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Tuesday, December 16, 2014


From the time that I was little, trains have mystified me and stirred up my imagination. My male cousin had a train set—got it for Christmas one year and I was there at his house looking at it and lusting for it. Each car was different and oh how I loved the engine as well as the caboose. As my uncle set up the train set and placed it on the tracks, I just stared in wonderment. My eight year old eyes were transfixed on it. And I wanted it.
Girls were not allowed to have trains sets: That was the norm when I was young. I never did have the guts to ask my parents for a set for I knew that they would laugh aloud at me. And so I kept my inner desire for one stored in the back of my mind.
My love for trains goes way back to about the time I was three: My mom worked for a coal company as an executive secretary. If there were anything C&O related, she bought it for me. I was the proud owner of many “Chessie” things even at that age. “Chessie” was C&O’s logo and he was a cat. Their main logo was “Sleep like a kitten.” Of course having a tabby cat linked to a train company did more to stir up my love of trains.
As I got a little older, I received a Chessie handkerchief, calendar, a red plastic train that was a bank and on and on. Yes, I was fortunate that my mom worked for a coal company. I knew a lot about trains from her but only in the way about how much coal each car carried.
When I was with my parents and we were stuck in traffic due to a train crossing, I’d just stare at each car with wonder. Did I wave at the man the caboose? Every single time. It made me feel special in thinking that he was just waving at me—well he was but then he waved at everyone behind us which at that time I had no idea.
Aside from staring at trains either in motion or just being on the tracks, I loved the noise that they made. If you know that noise, then you know what I’m talking about: It was a feel good noise but also one of loneliness as well. And once you heard it, it was a noise that you would never forget in your life time.
I also remember hobos—men that jumped on trains for a free ride. Those men, who got off of a train somewhere in town, would frequent my grandparent’s neighborhood looking for a food handout. Each hobo had a bandana tied up to a big stick with things in it. What things I always wondered as I watched my grandmother hand out sandwiches to the hobos. How would I then know that hobos marked houses where people handed out free food? I certainly didn’t know it then.
I used to wonder about the people I saw in the train passenger cars: Where were they going? What were they doing? And oh how I wanted to ride a train. My wish would come true when I was twelve. My grandmother, mother and I rode a C&O train from here to Cincinnati. Just stepping up onto the passenger car took away my breath. It was nirvana. I was actually on a train.
The three of us sat in plush seats and even had lunch served on a table that was set up in the middle of our seats. The table had a white linen tablecloth on it, a rose in a vase and of course, C&O dishes with their logo on it. As I sat there admiring it, I couldn’t understand why the dishes and that vase didn’t go crashing to the floor but they didn’t much to my amazement.
The only thing that moved was the train on which we were on. But there was one bad thing that I well remember for I had to go to the bathroom and it was in another car. My mom took my hand and led me through our car to another one—fine I thought until I looked down and saw the coupling as well as the train tracks. Terrified me. Terrified me twice as we had to come back to our car. I tried not to look down that second time.
Forever that train trip to Cincinnati is etched in my mind. I loved going there and coming home on it just as much as I loved being in Cincinnati staying at a fine hotel and shopping. The three of us had a spectacular time. Such wonderful memories of the past.
About twenty-eight years or more, neighbors of mine were moving. They were older and I had also known them from going the same church. The woman called me to come over to her garage and there sat a mass of antique toys, games and a train set. I just stood there floored to the nth degree. She told me to take what I wanted and you bet that I took the train set first and then other things second. The train set belonged to her husband whom I knew and was thrilled to have it in my hands—cars, track and the key.
I couldn’t believe that I finally got a train set; granted it wasn’t like my cousins but it was even better. Yes, I have it up but not on the tracks. And in today’s world, girls can actually have train sets: It’s not just a boy thing thank heavens. Took long enough. It took a long time for my wishes to come true but it happened. And as for that train trip from long ago? I’ll never forget it ever: It was my first and last time to ever take one.
There is nothing I don’t like about trains except maybe being stuck in traffic while one with a hundred cars passes by but then I get to stare at them and every past memory comes rushing back to me. For the love of trains, there is nothing like them ever.
Sherry Hill

*C&O trains were the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad's trains.
Copyright © 2014
Sherry Hill
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