The Iron Horse

Like millions of other American teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get a driver’s license so I could go racing off in one of my dad’s cars. I scarcely noticed that sometime between my childhood and early teens, the great passenger trains had vanished.

208-1 The Old 208 Close-up, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

After all, cars are much more fun. You can go where you want to go, when you want to go there. Cars are freedom and individuality; railroads are institutions. And, it didn’t help that when the railroads had a virtual monopoly on overland transportation, they took advantage of working people by charging exorbitant rates to ship farmers’ crops to market. When I was a kid, I never heard a single lament for the passing of the trains.

208-2 The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

The last time I rode on one of the great trains was when my mother took my sister and I on the Texas Chief up to Oklahoma City to visit my grandfather in Norman. It was like a luxury hotel on wheels. I couldn’t have been more than about nine years old, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

French-Lick-Train-Station-1Train Station, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

When I was a kid, my dad could drive down the middle of the highway steering only with his knee while he lit a cigarette with his Zippo lighter. This drove my mother crazy, but you could do that then because there were so few vehicles on the road. In Texas, you could often drive for quite some time without seeing another car. Things have changed, and changed a lot since those idyllic days. Today we face streets and expressway choked with millions of vehicles almost 24 hours a day. Half of the time I set out to drive from Louisville to Lexington, I am delayed by a multi-vehicle accident. Today, the air is turning toxic, the planet is said to be heating up, and the Gulf of Mexico is filling with crude oil where a living ocean once thrived. In the days of my youth, gas was 25¢ a gallon. Today, people are going into debt to fill their tanks. Times have changed.

Passenger-Cars,-French-Lick Passenger Cars, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

I can’t help but think that our friends across the pond have been smarter than we have on the issue of trains. Only we gave up our trains – England, Europe, Russia, India, Africa, China and Japan all kept and developed their railways. Only we relegated our great trains to the pack mule role. Ours still run, but they carry only new cars, coal, chemicals and other bulk freight.

208-3_antique_effect The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100, antique effect from Photoshop

It would be great if we would re-think our ideas about the trains. I know I would use them. I think a vacation on a train would be terrific. Just being able to hop on a train and ride to Cincinnati to see a Reds game would be a hoot. I wonder how many cars we could get off the road if we had a railway system that took people where they wanted to go. How many amphetamine-crazed truckers would have to find another line of work if our railways were truly operational? How many tons of hydrocarbons could we keep out of the atmosphere? How many Deepwater Horizons would we need if we were running the trains?

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