“There’s something magic about trains, they have soul; they’re alive”.
In my time of writing this blog, I’ve come to notice that nearly everyone who railroads agrees on one thing: Trains are magical. There’s something about a train that inspires a childlike innocence in us all and gives a sense of wonder unmatched by any other machine. It’s uncanny how trains can hold a captivation over anyone, young or old. While few will stick with trains for their whole lives, almost everyone can appreciate the joy of a simple train ride or even the thrill of hearing the whistle from a steam locomotive. Vince LiBrizzi can attest to this statement, from his first hand experience of working in the tourist rail industry for his whole life. Today on Behind the Throttle, we speak with a man who’s worked every job imaginable, and hear his story of how railroading influenced his life.
Like many of us train-lovers, Vince got his passion from his dad. His father had a childhood fascination with trains and introduced him to the wonders of railroading when he was less than a year old. They began venturing out to visit every nearby tourist line, and given that he lived in Northern New Jersey, there were many to explore. Vince- half-joking- told me “If there was a steam train, we found it.” His childhood years were spent visiting these locations several times a year. It’s no wonder he began volunteering with one of these places once he was able to drive. When he was 17 became a member at the Whippany Railway Museum. While the museum didn’t run trains when Vince first joined, he found plenty of opportunities to help out, giving tours and helping restore equipment for display. After graduating from Rutgers University, Vince stepped into the world of rail operations at the Black River and Western Railroad. Here Vince has the opportunity to work with his favorite steam locomotive, former Great Western 2-8-0 No. 60 (To this day, No. 60 remains Vince’s favorite steam locomotive). In his time working at the BR&W, Vince gained his first of many certifications. Not long after he was a qualified Brakeman, Vince was a qualified Conductor As he described himself, he couldn’t stay away from the museum – something always pulled him back. At 26, however, a new opportunity came upon Vince, with a famous face to it. Ross Rowland, with his mighty C&O 4-8-4 No. 614, came to town. Vince was ecstatic to meet a childhood hero of his, having heard stories of his legendary excursions that his parents rode in the 1960’s. After introducing himself to Rowland, Vince was able to get a job helping maintain 614 while she was inspected and serviced for upcoming excursions. Rowland gave Vince the opportunity to car host on some of his trips, earning Vince his last merit badge for every job possible behind the tender on a passenger train.
In 1999 Vince and his fiancée relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. The “icing on the cake” to this new location, as Vince described it, was the nearby North Carolina Transportation Museum. “One of the first things I did was I got in my car and drove to Spencer to volunteer”. Seeing another place to grow as a railroader and live out his passion, Vince worked hard to rise up the ranks at this new historical organization. It was at NCTM that Vince first put his hand on the throttle, which was former Buffalo Creek & Gauley No. 4 (Running as NCTM No. 604), another Consolidation 2-8-0. Vince was at a loss of words when I asked him to describe the feeling of running steam. I could hear the smile in his voice as he said “Your first time, it’s one of those watershed moments. When you pull the throttle, blow that whistle, make it move, there’s nothing like it”.
After nine years at the NCTM, Vince decided it was time for a change and began working at the South Carolina Railroad Museum, a museum that operates excursions over 5 miles of track known as the Rockton Rion & Western railroad. Nowadays, Vince wears many hats the humble operation, working as a conductor, fireman, and an engineer, along with serving on the Board of Trustees and the marketing team. Vince’s goal with his time at SCRM is to share the same joy he gets from trains with the rest of the world. He explained to me that while railfans are a part of the target audience of organizations like SCRM, they also must cater to the families and tourists who are experiencing their very first train ride, and ensure that these newcomers become regular visitors. Vince enjoys sharing the magic of railroading with the patrons of the museum, as he explained to me: “There’s something magic about trains, they have soul; they’re alive”.
In talking about our own respective memories with trains, Vince told me about a vivid memory engraved in his soul, from when he was still living in New Jersey. In 1994, his favorite locomotive, BR&W No.60, was running trips on the Morristown and Erie Railway as part of a special event with the United States Postal Service. In order to get No. 60 to this location, the locomotive had to run over a stretch of track from Morristown to Whippany, NJ, that hadn’t felt the rumble of a steam locomotive in several years. The crew that evening brought the neighbors out of their homes as No. 60 took to the several grade crossings along the branch, growing more of a following with each flash of the red lights. As his favorite engine pulled into Whippany, where he began volunteering over seven years ago, there was a roar of applause from onlookers who gathered trackside to see this iron horse. As the crowd’s excitement grew, Vince recalls the grandeur of the moment, as he realized this was quite literally a dream come true. “No one does this with airplanes or boats or trucks. Trains are more than machines, they have power to captivate people”.
Along with inspiring memories and showing off the magic of trains, Vince emphasized the importance of education and safety in carrying forth the legacy of trains. In his time working at several historic operations, Vince told me how many times he’s prevented a child from falling down the steps of a passenger car, or rather how many times he’s seen someone too close to the tracks as a train barrels towards them. Safety is crucial as anything in Vince’s eyes, and rightfully so. Making sure people understand the danger of trains is just as important as the wow factor, because being safe around trains is crucial for the preservation of what we love about them.
Vince opened our interview by saying “I’ll be 50 on Monday (April 27th) and I’ve been dealing with trains for 50 years.” His life has revolved around trains, as they are both a passion and a lifestyle for him. “I’ve never gotten paid much to do this, nor do I care”, Vince explained to me, as he doesn’t do the job for the money, but rather his own enjoyment and his service to the preservation of railroad history and the hobby itself. With an emphasis on safety and education, Vince hopes to help pass down the spark of railroading, like his father did for him.
Thank you for reading this edition of Behind the Throttle. Tune in next for a look at someone just starting their journey in the world of railroading, Logan Dahir. Until next time, I’m Max Harris, and thank you for your continued support of Behind the Throttle.