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When the Green Hornet raced the Hiawatha

By Gil Reid | May 16, 2012

A thrilling encounter with Milwaukee Road’s 100-mph steam-powered speedster

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On a day when they left the “Green Hornet” parked in order to simply watch the Afternoon Hiawatha sweep by, artist buddies Howard Fogg (at right in photo) and Gil Reid witnessed an F7 Hudson lean into Deerfield Curve with the Chicago-bound train.
Gil Reid
The year is 1939, and I am a student at the Chicago Academy of Art. Thanks to our mutual interest in railroads, classmate Howard Fogg and I have become friends sharing many railfan adventures.

It’s a landmark day for me, because Howard is about to introduce me to his dad’s green Pontiac and a three-mile stretch of highway right next to the Milwaukee Road’s Chicago–Milwaukee main line. Howard and I are seated in the car, which his dad called the Green Hornet after the then-popular radio serial, parked beside Waukegan Road near the West Lake Forest (Ill.) station. We’re facing south, with the railroad on our right, listening for the sounds of a Chicago-bound Hiawatha.

The tension in the car is intense, for we will have to gun that old Pontiac in order to get a good start ahead of the oncoming speedster to pace her.

A braying air horn from the north is the signal. Now! Howard floors the Pontiac. We are on our way, and none too soon, for in an instant a plume of smoke and steam is tornadoing above the treetops. It’s a streamlined 4-6-4 in full forward motion, with the Hiawatha tied to her tail. We get up to 75, with the Hi closing fast.

We approach an intersection. “Hey, Fogg, how about that traffic light ahead?!” I yell. Through clenched teeth Howard says not to worry, the light will go to green for us when the crossing signals start.

For a moment, the Hudson is beside us, its 84-inch drivers a blur. We are determined to keep abreast of the charging monster, but already the fireman is amused, signaling us to get going. Get going?! Holy mackerel—we’re already at maximum speed! The traffic light does go green and we sail through the intersection. The road is ours, but the Hiawatha disdainfully leaves us in its wake.

The Deerfield curve is ahead. Toeing the brake, Howard yells, “See the railroad speed-limit sign? Ninety for passenger!” He quotes the freight limit too, but I don’t catch it—we’ve got to slow down! By now we’re on the outskirts of Deerfield, and the Hi is gone. The race is over.

Of all the times we raced a Hiawatha and other Milwaukee fast trains on that stretch of road, nothing will ever beat that first ride with Howard Fogg in the Green Hornet.

First published in Winter 2004 Classic Trains magazine.

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