In April I went to the Plymouth St. GTW crossing in then Grand Rapids township to watch the westbound passenger train #21 from Durand to Muskegon barrel down the Dewey hill grade to its next stop at Leonard St. station. It was due into Leonard St. at 6.05 PM. Sure enough, it was right on time that day and really hauling. As I watched it come, drawn by its usual passenger geared GP9, I thought at first the Geep was on fire as smoke seemed to be pouring out of it. My heart nearly stopped when I realized that behind the diesel was a steam locomotive, and one of my favorites, 6405. 6405 was the first built of its class and the last to pull a passenger train into Grand Rapids or anywhere else on the GTW system. The diesel she was double heading with was steam boilered 4933, the last of her class built in 1958 to finish off steamís reign on the Durand to Muskegon run. One of 6405ís sisters, 6408, had pulled the last Muskegon to Durand passenger train under steam a few short months before, on December 2, 1958. That pair shot past me like a rocket ship. I have no idea what their speed was. It seemed like 90 mph. The clip of the 6405ís pistons was of rate Iíd never heard before or since.
I talked my dad into driving me and a buddy down to the Leonard St. station after supper to see if by any chance 6405 was still in town. Amazingly, she was. As I learned not long after, from my employer, Bill Alexander, owner of Alexander Scale Models, that 6405 had been ordered to Ionia to reenact a grade crossing accident for a jury that was deciding a law suit brought against GTW. 6405 had been the engine involved in the accident that killed a motorist the year before.
My dad was able to film 6405 that evening in early April twilight, waiting to return to Durand light. We learned from its crew when she was scheduled to head east and again talked my dad into taking us to the Leffiingwell St. bridge, located about a mile upgrade from where I saw her come in to bid her farewell and God speed Ö one last time. She didnít disappoint. We could hear her leaving the station about 1 mile west. Her banshee whistle screaming for each grade crossing. Lafayette, Diamond, Fuller, Plymouth streets. Gaining speed quickly with just a caboose in tow. Then we saw her cyclops eyeball eerily peering at us while barreling upgrade in ptich black darkness towards our perch. Like she came in, she shot past us, blowing the wooden slats nearly off that old bridge. Then she was gone in seconds like the phantom of the night she had become. We lingered and listened as she called back to us all they way to Ada; inhaling every last morsel of her pungence that hung in thick night air; straining to hear the very last of her sad, faint wails while she sped eastward to her final destiny. She never steamed again after that night and was scrapped in Sept. 1961. Not only was I to witness the last run of 6405; but it also the last time I would see passenger train #21. She ended service at the end of that fateful month ... on April 30, 1959.