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‘Railfan’ remembers 1970 trip to see historic Flying Scotsman train in Slaton

Published: Jan. 8, 2022 at 5:57 PM CST
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SLATON, Texas (KCBD) - In his younger years, it was common for Bill Wagner to spend his free time following trains.

In the summer of 1970, Wagner, then a student at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and his friends decided to take the ultimate road trip - a cross country trek with the Flying Scotsman, a British-based steam engine built in the 1930s.

“I was a railfan at the time, I was interested in trains,” he said. “The train spent the winter here in Slaton. I was an unemployed college student, a buddy of mine was an unemployed carpenter. And, I thought we’d volunteer and take the display down to Slaton, and we did.”

That ‘Railfan’ exhibit includes a model train diorama, a sculpture from a railroad spike, and photos from across the country. Wagner and his friends would pack his small car, and follow the train. That isn’t to say there weren’t challenges, especially when it came to paying for the trip.

In the summer of 1970, Bill Wagner, then a student at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and...
In the summer of 1970, Bill Wagner, then a student at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and his friends decided to take the ultimate road trip - a cross country trek with the Flying Scotsman, a British-based steam engine built in the 1930s.(Provided by Bill Wagner)

“We had enough gas money to get down to Slaton and back, and ended up doing some odd jobs and finding new ways to make money and stayed with the train the whole summer. We ended up going through the Midwest into Canada,” Wagner said. “The only thing we did in town to make money here was go to Lubbock, and sold our blood in a blood bank. We eventually got hired by the train. We made five bucks a day. And, we did a lot of odd jobs on the train.”

While on the trip, he took hundreds of photos. This was decades before the arrival of Facebook and Instagram. With the high-cost of film, every photo had to count.

“The problem back then was that film was expensive, and we were broke kids, so every picture- you could see the dollar signs cranking through, every time you would click the shutter,” he said.

Even after keeping the slides in storage for fifty-plus years, he finally released them to the public. One in particular caught the attention of Tony Privett, the president of the Slaton Railroad Heritage Association.

“I finally bought a digitizer last year, and spent about six months digitizing all my slides,” Wagner said. “Tony happened to see one of them that I posted on Facebook in response to the other posting. He got in touch with me, and the whole thing came from that chance encounter.”

The aforementioned picture is an exterior photo from the north side of Slaton’s Harvey House, which was then a place that was used to feed those on the railroad. In 1969 through ‘70, the House was frequented by the British crew in charge of the Flying Scotsman.

Wagner’s photos can be seen at the Harvey House until March 31. The exhibit is free to the public. Along with the sightseeing, tourists can also pick up a small book, which details Wagner’s cross-country travels from that summer.

After his memorable trip, Wagner went on to finish his degree at Bradley and would attend graduate school at the University of Texas years later.

“Really, after the Flying Scotsman, there was no point in continuing being a serious ‘railfan’ of any kind. I would never be able to top that summer, so why bother trying?,” he said.

The photos and memorabilia will remain on display at the Slaton Harvery House through March 31.

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