Looking Back: Steam to diesel


This looking back highlights the transition from steam to diesel-electric locomotives.

The photos are of Pennsylvania Railroad freight trains on tracks in Mad River Township. Each photo was taken from the Troy Hill Road bridge looking east toward Urbana. Note that there are three tracks. The track on the right is the original track first laid in the mid-1850s. It was over this track that Lincoln’s Funeral Train passed.

The twin tracks on the left were laid in the early 1900s. The grade of these tracks was much gentler than the original track, thus west-bound trains used these tracks and east-bound trains used the original track.

In the photos, trains are in the uphill grade of the “Blue Hills” thus their engines are working hard. Note the heavy smoke coming from the steam engine. It was quite a sensation for one standing on the Troy Hill bridge as steam trains passed under the bridge; not so much for diesel-electric trains. Diesel-electric locomotives were more efficient and less costly to operate and maintain but much less thrilling than steam-powered locomotives.


The Champaign County Historical Museum is a not-for-profit organization that depends upon donations and dues to preserve, protect, archive and display the artifacts that tell the Champaign County story. The free public museum located at 809 E. Lawn Ave., Urbana, is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Info from CCHS

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