What do you think of when you ponder travel by train? Do you right away envision no leg room, stuck in your seat, no space to move around, sore bottom – no, that’s the bus. At one time, this mode of travel in the United States held as much celebration as a day on the red carpet. In fact, more people were on the train than the airplane, since it cost less. When you Google “Super Chief,” which is the name of a west coast connection that ran from 1936 to 1971, it gives you glamour shots of many movie stars as they prepared to board for their destination. Those celebrities, along with the everyday Susan and Joe also slid their favorite suit or dress out of the closet for their trip. Each line had their own dining car, adorned with fine china and flatware. Just thinking about it takes me to Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express. Fast forward sixty or seventy years and rail journeys are still a necessity for some. And, I do believe we even have converts – the ones who gave up flying after 9/11, and will now, only go via car, bus or railroad. Unfortunately though, over time, I think this is one mode of transportation that has genuinely been forgotten and under-appreciated by many. I know that is true a lot in this country.
In any event, I’d like to stir your interest in riding again or for the first time. I don’t know who knows or actually who thinks about this, but there are groups who hold conventions and/or take short rides, just for the thrill. I mentioned in one of my blogs along the way how as a child my family would hop on board in New York for Virginia and vice versa, many times. I recall those exciting, yet tearful rides back to New York with my mother at the end of summer vacation. Right now, I’m actually foreseeing a short outing to Washington, D.C., since it has been some time for me, and from where I live it takes under four hours. Today, the short distance runs provide just a snack/bar car, but the longer rides are still equipped with that dining car. My husband – this could be a northern New Jersey thing, but he prefers to drive everywhere. With me, it may be a mentality born from city living, but jumping on one of these behemoths came as easy as breathing. I also know most of it is attributable to my childhood. Anyway, my husband always bucked and kicked, never showing any interest. Then, one day I almost passed out when he said, “You know, why not?” I must say, he reminded me of myself – the excited child. Now, whenever he spots Amtrak rolling along, he says, “Hey, there goes my train.”
Before Amtrak took over, the Atlantic Coast Line serviced the east coast with names like the Champion and Silver Meteor. In fact, the latter continues to service the east coast. I can remember as a little girl riding in the car with my grandmother – we’d spend the day or an afternoon in the town with the station. Occasionally we’d hit the city limits just as the express headed north – it whizzed by like a jet, kicking up paper and anything else in its way. I’d jump up and down in my seat, pointing and giggling while watching the silver cars glisten in the afternoon sun. I say, do yourself a favor – take the little ones, your own or the grandchildren. Take a week and head west on something called the California Zephyr that can be picked up out of Chicago or do a simple four-hour mini-excursion someplace. And, don’t wuss out by taking the little ones on the commuter route, the only thing that qualifies is the long distance passenger service. Also, don’t forget, when you ride the rails it’s not driving. Therefore, you can actually hunker down in your seat, sleep, eat, talk, read or simply sit quietly, and enjoy the view.
As I write this, I realize just about every country has their own iron horse, if you will. There is the Indian Pacific and The Ghan in the down under country, the Coastal Pacific in New Zealand. Europe has an unbelievably massive system, and the United Kingdom has its own lines. Getting back to Agatha Christie, this literary great has been quoted as saying, “Trains are wonderful…. To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.” What a great summation – that’s putting it in a nutshell, huh?
In closing, and in doing my research for this piece I used a lot of information from a website – Seat 61. Want to know what every train in every country is about, just click on the link above. Also, thank you to Mark Smith for all the time and effort he has put into compiling the data provided, and remember be directed by the guidelines posted on his site. So, go – make a reservation, create a memory of the long glistening cars and the big cushy seats, and if for no one else, do it for the little person in your life. Believe me that is one memory that will last forever, and I imagine, bring a smile to their adult faces. Once that happens, be assured the tradition will undoubtedly get passed down. Do you have a railroad outing recollection you’d like to share?
Information provided by New York Social Dairy, Wikipedia, and Mark Smith/Seat 61
Photos Courtesy of iStockPhoto