Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Memories of Riding Trains

Doyle and I were recently stopped at a rail road crossing and were pleased to see an old time Amtrak train blow by with passenger cars. There were cars of every type, sleepers, etc...in the early morning darkness glowing windows passed with flashing scenes of passengers seated at tables eating and working the early morning dawn away as the train hurtled through the darkness. As sleeper cars passed, people could be seen stirring about as they awoke to the morning sun now rising of to the East. This brought on a strong feeling of nostalgia for the days I used to ride the rails in my place of fostering.

I can remember in particular a class trip we took from Silver Bay, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, to the Capital of Minnesota, St. Paul. We were thoroughly star struck, many of us had never been further South than Duluth and most had never been out of sight of the "Big Sea Waters" of Lake Superior. 

We rode the Greyhound bus from our small mining town to Duluth and then boarded the "Burlington Northern" for the ride to the Twin Cities. The passenger cars were similar to a bus, having vinyl covered green seats and deep thick green tinted windows. The uphostery was much more plush and some seats were like recliners with pull down serving rays, similiar to airplane seating today. I appropriated one of these for myself and fiddled with all the little adjustments until I was comfortable.

We settled in and and as the train began to move most of my friends got sick from the motion. It wasn't a problem for me, I had grown up on large fishing boats on the Lake, so the pitching, rocking motion was a comfort to me. The rythmic rocking and deep clacketty clacking of the rails as the train moved along was a truly wonderful and hypnotic.

The line from Duluth to the Cities was one of the most scenic in the country at the time, it had more trestles per mile than most rail lines over great and deep cravasses and canyons as it wound through the Cloquet River Valley.

The trestles were large wooden ancient structures that visibly rocked from side to side as we crossed, giving a scarier impression than just the feeling that we were hurtling across the chasm with no visible means of support. You could not see the tracks beneath without pressing your face against the glass and straining to look down. There was no covering, or structure, over the bridge itself so it seemed as if we were flying across space. Only the sudden jolt of the train pressing against the outside of a curve in the tracks as it hurtled along across the trestle reminded you there was solid structure below keeping us from flying off into the birch and pine populated chasm below.

My friends were terrified, I was thrilled. By the third such trestle, I peered ahead, down the tracks and was screaming out that the tracks ahead were missing, which caused a great commotion to those about me, and pleased me much.

Our teachers had repaired to the smoking car as soon as we had embarked so we were a loosely controlled bunch headed by a classroom "Monitor",(Monitors been the lowest form of life known to us at that time, "squealers" the whole lot of them).

I was duly chastened by the Monitors, and one such "rat" even went back to report to the teachers what had happened. They chose to ignore it, for the time being, their enjoyment of being away from us was too much for them to overcome. They smoked and sipped flasks luxuriantly while chaos reigned up front.

We explored the train from end to end, wandering through the sleeping cars and lounging in the smoking car once the teachers had relinquished and took their seats to nap. It was thrilling to step between cars in the open platforms and feel the wind roaring around you as if to suck you off the train itself and hurl you into the woods rushing by.

I don't remember much of the rest of the trip the Capitol building and Natural History Museum was interesting,  but it didn't hold a candle to our journey by rail that brought us there and returned us home.

The train we rode on was a relic of the past, and would soon be disabled, along with the wonderful stretch of track that wound through the Cloquet River Valley, it's trestles being costly to maintain.

In my teen years we would revisit those trestles and walk as far as we dared over the open ravines on now shaky foundations. It was a shame to see them go, in my heart it is a special place I will never forget.

Maybe that's why I love to travel so much today, for me, it's so much more about the journey than the destination!

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mountainborn said...

We remember ! Great story. We are railfans and enjoy managing a campground very near the Cumbres & Toltec Steam excursion line above 10 thousand feet high in the Rocky Mountains. We hear the steam whistle wail during the day and each time we break out into a broad smile.

Terri said...

Mountainborn:That has to be wonderful!

Sam&Donna Weibel said...

Never met a train I didn't like, Your post reminds me of growing up with a Grandpa that worked for the railroad, He would take us on vacation on the train.The Diners & Pullman cars were a treat to a kid.You guys are from WI. Try the steam train at New Freedom it is a great ride. Be safe out there. Sam & Donna..

Cyndi said...

What an interesting story. You have a nice writing style, too.

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