It’s been awhile since my last post, but sometimes life gets in the way, and you have to attend to other things. My goal is to continue this online journey. Though for tonight, I will just share some rambling thoughts…
I have always loved traveling on trains. Somehow they just draw me deep into the very spirit and essence of my past. It could be because I grew up as the daughter and granddaughter of railroad men, and trains have always been an essential part of my life. We lived just a few short blocks away from the tracks, but at night I could still hear the long, lonely sound of the train’s whistle as it rolled down the tracks. It was a comforting, homey sound to me. Today, I still love to hear the sound of the trains as they roll by, except of course if I’m running late for work!
My dad worked for the Texas and Pacific Railroad. The station he worked at still stands today, but only as a museum. You can still wander down through the tunnel under the tracks to get to the station house. My sisters and I loved to run through this tunnel and make as much noise as possible, just to hear our voices echoing back at us as we ran. In those days, the station was open and lively with folks rushing in to catch a passenger train. Freight trains rumbled by regularly, too. We spent many afternoons wandering through the station or standing out on the porch and watching the trains roll by. There was always the thought in the back of our minds that we might catch a glimpse of a hobo riding in an empty boxcar. My dad taught us early on to respect the power of trains and to always stay back from the railroad tracks. There were always horror stories of what might happen if we encountered a moving train. Yet, it was still an exciting experience to walk beside the signalman as he swung his lamp to signal a train that it was fine to pull on into the station.
Several poignant memories of this old railroad yard still prevail within me. I remember the first time I rode all by myself on a passenger train to visit my grandparents. My dad tucked me up in the last car with the conductor and instructed me to stay put. I was only six at the time, so I did just that. It was really cool when the conductor took time to sit with me and chat. He even took me up to the dining car and bought me a snack along the way. The next few summers I traveled up to my grandparent’s house on the train with my sister. I loved the swaying of the train as you walked through the cars, and it was always a thrilling adventure to go on the open platform between cars and see only a chain separating you from the outside world and hard ground below.
We took several trips on the train in “sleeping compartments”. This was a really unique experience and quite an adventure for my sisters and me. We loved how the bed pulled down from the ceiling and we had to be lifted up into it because it was so high up (at least in our eyes).
Years passed by and the passenger trains were slowly phased out. Only freight trains rumbled through the depot for quite a while. Then came an earth shattering event. At least it was to my dad. I was fifteen at the time, and there was nothing I wanted to do less than this… but the first Amtrack train was going to stop at the depot… at four a.m.! My dad rolled us all out of bed in the middle of a cold winter’s night, and we all bundled up and headed out to watch as the first passenger train in years rolled into the station. I can still see us standing there huddled together, everyone excited except me. I was a teenager, and you know how teenagers can be! Even so, that treasured memory has remained with me all these years.
Sometimes I think it’s rather sad that our children have never had the “train” experience. Next week, we’ve planned a trip to East Texas to take our grandsons on a steam train ride through the David Crockett National Forest. I hope this train ride will evoke happy memories for the boys when they look back on it in future years.
I’ll leave you with a potion of an Arlo Guthrie song, and I hope I have stirred up some special memories for some you who understand that haunting pull when you hear that lonesome sound.
“Riding on the City of New Orleans, Illinois Central, Monday morning rail, fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors, and twenty-five sacks of mail. All along the southbound Odyssey
the train pulls out of Kankakee and rolls along the houses, farms and fields… Good morning America, how are you?Say don’t you know me, I’m your native son. I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”~ Arlo Guthrie