Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Romance of Trains

John Elder Robison posted today about trains. He went into extensive detail about the different tracks and how they had changed over the years. He showed us some really keen stone bridges that have held up for a hundred years.

John loves trains. He shows us the practical side of those wonderful beasts, and his post triggered my own memories of trains.

Sometimes, when I'm awake in the darkest hour of a hot summer night, I hear a train's call as it passes through town. It's a spacious and lonely sound. Sometimes I feel as if I'm the only one who hears it.

When I was young, I often wondered where it had gone, and where it was going. When I was about thirteen years old, I heard a distinctive whistle, different from the usual deep-throated blare of a freight train's diesel horn. I ran outside and looked down the street. A white cloud of steam rose above the trees, and I knew it was a steam train.

I jumped on my bike and sped down my street and around the corner. Two blocks away, the steam engine paused at the train station on Davis Drive. It was huge, black and shiny. I stared at it with awe, then remembered that my sister and brother hadn't seen it. I rode back home to tell them, but by the time we all trooped back, it was gone. I hoped to see it again throughout that summer, but had to accept that it was a one time deal. Perhaps it was being delivered to some museum.

Years later, I kept my brother-in-law company while he volunteered to restore an old track line for the South Simcoe Railway. He was a train nut with an extensive model train set and antique conductor outfits which had once belonged to his grandfather. He even hosted a half-hour video for children, featuring old cartoons with train themes.

After a lot of hard work, the Tottenham Steam Train took to the rails, and I took my kids for several day trips on it.

There's something seductive and sexy about a steam train. Its curves and lines hide the hardness and power underneath all that metal. Its insides are all soft and frilly, with gold-fringed curtains and brocade upholstery. Imagine yourself in an overstuffed bench, watching a stranger at the end of the car, or perhaps diving under the bench to avoid a gun-slinging train robber.

If you wrote a train story, what would it be?


ChristineEldin said...

I'm going to copy you and John and also post about trains today. I love them! I would write about the hobos.

I love your photo, btw!

Stamperdad said...

Here I go dating myself, but back in the middle 1950s I lived next to the main line between Toronto and Montreal. We saw steam trains regularly pulling fast passenger trains and also freight. Yes in those days passenger trains were fast and they were also given priority along the line. Freight trains had to pull over and let them go by. I always loved the steamers. Great post!


Bernita said...

"Sometimes I feel as if I'm the only one who hears it"
I have always liked the names some trains acquire.
The whistles have meaning.

Jamie Ford said...

I used to walk to my grade school and would cut across a field, stepping over these black, greasy old train tracks.

My brother and I would place pennies on the track in the morning and then on the way back we'd search around and find them flattened into little copper pancakes.

I alway wanted to flatten a silver dollar, but I was afraid I'd derail the train.

Chumplet said...

Go ahead, Chris; let's make this Train Week.

Welcome, Stamperdad!

Bernita, I knew you would relate to that lonely sound.

Jamie, I used to do that, too. It's amazing how our parents didn't know we were playing on train tracks back then. What were they thinking?

John Elder Robison said...

You can tell that's a scenic railway because the track is crooked and the ties are rotting.

It's a shame, but it's costly to keep the roadbed in shape.

Chumplet said...

John, shhhh... don't tell anyone but I scoffed that picture from the internet. I don't know where that train is!

As soon as I find the pictures I took of the Tottenham train, I'll replace it. Maybe this summer we'll visit again and I can take a picture of the tracks so you can see what a good job my brother in law did with the repairs!

BernardL said...

Whenever I hear a train whistle, I think of Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues', and 'I hear the train a comin'. :)

Kanani said...

I grew up by some train tracks as well. I remember the train going by around noon, and at the end would always be a caboose. Usually there'd be someone in it, waving. A few times I could see hobos riding the rails.

I live not far from a train depot now. I can walk to take the train into LA or SD. I love hearing it at night.

moonrat said...

my first novel will start on a train platform.

wordtryst said...

Trains stopped running here when I was a child. Some years ago when I visited the US for the first time, our car was stopped at a crossing and I saw a real live train again. Beautiful! I made it a point to ride that pretty train. (The Tri-Rail in S.Florida)

Angela said...

Beautiful picture. I love trains, and hope to go on a 'live train robbery' that is available in a city not too far from here. I think it would be wonderful to experince a stream engine train ride.

If I wrote a story about trains tho, it would likely be about one breaking down in the middle of nowhere that is swarmed by brain-eating zombies. Not very romantic, but hey...I don't imagine there's anything like it out there on the market, right? lol

Chumplet said...

What great ideas for train stories. The possibilities are endless. Zombies LOL!

Liane, I had no idea there weren't any trains in Trinidad. Interesting.

Ello said...

I do love trains. I think they are so romantic. I want to take that special train that takes you to Macch Pichu. That's what I would love to do.

The Anti-Wife said...

As a kid in the 50's we used to take trains a lot. I loved riding them, especially on long trips when we got to sleep in the berths at night. Great memories.

Chumplet said...

I rode in a sleeper car once - not the private room but the curtained bunk on the side. I think we were going between Montreal and New Brunswick. I must have been five or six. Mom shared the bunk with me and I was against the window, watching the night landscape go by.