Telling stories

Romancing the Rail

Posted by southwrite on June 28, 2014

Photo courtesy of Norfolk Southern.

Photo courtesy of Norfolk Southern.

(The first of a two part series on the romance of trains and trainwatching.)

I love trains. The sound of a distant whistle makes me stop and stirs an emotion that has been with me since childhood. Men instinctively know what I’m talking about – women not so much.

We probably played with toy trains when we were boys and when we see one passing by today, it brings back memories of what was probably our favorite possession. The lucky ones among us had an electric powered set of engine and cars that traveled on a circular train around the basement. Almost as good was having a friend with one.

In middle and old age, many a man has filled his home with trains and track and station. Instead of a Corvette or antique Thunderbird, they buy multiple Lionel Train sets and became expert in the different models. Their mistress is a model railroad club and their fortune is spent on meet-ups and train conventions.

Trains are mechanical marvels – the empowerment of the industrial age and the driver of commerce. Trains both opened up the West and closed it with the First Transcontinental Railroad connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory.

Trains have always been the embodiment of romance and travel to unknown places. These days few really dream of hopping a freight out of town to a new life of adventure on the road. The attraction is more in the trains themselves.

You just can’t imagine how powerful – and loud! – a locomotive can be until you watch it thundering past so close you can almost reach out and touch it. It inspires an almost primal feeling as the mammoth piece of metal and its stream of clattering freight and tanker cars passes the refurbished depot in the north Georgia city of Dalton.

Dalton Depot 006Today a small crowd of mostly middle aged and older men have gathered in front of the 1914 era depot downtown. A couple hastily ready cameras mounted on tripods while others listen to scanners to monitor conversations between conductors and dispatchers. Within minutes the long train has passed by leaving these viewers smiling and eager for the next one.

They don’t have long to wait. More trains thunder through the city – 50 to 60 daily – than almost any other place in the country. This is one of the few places in Georgia where the CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway cross each other at grade.

If you love watching trains this is perfect place to be. You can see them coming down the long expanse of track. A short distance north the Gordon Street Bridge provides a panoramic view of the city and the trains as they pass through. The depot, which also houses the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau, offers a large brightly lit waiting area inside equipped with a 42 inch monitor. An audio system is connected to the radio frequency used by dispatchers to talk to the engines.

The romantic era of rail travel may be long gone, but for a loyal cadre of hobbyists they still invoke a passion that sometimes borders on the fanatical. Railfans, as they’re called, travel across the country to find a good location for viewing their favorite engines. It’s both a passion and pleasure.

Watching the trails go always evokes some romantic notions of climbing aboard a boxcar and heading to new and unimagined places.

“You wonder when you see them where are they going and where they came from,” said one trainwatcher as a long expanse of cars lumbered past. I knew exactly what he meant. It was an emotion that had already welled up inside me from a place far away.


One Response to “Romancing the Rail”

  1. booksyalove said

    Ooh, another place for our vacation list! We added 700 sq.ft. onto our house several years ago for my husband’s model trains, but nothing beats watching the real thing.
    Hope you had a great Blogathon!

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