Lodge: The allure of trains
December 27, 2016
Over the holiday I read a story in the Paris Review about a woman who won a writer's residency on an Amtrak train. The story reminded me of our country's love and fascination with trains.
My grandfather worked his entire life on the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). In 1938, when he was 28-years-old, he wrote letters to my grandmother while working and traveling across the country on the railroad lines. He was an Examiner in those days although I'm not exactly sure what his job entailed. His letters were postmarked from places like the Sheridan Hotel in Minneapolis, corporate offices in St Louis, the Rice Hotel in Houston, and Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City.
He wrote about riding a Pullman on the Hiawathan and attending an organ recital in the Mormon Tabernacle. He was a company man and traveled so much that my mother remembers that he wasn't home much during her childhood. But he instilled a love of trains and train travel in her. My grandfather died shortly after retiring from the PRR. And, according to the research on PRR employees, many railroad executives died after retiring or shortly before retiring from the stress of railroad work.
My first train ride as an adult was a trip from Geneva to Paris in 1999. That was before traveling with phones and laptops. I remember the feeling of seeing the French landscape go by and knowing that some day I would come back and spend time in those rural towns.
My first train ride in the US was Amtrak's Downeaster taken from Boston to Exeter, NH to visit my family. I arrived to a bustling North Station with plenty of time to people watch and figure out where to catch my train north.
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It was the easiest travel experience leaving the Boston area without a headache due to traffic congestion. I plugged in my devices and easily connected to wifi while I watched the New England landscape go by.
The sound of the train moving on its rails was rhythmic as I sat comfortably in the window seat working, writing and checking email.
The scenery, I'm sure, is not as pretty as I assume the trek from Denver to Winter Park on Amtrak would be with mountains and tunnels. I arrived safely to my destination with my mother and father waiting for me at the Exeter train station about 20 minutes from their home.
In the Paris Review story, Jessica Gross wrote about her train residency,
"Writing requires a dip into the subconscious. The lockbox, at times kept tightly latched in our daily lives, is pried open, and things leak onto the page that we only half knew were there."
This is how I feel, too, about my writing.
Sometimes moving towards a destination, in a unique environment the floodgates open and maybe, just maybe the words that can get locked up in my brain flow.
I have yet to take Amtrak through the tunnels in the Continental Divide but it's on my to do list.
In Grand County we have the Christmas Trains, a Grand County Model Railroad Club, history museums about trains, and the work-in-progress Moffat Road Railroad Museum.
We have Amtrak the BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway), and the Union Pacific. Love them or hate them, trains remind of us of our country's history and maybe of a simpler time.
I have a love/hate relationship with trains. I love the sound their horns make at night as long as they are in the distance. I love the romanticism of trains but don't typically have the time to take a train for a destination vacation. Train photos abound in my childhood home proudly displayed by my mother.
As the editor of this newspaper, I have read stories about UPPR maintenance polluting the Fraser River and read letters to the editor about railroad employees dumping boulders in the Colorado River. Stories like this destroy the allure.
Winter Park Express
In just a few weeks the Winter Park Express, formerly the Ski Train will be back in Grand County delivering skiers from the Front Range to Winter Park Resort. Many of these riders associate this adventure with past visits, most likely with their parents, and are now sharing the trip in 2017 with their children that will continue their love of train travel in Colorado.
I'm even more intrigued by train travel as I re-read the letters from my grandfather and read about the progress of the Moffat Road Railroad Museum.
As I look back at my Paris trip photos I am looking forward to planning my next vacation.
This year I'm going to make time to travel by train. Herein lies my 2017 New Year's Resolution. And maybe finish the book I started years ago about my grandfather's letters.
Kristen Lodge is the General Manager of the Sky-Hi News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.