and now there is one less. It was a pleasure to have him along on that west end trip, and still have in my mind that the old elevator in Lasita as being a memorial to the Kansas Central etal, employees and fans. RIP Galen, KCRW287

Date: 05/23/23 16:23
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: johnw

Great story and great pictures! Thanks for posting!

Date: 05/24/23 05:47
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: jcaestecker

Most enjoyable, thanks!


Date: 05/24/23 06:05
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: cjvrr

Thank you for sharing this great freindship you had with Galen.   May he rest in peace and sorry for your loss.

Date: 05/24/23 11:55
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: Ritzville

Very enjoyable series and narrative!!


Date: 05/24/23 12:00
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: King_Coal

Wonderful memorial to your friend.

Date: 05/24/23 17:51
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: Locoinsp

Sorry for the loss of your friend. You gave him a great memorial! 

Date: 06/27/23 11:15
Re: the oldest fireman I ever knew
Author: jbohdan2

Really enjoyed reading this account and seeing the shots.  I hope I have a friend like you when I get to Galen's age.  You are a good fellow.

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