"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Remember your train rides?

Amtrak Surfliner, California
My oldest son, M/Sgt Vance Clark, USAF, called today, riding AmTrak Surfliner up the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.  A beautiful view. He was thinking about memorable train rides in his life and he couldn't remember the date of one.

"Remember when we were in Canada on the steam train? He asked. "When was it?"

I pulled the date and place out of my mind immediately. " "Your Mom was pregnant with Dallas, so it would have been the summer of 1971, in Winnipeg." I asked him what he remembered. At age almost six, he could remember going to the bathroom, flushing the toilet and seeing the tracks underneath, afraid of falling through.

We chatted for several minutes, each remembering train rides, he with more than me, because in the service he's been on trains in Turkey, England, the Chunnel, France  and Germany, plus time on Amtrak from Glacier National Park to Chicago to St. Louis.

"It's amazing that you remember the train rides more than any plane rides, and they're always more pleasant," he said.

The Rock Island Rocket

Got me to thinking. Earliest train ride I can remember, just barely, is at about four or five, riding with my Dad in the Rock Island Rocket from Fort Worth, through Comanche where Granddad lived, to Duncan, where he'd pick us up. I most remember dark windows and night, wondering about the people living in the lighted homes.

Of course there was one train ride my Dad would never forget, when he jumped a freight in Tucumcari in 1932, lost his grip and fell under the big steel wheels, costing him a leg. See "My Dad had a wooden leg." But he never talked about it to us. http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/search?q=wooden+leg

In Albuquerque, long ago
After that, I don't know. There's a photo of Mom, Jerry and I boarding the Santa Fe at Albuquerque to go to east Texas, but I don't remember that trip. And when I got my Cub Scout Webelos badge, they packed us onto the Santa Fe at Albuquerque and took us to Lamy near Santa Fe for the ceremony.

I do remember Neysa and I boarding Amtrak in Ardmore to go to Houston, where we picked Mom up and moved her to Waurika in the early 70s. And we road the steam train out of Chama to Cumbres Pass and back years later. http://www.cumbrestoltec.com/

Cumbfres and Toltec
Since then, I've ridden Amtrak from Washington to Philadelphia one morning to meet a professor friend. Susan and I have ridden the Amtrak Heartland Flyer to Fort Worth a couple of times (taking students one time), and took the train from Rome to Florence a few years back.  In Utah, east of Salt Lake, I rode the steam Heber Valley Railroad for a short distance, riding in the caboose all the way. http://hebervalleyrr.org/

Forest Park Railroad
Most recent was a "kiddies" train, the Forest Park Railroad,  in Fort Worth two years ago, see August, 2010 post http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2010/08/all-aboard.html   and I road one in Elk City  and Duncan before that.

On every one of the trips I remember the scenery outside the windows, the sounds, some of the people--pleasant, relaxing. Today I value such travel for its lack of stress. Isn't that amazing? As Vance said, the only plane trips you remember are the bad experiences.

Now I'm not a real railroad buff, but no wonder I'm attracted to old steam engines,  see October post, http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/search?q=Bartlesville  and prowl old depots like the one at Waurika where we owned the newspaper--vacant then but it's become a library and museum.

 I always want to climb on old steam engines and railroad cars, am captivated by cabooses, "Where's the 'boose?' http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2011/07/wheres-boose.html , count the freight cars going past, attend train shows, yearn for a caboose in my back yard, look down those tracks wanting to go.

North to Alaska
And this May, the Lord willing, we'll board the Yukon and White Pass steam train at Skagway.

And with Dad's art in the house, and some of my efforts, especially Christmas cards for good friends Roy and Jill Kelsey, the pull of trains is more than just a fact.

All aboard!

My Dad's scratchboard of the turntable in Fort Worth. I was there as a kid when he drew this, and he later turned it into a snow scene for a Christmas card. So many memories
My watercolor from Neruda's poem, "Is there anything sadder than a train standing in the rain?"


  1. I love trains. My epic adventure as a kid was in 1965 or so. Our family got on the Burlington Northern in Helper, UT and went to Chicago, changed to the New York Central to Grand Central Station in New York City, and then to the New Haven RR to visit my grandparents in New London, CT for a couple weeks.
    Rode night and day, remember going through the Rockies in the winter and the midwest with all the farm houses, bustling Chicago and along the Great Lakes, down the Hudson river and passing West Point and then New York City of course.
    Cool stuff for a forest service kid from Utah.

  2. I am jealous! I have done the London subways, Boats in Turkey and buses in Germany but no trains. I dream of going on a train through the mountains while drinking tea and reading a book. They always remind me of the classic american spirit of adventure, I need to experience such an adventure.

  3. We rode the trains from Pratt, WV to Montgomery WV to shop on Saturdays. Clickety-Clack for five miles up the mountain and down again. My sister and I took train rides on the C & O to Covington, VA in the summers to visit our aunt. I remember those train trips with such vividness and fondness. We got a boxed lunch with Chessie the Cat logo stamped on the top of the cardboard. Great fried chicken in those boxed lunches! Thanks for this nostalgic post on trains. I loved seeing your dad's sketch...and, as always, loved seeing your beautiful work. Thanks!


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