PAUL— David Simmons could hear the whistle in his mind and he felt an eerie chill as the hair on his neck stood up the first time his eyes fell on a large framed photograph of a familiar steam engine on display near the emergency room at Minidoka Memorial Hospital.
David, who is battling cancer, knew immediately that he wanted to own the photograph of Union Pacific Railroad’s 844 steam engine.
“He never asks for anything and he always gets me really nice gifts,” Darla Simmons, his wife, said. “I knew I had to make sure he got it.”
So she put in a bid for it at a silent auction for the hospital’s annual festival of trees fundraiser.
But she didn’t know that several other people had their eye on it too, and by the end of the event several days later, the cost had skyrocketed to $750.
“When we got to the festival of trees he just went over and just stared at it,” Donna said, but after finding out how much the bid had went up, he said he didn’t want it.”
Donna went back the last day of the festival and put in a bid of $755, winning the print.
“He was saying, “I don’t know where I’m going to hang it, I don’t have a wall. I will build a wall,” Donna said.
Instead, Donna suggested a place of honor on a large wall near the entryway of the couple’s home.
The photo of steam engine 844 was captured last spring as the train came through the area by local photographer and nurse Mike Simcoe, and he donated it.
“The best photo is one that grabs someone,” Simcoe said. “That really means a lot to a photographer. It couldn’t have gone to a better person, it was meant for him.”
Simcoe said getting a good image of the train proved more difficult than he first thought.
He assumed the engine would be just chugging along but it was traveling 60 mph.
“It just rumbled the ground,” he said.
He was able to capture the shot by Baker’s Cave in Minidoka County.
“In this day and age it’s really nice to see someone so passionate about something,” Simcoe said.
Thirty-three years spent working on trains had left its mark on David, who has a train bell on display in his front yard and a room dedicated to his passion.
In the room a model train runs on a track suspended just under the ceiling, a shelf on one wall is covered with carved trains, plaques and other railroad memorabilia — and railroad photos line the walls.
Several times over his 33-year career, 844 had rolled through David’s work territory and he’d had opportunity to service and work on it.
Dubbed the Living Legend, the engine was the last of Union Pacific Railroad’s steam locomotives. A passenger engine, it is taken out for special events around the country.
“He was like a kid in a toy shop every time he serviced that train,” Donna said.
When David stood near 844’s wheels they stretched up above his head and its whistle created a memory that still jars him today.
Each time it came through he’d get his wife to bring the camera and they’d try to capture a great photo of the train, which always drew big crowds with its arrival – but the quintessential photo remained elusive.
“It was hard to get close to it because it always drew a crowd,” David said.
His love for steam engines began as a child when they lived at King Hill near Mountain Home.
“As a kid I could hear the steam engines as they’d pull up that hill,” David said.
His father and grandfather both worked for the railroad — so the roots run deep.
David plans to write his career history with the railroad and his connection to the 844 and place it in an envelope on the back of the print.
“It will always be in our family,” Donna said.