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The Mad Engineer

The Haunted Train (also referred to as Old Engine 25) is a phantom 4-8-2 Mountain type steam locomotive that appears once a year at an abandoned train staton in Hillwood, driven by the ghost of its mad engineer. Arnold, Gerald, and Helga decided to check the legend about him, but discovered that it was nothing more than one of Grandpa's tall tales. Or was it?


In 1956, Old Engine 25 was a 4-8-2 Mountain-type steam locomotive that worked for the Great Northern Railroad. However, one night, during a coach-stock movement from a rail yard to Hillwood's old Union Station, the engine was allegedly derailed by its engineer who, for reasons unknown, suddenly went insane. No wreckage was ever found, except for part of the locomotive's throttle, which was still being clutched by one of the engineer's gloves. (Apparently, it was also the only piece of the engineer that was ever found.)


There are a few theories as to why the engineer suddenly went mad that night. 

  • It could be that the engineer had some kind of mental problem (possibly schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder) that required him to take special medication in order to function properly. If this is the case, then the engineer may have forgotten to take his medicine before going to work, or ran out of medication and was either unable to get more, or thought he could go one shift without it, resulting in him losing control and going mad, or he had just started suffering the mental problem and hadn't been diagnosed or examined.
  • It could also be that the engineer was experiencing marital or financial troubles at the time, and the stress caused him to be driven over the edge, or he was suicidal for some reason.
  • It is also possible that the Great Northern Railroad had laid off several employees due to low revenues (common for many railroads during the 1950s when interstate highway systems and long-distance trucking flourished), and the engineer was to be one of them. As a result, the engineer decided to get revenge on the company by derailing the train, which would cost the Great Northern Railroad more money, and tarnish the company's public image.
  • Another possible theory is that the locomotive was not an original Great Northern locomotive, but was instead purchased from another railroad, and was unpopular with engine crews, so the engineer pretended to go mad and intentionally crashed the locomotive in an attempt to wreck it beyond repair, leaving it to be sold for scrap.
    • This theory may have some merit (at least in part), as Engine 25 does not look anything like a real-life Great Northern locomotive, but closely resembles a Norfolk & Western K-1 class 4-8-2, which is a steam engine from the eastern United States.
  • The engineer may have also been possessed by the Devil. This would explain how he would've droven to the fiery underworld, and why he brings passengers there with the train if that part of the story was true.

Urban legend

Engine 25 and its mad engineer, under the name of "The Haunted Train," are the subjects of an urban legend told by Grandpa, asserting that the engineer drove the train straight to the fiery underworld, and that on the anniversary of the train's wreck, it would return to collect fresh passengers to bring to the underworld (which was refereed to as "the Zone of Darkness"). (For further details, see the Legend of the Haunted Train.)

The Truth?

Evidently, after the wreck of Engine 25 and its train, the Great Northern Railroad salvaged and repaired the locomotive and built or allocated a new consist of coaches for it. The engine avoided the scrapper's torch and survived to the present day, perhaps through a preservation movement when the Great Northern retired all of their steam locomotives in favor for diesel power in the 1950s. No doubt being a steam engine, it went through a period of abandonment and neglect before being reinstated to service. Engine 25 is shown to be still operating at a nightly workers train run by the current railroad company (presumably from a newer station in another part of town, as the station in the episode is abandoned) to Hillwood's steel-mill. Arnold takes this as evidence that Grandpa made up the legend, but Grandpa himself remains ambiguous on the subject, after which Brainy and the viewer are treated to a vision of Engine 25 passing through the countryside en route from the steel mill, with the phantom of the engineer, sitting on the locomotive's cowcatcher beam, telling his tale in a song. Although never stated, it's possible that Grandpa was Engine 25's fireman at the time and knew the engineer personally ( As he mentioned that he worked for the railroad earlier, but didn't specify what he did, and never mentioned a fireman, which as a steam locomotive, Engine 25 would need). Since the mad engineer is the only one seen in the cab, it could be that Grandpa was with the engineer on that fateful night, shoveling coal. When he realized that his coworker was insane, he jumped out of the cab in panic, thus saving himself and possibly witnessing the crash. If this is the case, he may have heard about alleged sightings of the ghost and the story, but never believed it, which is why he willing let Arnold and his friends go to the old station.

Locomotive Specs

  • Railroad: Great Northern Railroad Company (formerly Norfolk & Western Railroad Company)
  • Number: 25 (previous number unknown)
  • Wheel Arrangement: 4-8-2 Mountain Type
  • Class: K-1
  • Builder: Norfolk & Western Railroad's Roanoke, Virginia Shops
  • Year built: 1916
  • Valve Gear: Baker.
  • Driving Wheel Diameter: 70 inches
  • Boiler Pressure: 200 psi
  • Cylinder Size: 29" x 28" inches
  • Tractive Effort: 51,188 lbs.
  • Weight on drivers: 218000 lbs
  • Engine Weight: 176.95 tons (334.12 tons with tender)
  • Tender Water Capacity: 18000 gals
  • Tender Fuel Capacity: 26 tons


  • In the field of paranormal investigation, the Haunted Train would be classified as a Residual Haunting, because it visits only on the same day at the same time every year, and follows the same pattern. However, this only holds true for the train itself, as the ghost of the engineer is observed singing on the locomotive's cowcatcher beam instead of behind its controls. As a result, the Haunted Train's engineer would be considered an Intelligent Haunting.
  • The engine itself strongly resembles a Norfolk & Western K-1 class 4-8-2 Mountain type steam locomotive, with the front pilot of an N&W streamlined J class 4-8-4, which was never used on the Great Northern.
  • Grandpa says the accident happened 40 years ago. Since the episode aired in 1996, this means Engine 25 crashed in 1956.
  • Why the train stopped at the abandoned train station is unknown.

Appears in