Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie

In a previous post, I described my trip on Amtrak from Ft. Worth to St. Louis – I guess you could call it a birthday present to myself. I had two reasons for choosing St. Louis as the destination. For one, it was the farthest point I could get to and still have enough free miles to get back home again (that’s important!). But beyond that, St. Louis is home to one of the finest collections of railroad equipment anywhere in the country, at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation.

From the downtown Amtrak station, I caught another Amtrak train, the Missouri River Runner, to the suburb of Kirkwood. From there, it was just a short Uber ride to the museum. It was lightly raining off and on throughout the morning, but not enough to dampen my plans.

A guided tour had just started when I arrived, but I was able to catch up with the volunteer and the handful of guests he was leading, and we began walking the grounds of the museum. We took advantage of a break in the rain to tour some of the exhibits that were out in the open, including a collection of unusual freight cars, a caboose or two, and a Texas & Pacific baggage car that has been converted into a classroom on wheels for school groups.

three-locomotivesWe also saw a beautiful, side by side display of three locomotives, headlined by a rare, stainless steel Burlington engine, the “Silver Charger,” #9908. This unusual diesel-electric was built by EMD in 1939 to pull the “General Pershing Zephyr” between St. Louis and Kansas City, and was the last of the “shovel nose” units in service. A Frisco RR 2-10-0 steam locomotive and an early diesel switcher from the Sabine River & Northern sat beside the shiny passenger engine.

mp_eagle_obsUnder their sprawling pavilion, the museum has a nice assortment of passenger equipment, locomotives and more, including a number of rare and one-of-a-kind items. One of the things I especially enjoy about passenger trains from the 1950s and 60s were all the bright colors, and the museum does not disappoint, with the blue and cream of the Missouri Pacific’s “Eagle,” the two-tone light and dark greens of the Northern Pacific, the shiny silver of the Burlington, the maroon and red of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, and more, all proudly on display.gmo_obsnp_passenger


Scattered throughout the museum grounds are numerous other items of significance to any railfan, including a brown & yellow GM Demonstrator locomotive from 1939, part of the famous “Train of Tomorrow” that toured the country in the 1940s.frisco_1522

The famous Frisco locomotive #1522 is there, along with a UP 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy,” an enormous “Centennial” diesel, and much, MUCH, more, including an extremely rare “Aerotrain,” aerotraina futuristic train that looks like some- thing out of a science fiction movie, but actually saw service in the 50s and 60s on the Rock Island and other railroads.

st_louis_stationTime was beginning to get away from me, and I had more that I wanted to do before my train back to Texas left, so I caught a return ride on Amtrak to downtown. I went up to the top of the St. Louis Arch, saw venerable Busch Stadium (home of the Cardinals), and toured the famous (and historic) St. Louis Union Station (no longer used by Amtrak), built in 1904 for that year’s World’s Fair, as celebrated in the Judy Garland musical, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” I also had a fine seafood dinner before making my way back to the Amtrak station.

The southbound Texas Eagle was on time, and I boarded and found my way to my room. I deposited my gear and headed for the dining car, just in time for dessert and coffee. From there, I went back to my room and slipped between the sheets and was soon asleep, rocked by the gentle rhythm of the rails.

tp_400Epilogue: When I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t exactly sure where we were until I looked out the window. Even in the foggy, gray, half-light of that early fall dawn, I knew we were in Marshall, Texas, because right outside my window I saw the steam locomotive Texas & Pacific #400, which is parked beside the historic Marshall depot. I showered and dressed and headed for breakfast. Even though this train ride wasn’t yet over, I was already thinking about where I could go on my next #AmtrakAdventure.

A Window into the Past

In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd boy was in the Judean wilderness southeast of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea, taking care of some of his family’s flock of goats, when one of the goats wandered off.  The limestone cliffs there are studded with dozens of small caves, and the boy didn’t feel like climbing up there to look in every cave, so he started throwing rocks into the caves, figuring he could hit the goat and drive it out.  But he was startled when one of his throws brought a “crash” of breaking pottery.

He had just made the most important historical find of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A DSS fragment of the book of Hosea

The scrolls opened for us a window into the past, to a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, who lived in the desert community of Qumran, near the NW corner of the Dead Sea.  Not as large as other, better known groups from the time of Christ like the Pharisees or Sadducees, the Essenes believed in strict personal holiness, sexual purity, and rejected wealth and worldly pursuits.  They practiced daily immersion as a symbol of purity, and lived as a separate community, calling themselves the “Sons of Light” and looking for the Messiah.

John the Baptist may well have been their most famous member.

They had a large collection of Biblical and non-Biblical scrolls, which they studied regularly.  So, when they saw Jerusalem destroyed in AD 70, they took their precious scrolls, put them in large clay jars, and hid them in the caves above their community.  They were pretty much scattered by the Roman occupation, and so the scrolls sat in those jars, in that dry desert heat, for nearly 2000 years.

The scrolls are important for Biblical scholarship because before their discovery, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts only dated back to about AD 1000 – that’s over 1400 years since the last book of the Old Testament was written.  That’s a long time, skeptics said – too long to have any faith that the Old Testament (or Tanakh, in Jewish terms) could be trusted to be reliable.

Most of the scrolls,with a few notable exceptions, had deteriorated to being no more than fragments, a few inches in size.  But scholars were still able to read them, to piece them together, and to determine which OT books they represented.  And they found parts of every book of the Hebrew scriptures except Esther.  Carbon dating and other methods confirmed that some of the scrolls were as old as 200 BC.

When they compared the text of the scrolls to that of known Hebrew manuscripts, they found, after 1,200 years of hand-copying, over 95% agreement between the documents! And a majority of the differences represented only variations in spelling or other minor changes; none of the variations involved any texts with doctrinal significance.

There is currently a major exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related historical material at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  (Thanks to my friend James Rike for letting me know about it!)  So this past Saturday, Kathy and I were part of a group from our Investigators Bible Study class at Beltway to make the trip to Fort Worth the view the exhibit.  In my opinion, it’s well worth the $25 ticket price.

First, you go through a tour of historical artifacts from that period in world and Israel history.  There are old oil lamps, coins, ossuary boxes for holding human bones, and many other fascinating items on display.  All of these things set the historical stage for the scrolls.  Then you see several facsimiles – exact copies – of some of the scrolls, to show you what to notice in the real thing.  At this point, you’re ushered in to watch a short video, further putting the scrolls into their proper place in history and Biblical scholarship.  Finally, you’re led in to see the scrolls themselves.

Kathy pointed out that it was a good thing they had the other exhibits and videos first, to help you understand the importance of what you’re seeing, because otherwise the scrolls themselves can be somewhat – underwhelming.  For one thing, they’re not really scrolls anymore – they’re mostly fragments now, only a few inches in size.  Also, they’re kept in dark cases, with only minimal light, to prevent further fading.  But it was still fascinating; more so because many of the items on display had never been put up for public viewing anywhere before.

I’ve been to the actual museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem, but I was really moved and impressed by the excellence of this exhibit.  I thought one of the most fascinating parts was to notice the wrinkling and cracking of the ancient leather parchment; it looked just like the wrinkling of an old leather glove.  Same thing with the plant fibers of those documents written on papyrus.

In addition to the DSS, they also had numerous artifacts of the New Testament and historically significant editions of the Bible – including two pages of the oldest known copy of the letters of Paul, from the papyrus p46, dating back to about the year 175.  And much, much more.

Finally, just outside the museum, you can walk through a re-creation of part of the Qumran dig site, with actual pieces of 2000 year old pottery fragments on the ground, donated by the Smithsonian Museum.  The fragments are from the Tel Gema historical site in SW Israel, and everyone is allowed to keep one piece of pottery.

If you have any interest in how we got the Bible, archeology, or world history, I strongly recommend a visit.  The exhibit continues until January 13; their website is

One final thought: perhaps the single most important discovery of the DSS was a near-perfect copy of the book of Isaiah.  So hear again the words of the prophet, from Isaiah 40:8 – “The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”