3 Snapshots from Memory

  • Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes us to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Rail Road train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
  • When I pick raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes, gazing in awe.
  • Years later, the young Beaman family bridges the gap between Florida and Pennsylvania via Amtrak’s Silver Meteor. The miles disappear behind us effortlessly. Parents and children eat, read, stretch our legs as some passengers wonder “Who’s that little kid running in the aisle?”

Train Trips Engage the Senses:

  1. Rocking motion as the train speeds along
  2. Sound of the wheels on the rails
  3. Smells of warm exhaust, food in the dining car,
  4. Surprising views as train wends its way through towns, countryside
  5. Spontaneous, easy conversation sometimes with strangers

Alexander McCall Smith, known for his light mysteries that kindly expose the foibles of his characters, describes the mystique of train travel in his recent novel Trains and Lovers (2012):

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“I’m thinking that’s a fishing boat.”

It was. He saw it from the train, but not for more than a minute or two, as the line followed that bit of coastline only for a short time before it suddenly swerved off, as railway lines will do. The view of the North Sea was lost, and trees closed in; there was the blue of the sea one moment and then the blurred green of foliage rapidly passing the window; there was slanting morning sun, like an intermittent signal flashed through the tree.”

Train Poetry

Of course, nostalgic verse has been written about train travel, Sara Teasdale hearing and seeing from In the Train the “restless rumble,” the “drowsy people” and the “steel blue twilight in the world (1915).

Edna St. Vincent Millay reflects on viewing the distant steam locomotive in Travel (1921)

The railroad track is miles away,

And the day is loud with voices speaking,

Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day

But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,

Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,

But I see its cinders red on the sky,

And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing;

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

    No matter where it’s going.

You can hear the rocking rhythm of the train in W. H. Auden’s lines from Night Mail – This is the night mail crossing the Border / Bringing the cheque and the postal order.

The Destination

Arriving in Pennsylvania from Philadephia more than ten years ago, grand-niece Heidi runs to meet Aunt Ruthie at the tiny Amtrak terminal in Elizabethtown – exchanging cold, wet weather for a warm, welcoming hug.

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Your experience with train travel . . . tell us about it.

A response to the anecdotes or poetry here? All replies welcome.

Coming next:

Moments of Discovery #2 – Daddy’s 1912 Report Card & Mother’s 1989 Dodge Spirit