As a young shaver, I spent many hours on our living room floor, listening to an LP record that my dad brought home of a Durango & Silverton train as it chugged up grades and through narrow passes while admiring the black and white photos in the fold-out album cover. The high point of my early years was a trip we took in the Rambler, up to Steamtown, in Vermont. Words fail me, trying to describe the awe of standing on a platform next to the steam engine. They just don't look anywhere near that big, in photos; not even from the parking lot. From a 9 year old boy's perspective, standing maybe 6 or 8 feet away, it was just enormous - completely overwhelming. I couldn't take the whole thing in, visually. I had to look up and down, left and right, then try to assemble an overall view from all of the pieces. Steam quietly hissed out of countless places as passengers boarded the coaches. Then the beast started noisily belching smoke, straight up and spouting jets of steam onto the platform as it slowly pulled away. I was smitten.
My older brothers remember steam engines from their early years (late 40s early 50s but by the time I was old enough to be aware of my surroundings they were all gone from NW Washington.
I do recall seeing operating steam trains on three occasions later in the 70s. One from a a fair distance away. I was up on a mountain overlooking Wickersham WA and heard the steam whistle and saw the smoke plume of the Lake Whatcom Steam Railway. That train was filmed running through the valley between Wickersham and Lake Whatcom for the opening credits of The Grey Fox over rails my dad had once helped to maintain for the NP.
The rest of the steam engines I saw were all the same, The Royal Hudson from British Columbia Railway. I saw it southbound through the Skagit Valley paralleling I-5 and later northbound through Bellingham WA and at the BN passenger station. Cool train.
As a kid my parents took me to NYC on one of these N&W steam trains, we had a Pullman sleeper car. I remember asking Dad at one point "what's the picket fence for?"..."those are telephone poles" he said.
The service, dining car, everything was excellent.