Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Aboard! Random Thoughts On Trains

My earliest memory with regard to trains is from when my mom used to bring my brother Ron and I to Mrs. O'Ligney's in Cleveland while she was finishing nursing school. There was a steeply sloped back lawn that dropped off to the tracks behind the row of apartment houses. We were not allowed to go down to the tracks where the Rapid Transit would fly past, but I had not learned this till after I'd gone down there once to see the trains up close. I was maybe three or four at the time, and I could tell by the look on her face, when I looked up into the yard, that something was wrong.

For many people railroads are endlessly fascinating. At age eight I crossed the continent by train with my grandparents, from Cleveland to Reno. This experience cemented my own fascination with railroads.

For a long time one of my favorite films was Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay. After setting up Voight as something of an existential hero, the rest of the film is one long train scene, a wild ride on a runaway train, a suspense-filled adventure as well as a metaphor for life.

If you think in terms of the history of the world, railroads are a relatively new invention. When they were first being used to carry passengers in the 19th century, editorials were written about the dangers of going faster than 25 miles per hour. It was feared that by going this fast the air would be sucked out of your lungs and kill you.

Trains do have the power to kill, however, and are not to be trifled with. In a collision between an auto and a train, the train seldom loses.

The father of a friend of ours from Switzerland used to be a railroad engineer in Europe. It's not all roses and glory, for a regular part of the job includes having to deal with suicides who choose a railroad track as the place to go. This friend said that he could always tell when his father had hit someone because the man did not talk at dinner for a couple days. He was never unaffected.

But here's another story Claude told which had a brighter ending. One evening after dark his father's train came around a bend only to see directly in front of him an old man on a tractor pulling a wagon of hay. Trains are so heavy that the momentum makes them near impossible to stop and the train struck the tractor dead on, grinding to a halt quite past the intersection. Claude's dad grabbed his flashlight to go out and search for the fellow on the tractor. Tractor and wagon parts were strewn about, but there was no evidence of the old farmer. After a futile search he grimly walked back toward the engine with that single brilliant eye of light beaming from its front end. All of a sudden he heard a slight gasp and he looked up. There, clinging in absolute terror and frozen with fear, was the old farmer who had managed at the moment of contact to find some way to grasp the front of the engine.

Much more can be shared, but for today I think this will be the end of the line.


Christella said...

Train travel used to be pure luxury. If you have never had a long train trip you have missed one of life's pleasures. Thanks for the reminder.

ENNYMAN said...

I remember how we went from Cleveland to Chicago, then got off there because it was the end of the line (so to speak) and walked through the Chicago train terminal, with a layover, then got on a train on the other side Westward bound. It was memorable...
There were many other memories, Salt Lake City, and going thru the Rockies.

Cross country train travel is an adventure... As an adult we did a round trip from Minnesota to Philadelphia also...


ENNYMAN said...

>>>my brother Don sent this email. His house is located where the railroads go by across the street.<<<

I have a few train stories myself.....probably more than I have time to share right now. But I have a young friend who works for the rail road, who basically said the same thing that you said, about dealing with people who choose to kill them selves via train. There's a place in Emmaus , down the mountain from Mom, where it seems to be popular....I think the train comes round the bend, and surprise someone is waiting there for them. There's been more than one person killed there.
Here in Alburtis, we've had a few exciting train events. Once a Bride-to-be was coming for her first time into town, to prepare for her wedding reception, which would be the next day. Instead of turning onto Front Street where I live, she turned onto the Tracks, and got stuck. Fortunately she got out of the car before the Train came bearing down on her... but the car did get smashed by the train....(I have video of the aftermath). Another time a train derailed near that same intersection... and one of the cars ended up flopped on its side... closing the intersection for quite a while. (A crane had to be brought in)

A couple years ago , someone was killed just on the outskirts of town, crossing on one of the farmland roads..... Not stopping and looking like he was supposed to, the train hit his pickup. There have been numerous incidents here in town.

Other Train adventures...... or Memories......the story of Uncle John's Bank being hit by a train. The time you and I went to Plainfield to record the Trains... then I tried to duplicate the rhythm on drums. Many concerts I went to via train into Madison Square Garden... Our family trip to Florida, via Amtrak...and other trips alone with Mom....
I often think our fascination with Trains has something to do with the cool train set that Dad built us when we were kids....(in Maple Hts.)

I guess you can say I have the same love of trains.....and that's why I'm Living HERE!!