Saturday, June 4, 2011

THE GREAT TRAIN RIDE...if you can get up the steps!

Last weekend four of us took an hour and a half train ride from Osceola, Wisconsin over to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota and back.  Great time--fun old train and gorgeous green sights of steep cliffs and the St Croix River along the way.           
But that was later.  Getting me on board was either a fiasco or spectacularly funny, depending on your angle.  The steps were far steeper than I remember as a kid--and with my bad knee being on my "good" left leg, and clinging to the handrails straining my wrecked right shoulder--well, you get the picture.                                                                                                                       
B. was behind me pressing upwards with his hand in the small of my back, while I strained in slow motion up every step.  The queue watching me grew longer.  I remember thinking how glad I was that he had his hand on my back and not lower, though that might have been more effective and I'm sure it would have been more entertaining!  I'm torn between wishing there was a photo to show you and being relieved that there isn't.                                                                                                                                                                                                        Once on board, though, there was comfortable seating at the tables that had been put in to accommodate the periodic dinner train runs this nonprofit sponsors.  
I decided to not risk my poor balance on a moving train, but the rest of our party walked up to see the mail car with its mailbag and long hook standing by. There were also a couple of fully restored cars with reclining seats and plush upholstery.  There were lots and lots of volunteers on board--all in their own railroad costumes, and the female conductor with her ticket puncher was a big hit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Railroaders--they're everywhere.  We went to the Railroad Museum in Balboa Park in San Diego this past February and it too had a hoarde of volunteers.  They ran the model trains and talked to people about the exhibits and trained the young kids who were going to be taking over in 20 years.  I guess if you love trains, volunteering on Memorial Day weekend is a pretty good way to get a ride.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The stories started as the train pulled in.  One fellow talked about taking the train from Pennsylvania to St Louis at Christmas. They had sleeping berths and his older brother got the top, but he was too little to climb up there, so he slept on the bottom with his mother. The porter came along and closed up the curtains for each berth and he fell asleep to the rhythm of the train in motion. He remembers waking up when the train would stop; he'd lift the window shade to peek out and see people walking on the platform--women in fur coats and the snow falling and there he was, all cozy and warm in the lower berth.                                                                                                                                                                  I suddenly remembered taking the Empire Builder from Fargo to Seattle in 1962 on a choir tour and sitting up all night in coach.  When you're 19, and there are plenty of hormones riding with you, sitting up all night is not necessarily a bad thing.                                                                                                                                        
In 1967 I took a train from Chicago to Fargo to see my folks. When we got to the Mississippi at St Paul, the train slowed dramatically and a peek outside showed me water almost up to the railroad ties. It wasn't the worst Mississippi flood I've ever seen, though. Two years later the big river flooded all the way to the Gulf.  I could hear the history lessons going on all up and down the car; at every table, memories were pushing their way out.                                                                                                                    
Who would ever have thought we'd see the death of trains in our lifetime?  Then we looked forward to high speed rail systems and sleek, streamlined engines.. How could a train that according to the American Association of Railroads gets 436 miles to the gallon be replaced by trucks that get 12?  And why would we ever imagine that a train ticket would be almost as expensive as flying?                                                                                                                                                      
There are many things other than MS to think about .

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