Presentation details Boy Scout’s 1950 train voyage cross-country | NevadaAppeal.com
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Presentation details Boy Scout’s 1950 train voyage cross-country

Karl Horeis

When 35-year Carson City resident Steve VanDenburgh was 15, he rode trains across the country to attend the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa.

He’ll give a free slide show about the trip Wednesday evening at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

“It was the first time I had been on my own away from my folks,” he said. “I was just barely 15.”

The trip was more than just a visit to the Jamboree. VanDenburgh stopped for tours of Seattle, Glacier National Park, Chicago, a Ford Motors factory outside Detroit and New York City. He also had dinner at Niagara Falls and breakfast at the United States Military Academy at West Point – and that was just the way there.

But for VanDenburgh – a life-long railroad enthusiast – riding the rails was as exciting as seeing the sights.

“The highlight for me was a ride in the cab of a diesel locomotive that was hauling one of the very special passenger trains from Chicago to Milwaukee,” he said. “That was just an awesome experience and I was able to nail a few photographs from which I have been able to remember the trip.” He still has the Kodak Brownie Flash Six-20 camera he took the pictures with. He got the camera, with its leather strap on top, for Christmas in 1947.

VanDenburgh grew up next to tracks in Southern California.

“I lived right next to the railroad tracks so I was a railroad enthusiast – as any 13-14-15-year-old would be.”

He talks excitedly about seeing “a most delicious array of steam engines and diesel electric locomotives” while growing up.

His trip across the country was at a pivotal time for railroads – a topic he’ll explore during his presentation Wednesday.

“Most of things I saw on that trip were things I had never seen before and many of the things I saw were things I would never seen again,” he explained. During the early ’50s railroad companies were retiring their steam engines and moving on to diesel-electric locomotives.

“But steam was still in use on many of the railroads that I was able to photograph during my trip,” he said. “If the Jamboree had happened even a year later, I wouldn’t have seen so many of them.”

VanDenburgh, a 45-year employee of the U.S. Geological Survey where he works as a geochemist, still enjoys shooting photographs of trains. He said he takes between 2,500 and 4,000 pictures a year and 60 percent of them are related to railroads.

“I’m pretty well hooked,” he said of his rail addiction.

The quarterly magazine “Classic Trains” ran a 10-page article about VanDenburgh’s 1950 voyage in their summer issue, including 17 of his photographs.

After the week-long meeting with 47,000 Boys Scouts, VanDenburgh set out on his own – again on the rails – visiting friends and family around the east.

“Then I finally got on a train in Chicago and two and half days later I was back in California.”

His Wednesday presentation, starting at 7 p.m., will be free of charge.