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!