The Texas & Pacific Locomotive 316 Sounds Like Boogie Woogie

By John Tennison, MD            Copyright November 6, 2012

Pictured above is the Texas & Pacific Locomotive 316 headed east in the Piney Woods between Palestine and Rusk, Texas, on November 3, 2012.  Maestro Engineer Earl Knoob can be seen in the cab.

(Photo by John Tennison)

    Of all the steam locomotives that are still operative, I have a new favorite:  The Texas and Pacific 316.  For reasons I will describe below, the T & P 316 has become the operative locomotive which I most strongly identify with Boogie Woogie.

    In 1986 music historian Paul Oliver stated the following about steam locomotives and Boogie Woogie:

    "When I was a boy in the early years of the war, I was living in Harrow District, and used to catch the train every day to and from school.  And at that time Boogie Woogie was the music that all of us were listening to and attempting to play.  On this station in those days, the London North Eastern Railway trains used to come through a few times a day, and that was the one I always liked to catch.  I used to catch the 'steams,' we called it.  The reason why I liked it is basically because the rhythms of the train going over the points just sounded like Boogie Woogie to me.  Boogie Woogie and train music always seem to go together."

    Many musicians know that older musical equipment is sometimes the most desirable.  Well-known examples include Stradivarius violins, old electric guitars, and old guitar amps, all of which can often produce better musical results than more recently manufactured equipment.

    Moreover, some of the musicality of a given piece of equipment can come from pushing that particular piece of equipment to its limits, rather than by operating it in its non-stressed comfort zone.  Perhaps the best-known example of this principle comes from guitar amplifiers, which can produce their most desirable sound when they are over-driven.  Indeed, an amplifier that is too powerful might not be as easily over-driven as an amp of lesser wattage, and consequently, for a given volume, it can be harder to get a musically useful sound out of the more powerful amp.

    Something analogous to this example of the over-driven guitar amplifier applies to the musicality of the sounds produced by steam locomotives.  After having had the privilege of riding in the cab of the inaugural run of the newly-painted Texas & Pacific locomotive 316 on November 3, 2012, maestro engineer Earl Knoob made it very clear that he could readily push the Texas & Pacific 316 to its limits, resulting in growling, groaning, and barking sounds that I found to be extremely musical.

    Another contributor to the way a musical instrument sounds is the acoustical context or "room" in which a musical instrument is played.  Indeed, a substantial part of the sound or timbre we associate with a particular instrument is contributed by the reverberant characteristics of the room in which that instrument is played.  For example, in a live, highly reflective room, a Stradivarius violin can sound beautiful and full-bodied.  Yet, that same instrument played in a closet can sound small, dry, dull, and lifeless.  These same principles apply to the musicality of the sounds created by steam locomotives.  The acoustical context or "room" for the Texas & Pacific 316 is the Piney Woods of East Texas.  In fact, I was amazed at the extent of reverberation that I heard from the sounds generated by the T & P 316.  I would have imagined that the foliage of the trees and the hills with surfaces of mostly dirt, rather than rock, would have been highly absorptive, with an effect of substantially dampening reverberation.  Yet, this was not the case at all.  The hilly Piney Woods of East Texas provided a surprisingly-reflective acoustic "room" well-suited to enhance the sounds of the T & P 316 by way of reverberation and echoes.  The reverberant "room" of the Piney Woods of East Texas is essentially the same reverberant room that was exerting its signal-processing, sonic influence at the time Boogie Woogie was first played in the early 1870s.

    The ups and downs of the hills over which the railroad track traverses between Palestine and Rusk, Texas are also important, because the uphill portions create a gravitational "load" for the T & P 316 to work against.  Uphill gravitational "loads," as well as the load of the mass of cars being pulled by the T & P 316 allowed the T & P 316 to be readily pushed to its limits, thus yielding the most musically-pleasing sounds.

    There are approximately 11 or 12 4-6-0 steam locomotives in operation in the United States at this time.  Although some of them might have the potential to generate intrinsic sounds that are similar to the T & P 316, the T & P 316 is the only 4-6-0 steam locomotive being operated in the acoustical context or "room" of the Piney Woods of East Texas.  Thus, the overall sound created by operating the Texas & Pacific 316 in the Piney Woods of East Texas is unique.

    Although it might not be obvious, the wheel configuration of a steam locomotive is related to how readily that steam locomotive can be driven to the limits of its power, thus yielding the most musically impressive sounds.  Specifically, the zero at the end of the "4-6-0" designation indicates that a locomotive has no trailing truck behind its driver wheels.  This, in turn, means that such a locomotive is less capable supporting as large of a firebox as compared to locomotives which have a 2 or 4-wheel trailing truck.  A smaller firebox means less power, and less power means that not as large of a load is needed to drive a locomotive to the limits of its power where the most musically interesting sounds occur.

    Although I admire the fact the Union Pacific is still operating two very powerful large locomotives (the UP 3985 and the UP 844), it is nonetheless a fact that in most situations, the UP 3985 and the UP 844 are not pushed to the limits of their power.  That is, relative to the amount of power they have in reserve, they dont have to work as hard as the Texas & Pacific 316 to pull a given load or to climb a particular grade.  Consequently, the UP 844 and UP 3985 do not as easily produce the stressed sounds of growling, groaning, and barking -- sounds that Earl Knoob so readily elicited from the Texas and Pacific 316.

    Incidentally, engineer Earl Knoob is not only an engineer, but he is also a musician.  This fact is undoubtedly contributory to his sensitivity to the sounds of the locomotive and his ability to elicit and control those sounds.

    Several years ago, I concluded that the Texas & Pacific was the railroad company whose locomotives were the most responsible for the earliest spread of Boogie Woogie music in the early 1870s.  Consequently, it is thrilling to see and hear the Texas & Pacific 316 continue the tradition of filling the Piney Woods of East Texas with the sound of Boogie Woogie.  Indeed, the Texas and Pacific locomotive 316 sounds more like Boogie Woogie than any other locomotive I have ever heard.  Nothing can substitute for hearing it live up close. 

    As of 2012, the Texas & Pacific 316 is the only operative Texas & Pacific steam locomotive.  The Texas & Pacific 316 has a 4-6-0 (Ten Wheeler) wheel configuration and was built for the Texas and Pacific in 1901 by Cooke Locomotive Works.  The Texas & Pacific purchased and used more 4-6-0s than any other steam-locomotive wheel configuration.  The 4-6-0s were known for being faster than the prior 4-4-0s (American) wheel configuration, and the 4-6-0 was the dominant wheel configuration in operation by the Texas & Pacific in the earliest years of the 20th century.  Moreover, a steam locomotive of the 4-6-0 wheel configuration appears on the cover of what is probably the most famous and influential piece of Boogie Woogie sheet music of all time, The Fives, by Texans George and Hersal Thomas.  As exemplified by The Fives, Boogie Woogie was coming into its maturity at the time when locomotives of the 4-6-0 wheel configuration were the most frequently heard on the Texas & Pacific.  Consequently I regard the 4-6-0 as the classic Boogie Woogie wheel configuration.  Most importantly, hearing the T & P 316 (especially hearing it live) makes it powerfully clear how steam-locomotive sounds were musically inspirational to the creators of Boogie Woogie.  For all of these reasons, the Texas & Pacific 316 is a locomotive of extreme historical and symbolic importance. 

    Earl Knoob and Iowa Pacific Holdings (owner of the Texas State Railroad) deserve our respect and praise for having authentically repainted, and thus having resurrected the Texas and Pacific 316.  Moreover, in another gesture of reverence to the T&P, and under the leadership of Earl Knoob (who is also the general manager of The Texas State Railroad), the overall company logo of the Texas State Railroad was re-designed to resemble the classic horizontal-diamond Texas & Pacific logo, with the words Palestine, Rusk, East Texas, and Piney Woods running along its edges where the prior words of Texarkana, Shreveport, El Paso, and New Orleans had respectively been located.

    While it is still operative, I highly encourage everyone to ride and hear the Texas & Pacific 316.

    The Texas & Pacific 316 sounds like Boogie Woogie.

    The Texas & Pacific 316 is the Boogie Woogie Train.