Saturday, July 16, 2011

Passenger Train Memories

I grew up in a small, rural Ohio community. Our house was next to the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. Every night I was lulled to sleep by the melancholy song of the train passing over the rails and the lonesome whistle that heralded its arrival and departure. Take me away, take me away, take me away seemed to be the song that echoed from that railroad track.

Unable to sleep on hot, humid Ohio nights, I watched the coming and goings of the trains.  Passenger trains were my favorite.  I was a voyeur peering as it were into the lit cabin trying to catch a glimpse of the lives that passed so quickly from my view.
Business men sat with newspaper in hand to occupy their time and their space in seeming oblivion to the others around them. They were too important to be bothered I imagined.

It was an era when women dressed in business attire for the train trip and wore hats and although I couldn’t see it, I believe they wore gloves. I don’t know why I believed this, I just did. It just seemed to complete the mental image.

Occasionally there was a child or several children sitting with what was probably their mother or grandmother. Sitting. Quietly. Children of that era were to be “seen and not heard”. Were they traveling to visit relatives? We’re they relocating due to a divorce? Had their parents succumbed to some disaster? Sometimes it appeared they were looking out the window and right back at me. That was eerie or was that Erie?
I imagined the passengers’ luggage. It would be neatly packed and organized with all the important items and clothing that would take them to this new place, this new destination in their lives. The luggage would always appear in my mind’s eye to be the old, hard backed leather looking suitcases of that era. The type my great-aunt owned. The type I would love to own even now. Not use, per se, merely own and use for storage and home decorating purposes.

Where were these people going? Where was life taking them and why was I destined to remain here and not travel the rails with them? I had this spirit, this wanderlust that made me want to jump the next freight train that passed by with an open door… I never did. I thought about it, but I never did. Perhaps that was due in part to having seen gentlemen (?) of a vagabond nature sitting in empty freights from time to time and hearing the stories of my grandmother about the Hobos of the depression era.

After I left home I was struck with insomnia. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t sleep until one sleepless night it occurred to me: the trains, I miss the trains and the song that heralded a time of sleep.

I recall a time when three Amish women were briskly walking down our street to catch the train to somewhere. My smaller, younger brother started screaming, The witches are coming to get me! The witches are coming to get me!"  I still laugh at that recollection. He denies any of the event. One would suppose he’s a politician in losing that memory.

Two years ago my husband and I took a small train ride to the Grand Canyon and back via the Grand Canyon Railway. It was a wonderful mini trip that heralded our 30th anniversary.

Last December we scheduled a small Christmas trek for the young grandchildren. It was the North Pole Express out of Globe Arizona on the Copper Spike Train Excursions. The grand kids loved it. They wore their pajamas, slippers and robes and had hot cocoa with cookies. When the train arrived at the “North Pole” Santa boarded and stopped and chatted with each child. It was a magical night for them and for us.

To this very day, I love the romance of passenger trains. From here, I think I’ll browse the Amtrak schedule and listen to Arlo Guthrie sing “City of New Orleans“. Did I mention it’s 3:00 a.m.?  And I can't sleep? Where is the melancholy railroad tune to lull me to sleep?


Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts—   Job 21:29 NIV


  1. What a wonderful story Tamara. That last part reminded me of one of my all time favorite movies, "The Polar Express", also magical!!
    I found it very interesting that you lived near the train tracks as most of my life, all of the different places that I have lived, have all been within hearing distance of those train whistles! Even today. We live about a block away from the tracks.
    Love Di ♥

    P.S. I love that song, "City of New Orleans".

  2. What a wonderful post. I remember riding the train from Rocky Ford,CO to Littleton, CO when I was 7 years old. It was great fun, the I recall the seats were not very comfortable! Thanks for the memories! Cathy

  3. Lovely memories of an almost-gone era. My great-uncle ran train stations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba when I was a kid, and one of my fondest memories was taking the train out from Vancouver to visit him and my great-grandmother. Going through the Rockies, seeing the great Canadian prairies...nothing compares.

    Thank you so much for reading my blog, Tamara, and for your kind comment. :)



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