While innumerable stories about trains, train robberies and the famed trailblazer appeared in True West during its 70-year history, they were rarely featured on the magazine’s cover.
Christopher “Kit” Carson has only been on the cover of True West once in 70 years—March 2006—while the first time a locomotive graced the front page was in April 1986—33 years after the first issue.
Technically, the first “train” cover was in April 1972, but it didn’t even show a real train—just a rare Jakob Gogolin painting of a Plains Indian tribe tearing up the tracks crossing their territory (right). Editor Joe Small noted in his editorial that that German immigrant’s artwork is part of the permanent collection of the Kansas Historical Society in Kansas.
But what about trains real or otherwise?
From June 1990 to August 2012, a historic locomotive was featured on the cover six times. Yet, True West’s editors are not shy about writing about train robbers, train robberies and train wrecks. We’ve also written dozens of articles about railroad construction, historic railroads, railroad travel—and even an article by Chris Enss about “Iron Ladies.” And for over a decade we’ve published a special annual travel issue about Western heritage railroads. That’s the issue you are reading right now!
Reflecting on the reason for the lack of railroad covers, we recalled that rail travel was on its way out in America in the 1950s and 1960s, and it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that historic short line, narrow gauge railroads began operating for tourists. Not even an engineer, brakeman or conductor made it on the cover until May 2005 (opposite, right).
Your intrepid editors found the lack of Kit Carson’s visage on the cover even more surprising, due to his fame—and to some, his infamy. This current issue is the second one to feature the trailblazer on the cover, and for the second time it complements a major feature by award-winning historian Paul Andrew Hutton.
Will it take more than a decade to put a locomotive or Carson on the cover again? If odds were set, the smart bet would be on the trailblazer, but you never know, an Iron Horse might come around the bend and make it once again!