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Where Are They Now? The Little Engine That Could But Didn't

By Ross D. Willard
Where Are There Now? New Never News

Everyone remembers the story of Ernie Engine, the ‘Little Engine that Could’ and the story of the day he made history by pulling one of the largest loads in history over the very tall hill. What most people don’t know about, or those who do know don’t talk much about, is what happened after that.

In anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of Ernie’s journey, I hunted down that little engine, and what I found horrified me.

Ernie Engine isn’t in any museum, nor is he in an old engine home. Today, Ernie Engine is rusting away in an abandoned old railway yard, a few feet away from a caboose who gives out wheel jobs in exchange for coal, and the hollowed out remains of an old dining car.

“It’s my own fault.” Ernie coughs out, when I ask him what happened. “I had so much going for me. Endorsement deals, job offers. I could have had anything I wanted.”

Unfortunately for Ernie, what he wanted was to experiment.

“I got hooked up with the wrong crowd, loose cabooses, engines that smoked ‘questionable coal.’ And, yeah, I did some things I shouldn’t have. I guess I just figured, you know, I could quit when I wanted, and that my options would still be open.”

But things change, even for the most famous engine in the world. Wheels that once shone are now rusty, a chimney that used to be cleaned every day is almost completely blocked by soot, and Ernie hasn’t been oiled in years.

Eyeing the tall hill, just visible from his place in what amounts to a junkyard, Ernie contemplates, “Time was, I could pull anything over that hill. These days the real question is if I could pull my own self over it.”

When asked whether he could or not, Ernie replied, “Well, I think I can.”