J. Tyler Turpin


I became a poet after joining the James River Writers meetup group. I began attending some of the Richmond area poet reading events after hearing the poets discuss their work at the monthly Writers Wednesday get together and realized there were business history subjects to be covered through poetry as well as articles.

I decided to write the poem about the locomotive when I realized, through research for a book on reuse of government surplus property that I am writing, that this locomotive was connected with National Historic landmarks and major events of military logistics history. I have had 2 other poems about preserved historic locomotives published. The one that operated on Belle Isle was one of the last 150 non museum and non-tourist railroad steam locomotives in North America .

A nation's railroad system consists of many components, not just major main line railroad systems. There are in addition to short lines both incorporated and named industrial and non-common carrier roads; and unincorporated and unnamed industrial roads and switching operations that operated under the name of the industry they served.

Many factories, power plants, and military installations had their own locomotives so that movements of railcars could occur when needed; thus, non-employees would not have to be escorted so as not to see sensitive areas of the facility. In some instances, locomotives of the railroad serving the site weighed too much for the rail structure in use or posed a fire hazard. Beginning in the late 1880s sites began using locomotives built for non-common carrier use as an alternative to the never ended but significantly reduced practice of buying older locomotives of small to medium size from common carrier railroads. These were either purchased from the railroad directly or a railroad equipment dealer for the purpose of further use. The locomotive built expressly for menial and insignificant service on industrial switching tracks is not to be despised for its comparatively lowly origins. Each made its contribution, however great or small, to the larger history of the railroad industry, the products or services of its owner, and in some instances the defense of the nation, they were used in and of other nations. The history of some industrial companies that operated either small railroads or operated switching locomotives on industrial plant tracks can be fascinating and significant.


steam locomotive on a railway bridge over a river
Old Dominion Iron and Steel locomotive 9 crosses trestle from Belle Isle over James River in Richmond, VA to pick up freight cars
photo taken 1957-1964 era
Photo from collection of Old Dominion Chapter National Railway Historical Society

Belle Isle's Last Steam Locomotive

The fires of London and those the USS Hoga's monitors doused at Pearl Harbor ignite ones that burn contained for days in furnaces and stamping lines in Pittsburg

Equipment and supplies for the warfighter, the railways and merchant fleet to carry them

To fight the samurai's descendants that were allies against the Kaiser locomotives the size of a motel cottage on Jefferson Davis Highway must be built too for the Fairfield Shipyard

Where molecules of rust from shots fired in the Royal Navy's naval gunfire support mission that inspired the Star Spangled Banner are carried when certain types of breaker waves scour the river bottom

They flow in the slipways, piers, and dry-docks where workers are assigned for their dedication to lean and skill not gender or color of skin to along with workers in yards on all coasts build a fleet of merchant ships If spaced at mile intervals they would form a line from Maine to Scotland

An 0-4-O Porter built steam switcher of 18 feet four inches length it will operate in 4 states run carloads of the builders and parts to construct a freighter that goes to war then becomes a school ship on the Hudson where the crews of the tugs that nudge the Elissa and Eagle when they help re-dedicate Lady Liberty learned to tie the loops before it becomes a memorial and National Historic Landmark in the waters of the Patapsco where it was built

Cargoes and troops these ships carry end the works of Ishii and Mengele, scientist who kill humans with microbes and chemicals saying all not fit to breed

The Fairfield Yard turned scrapyard to undo what was made there that too damaged by the war to mend and those ships built a decade to a generation before across the harbor now outdated with turbines and diesels altering the amplitudes with their wakes.

Now at the Norfolk Naval Base to carry the supplies to restrain the bear from lashing out and maintain the hum of humidifiers of the transports it built now lined in rows.

Haul railcars of the submarine's fuel a yard stick of fission more power than tons of an oilers cargo

A true l symbol of victory by the ships it built as the 0-4-0 takes railcars to the pier of the USS Conecuh

A logistics ship of fuel oil, foods, and ammunition that once as the Dithmarschen of the Kriegsmarine stood Admiral Raeder and the Nazi swastika

It now flies the Stars and Stripes and to be loaded aboard are Kosher supplies to conduct Seders on carriers and flagships by chaplains who wear the Star of David

Supplies too for the ship commanded by the son of Admiral Kidd who died in the bridge of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor

The rhythm of side rods and high pitch multi- chime whistles not wanted in the age of rockets that one carries with the explosive power of more than the ordnance handling rooms of TF 58.2 carriers ordnance and battle groups magazines combined.

A stamp on a title document after an auction reopens the firebox door by private hands

To Belle Isle where particles of Aluminum from skin of Le May's B-29s are turned into sheets downstream in the shadow of Browns Island's rapids and hydro- electric plant become lining of the freezer rooms for the golden arches sprouting like mushrooms and the orange diamonds

The whine of a short diesel built in Illinois, where the Ring Billed Gulls come from to winter on Belle Isle, the same year the 0-4-0 was built on the Monongahela ends it stay on Belle Isle and takes with it 113 years of industrial symphony of the chimes orchestrated by the engineer from the cab replaced with a button pressed to give the same bland notes each time.

This one will not go to the human vultures with saws and torches at Peck Iron and Metal

To pull a few train cars in parks in the Carolinas to make pages of letters of relatives in heaven be real with thick black smoke and fire flying as they ride passenger cars once staffed by Pullman Porters or smell the burning oil mixed with the aroma of Black Eyed Susan flowers and Honeysuckle from flatcars that carried to docks M60 tanks crewed by baby boomers to guard the Fulda Gap now fitted with seats and canopies

black and white photo of industrial plant with city in background
Part of Old Dominion Iron and Steel's Belle Isle plant in 1957
Photo from Ties Magazine of Southern Railway 1957 Norfolk Southern Corporation


J. Tyler Turpin was diagnosed as being on autism spectrum when I was age 30. He is a full time buyer of goods and services for a state agency who writes business history and procurement training articles along with an occasional poem when not at work, birdwatching, tending vegetable garden, giving cat attention , visiting a museum, attending a poetry reading or with friends. He became a poet after joining the James River Writers meetup group . He began attending some of the area poet reading events after hearing the poets discuss their work at the monthly Writers Wednesday get together and realized there were subjects to be covered through poetry as well as articles. He is a regular participant in Slam Richmond and the Writers Den weekly and monthly poetry events. His poetry has been published in Life in 10 Minutes and Assonance Literary Journal.