Still Rolling, After All These Years

Union Pacific Steam Engine 844 Passing Castle Rock  ~  Green River, Wyoming
Photo courtesy of Eric Nielsen

For three years, Union Pacific’s magnificent Engine No. 844 cooled its wheels in Cheyenne, Wyoming while undergoing a major overhaul in the company’s steam shop. Returned to service in 2016, it traveled first to Cheyenne Frontier Days, and then to the opening of the Big River Crossing in Memphis.

Today, UP 844 is traveling again. The Boise Turn Special, an eleven-day round trip run to Idaho to help celebrate the 92nd anniversary of Boise’s historic depot, will have taken the historic steam engine over 1,600 miles of Union Pacific track: through Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho. Brief stops in communities along the way have allowed both dedicated railfans and the casually curious to see, touch, and hear an important part of American history.

UP 844 would be the last steam engine delivered to Union Pacific. Ordered from Schenectady, New York’s American Locomotive Company, it arrived in December, 1944: only two years before my own birth. After World War II, diesel locomotives quickly began replacing steam for passenger trains, but when older family and friends reminisced about riding the rails, it was steam that they recalled.

The poetry of steam lingered even in the classroom. Teachers told stories of strong, indestructible iron horses, and taught songs about winsome little creatures called “pufferbellies.”

In my childish confusion over the mechanics of rail travel, I became convinced that pufferbellies were roaming my neighborhood at will, and thought I ought to be able to catch one — like a firefly, or grasshopper. One Sunday afternoon, I headed off toward the schoolyard, thinking to do just that.

It didn’t take long for my dad to catch up with me. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. “To find the pufferbellies.” Silence billowed between us like steam. “The what?” ”The pufferbellies. We learned a song about them in school. I want to see them.”

Reasonably enough, he said, ”Can you sing me the song?” Of course I could. I remembered every word, and sang the first verse twice.

By the time I finished, he was laughing. “Sweetie, I know where the pufferbellies live. Why don’t we go see them?”

Later that afternoon, we bundled into the car and drove to a place he called the Depot. At the Depot, people transformed into passengers: boarding trains for such exotic destinations as Des Moines, Omaha, and Iowa City.

While we sat on a bench, waiting for a train to arrive, I learned that Rock Island wasn’t only the city where my aunt and uncle lived. It also was a railroad, with its own symbol, its own song, and its own sort of excitement. Hearing the low moan of the whistle, feeling the vibration of the tracks with my hand and covering my ears against the sharp, steam-shrouded screech of the brakes convinced me. I wanted to be a passenger, too.

Some years later, after weeks of wheedling and whining, my parents decided I was old enough to accompany my dad to a football game in Iowa City. It was my first train trip, and my first experience of steam. In memory, the open windows, flying cinders, rough, prickly seats, and flocked burgundy wall coverings fairly scream “bordello,” but at the time, they seemed formal and romantic: a perfect setting for waistcoats, high-button shoes, and bustles.

Like everyone else, we carried our lunch in a box. We peeled hard-boiled eggs, gnawed on chicken legs, and consumed stacks of homemade cookies, all while giggling at men pulling flasks from their vest pockets and jackets. While they enjoyed their liquor, I fell into sleep, lulled by the rhythmic clacking of steel on steel.

Over time, I began reading the names on freight cars at crossings — Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; Burlington; Great Northern; Illinois Central; Cottonbelt; Wabash. I began riding my bike to the depot to watch the trains come in, and read about the men who’d laid the tracks.

No longer content to sing about pufferbellies, I learned new songs, sung by men with names like Boxcar Willie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The Wabash Cannonball, The Wreck of Old 97, and Paddy Works on the Erie were grounded in railroading as a way of life: celebrating the engineers, boomers and brakemen, switchmen, conductors, and engineers who worked the yards.

The hobos, of course, rode for free, and sang their own songs.

In time, I began walking the trestles with friends, shivering with anticipation and fear as we tempted the afternoon freight. Once, I visited a roundhouse with my grandfather, where the engines and their turntable delighted me. On road trips, I begged my dad to race the Streamliners highballing along their glistening tracks, and in the rich, jasmine-scented nights of summer I lodged myself between crickets and stars to hear the mournful whistles dissolving away into the dark.

Decades later, photographer Tom Parker posted a remarkable image on his blog, Dispatches from Kansas. He’d captured UP 844 rolling through Frankfort, Kansas on her journey south from Cheyenne to Harlingen, Texas. The Valley Eagle Heritage Tour, named for a popular Missouri Pacific passenger train which operated between Houston and Brownsville from 1948 to 1962, was a railfan’s dream.

Like a giant pufferbelly escaped from bonds of inattention and neglect, UP 844 was riding the rails of imagination as surely as her rails of steel. From the moment I learned she’d roll through Houston before heading southwest, there was no question I’d be at the stations, whistlestops and country crossings to witness the historic journey and wave to the crew who made it possible.

At a crossing southwest of Houston, waiting for one more glimpse of the great locomotive while listening to Sara Carter Bayes’s “Railroadin’ On the Great Divide,” I found myself pondering the world of divides in which we live.

Beyond the divides of politics, race, gender and economics running through our social and cultural landscape, an even greater divide appears to exist: one separating the world in which I grew up from a quite different world emerging today.

In that older world, the metaphor of the well-oiled machine still had force. In most occupations, skill and perseverance were more important than connections. Deals were sealed with handshakes, and a man’s word was his bond, rather than a contemptuous and cynical attempt to manipulate others.

For many railroaders, the only divide that counted was the Continental Divide, a divide overcome by a Golden Spike of vision, foresight and ingenuity. Certainly there was manipulation in that spike as well, and not a little greed. Nevertheless, five days after the spike was driven in 1869, passenger train service was instituted. Pulled by the astounding ”iron horses”, people journeyed from places like Omaha to Sacramento in four days rather than four months, and they fell in love with their trains.

Today, we travel faster, but I’m not sure we travel better, and I suspect we know it. When those engines from an earlier time begin to move, people gather. They stand at crossings and linger at whistlestops, traveling miles beyond good sense to see a highballing steamer race across the prairie or idle at a switch.

Beyond the charms of retro technology, there’s a palpable sense of people wanting to move, to meet people, to hear the whistle and feel the vibration: to reach across the years that divide us from our past in order to touch the steam, steel, and grit that made this country work.

As long as UP 844 and her kind keep rolling; as long as the people who love and sustain her survive; as long as the whistle sounds and the firebox glows; there’s railroading to be done. There are prairies to cross, and foothills to climb. There are mountainsides where the great, vertiginous sky reaches off to infinity: high plateaus where the winds blow free, and a person can breathe in the air of acomplishment and history.

Children will love their pufferbellies, but railroading’s for grownups: for people willing to pick up and roam; to work beyond exhaustion; to trade security for freedom; and speak with integrity.

Of course there will be difficulties. No one wants to face the broken tie, the washed-out bridge, the screaming downgrade acceleration or the jumped tracks. But ask any old-timer from Old Cheyenne – or anywhere else for that matter – and he’ll tell you it’s worth the ride. After all, there’s always the chance we’ll get lucky, and land on the Great Divide.

Comments are welcome.
Special thanks to photographers Tom Parker,  Aaron B. Hockley, and Daniel Lipinski for photos used in my video. Thanks also to Hal Cannon, the Deseret String Band and Okehdokee Records for permission to use the group’s version of “Railroading on the Great Divide”.
Comments always are welcome.

112 thoughts on “Still Rolling, After All These Years

    1. Thank you, Jessica. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The people who keep the old steam engines running are a special crew, and it’s fun to tell something of their story.

      1. I really liked the story about your dad and how he took you to see them. And, when you rode on one and ate boiled eggs and chicken legs. Bet those are some great memories. I didn’t know they still had steam engines running. There is a steam engine museum close to here, but they are all parked. Such a history in trains. Love them. We have several railroad pocket watches, so we are pretty much train fans.

        1. Steam excursions aren’t exactly common, but you can find them. Here’s a railfan schedule that seems fairly comprehensive. It includes more than steam, but even some of the diesel trips would be great.

          I do have wonderful memories of both my parents, but my dad was special. Mom taught me how to be ladylike, but Dad taught me the value of curiosity.

          1. Thank you so much for the link. That was very nice of you to share. Ladylike certainly has it’s place, but it seems like curiosity creates a lot more adventures. Yay for your dad. Hope you have a fabulous day.

    1. That surprises me, Lisa. I assumed that everyone would have grown up with that song. What surprised me even more is that it’s still so popular. There are dozens of versions for kids, and some are quite current.

      I’ll bet you do remember a take-off on the song, though. “Down By The Station” was quite a hit for The Four Preps, back in the 1960s. It still makes me smile to hear that one, too.

      1. Ha.. I felt a bit slighted too! How could we not have been taught that song?!!!! The rhythms were familiar but not the lyrics! My friend Marie, from Pennsylvania – and I sometimes break into those old songs, tossing them back and forth and laughing as we sing them while driving cross country…. I’ll have to remember to ask her about this one!

        I enjoyed the link, a nice distraction to sounds of helicopter, beep beep beep of heavy equipment, reverberating ground from a ‘roller’ machine, machetes at work and much more.. oh, how long before jama has recovered and it’s quiet again?

  1. I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know what pufferbellies were. I thought the little song was about puff-a-bellies and I supposed like you, that they were bugs or something! And another thing, I didn’t know a roundhouse was really a round house! You teach me so much. I have been in passenger train cars at the museum and I would love to travel in that way. My dream trip would be to take a passenger train up into Canada.

    1. No need to be embarassed, Oneta. If I were embarassed by everything I don’t know, I’d never come out of the house. Beyond that, isnt it funny how we can mis-hear lyrics so often? I can’t remember a good example right now, but I know there have been times when I’ve thought, “That song says that?

      Roundhouses are cool. I’ve always thought of the turntables as being like Lazy Susans for trains. The same principle was used for turning wagons, too, although the design differed somewhat. Once diesels arrived, the roundhouse became less important, since diesel engines can travel in either direction.

      My aunt is taking an extended train trip next month, from Kansas City to Portland, with some time in Canada. I’m not sure of the exact itinerary, but I’m sure of her age: ninety-one. It’s not too late to book your reservations!

  2. I’m afraid my “railway song” is a little more modern: “Midnight Flyer” by the Eagles.

    I rode with my dad on the AT&SF Pullman service to Houston to stay with my aunt. That was in the 1950’s in the days when there were still the solemn Black Pullman porters. We had a sleeper berth (I was on top) and remember being rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the rails. We left of an evening and arrived the next morning. Of course, it was a diesel locomotive — the red Santa Fe engines. But it is one of my earliest memories. I rode around Europe and Britain on their superior train service and it was great fun and so convenient. You paid a set fee for a rail pass that was good anywhere in Europe for a set period of time. You just got on where you needed to and got off when you needed to. (We’ve let our passenger service to go pot — we haven’t had passenger service here since the 1960’s). . There is nothing quite like the rhythm of the steel wheels ka-thump-ka-thumping over the expansion joints in the rails. I also have to say the sound and feel of the European trains doesn’t compare to ours. Ours are so much “meatier”

    1. There’s no reason to apologize for “Midnight Flyer.” If I were to throw another one into the mix, it would be Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues. If anyone can make me nostalgic, Lightfoot can. Those Canadian singers have something special.

      I really enjoyed train travel in Europe, too. I was a little worried about Germany, since my French could get me around, while my German was mostly for greetings and ordering a beer. But a friend said not to worry. Just check the time on the schedule, and when the doors opened, get on or off: depending. I wish Houston would get past its infatuation with light rail, and commuter lines that don’t do anything for people in the suburbs. We could use some real mass transit, but with everyone getting Uberized, the enthusiasm seems to be waning.

      That ka-thump-ka-thump also was the sound of Iowa highways when I was a kid. Many’s the night I fell asleep in the back seat of the car to that sound. It’s pretty special, too.

  3. Darn! A day late and a dollar short.

    I live in ID and if I’d known about this I would have found a way to go see it. I’m up in the northern panhandle and if its route was through Wyoming and Utah it probably bypassed me. I would have had to travel beyond good sense I guess.

    Those are great photos in the video. I’ve always liked that song ever since I heard it on a Utah Phillips album years ago.

    1. The good news may be that, with the necessary work done and the engine humming along once again, they’ll schedule more short excursions in your part of the country. I know 844 is going to the College Baseball World Series in Omaha in June, and it will be involved in the Denver-Cheyenne run for Frontier Days. Here’s hoping they add some other opportunities to the schedule.

      I had fun putting the video together. I’ve been told that one of the men in the first image, next to the steam-powered sod buster, was among my ancestors. Some of the family traveled from Iowa to Canada to make their fortune. Eventually, they thought better of that decision, and came back south.

      Thanks for stopping by, and especially for reminding me of Utah Phillips. I always enjoyed his version of “Bread and Roses,” too.

  4. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; I could immediately hear those words in my head from the song. What great memories – you’re another train lover!! National Train Day is sure going to get advertised this year, eh?!!

    1. Once we get done singing about the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, we could move right on to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. I was remembering the Andrews Sisters’ version, but I found something I certainly didn’t expect: Bill Haley and the Comets covering it in 1954 — just a year before they did “Rock Around the Clock.” Car songs tried to replace train songs over the years, but I don’t think they fully succeeded. And, yes: I do love trains.

          1. You and me both, Linda!! I could just kick myself for allowing them to be left in NY when we all moved, but I’m afraid I’m not agile enough to pull that off anymore! :)

  5. What a great memory of the pufferbellies and your dad. I was well into adulthood before I rode my first train. I’m going to a travelogue next month about train travel across America and I’ll try hard not to sing the pufferbelly song. Thanks for sharing another wonderful post.

    1. On the other hand, Jean, you could print out copies of the song and take them along with you. Wouldn’t it be great to get everyone in the group to sing along? If you talked to the presenter beforehand, it could turn into a lot of fun.

      Just for grins, here’s a list of good train fiction for you. I’ve read Murder on the Orient Express, Stamboul Train, La Béte Humaine, and The Old Patagonian Express. All were good, and I suspect there are other good ones on the list, too. Read enough about train travel, and you’ll be buying your ticket.

  6. We crossed the big river at Memphis next to that RR bridge. I noticed lots of iron and tracks. Now I know what it was. What a nice pedestrian crossing for people to take.

    We often enjoyed steam trains when we traveled with our son. He love them. Two stand out in particular, the Georgetown Loop in CO and the 1880 Train between Hills and Keystone SD. The smells and the sounds are deeply embedded in memories.

    More recently we saw the Jacobite steam train in Scotland.

    1. I like the way they’ve made the Memphis crossing multi-purpose. It must have been special beyond words to have that big steam engine show up for the festivities when it opened.

      I watched a video of the 1880 train, and it does look like fun. You’ve mentioned several things from those South Dakota trips that make clear how special they were. But if I had to choose between the South Dakota train and the Jacobite, there’s no question I’d take the Scottish train. All of the details are perfect, including the candlestick lamps on the tables. And that polished brass! Even the firebox is beautiful.

      1. We were short on time and didn’t get to ride the Jacobite. It was impressive sitting near the platform. I was glad to be able to jump in the engine and see the controls and firebox.

        We have been to the Black Hills and surroundings several times. It is fairly easy to reach and offers good scenery and things to do. We’ll drive just south of there in June on our way to Yellowstone via few interstates. I wonder what Thermopolis Wyoming has to offer besides the world’s largest mineral hot spring.

  7. Linda – wow this is a keeper!! An absolutely charming reminiscence, wonderfully written, evocative, and even poetical in places. I especially like the part “… I lodged myself between crickets and stars…”

    There’s just something about a train. There’s a lot of folks that ride them whenever they can. I sure do, in whatever state or country — modern, steam, narrow-gauge, electric, cog, etc.
    There’s a railroad line at the bottom of my street (freight only except for special occasions) and when I was a kid, I’d drop whatever I was doing, and twice a day, race down the sidewalk to watch the train go by, wave at the engineers, who always waved back, admire the locomotive and the wild graffiti on the cars. A lot of people share an affection for rail, and chockfull of memories of travel, great movies, mystery stories, great songs, etc. I don’t think it was an accident, that the cover of the first Harry Potter book, in the British edition, didn’t have a cartoon illustration, but instead a B&W photograph of a locomotive, puffing out smoke and coming head-on.
    You have some good photos and videos here, too. I’ve seen the trainspotters and photographers gather on my great-uncle’s road in Pennsylvania, to shoot the trains coming out of a tunnel, and near the bends and bridges along the Susquehanna, trying to get that perfect shot.
    Well you got a perfect shot with this piece! Nice shootin’, Tex. :)

    1. It didn’t occur to me until you mentioned the crickets and stars that part of the reason I remember them so fondly is that they’re difficult to find these days. It’s often too noisy here to hear the crickets, and light pollution has seriously dimmed the stars.

      Your tale of running to greet the trains made me smile. When I was staying at Matfield Station last fall, it was so quiet I could hear the train coming from some distance away. I’d always go out to watch it pass, and wave. I have this idea that train engineers are the friendliest people in the world, because they always wave back — and sometimes will give a little toot of the horn. There was a BNSF office right down the street, and the people there were friendly and willing to answer questions, too. Most of my questions were kid-questions: where is it going? where is it coming from? and so on. Here’s where I’d drink my morning coffee. Is that perfect, or what?

      You’re certainly right that there’s just “something” about trains. That head-on image of a locomotive is almost iconic — even for people who haven’t ridden a train in their life, and consider being stopped at a crossing by a long freight nothing more than an irritating interruption. As for photos, we’re a little short on tunnels and bends around here, but seeing No.844 highballing across the coastal plain certainly was a thrill.

  8. I haven’t seen this one, but I remember seeing steam locomotives on the tracks when I was a kid. Trains don’t hold all that much fascination for me today but I really admire how energy-efficient and cost-efficient they are for moving big loads.

    1. You’re certainly right about their efficiency. It was short-sighted at best to tear up so much track across the country. When it happened, I suppose no one was imagining intermodal transport. I see container ships in the Houston Ship Channel almost daily, and it’s great fun to watch them unloaded. In fact, most of the trains I watched from my perch at Matfield Station were stacked with shipping containers. Here, we see a lot of tank cars, and Arkansas was filled with traditional box cars. The differences are fascinating.

  9. The closest we came to a train recently was at the wedding we attended in Kansas City five days ago. The maid of honor kept adjusting the train on the bride’s dress to keep it attractively fanned out.

    I like your transition from the geographical Great Divide to the cultural one we’re beset with.

    1. I wonder if maids of honor are trained in train arrangement? It’s an interesting train of thought.

      Like most people, I suppose, I have opinions about what’s landed us on this cultural divide, and how best to avoid what appears to be a train wreck in the making. Finding ways to express those opinions without being obnoxious isn’t always easy.

  10. In the mid-50’s, there were still a lot of Saint Paul residents who did not own cars. Work was a short walk away, so was shopping at the corner drug-store, hardware store or grocery. For those people, the Burlington Northern ran an excursion train that left the downtown depot every Saturday morning and chugged down to Hastings – then stopped and backed up to Saint Paul.

    The train was powered by diesel but every once in a while, a pufferbelly would come roaring past.

    My grandmother loved that ride – and I think my mother did too, because it meant her kids were somewhere else for the day. :)

    1. I had to look up Hastings on the map. Your mention that the train backed up to St. Paul suggested it wasn’t particularly far away. It isn’t, of course, and in the process of learning that, I saw that they’re still running that excursion train. That would be a fun outing, for sure.

      I’ve got a clutch of postcards written among my mother, her sisters, and aunts, in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them involve train schedules, since none of them had a car, and travel between small Iowa cities was all by rail. “Coming on Thursday. Arriving at 7, so no need to meet me at the station” was typical. Postcards and trains: a different world, for sure.

      We didn’t have excursion trains, but we had the Saturday matinees at the movie house we could walk to. I think those movies served the same purpose for our mothers.

      1. Wow! I did not know they were still running it. I have often thought of taking Amtrak from Saint Paul toward Chicago as far as it goes in half a day then catching the return train in the evening. The scenery along the Mississippi is stunning.

        1. I couldn’t find the original article I saw, but I found this, from last year. It looks like the excursions aren’t on a regular Saturday schedule, but keyed to particular events. No matter — what’s not to like about a fall foliage excursion?

  11. Oh, Linda, where do I start…with a hardy “thanks” for your story about steam railroading, and the culture that surrounds it. I grew up walking to the Highland Park MKT railroad station hand-in-hand with my grandfather as we reached mid-century. Steam engines were still pulling both freight and passenger trains, and we would stand on the station platform and feel the rumble of the great steam engine as it passed. I squeezed his hand until I’m sure it hurt.
    We would ride the “Katy” Bluebonnet downtown to the Dallas Union Station on Saturdays, and he knew the engineer who drove “Old Number 7” the 0-6-0 STEAM switch engine that worked in the yards there, and he would let me ride in the cab of the steam switcher as it took care of its daily duties putting together freight consists for outgoing freight train. What a thrill for a kid!
    Every summer he would take me with him on rail trips all over the U.S. to deliver surveys he had prepared for towns and cities in many states. After he retired he wrote a book which is now out of print, “400,000 Miles by Rail.” He was on the Amtrak committee that brought rail passenger service back to Dallas, and to Texas. Elizabeth Smith commented on the “Flying Scotsman” locomotive. It was, of course, a premier British train, and when I was in my 20’s it toured the U.S. as a promotion for Britain, and for Amtrak. My grandfather, being on the Amtrak committee, was a guest and he took me with him to ride on the train. I have a Super-8 movie that I shot while riding IN THE CAB of the Flying Scotsman as it streaked across the Texas prairie north of Dallas. A cool memory.
    My grandad and I had an “O” gauge model railroad that he started building for me in 1950. It covered the top of a 4-car garage, and was featured over the years in many model railroading magazines, and was a top-rated stop on the model railroad convention tours when they came to Dallas. I still have a model train outdoor railroad (G-scale) running through our yard here in Marathon, TX.
    My grandad (Burt C. Blanton) also worked as a volunteer at the “Age of Steam” railroad museum out at Fair Park.
    Needless to say, railroading is in my blood, and even now, living only 8 blocks from the Union Pacific tracks here in Marathon, we still go down to the tracks and wave at the Amtrak trains when they come through around 9:30 a.m. three days a week on their way west toward El Paso.
    And, yes, I know the term “Pufferbellies.”

    1. I’m just astonished — and of course a bit envious! What a history: and what wonderful experiences you’ve had. I just looked at the 1957 schedule for the Bluebonnet from Kansas City, and had to smile. The route almost perfectly parallels the way I drive up there to visit relatives. If it were still running, I’d be on it in a flash.

      I love that you were able to see and ride in the “Flying Scotsman,” but I suspect there were just as many pleasures associated with those trips you took with your grandfather. Even being able to be in the cab of the steam switch engine obviously was special. Of course I had to do a little poking around, and one of the things I found was this photo of the Katy Flyer, donated by your grandfather to the Museum of the American Railroad. I thought it was interesting that it’s had seven views in the past month. The lure of the trains clearly continues.

      One of the sadly amusing tidbits from my own family history is something my mother told me just a few years before she died. It seems that when I was about five or six, my dad wanted to give me a model railroad for Christmas. She argued against it and won, on the basis that trains weren’t suitable for girls. I suppose I got a doll, instead. But the dolls are long gone, and now I stay in old railroad bunkhouses on vacation and chase steam engines. My dad would be pleased.

      I’ve been pondering a trip to West Texas for a couple of years. Clearly, I’m going to have to add a G scale train set-up to my list of things to see if I ever make it.

  12. Living here in Fort Collins is living with the trains. Several rail lines converge here and the not-so-far-away whistles can be heard at all hours (more so now that the weather is relenting and the windows are open). Maybe I wouldn’t be so nostalgic if I lived next to a crossing, but I find the sounds somewhat soothing as I lie in bed of a warm night.

    And if I might suggest one more tune from a slightly later generation (and one I was listening to just yesterday), I would add Joe Cocker’s “Hitchcock Railway.”

    1. Open windows are one of the best aspects of spring. Windows that let train whistles waft indoors are even better. Like you, I find the sound of a whistle pleasant: even inviting. They certainly never have disturbed me, although they can be a little poignant.

      I’ve never heard “Hitchcock Railway,” and I enjoyed it. Say “Joe Cocker” to me and of course the first thing that comes to mind is “A Little Help From My Friends,” particularly the Woodstock performance.

      You brought yet another song to mind with your comment about crossings, too. “Yellow Dog Blues” memorializes one of the most famous crossings in blues history: where the Southern cross the Dog. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for that crossing, Robert Johnson never would have headed down to the crossroads, and there would have been a lot less history to celebrate.

    1. You’re welcome, Shimon. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Trains are wonderful, but a Daddy who’ll take his little girl to see them is even better. That’s the sort of memory that never fades.

  13. Ah, you are a trainspotter from way back, then! While in England, we’ve taken what chances there are to ride aboard a restored steam train. Even without the steam, though, travel by a good train is such a pleasure. I just came back from a trip down to New York City, taking the Metro-North train both ways, with wonderful views of the Hudson River almost the whole way. I always look forward to that trip.

    1. Here’s another memory that might seem improbable at best, except for the fact that I’m seventy years old. When I was growing up, many people still heated their houses with coal, including my parents and grandparents. Towns in south-central Iowa were known for their coal mines, and there were short trains that shuttled back and forth from the mines to distribution points with their loads of coal. Because the cars were open, chunks sometimes fell from the cars, and we kids would go out along the tracks, collect the spilled coal, and carry it home. That sounds vaguely Dickensian, and sometimes I feel like I lived in the 1800s, but that wasn’t so very long ago — certainly not in the grand scheme of things.

      I agree that train travel is delightful. I had the best of two worlds in San Francisco, with the trolleys and BART, and even the NYC subways had their pleasures. Of course, I think they were a little more pleasant when I was riding them in the 70s and 80s than they might be today: but that’s conjecture.

      I wish train travel from Houston was more convenient. Neither Amtrak’s Sunset Limited nor the Texas Eagle come into Houston: you have to connect via bus to Longview or San Antonio — at least, that’s the way it was the last time I looked into it. On the other hand, if you really want a retro experience, the station here doesn’t have wifi, but does have a pay phone. I’m not sure what to think about that.

      1. Your story about the coal reminds me of our ice box (the real thing) in our holiday cabin in Canada. We had to stop to pick up blocks of ice at a place where they were stored, then carry them in our little boat out to the cabin. Yes, for those of us of a “certain age” (68 for me), it’s not so long ago, though it sounds like ancient history.

        1. There are a lot of things we’ve experienced that would seem like ancient history to anyone under thirty. Maybe even forty! Of course you know that in Texas the ice house has become a fine cultural institution. Of course you could get your blocks of ice there, but you also could get a beer, and in many places, the ice house was the gathering place. There still are a few of the oldonces around, and they’re great fun: see here. I used to frequent the West Alabama Ice House in the days when I was living inside the loop, but now I head over to Carlos’s if it’s time for a really good cheeseburger and a cold beer. It’s a favorite among the boatyard set.

  14. Great post, I especially enjoyed your childhood memories of you and Dad and the train. I’ve never been on a steam train–shame, I suppose. You’re certainly right about the ‘we travel faster, but not better’–no, indeed.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tina. One of these days, a steam train journey may be pretty darned convenient for you. The Austin Steam Train Association is working on restoration of their steam engine — I’m hoping they get it done sooner rather than later. Still, they have some great day trips available, including the Hill Country Flyer. It sounds like great fun, and at 66 miles one way, it’s long enough to feel like a journey.

  15. It’s been a while, but when Mary Beth and I were “courting” (guess if we’re talking train travel we can talk of courting) we traveled by train several times for our visits with each other and she still rides the Amtrak to Philadelphia to visit with friends from her years living there. Not exactly one of the “Pufferbellies” of your post, but an Iron Horse just the same. I think some day I will go for a long train ride-maybe the Trans-Canada or something similar. It seems a more civilized way to go rather than millions of people honking at each other.

    1. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Canadian rail service. I certainly could be tempted toward the Toronto-Vancouver trip (four days, three nights) but of course there’s the issue of getting there and getting home: an expensive proposition.

      I certainly am with you when it comes to avoiding the madding crowds. One thing that always gets factored into my travel plans is population density. I understand that cities have a lot to offer, and many of the museums, galleries, and such that I enjoy are in the cities, but my tolerance for the noise, the crowding, and the pace isn’t what it used to be. I once described a noisy Christmas-season parking lot as being filled with “the honking of a thousand demented geese.” I still think the description was apt.

  16. On our arrival in Australia back in 1956 we discovered the cabins of trains here were made of wood. We thought it quaint. The luggage racks however were made of ornate shaped steel. My brother and I used to catch the same train to work. We each took sandwiches and a bottle of milk for lunch. On a hot day my brother sipped some milk from his bottle before catching the train.He put the cap back on before putting the bottle upright in his bag.
    We got on the train which always was full of workers. My brother and I chucked our workbags on the luggage racks above the seat as always. All of a sudden a stream of milk was flowing over the passenger sitting below the luggage rack. All this poor man could shout was ; ‘hey, I have got milk.’ and repeated, ‘there is milk.’

    Great post, Linda. I love trains.

    1. Your experience with the milk bottle reminds me of our famous advertising campaign that always had the tag line: “Got Milk?

      I think anyone who travels by train ends up with a story or two. That’s part of the fun, and it can be the genesis of a lot of good post-trip conversation: strangers thrown together, and all that. Have you read Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt? It’s an enjoyable train-related story — just one of many.

      Train cars made of wood is a lovely thought. I suspect they had “that” fragrance, too: a nice one, made up of oil or polish, heat, and age — like our old school buildings with their wooden desks, wooden floors, and cleaning compounds.

      It doesn’t surprise me that you love trains. It’s only those silly posts and the need to swipe cards that’s so bothersome!

      1. Yes, Travels with my Aunt is a great book. I must read it again. I travelled on the Trans-Continental express train a couple of times. It was a long time ago. I remember arriving in Italy at its destination, and as we all got up a nice man adjusted my tie. I thought it such a nice gesture.

  17. Boyfriend and I rode a train to the historic Santa Fe depot – built in 1915 – in San Diego…this was years ago. We ride trains often – usually along the coast, waving at the surfers, even at the dogs romping across the sand. Once he told me that the dogs were waving back. When I asked for his proof, he answered, “Their tails were wagging.” I really couldn’t refute that.

    Reading through this gentle and gifted post, I couldn’t help but recall this, and as well to think of the old Victorian and Edwardian lines, lined in brocade, plush and velvet. (the ladies probably were, as well!)

    1. I’d love to be able to go back in time and take a train like the Orient Express. Of course, if we’re willing to modernize and forego the bustles and brocade, we always could take the Blue Train in South Africa, or the Indian Pacific in Australia. If we’re going to go, we might as well go large.We could set some tongues wagging over our extravagance, as well as those tails.

      The Pacific coast highway is glorious — I can only imagine that the train routes are, too. Trains and scenery go together. There’s nothing wrong with a train crossing a prairie, but a train rolling through mountains or along a coastline would be something special.

    1. I’m glad, Gretchen. Songs do have the ability to stir memory, and one leads to another. I’ve rediscovered a few songs in the process of writing this post, and every one is a delight.

  18. I didn’t grow up riding or even seeing many trains, but your description of waistcoats, high-button shoes, and bustles made me think of many beloved films of that era. A terrific post, Linda. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Anne. It’s true that even those of us who don’t have much personal experience with trains still have them as part of our heritage, thanks to film, books, and music. And poetry! Here’s one I remember from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses:

      “Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
      Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
      And charging along like troops in a battle,
      All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
      All of the sights of the hill and the plain
      Fly as thick as driving rain;
      And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
      Painted stations whistle by.

      Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
      All by himself and gathering brambles;
      Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
      And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
      Here is a cart run away in the road
      Lumping along with a man and his load;
      And here is a mill and there is a river;
      Each just a glimpse and then gone for ever!”

  19. I still don’t know what pufferbellies are. Never heard the term before. I have always lived near train tracks, every house I ever lived in except for perhaps half a dozen years or so when I was between permanent housing. even out here in the country. When we first moved out here there were no train tracks but a few years later they re-laid track and trains go by quite often. When I was growing up I would spend a week or two every summer with my aunt and uncle in east Texas. As I got older my mother got less willing to drive me out there so one year she put me on the train back when we had passenger train service in Houston and the depot was downtown. It’s the one and only time I have ever ridden the train.

    1. Ah — pufferbellies. The “puffer” part of the name is because of the steam that comes out of the stack, and the “belly” is the firebox inside the engine. All of the dictionary references I found call the word “dated,” so that probably helps to explain why you haven’t heard it. It’s not really in use any more, except in kids’ songs.

      I was surprised and happy to hear they relaid track in your neighborhood. When I moved to that part of the country back in the 80s, I learned about the Macaroni line — the railroad developed by Count Telfener, that gave us towns named Edna, Inez, Louise, Mackay, Hungerford, and (naturally enough) Telferner (a misspelled variant of the Count’s name, with that extra “r”).

      I had the same summer experience as you, except Mom put me on a bus instead of a train. I hope you had as much fun as I did on your trip.

  20. So many memory-touches in this lovely post! Jim already mentioned a couple of them. Another, for me, is the fact that my dad was an engineer. He didn’t live with us, so really he was a mysterious figure. I remember going one night when I was quite little with my mom to pick him up at the train station. From that I of course understood he was a rail engineer. (He wasn’t!)

    Another, which I may have shared before, was traveling from London to Dover in 1999. The passenger cars were ancient, small, and wooden, with wooden bench seats. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but I tried to make the best of it. When I started thinking about what a miracle it was that we could get to Dover in such a short time, that a hundred years ago we could not have gotten there like that, I started to giggle. Jim and Son wondered what was so funny. I shared that thought with them, and then said, “Really, a hundred years ago we could have gone to Dover EXACTLY like this! But 200 years ago we couldn’t!”

    1. Aren’t our childhood confusions fun to look back on? Well, at least sometimes. It makes perfect sense to me that you’d understand your dad as a railroad engineer. There was a period in my life when I conjured up some very strange images when my own dad would talk about someone being “canned” at work. I wasn’t sure how you’d get someone into a can, like corn or string beans, but it seemed entirely unpleasant.

      I made that same trip from London to Dover. Once, I took the ferry across, and continued on through France. My memory of the cars is the same as yours, and I laughed at your observation. It’s true: a hundred years earlier, things would have been just about the same. Now, of course, there’s the Chunnel. I think I’d still opt for the ferry. The extra hour in transit time wouldn’t make any difference, and there would be more to see by water. Besides, I’ve read a few reports from friends of being stuck in the danged thing. I don’t think I’d like that.

  21. Now that’s a real train. You were lucky to get to ride a train. I’ve been on the narrow gauge in CO, but it’s a tourist train, not a daily work horse as your trip was. Dad always talked about riding the trains to relatives in East TX or once way out west when the doctors said the dry air there would heal one of his brothers ( and the horses rode in the freight cars). Palestine was one big rail center in early years which is why there are so many large elegant Victorian houses there. There’s a little train there for tourists trips (and does the Midnight Express for children at Christmas and mystery dinner theaters.
    I’ve never walked a trestle (it’s pretty flat around here) but waved at many an engineer and caboose crew (they used to have them). The sound of those whistles and the powerful rumble under red dirt feet not forgotten.
    Super post! (love the transition/comparisons of the times and trains – moving in so many ways)

    1. Now that you mention it, I’ll bet the train in Palestine is the one a friend has talked about. She said there’s a train in East Texas that takes people on day trips in spring to see the dogwoods. I’ll bet that’s it. I love the thought of the horses in the freight cars. It’s an older parallel to big motorhomes with their cars trailing behind.

      Somewhere up above I was going to mention the cabooses and their crews, but forgot. When we were kids, we always waited for the caboose to come through, so we could wave to those guys, too. We didn’t think it was fair that the engineers got all the attention. So many trains now don’t even have a caboose. I can think of a few towns where the cabooses are parked and serve as accents in city parks: like this one in Strong City, Kansas. They may not have a grocery store any longer, but they have a caboose. Maybe they could make it the anchor for a farmers’ market.

  22. Linda, I never realized you were as enamored of trains as Domer and I!! I’ve never seen a real steam engine though my mom recalls riding behind one (and the stinging cinders are real!) Domer and I took many an overnight ride on Amtrak (sleeping compartment and all), and just last year I rode the train north to visit him. There’s something magical about a train whistle, and the clickety-clack of wheels on rails provides the BEST sleep ever! Loved your post, even if I’m late to the party!

    1. And I never knew that you and Domer were railfans. It’s wonderful that you were able to take some trips together, and it’s even more wonderful that you can take the train to visit him.

      It would be great to have rail service between Houston and other Texas towns, but the only thing on the table now (that I know of) is the bullet train between Houston and Dallas. They still don’t have a single proposed route, and there are many years until completion once it gets started, but it will make it possible (they say) to travel between the cities in ninety minutes. I’d not be any more likely to go to Dallas, even if I could get there in ninety minutes, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ll make use of it.

      Oh — and you know there’s never any “late” around here. Every now and then someone will stop by and comment on a post that’s years old. I think it’s great.

  23. I remember the little steam engines that pulled into the Mescalero, New Mexico, area during the time that steam travel was dying out. That was in the 1960s. The reservation where we lived for a spell I think was a little behind the times. But, even with that steam engines were fascinating.

    I think just the spectacle of the iron beasts beckoned. Caged dragons, perhaps. Immense power under wraps of steel. One step beyond raging bonfires. I think, too, that the influence of steam has not been fully appreciated by music aficionados. You alluded to that in your blog. Steam locomotives were rock ‘n’ roll before rock ‘n’ roll, primal, an appeal to the belly, the core of people.
    By the way, can you tell I enjoyed your thoughts? Thanks!

    1. I have a feeling your experiences at Mescalero were as interesting as the steam trains. And there were a lot of places in the country that probably matched the reservation in terms of being behind the times: willingly so, in many cases.

      You’re right about the influence of steam, trains, and rail travel in American musical history. The trains were heavy metal before heavy metal became a genre. The blues were a natural home for railroad imagery, of course, but others picked it up, too. I got to hear Doc Watson do “Freight Train Boogie” live many years ago, and everyone who heard it was ready to get on board.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this little excursion!

  24. So much to love in this! I was at first drawn to it having lived for a year in Wyoming in my teens, picking up on the name Cheyenne and recalling the pleasure of all those wide open spaces… And now, coincidentally, I’m just working on a children’s story by a local writer who was very much taken by the advent of trains in Japan in the Meiji period. At a certain level there is a recognition of loss with the apparent ‘progress’ so I was especially interested in your musings on divides. I’ve never heard of the Golden Spike and will look this up, but in the meantime, could you direct me to any books or sites you’ve used in this very fine post? The rail fans are a very strong sub-culture in Japan as you will see from this article in the Washington Post from earlier this year

    1. That article was interesting. And here’s the heart of it: ““I can’t explain why, but ever since I was little I’ve been attracted to trains,” said Watanabe… “My parents’ theory is that it was because my grandfather’s house was close to the tracks.” Different countries, different cultures, and the same experience.

      I added some links to the text, but I didn’t use any books or online references in the writing, since it all was based in personal experience or early education. We learned about the Golden Spike when I still was in grade school, and the importance of it all must have taken. When I came home from my vacation last fall, I didn’t carry many souvenirs, but I did bring five rusty old railroad spikes I picked up along the tracks in Arkansas. That’s one of the great advantages of traveling by car — you can load it down with weird souvenirs.

  25. It’s awesome that Steam Engine 844 is traveling again. Steam engines and the trains they pulled are such an important part of the transportation history of the U.S.

    1. They are important, and I’m glad to see people becoming more interested in trains in general. They have real advantages when it comes to carrying freight, and it seems that more people appreciate the kind of travel experience they offer. Of course, in some parts of the country, they’re important for commuters, too. I wish we had more of a rail network here.

      And, of course, the chance to ride a steam engine is one of the most remarkable ways we have to connect to our past. I wish every kid could have the experience.

  26. I like trains. I like photographing them, too. I remember when I was young we would take the train to St. Louis or Chicago and we would sit in what I thought was called “the bubble car”, but I don’t think that’s right. It was the car with the glass all around on top- the observation car. But it had a fun name that I guess I don’t recall right now.

    Anyway, I loved the white table cloths and handsome black porters in white jackets. I wish this country had a great passenger rail system. Warren Buffett- are you there?

    1. I’ve heard those observation cars called bubble cars, too. I’ve always thought riding in one would be great fun. The Canadian railway still has those cars in service on their Toronto-to-Vancouver line. That would be one glorious trip.

      I wish there were a decent rail system in this country, too.There are plans for a “bullet train” between Houston and Dallas that developers claim will cut travel time to ninety minutes, with one brief stop mid-way. Even though I’d call that transit, not travel, if I were someone who needed to get to Dallas, I’d surely consider it. Many people I know refuse to fly to DFW now, just because driving is so much faster. It’s crazy, but true. By the time you add in getting to the airport, getting through security, and everything else that’s involved, it’s just not worth the hassle.

  27. One of the best trips I ever made was across western Canada by rail (Vancouver to Calgary). Most of the worst have been in airplanes, which I used to love but have resolved to avoid for the rest of my life. I long to make some rail trips west – probably have to settle for road trips instead. That’s not all bad. I like road trips. But it would be nicer to roll along the rails . . .

    1. That’s interesting about your Canadian trip, Gerry. It’s a confirmation of what others have told me, and what I’ve read online: that the Canadian rail service is the best, and that while any of their trips is good, the Toronto-Vancouver run is as good as it gets.

      I’m with you on flying. I used to love to fly, and did a good bit of it. But it slowly became more and more of a hassle, and simply doesn’t offer the pleasure it used to. As long as I can drive, I’ll do that. Rail travel would be nice, but you’re a bit limited in the number of side trips you can make when you’re going by train.

      As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s great to have you back. You probably didn’t notice that I’ve started a second blog. There’s a link to it (called “Lagniappe”) at the top of this blog, and in the sidebar. I don’t pretend to be a photographer, but it gives me a place to post the occasional photo that makes me happy.

      1. So now I have ANOTHER place to catch up on! That’s OK. I like wandering about the blogosphere, dropping in on people here and there.

        1. Over there, I’ve even provided a “like” button, so you can just click instead of commenting. Well, provided you like the post of course. It’s always possible you won’t — which is just fine. I don’t like sushi or cold, damp days, myself.

    2. Hi, Gerry. I’m with you on the flying bit. I used to love, love, love flying. Now I hope I never have to fly again. I’d like to look into a water taxi of comfort that would take me downstream.

        1. Or a riverboat. You could board at Red Wing, Minnesota and go all the way to New Orleans. Be sure to take your copy of Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.

  28. Thanks for this. It brought to mind a tour we did this summer to the Agawa Canyon, on an older train, although not a steam train. It traveled at a most leisurely pace, through a different version of God’s beautiful world. I love trains, and find them to be my first choice when travelling by land. We are slowing awakening to the need to have more rail opportunities in Southern Ontario, but we have a long way to go. Still, gridlock is waking people up – a positive side to a frustrating experience! You have some lovely images here as well, and thanks for sharing those touching memories with your father.

    1. I love steam trains, but steam certainly isn’t required for travel enjoyment. In fact, when I remember the cinders blowing in the window on that trip I took with Dad, I’d not necessarily want to repeat that. It’s the pace that’s enjoyable — particularly when compared to today’s air travel. I still prefer the car for vacationing or just messing about, but if convenient rail connections were available to places like Kansas City, I might visit family more often.

  29. I always enjoy it when you give us a glimpse of your childhood. This one was especially nice. I always like an appearance by your dad. I love trains, too, especially the sound of the whistle. It is one of my favorite sounds, second only to a baby’s laugh and maybe rain. This reminded me of a song we learned at school. The Wabash Cannonball was my brother’s favorite school song. That was long before Johnny Cash sang it. Thanks for this post.

    1. We share two favorite sounds, then: whistles and rain. I don’t have a thing against baby laughs, but I’m not around babies enough for that to be something that comes to mind immediately.

      You would have loved my dad. Now that I think about it, he had a lot in common with H — including a tendency to climb up on ladders and roofs. I’ll never forget the day he cruised into the kitchen, sat down, and said, “I think maybe I should go to the ER.” He’d been up on the roof and fallen on to the concrete patio, knocking himself unconscious. There wasn’t any lingering damage, but you would have enjoyed hearing my mother’s lecture.

      Isn’t it funny how those songs linger? Camp songs do, too, although they were mostly just silly.

  30. My husband is a model railroader as well as a train buff, so I was delighted to share this post with him. He began smiling, then singing Down by the Station, and to our surprise, we both remembered the words. It was normal in elementary school to learn ditties like this during music time, a time I suppose, young ones no longer have. Thank you for beginning our breakfast with a happy tune.

    1. There was so much to love about elementary school: square dancing in gym, art projects galore, recess twice a day with “free play” (an oxymoron if ever there was one), and of course all that music. I still remember our rhythm band in first grade. I played a mean wood block, believe me.

      I think model railroads are great. We used to go downtown at Christmas to see the display the model railroaders constructed in the window of a department store. As I recall, the exhibit’s location changed every year, so the primary draw of the railroad wouldn’t give one store a consistent advantage over the others in terms of walk-in business.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it — and sang along!

  31. Beautifully written, so evocative and passionate. I loved that pufferbelly song too, it was definitely a part of my childhood and I have always loved steam engines.

    Here in Sri Lanka we live close to the tracks and I love the soubd of the train going by especially at night when there are less competing sounds.

    Once when I was maybe 7 years old my family took the ling train ride from Johannesburg to the Cape, and the train got stuck in the middle of the karoo desert. It was unbearably hot, but still I was not put off train rides, and in more recent memory, the overnight train in France was a great experience overall. We have taken trains in Thailand, India, as well…all so much fun.


    1. The thought of being stuck in the middle of the desert seemed a bit distressing at first, but then I remembered the times I’ve been stuck in airports (blizzards, fog) and considered the possibility that the train might have been a better situation. It certainly beats O’Hare.

      I’ve enjoyed discovering how many people remember the little pufferbellies, and how many enjoy the sound of a train. I think there are certain sounds that appeal because they hint at — something more. Train whistles. Doves cooing in the distance. The songs of a whale. We lose a good bit when we allow our environment to become so noisy — or we become so inattentive — that these slighter sounds escape us.

      I suspect that one thing you’ve enjoyed about your extensive train travel is the mix of people. That’s one thing that is missing from the auto travel I love — reason enough to stop frequently and seek out conversation.

  32. Oh, my heavens! I can just see you taking off to look for pufferbellies!

    Dad used to tell me about his mother putting him on the train in Norway, SC to ride to Lone Star, SC to spend a few days or a week with his grandmother. When the visit was up, he was put on the train to come home. While today the trip is only about 40 minutes by car (if that), farming folk in the early 30’s didn’t have the time to spare to drive the young ‘uns that far. Plus, cars of the day and the roads were probably not the best, either.

    While I’ve never had the opportunity to ride a train, I do remember lying on the fold out couch at my maternal grandmother’s during our twice yearly visits, listening to the wail of the train whistle and the chug-chug-chug and clatter of the train as it passed within a stone’s throw of her house during the night. It spoke of far away places and adventures beyond imagining.

    1. Just like I took off to find Dumbo, and made my mother chase me all around the neighborhood. I had that get-up-and-go impulse from the beginning, apparently.

      I suspect you’re right about the roads. I have a history of my parents’ small town (towns, actually — they were built right next to each other) and there’s an article in there about the time the Harlem Globetrotters missed an exhibition game because their Model A got stuck in the mud on the way to the game. There are some missing details in the article: like how many cars they were traveling in. Surely they weren’t all crammed into one car, like clowns at a circus. And I’m not sure why the Globebtrotters were in south-central Iowa. I suppose that was in the very early days. Anyway, it’s a testament to why the train might have been a good option for your dad.

      Those trains in the night are evocative, for sure. There’s a reason there probably are hundreds of country songs that include the phrase “lonesome whistle.” It sounds of comings and goings, of loss, and hope. And of just getting up and going, for all that.

  33. I grew up near a rail line that ran through Calgary and west across the Rockies to Vancouver, and still live within hearing distance of the freight trains that travel it. Europe taught me to love travelling by train, something that wasn’t an option in under-populated western Canada.
    You are a wonderful writer and this, as always, was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Deborah. I always imagine Canada as a wonderful place for trains, just because of all that space. Beyond that, so many people seem convinced today that Canadian rail passenger service is the best: more than a few friends are dying to take the train from Toronto to Vancouver. It certainly is a good way to move freight. Maybe one day we’ll get smart, and re-lay some of those tracks!

      It’s nice to see you, both here and there. Don’t be a stranger!

  34. How did I miss this one? Must have been during surgery time! I love it, Linda. I really adore a train. Given the choice and time, I’d much prefer to travel by rail and will sometimes take the train to Chicago, though that’s been awhile. The days of the big steam engine seem far away now, but I still have a hankering to be on the Orient Express or some magnificent train. Or the sleeping compartment of North by Northwest (with Cary Grant, please!). To bid farewell at the train station as Lady Mary did to Matthew in Downton. Although, I come short of pulling an Anna Karenina!

    Your dad sounds like such a great guy, wise and intuitive. I’m so glad you had him in your life.

    1. I’d love for you to have the chance to do a grand train trip — something more exotic than to Chicago, although that could do in a pinch. For some reason, your list of literary train travel reminded me of a song I grew up hearing: “Throw Mama From the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss)” I’d forgotten what a tear-jerker it is, too. There was a period of time when those sentimental songs were in vogue. Remember “The Old Lamp-Lighter”?

      My dad was wonderful. It took some years for me to realize how much he shaped me, but I can thank him for a lot: including curiosity and an eagerness to travel.

  35. I saw UP 844 on it’s way through Soda Springs, Idaho April 19, 2017. I videoed the 30 minute whistle stop. I didn’t realize how loud that whistle was going to be. Surrounded by young people and their families to share the experience and myself being new to town I was overwhelmed by the size and sound. Main Street at the tracks had never been so crowded I think.

    1. It was the same here, when it came through Houston. There were great crowds — and a lot of awed kids of every age. I’m so glad you had the chance to experience it. I smiled at your comment about the loud whistle. It was impressive, wasn’t it? I watched a couple of videos from your area. They were interesting not only for the train, but also because I’ve never been to Idaho, and don’t know much about the area.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the conversation. I’m hoping I’ll have another chance to see the train some day, and I hope you do, too.

  36. Wonderful story about your fascination with trains. My brother shares a similar fascination and began painting old steam engines and environs in the 1960s. He would often say he wished he had been born in an earlier time and would travel to old towns in the west, or wherever he thought he could find steam engines to draw. Then he would go home and paint the most amazing railroad scenes, paintings I’ve seen all my life in my mother’s home before she died, and in the homes of other family members. He has sold many of his paintings, but many in the family say he’ll be famous once he is gone. Through him I also developed a fascination with trains, and what they represent that you have so beautifully described.

    1. I do envy people who can paint, just a bit. I was a crack finger-painter in kindergarten, but once we moved past the stage of posting art on the refrigerator, that was it for me. It must be wonderful to have someone in the family who can be remembered daily through their work.

      I’m not sure about that living-in-a-different time longing. Sometimes it seems as though it would be wonderful, but I suspect a bit of romanticism gets stirred in. Still, there were values flourishing in the midst of the difficulties that I still cherish, and besides: what we see as deprivation (no jet planes, no iPhones) wouldn’t have bothered them one bit. You can’t feel deprived of something you’ve never known — or even imagined, in many cases.

      All that said, I’ll never pass up a chance to see a steam engine under way. For that matter, any train can draw my eye and my ear. I wonder if trains ever envy us, and wish they could leave their tracks and travel freely?

      1. Last night we camped in the Yakima River Canyon back in Central Washington–still one of my favorite places. The trains go through the 26-mile canyon on a regular basis (actually irregular because of Homeland Security) hauling freight to and from Seattle. I have often photographed those Burlington Northern diesels (definitely not as picturesque as a steam engine), trying to get a shot to submit to them. I got one on an obscure page somewhere on their website. That said, in 24 years living here I had never camped in the canyon until now that I am no longer living here. The trains rumbled through all night. At one point I awoke and said in confusion, “where am I?” It was a good night though hearing those trains only about 2oo feet away across the river from the campsite.

        1. I laughed at “I had never camped in the canyon until now that I am no longer living here.” Isnt that just the way? But what a wonderful spot to camp. When I’ve visited Matfield Green in Kansas, the primary reason to stay at Matfield station was that the renovated bunkhouse was only about fifty feet from the tracks. Those trains rolled by regularly, too: all freights, and all with friendly crews. The only thing I regretted is that they never woke me at night. It’s amazing how sounds can be filtered out by our minds.

  37. What a wonderful train travel I embarked on as I read your post ! Union Pacific railway, names like Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming, Memphis, Idaho, all those places I liked the sound of and that seemed worlds away – and magical – I loved the songs too. I tried to find these places on my “world globe” when I was a young girl. I was fascinated by the USA, maybe because my Dad sold American cars ? I always loved trains and wherever I lived later on I always tried to visit a country by train, when possible. The one I will always remember is the night train from Moscow to Leningrad, 12 hours’ drive, no way to sleep since Russians were curious about the rare foreigners traveling with them, a lady would bring us a dark strong tea a few times during the night and gave us cookies that tasted diet-like. You brought back so many good memories, Linda and for this I am very grateful.

    1. It made me smile to think of you finding these places on your globe. At about the same time, I was looking at my globe and finding Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and imagining the mountains where the fictional Heidi lived with her grandfather. Of course, to me she was quite real, and when I visited the Black Forest and other parts of Germany many years later, I half expected to find her.

      I loved traveling by train in Europe. It seemed so much more convenient than train travel here. I suspect part of that has to do with smaller countries, and many more stops along the way. To get on a train here generally means going a long distance, and the disadvantage for me is no opportunity to stop and look around. Still — from Moscow to Leningrad! That sounds romantic, in an Orient Express sort of way.

      By the way — a film remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” is coming out this year. And if you haven’t read it, Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar is a wonderful read!

      1. Thank you very much for mentioning Paul Theroux’s book. I will look for it and order it. This is my type of book : traveling while reading. And by train ! I read “Murder on the Orient Express a long time ago and look forward to seeing the film, remake.

        1. Theroux is wonderful. I know you’ll enjoy the book! If you really enjoy it another of his that’s good is The Happy Isles of Oceania,.about kayaking the South Pacific. (With a few portages, of course!)

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