I would be so excited, standing there on the railroad platform, holding my mothers hand. I had waited for this day. A chance to ride the train to Boston. Impatiently, from time to time, I would lean forward to peer down the track, as if willing the train to arrive.
I heard it before I saw it. First the dinging as the crossing gates lowered, signaling it's approach. Then the scream of the steam whistle and the vibration in the rails. Finally, the choo-chooing as the black behemoth slowed, and the engineer rung the bell, signaling their arrival. Often he would wave and I would wave back. Finally, with steam hissing from the brakes, they would stop, and the smell of coal smoke would fill the air.
We would wait for the conductor in his black suit and hat to step down and place a stool at the foot of the stairs to the passenger car. Even then, it was a big step and he would usually lift me under my arms and place me on the landing, then turn to assist my mothers assent. Once aboard, I would choose our seat. If possible, I always chose one with an unoccupied seat next to it. By so doing, I was able to switch the seat back so that I could ride facing my mother, but more importantly, backward. For some reason, that was part of the thrill of the trip.
Soon, we would hear the “All aboard” called out by the conductor and feel the initial jolt as the train began to move, the chugging growing faster. I would listen to the measured click of the wheels as they moved over the breaks in the rails. Once up to speed, that sound, like the cadence of a metronome, was almost mesmerizing, as the car swayed gently as if keeping time.
That was a magic time. An adventure to be savored. However, sometime in the ensuing years, those times disappeared and assumed the role of memories. Today, I see mothers, holding their child’s hands as they wait to board the Amtrak. Perhaps there is still an excitement there, but it is not the same. And I suspect the engineer doesn't wave anymore.
Copyright © Bob Quigley