Riding the Rails
Random Railroading Memories
Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe
When I was in high school, my family and I took a trip out West. It was a wonderful vacation. We rode along Route 66, we saw Meteor Crater, we stayed in a rustic cabin and went horseback riding in Oak Creek Canyon, we visited the Grand Canyon -- and we saw one of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe's trains with its warbonnet locomotive and stainless steel Budd cars. At the time, I knew nothing about the Santa Fe or its trains. I only knew that the locomotive was yellow, but the cars were not. Even so, seeing it was a moment that has stay with me all these years.
Arkansas & Missouri Railroad
Although this derivation of the old Katy and Frisco lines is largely a freight line, they do run an excursion train comprising three possible routes from which to choose. We rode from Springdale to Van Buren in Arkansas, hoping to see beautiful spring foliage. Sadly, fall arrived late that year. Even so, our tour guide told us wonderful tales of the people who lived in the Boston Mountains. There was even a woman who stepped outside to wave to the train each morning. When she did not, the train crew called the paramedics to go and check on her.
In Van Buren, we were greeted by a lady wearing her turn-of-the-20th century finery. There, we had time to have lunch and tour the quaint shops near the train station before we began our return trip to Springdale.
Simesa at English Wikipedia, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
This short line operates from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg to the mainline in Paradise. We rode in a wooden 19th century coach that even had a pot-bellied stove to provide heat in the winter. I doubt whether the stove is used today (safety regulations), but was still a most effective part of the Victorian decor.
Along the way, we passed a motel comprised of railway cars. I would have liked to stay in a caboose, but we were with other people and, so, our plans were already laid out for us (Drats!). We also passed beautiful Amish farms, carefully maintained despite their lack of modern equipment to help them. A farmer looked over at us, but he did not wave. The Amish are very reserved people, after all.
Texas State Railroad
What could be more appealing than riding in a heavyweight coach through the Piney Woods of East Texas? Not much, especially not when the vintage Pullman coaches are being pulled by a Baldwin steam locomotive. The fuel is no longer coal. Now, the tender holds a tank of fuel oil. What else could one expect to use in the oil-producing state of Texas?
The journey begins early in the morning. The sun is filtering through the pine trees and casting long shadows of autumn across the lawn of the prairie-style station house. The architecture, alone, is worth the visit to the Texas State Railroad in Rusk, Texas.
Soon, we are called to board, and then, the conductor gives the “All aboard!” we’ve been waiting to hear. The engine emits a large puff of steam, the horn gives two short toots, and the bell begins to ring. We are rolling! We meander our way through the woods and pass a small general store. Presently, we cross a long trestle. There, the train stops. The tour guide explains that we can see a rainbow when the engineer sends a large plume of steam into the air.
Following a journey of about twenty miles, we reach the station in Palestine, Texas. The depot bears a western design, and there’s a water tower. We have a layover for taking pictures and doing a bit of exploring. What should our wondering eyes see, but a gathering of motorized handcars. Yes! The local handcar club is having their weekend outing along the same tracks we are traveling.
Midway in our journey, we reach a siding, where the next tour is waiting for us to pass. The trains stop, side by side, while the switches are changed to allow each train to pass, and then, we continue on our way as the other train disappears into the distance.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
I've ridden on Western Maryland's trains on three occasions, two excursion rides and a Saturday night mystery dinner train. Unfortunately, it was so long ago, in the late-1980s, that I don't remember much about it. A visit to their website reveals that their rolling stock is much different now than I remember it being then. Then, we rode aboard heavyweight coaches. Now, they appear to use Streamliner coaches that range from commuter-quality to long-distance quality.
I do remember that the scenery is beautiful, and the roundhouse in Frostburg is fascinating. Unfortunately, the ride is too short. In fact, the ride is so short that we did not have time to finish our dinner, as the mystery performance dominated the evening. Even so, the ride is probably about right for the Polar Express and an afternoon's casual entertainment.
At some point, I traveled with my family to a Boy Scout jamboree in a small town located a half-hour from the city where we lived. We caught the train at the old Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad depot on First Street. I do not remember what railroad carried us, only that the seats were blue and very comfortable. It might have been the Missouri Pacific, which had blue-and-white cars. Both the Louisiana Sunshine Special and the Orleanean were in service at the time.