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Another interest of mine -- trains.  When I grew up (late-50's and in the 60's), trains were still how most things were shipped.  A branch of the Illinois Central ran through my hometown -- with two through freights daily, plus a local every day except Sunday.  I could see the trains from my front yard or from my bedroom window.  And if the train was coming from the south -- on a calm day, one could hear the train nearly eleven minutes out of town -- plenty of time to hop on my bicycle (or even walk!) to trackside for a better view!  A spur, serving three "industries" ran directly across the street from our house.  On the other side of that street was a propane gas distributor; often, a black tank car was parked directly in front of our house.  (I don't think my parents were too worried about explosions -- I do recall my Dad saying that if it blew up, we'd never know it!  But they weren't too upset when they relocated out into the country, either!)  At the end of the spur was a grain mill, and a combination grain mill / hardware store / lumber yard / coal yard.  They got box cars and hopper cars on a regular basis.  And of course, the crews in the cabs of those GP-7's and -9's always waved at us kids as they went by!  (Well, when they weren't otherwise occupied...)

And I have a very vivid memory of Christmas when I was four.  My maternal grandfather had been a railway mail clerk, and helped foster my interest in trains.  He'd "help" me look through Lionel, Marx, and American Flyer catalogs.  That Christmas, I wanted a train set in the worst possible way.  Mom and Dad said "no" -- that I was too young for a train set.  But Grandpa thought otherwise... and at their house on Christmas Eve, I got my first train set -- an American Flyer "S" gauge "over-and-under" figure-eight layout, with a 4-4-2 steam engine, tank car, gondola, and caboose!  When we got home, Dad help me set it up on the living room floor, and I recall my parents let me stay up rather late playing with it...  Later on, two cousins of mine gave me their American Flyer set -- and of course, other additions happened here and there...

Two Christmases later, my parents got me the train set they wanted me to have -- an H-O gauge set from Athearn.  Now I was in "hog heaven" -- not one, but two train sets!!  But which one to play with?  What a decision for a six-year-old to have to make!  The H-O was "less forgiving" of tracks not being quite in alignment... the rolling stock seemed to de-rail easier... but it looked so realistic, compared to the American Flyer set!

Now, I still have the American Flyers -- but my primary interest is in H-O.  When my wife and I purchased our house, we had to have a basement, so I'd have a place for my trains.  The unfortunate part is that I've yet to get around to building my layout (I did have a loop of track on a sheet of plywood for a while).  Inertia seems to be a problem for me to overcome...  I've helped a friend with his layout, and worked part-time in a local hobby shop for a few years -- rarely took home a paycheck, though -- usually took it home in merchandise!  Someday...  (sigh)

Of course, I'm interested in "the real thing", too.  But, my-oh-my!  How times have changed!  I was "born too late" to catch the end of steam -- other than once seeing a steam locomotive being dead-headed at the end of the "local", probably on its way to Paducah, Kentucky, to be scrapped... I was only three or four years old at the time, but the memory is vivid.  Unfortunately, at that time, all I knew was that I'd seen a steam locomotive, and not under its own power...  In my younger days, I did not own a camera -- so most of my recollections are just that, recollections.  I will never forget the sound of a EMD 567 prime mover in those ICRR GP-7's and GP-9's -- to me, that's what railroading sounds like!  And freight cars were 40' and 50' box cars and hoppers, and tank cars and flat cars and gondolas... and always with a caboose at the end!  But now... well, I have to admit that intermodal just doesn't seem like railroading to me.  Maybe I'm just not attuned to the differences in the myriad containers, etc...  And the "tagging" that seems so prevalent nowadays -- why, back when I was young, there were chalk marks on the sides of box cars, and a good portion of them were put there by the brakeman or the representative of the company that was having the car delivered to them -- where to spot the car, when it was unloaded -- and occasionally the marks of a "hobo" or some other wanderer... but the marks seemed to have meaning.  And again, maybe it's just me -- but the "tagging" that I see today is 99% undecipherable -- I know someone has written (okay, painted usually) something -- but what?  Their name?  Their gang affiliation?  Their location?  To me, it's just about as readable as hieroglyphics... and makes a whole lot less sense.  (Guess that makes me an old codger, eh!?)  Also -- where is the "romance" of a F.R.E.D.!?  Does that flashing strobe light wave at the kids the way the conductors used to, as the tail end of the train heads out of town to far-away destinations?  Like many other things, "personality" has gone by the wayside as efficiency has been implemented...

And then... where are all the railroads of my youth?  Okay, the Union Pacific is still around... but where is the Pennsy?  Where did the New York Central go?  Where are those seemingly endless strings of Norfolk and Western hoppers?  The Monon?  Louisville and Nashville?  Nickel Plate?  Baltimore and Ohio?  Chesapeake and Ohio?  Clinchfield?  How about the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard... the New Haven, Erie Lackawana, and the CB&Q and the GM&O?  What happened to the "western roads" -- Southern Pacific, D&RGW, Western Pacific, Burlington Northern... And where, for the love of railroading, did my Illinois Central go??

Yes, I know... much of the preceding paragraph was a long, drawn-out rhetorical question.  But that was railroading -- when the lifeblood of American commerce moved by rail, not by truck!  Before airliners and the Interstate Highway System changed our lives... and not always for the better, if you ask a railroad enthusiast!  Would I want to go back?  No-o-o, I don't think so.  But I sure would like to go back and visit!  (And take my camera and my camcorder and lots of film and videotape!)

For now, however, I'll just my bring an end to my ramblings and reminiscences of "how it used to be"...   Maybe you feel the same way, too!

 

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PICTURES

These are either pictures I took myself, were given to me by friends, purchased, or otherwise acquired.  If I have one of your copyrighted images, please let me know and I'll remove it.  Otherwise -- enjoy!

 

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