by Mary Johnson 3/20/15-4/24/15
In the wee hours of the morning, I heard the rumble followed by the train's whistle clear as a bell off in the distance. These sounds always evoke memories of long ago. I lay awake thinking of the role trains have played in my life.
I vaguely remember, when I was a young child, our famly going to a train depot to pick up a gasoline operated, wringer washing machine. Our farm house just off Pea Ridge in Harrison County was beyond electrical power lines.
In March, 1951, three months before my eleventh birthday, we moved to a farm near Route A and Highway 65 and 4 1/2 miles north of Trenton in Grundy County. The Rock Island Railroad tracks ran smack dab through our farm, probably 1/8 mile from the house. Another 1/8 was a crossing, so we heard the warning whistle of each passing train.
By this time, Dad was farming with a tractor, however we still had two draft horses and a Shetland pony. The passing trains spooked the horses causing them to race to the far end of the pasture. My sister Freeda (9), my brother Bernard (6 1/2) and I were an exception. We were captivated! Oft times, we would count the number of cars, usually exceeding one hundred in the passing freight trains. If close enough, we would greet the train crews with waves. We were excited when the engineer in the massive locomotives and the conductors in the little, red cabooses waved back to us.
The passanger train was aptly named the Rocket. It's shiny, silver cars seemed to zip by. Sometimes, on nice summer evenings, Freeda and I stood in awe seeing the lighted dining cars with a waiter in a white jacket. My goal was to dine is such elegance one day.
Alongside the tracks grew many beautiful wildflowers and wild strawberries beckoning us to pick them. If a train wasn't approaching, we would walk on the rails. Gingerly placing one bare foot in front of the other and with arms outstretched for balance it was fun and challenging.
My first train trip was the summer I turned twelve when Freeda and Bernard accompanied me to Des Moines to visit Grandma Shafer. Mom packed sack lunches containing Hostess cupcakes for us. They had a creamy filling that neither Freeda or I was fond of, but Bernard loved them. He ate his and some of ours. This bad habit of making a pig of himself on something he especially liked often turned him against it for the remainder of his life.
In the middle 1950s, a freight train derailed a few miles north of Tindall. People from all around the community drove to the site. I recall that one of the twisted cars that had been hauling piccalilli left quite a mess.
(deb had to google this: like a pickle relish mix)
My seond and longest train trip was my senior class trip to Dallas, Texas in April 1958. We had been dedicated in our fundraising efforts to make this trip possible. Most of us had never been so far away from home, so our excitement escalated as we boarded the train.
Soon every other seat was turned around, so the passengers seated there were riding backwards. A party like atmosphere prevailed for several hours as we laughed, talked and shared snacks. A few hecklers traipsed up and down the aisles pestering anyone they caught dozing.
We had one splendid day in Dallas highlighted by Six Flags and a monorail ride, then all too soon a weary group was homeward bound.
After daybreak, an enthusiastic, black conductor pointed out jackrabbits as we chugged across the plains.
In barely two months, I was packing a suitcase along with Freeda and three girlfriends for a train trip to Chicago. Older sisters of two of the girls had extended invitations to us.On the day of our departure, the train was quite late. I don't recall the reason, however our wait was not boring. Our parents visited while a drunked woman (put off an earlier train for causing a disturbance) "entertained" us.
Every little bit she'd whine between trips to the rest room (where we suspected she nipped from a bottle in her purse), "That train didn't even have a place to go WEE WEE!" Her claims sent my little brother Roger and our little neighbor boy, Stephen, both 6 years old, into fits of giggles. I can still visualize these two tykes in their merriment.
Finally, we were on our way along with the tipsy woman. She must have fallen asleep right away, as we heard not a peep out of her.
While in Chicago, we saw mummies, took our first roller coaster ride, rode the el train and went to Lake Michigan. I learned the hard way that a bad sunburn is possible on an overcast day.
The trip honme was miserable as my every movement was aggravated by the train seats harsh upholstery.
Then, it was time for Freeda and me to fulfill our promises to care for our Great Grandma Boyd (94) in exchange for an advancement of funds allowing us to go to Chicago.
The summer passed quickly. When my siblings were in school, I decided to seek employment in Kansas City. Dad wanted Mom to accompany me and neighbor girl Phyllis and help us get settled into an apartment.
After we had boarded the train, stowed our suitcases in the overhead luggage rack and got seated, I looked out the window. Gazing up at us wtih a trembling lower lip was my beloved, little brother Roger. Needless to say, this departure was not easy for me.
Thank God for the trains! Nearly every Friday evening found me at Union Station boarding the train for Trenton. Home was where my heart was and I was always eager to return.
My train trips home decreased after I met the love of my life, Al Beck adn was married November 30, 1960.
Before the demise of the Rock Island, I visited my sister Freeda and her family twice in the Quad Cities.
Finally, during the summer of 2013, my hope to eat in a dining car becomae a reality. Palmer Senior Center offered a day trip to Columbia, Missouri that included a dinner train. Friends Bonnie, Roberta, and I quickly made reservations.
The train excursion took us one hour down the tracks and one hour back past scenic countryside while being servede a gourmet meal complete with elegant table settings on white tablecloths. As I've always known, food just tastes better when it brings people together.
This day was a long time in coming, but it's never too late to fulfill a dream.