Riding The Rails In My Lifetime

Riding The Rails In My Lifetime

by John Armstrong

 

My first memory of any train is at about the age of 3 at the Columbus Union Station.  The big train shed was still there.  My aunt and uncle were on their way back to Philadelphia.  The weather was cool and the trainshed was full of smoke and steam.  The elevated waiting area was open.  There wasn’t any enclosed area.  The iron railings, the smells, the people, the noise: I can see and hear it all 71 years later.  We had dinner at Merkles in the station that night.  There were black waiters and white table cloths, all like a classic dining car standing still until dinner was over.

 

Next was the construction of the wide gauge extension of the Indianola street car line a block from our house, a four year old’s dream.  My parents fortunately knew where to look for me.  At about the same time, maybe earlier, they rebuilt the ex-interurban standard gauge Arcadia Avenue line.  It was a single track in the middle of an old dirt road.  The new track is still there, steel rails on steel ties locked in concrete.  Ever see a cement mixer with a trolley pole?  Or the work cars dumping sand and gravel in the bucket.  Model that!

 

Another major impression was my father holding me on his lap and saying “watch” when all of a sudden our Pullman car “explodes” out of the tunnel at the north end of Manhattan into the bright light.  No other tunnel I’ve ridden through since then matches that one.  These include lying on the floor of a smoke filled coach coming out of Moffat; the St. Gotthard, or the 7 mile, on the Furka Oberlap.  Maybe the tunnel on the Clinchfield gets close.  There  you are on the back platform of a coach smelling coal smoke. As the noise bounces off the tunnel walls, the conductor suddenly says “now watch”!  Your coach bursts out into the light and you are looking straight down with almost nothing under you.  You are on a bridge!