Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cookin' on the Railroad

Good food and railroads had symbiotic relationship until Amtrak took over passenger service in the early 1970s. Mainline roads were know for operating high-class diners as their trains crossed the country. Even the logging companies and their railroads used food draw employees. Many loggers were known for their cookhouses.

It was nice to see another railroad that cooks in the engine house like we do at the El Dorado Western.

My counterpart on the Pacific Coast Railroad Co. blog, Ed "Oil Can" Kelly, recently posted his January 2006 update. The crew gathered mid-month to thaw the engine house and trainmen at the height of California's deep freeze last month.

A busted water main left as flood in the engine house. The coffee pot, beef brisket and a frozen fireman's manifold competed for space on the shop's wood stove.

"Sometimes I am also the cook for this outfit and the chief bottle washer as well," said chief mechanical officer Phil Reader in response to my message on the Narrow Gauge Railroad Discussion Forum.

"Dutch ovens are a lot of fun. I get a kick out of using them."

I agree. Dutch ovens are a great way to combine my love for outdoor cooking and trains. A hearty meal in the engine house can bring the crew together. It's akin to mealtime tradition in the caboose.

So it seems natural that a train guy like Phil would cook in the steam locomotive. You have the essential ingredients for great railroad chow. Heat from the backhead and a hungry crew make for the perfect combination.

Cooking on the backhead is a tradition at the PCRR. Simplicity seems to be the rule. No gourmet foods on these rails. Spam and eggs, burritos and canned chili beans make perfect railroad fare.

"Someday I may have to write the steam railroader's backhead cookbook," said Phil.

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