Kelby Tarmann

A friend of mine from Iowa was selling his Burlington Northern heritage Prime 990 that came off of an SD9- BNSF 1739. It had been rebuilt at some point in its life with Leslie RS power chambers and back caps. I didn’t care, it just added to the story this horn told. I was in college at the time and I didn’t have a way to put air to it so it just sat, taunting me, until I could put something together. This setup was very primitive and extremely restrictive, a 1/2 inch inlet reduced to a 1/4 inch quick connect for an air hose. Laugh it up but I was just a toddler in a brand new world.

The horn was soon painted in all black, with a good cleaning and new gaskets, it sounds just as it did back in the BN days.

I quickly graduated to one of the more sought after horns in the hobby but this one was something special. I found myself a Duluth, Missabe, and Iron Range P5. This wasn’t just an ordinary P5. This was a 1950s era old cast horn, except for a new cast P4 bell but that doesn’t matter much. Out of 93 P5s the DMIR owned, this one was a jackpot win for not only myself, but those who love the DMIR. It was sick after decades of use and was sent off to the best man for the job to get it back to its original glory. This horn has been featured on the North Shore Scenic Railroad and a couple horn collector meets and has always garnered respect for being one of the most melodious and perfectly balanced P5s in existence. This horn will remain in my collection until my death.

The next horn had to be a Nathan product as well. My friend from Iowa called me up and told me he had an M3 to sell and I was looking for something older. This M3 came off the Cotton Belt and was built in 1953. The #4 back cap is the only thing not original to the horn but it still needed some TLC. The horn was briefly disassembled and the parts were sent to the magician of the west coast, Michael Muha, for a little work. With the horn back in spec, she is one of the loudest horns in the collection.

Now when you’ve been in the hobby a while and have sold and traded horns like I have, the timeline gets blurry. However, this memory is as clear as the day it happened. I work for a railroad in the upper Midwest and snow fighting equipment is a must up here. There was, and still is, a Russell Snow Plow that sits in the yard, waiting for its next call to duty. The horn on top always taunted me. I knew it was a tabbed back Leslie S2M, but that’s all I could really tell. One day, I plucked up the courage and went into the roadmaster’s office to ask about the plow and its horn. He was a grumpy old man, wrinkled from years working the road. A real pain in the ass but he was really good at his job and a respected manager in the company. I said, “I have a question you’ve never heard before and you’ll never hear again.” It froze him dead in his chair and I knew I completely had his full, undivided attention…score. I offered a straight up trade, a new out of the box horn for the old grubby horn on the plow throwing in that the new horn would be a much safer horn and would last many more years than the one that was on it. With a shake of his calloused hand and a booming “DEAL!,” it was decided. I just scored a 1955 Leslie S2M with bronze tab back power chambers and…factory seal wires. It was another jackpot of a find. The only maintenance I’ve done was to pull the back caps off and clean out the chambers and knock a wasp nest out of the 31 bell.

Like I said, the timeline now gets blurred.

I grew up in Illinois, only 10 miles away from the Santa Fe’s Chillicothe sub, the main line from Chicago to Los Angeles. It goes without saying that this had a huge impact on me wanting to not only be a railroader from a young age but drove me head first into the hobby I had now come to fully enjoy. When the opportunity came up to own a piece of the ATSF, I couldn’t say no especially since the very good chance of the horn having been by my grandparent’s house with a very young me running out the front door to watch the train go by. I found a purchased a ATSF RS3UL that allegedly came off of a GP30. Of course the RS chambers were not original so I called Mr. Tommy Aker and a trade was made for some S heads. Now with all the pieces in my hands, I had to do something special for this one. I called upon some friends and a plan was made to put this horn in very accurate and prototypical style colors complete with soot from the stack of a diesel locomotive.

Let’s just say, this is another favorite of mine as it brings me back to some really good days in my childhood.

Now having grown up in Illinois, I get asked often if I’m from Chicago. There is more to Illinois than just Chicago. But when the Chicago and Northwestern was such a big part of commuter service back before Amtrak and Metra, I couldn’t ignore the history that was there too. I once again called on Mr. Aker to see if he had an A200 lying around and when he said he had a CNW horn, another deal was struck. Touting SN 16179 and reported to have come off of a CNW F7, this is officially the oldest horn in my collection.

Every collection has at least one sort of odd ball. However, the reported history behind it makes it a true save for history. This old cast P3 was apparently bought by the Northern Pacific before the engine was sold the Kansas City Southern. While it’s unknown the original engine that wore this piece, the story has never wavered. This horn, in prototypical NP arrangement, adorned NP 3617 on its debut trip on the North Shore Scenic Railroad for Railfan Weekend 2015 after the engine returned from getting repainted back into original NP colors. It now resides, quietly in my collection waiting to maybe, someday, be mounted on one of the NP heritage locomotives at the NSSR.

While my collection isn’t the largest in the hobby, it sure has its stars with the age of some of the items within. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of my addiction just as much as I’ve enjoyed telling it to you.

Until next time, keep the greasy side down.