I’ve always been fascinated by trains. When I was a girl, there was a freight train that crossed through our farm. Sometimes it transported logs, and most of the time, we didn’t know what was carried in those boxcars. When I was in first grade, Mama and we three daughters boarded the train in our hometown of Sanford and rode an hour to Raleigh where Daddy met us. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the capitol city must have been festive with Christmas decorations. Our family ate at the S & W Cafeteria, taking the escalator up to the balcony, to look out over the place where Mama had once worked with her girlfriends.
Our parents wanted us to have the experience of riding on a train like they had. During WWII, Daddy would have ridden while in the army– in the U.S. and in Europe. Mama and her cousin, Yvonne joined other nineteen-year-old women, boarding their sleeper car in Fayetteville, North Carolina and traveling through the night to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That was where they learned skills to work as civil service employees at Pope Air Force Base.
After our trip to Raleigh, I was curious about the passengers when we waited at the crossing for a train. Where were they going ? Who awaited them at their destination? What adventures would they have there? Seeing those travelers, forward-facing through the afternoon sun’s slant on the locomotive’s windows, I wanted to pack my suitcase and head out on a train.
Several years ago, I did that when I took my solo journey to Vermont by way of Amtrak. It would take about seventeen hours by train to travel the almost 750 miles from my home in North Carolina to my destination in Vermont. It was time to ride the rails.
I was glad to let someone else do the driving after my long road trip the previous summer to Michigan. I didn’t have to pay attention to the route and I couldn’t get lost. On that Friday, I sat in the packed cabin with a little league team heading to D.C. for a Washington Nationals’ baseball game and families going there for a reunion–some of them wearing their t-shirts with their family name. It was a long ride and while I’d been north on I-95 to New York City and caught glimpses of communities and farmland, I hadn’t been by rail. From the train’s vantage point, I saw back alleyways with graffiti and the industries and lower income houses that were built along the tracks.
When the Carolinian stopped at Penn Station in NYC, I got off to spend the weekend with my son, Ross. On Monday morning, I continued on by Amtrak to White River Junction, Vermont. Hostelling International had rooms in the historic Hotel Coolidge, built in 1879 as lodging for train travelers in the town that was a rail hub.
While the trip on Amtrak gave me more of an appreciation for train travel, with the gentle rocking and muffled sound of the whistle giving warning as we approached, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d expected it to feel more like an adventure but most of the time the scenes outside my window were familiar and those forward-facing seats felt too tight and blocked my view of the cabin. I had some brief conversations with those sitting nearby, but most were sleeping or otherwise engaged on their phones or laptops. I knew I hadn’t booked a luxury train ride, but I thought it would have more of the allure that I’d felt when I was a girl.
Last September I had my first chance to ride trains in Europe. My husband and I took the Eurail from Paris to London. It was an enjoyable high speed ride at our table seat with interesting conversation with the travelers across the aisles. Because we were seeing the French and then the English countryside for the first time, it felt like that adventure I’d been yearning for when I took the Amtrak.
After our days in London, we continued on to Edinburgh, Scotland– again by train but not with the luxury of a table and this time with a fussy child and inattentive parents sitting behind us.
After a days of touring, my husband and I parted in Edinburgh for him to return to the States and for me to go on my solo journey to Iona in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I felt like I had as a girl; I was on a trip of discovery. How I’d looked forward to visiting Scotland, homeland of my ancestors, and how I felt the anticipation build for my week with the Iona Community at The Abbey. What would it be like in our international group exploring the theme, “The Pilgrimage of Life”?
I sat at a table seat and was joined by a Scottish couple across from me. They were so friendly and the man was eager to help, telling me about towns as we passed, suggesting places I should visit. A passenger across the aisle joined in our conversation, and when he learned I was going on a spiritual pilgrimage to Iona, he told me he was an Elder in his Presbyterian church in Glasgow. He wished me well when he got off near his hiking site.
I took a video through the train window, not knowing how it would turn out since I’m not that experienced at video. But now, when I look at it, I’m transported to the inside of that Scotrail car, watching with fascination as I try to take in all I can of beautiful Scotland.
Come ride with me. Feel the steady rocking of the train as we speed along the hillside through the fresh morning air. Catch glimpses of the amazing countryside from inside that lively cabin with friendly passengers.
May this ride on a train transport you back to something you longed for in childhood and have realized as an adult.
How About You?
Did you have a fascination for trains or some other mode of travel as a child?
What was your experience of that when you were young and over the years?
If you’ve never gotten to explore that fascination, how could you do that now?