Hi-Speed Rail: The Old Fashioned Way

By WISE Web News

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 20, 2008 at 1:08 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter)---

Don: Alot of people thought this was a publicity stunt. And it was far from a publicity stunt.

ITS BEEN FORTY TWO YEARS SINCE DON WETZEL HAS SEEN THIS STRETCH OF TRAIN TRACK JUST OUTSIDE BUTLER INDIANA. IN FACT THE LAST TIME HE SAW IT WAS 42 YEARS AGO NEXT MONTH, ON JULY 23RD, 1966, WHEN THE YOUNG ENGINEER CLIMBED ABOARD A RAILCAR LIKE NONE ANYONE HAD EVER SEEN, AND PILOTED IT INTO HISTORY. IT BEGAN WITH NEW YORK CENTRAL'S PLANS FOR A NEW HIGH SPEED RAIL SERVICE BETWEEN BOSTON AND WASHINGTON D.C.. OFFICIALS DIDN'T KNOW IF REGULAR TRACK COULD HANDLE THE PUNISHMENT OF HIGH SPEED TRAINS SO THEY TOOK A REGULAR DIESEL PASSANGER CAR, STREAMLINED IT, AND BOLTED A TWIN JET ENGINE POD FROM A B-36 BOMBER ONTO THE ROOF.

Don: It was the cheapest ten thousand horsepower we could come up with.

DON WETZEL, A NEW YORK CENTRAL STRUCTURAL ENGINEER DESIGNED THE MACHINE AND DIRECTED ITS CONSTRUCTION. ON JULY 21ST IT WAS TOWED FROM THE NEW YORK CENTRAL YARD IN CLEVELAND TO A THIRTY MILE STRETCH OF TRACK BETWEEN STRYKER OHIO AND BUTLER INDIANA.

Don: Straightest double track in the world. There are longer stretches of straight track in the world but not double track. This is the longest double track in the world.

ON THE MORNING OF JULY 23RD 1966 WETZEL FIRED UP THE JET ENGINES OF HIS BIZARRE MACHINE JUST OUTSIDE BUTLER INDIANA AND OPENED UP THE THROTTLE.

Don: Being a pilot I was used to the acceleration. And from then on it was just a ride. Just one hell of a ride.

MOTORISTS ON HIGHWAY SIX WHO SAW THE TRAIN HAD NO IDEA WHAT IT WAS. SOME THOUGHT IT WAS A LOW-FLYING AIRPLANE. A PHOTOGRAPHER SNAPPED THIS SHOT FROM A BRIDGE JUST WEST OF BRYAN OHIO.

Don: He took an excellent motion photograph of us coming with a big trail of dust behind us...he thought the bridge was gonna come down because it went up in the air and come back down again.

FOUR MILES EAST OF BUTLER THE JET POWERED TRAIN HIT 196 MILES AN HOUR. MOMENTS LATER ITS SPEED WAS OFFICIALLY CLOCKED AT 183.35 MILES AN HOUR, A NEW AMERICAN RAIL SPEED RECORD.

Don: We were decelerating when we set the record of 183. And I've always been sorry I didn't let it run to 210 and set the world record.

AFTER ITS HISTORIC RUN THE JET POWERED CAR WAS SCRAPPED. DON WETZEL EVENTUALLY RETIRED FROM THE RAILROAD..BUT HIS CAREER IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS WHO WORKED THE RAILS FOR A LIVING. HIS NAME IS IN THE RECORD BOOKS..AND HE HAS A GREAT STORY TO TELL HIS GRANDKIDS.

Don: It's fun to have your 15 minutes of fame.




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