I've been trying to avoid too much post-election palaver about who shoulda and what they coulda. I am depressed enough already. After the fact, everyone is an expert on what happened. One phrase comes to my mind over and over: Train Wreck. And while I was having that phrase pop through my vacuous mind, two separate stories about trains piqued my interest:
1. In Gabon, a West African country, the unloading of a new, huge, American-made locomotive didn't go so well. The locomotive must weigh in at a few hundred tons. It was being lifted off a ship onto the dock when one of the straps broke and it dropped the last twenty-some feet to the dock. I sure wouldn't want to be the chief rigger who okayed that lift...if they even have riggers in Gabon...maybe they just threw a rope around it and said, "That ought to do it!" In any case, it didn't look too good after the fall; that's a lot of scrap metal there.
2. Union Pacific's Locomotive #844, the last steam engine they bought before shifting to diesel/electric locomotives. Some claim it has been in continuous service since its purchase in the forties; another story claims it was on its way to become razor blades when someone thought it would be nice to have a remnant from the past around and re-furbished it into a ceremonial icon. This week it passed through Southern Colorado on Union Pacific's 150th Anniversary tour. I missed it. But it is apparently pulling museum cars throughout the old UP routes, stopping here and there for ceremonies of one kind or another. That is what it has been doing for the last seventy years or so. In the videos you see a diesel locomotive in the string of cars, that is there to aid in the braking, give a little boost on the hills, and most important, so they can shut down old 844 in the tunnels so the crew and passengers and anyone else in the tunnels don'tget smothered in oil smoke.
I really like trains. Especially the old steamers. I love the sounds as they get moving...the steam release...the uneven chuffing of the pistons as the drivers start to roll, lose traction and spin, then get traction again...huff huff....huff...huff huff huff....huff huff...huff huff huff huff huff and faster as it gathers speed away from the platform. Then there is a hard clunk as the locomotive pulls against the next car; then it repeats with each car, progressing down the length of the whole train.
Then when they are up to speed, they make smoke and sparks and the pistons are moving so fast you can barely discern individual huffs. And the whistles moan. From a distance the sounds of the locomotive, combined with the clackety-clack of the wheels....oh man, it is a beautiful thing. But if you get up close to the tracks, I mean like ten feet or so, the power and size of it is terrifying. I love trains.
So when I got to Germany in 1964, I was overjoyed to find that steam locomotives were still in operation all over Europe. In fact, I don't remember when they went out of service there...if they have.
I rode trains all over Germany in one capacity or another; most of them are electric, now, sucking juice from overhead power lines. Those power lines have cost the US Army millions of dollars and I don't know how many lives because track vehicle crews, tankers especially, can't seem to remember that their antennas should be tied down before they cross a railroad track...otherwise the tracks on the vehicle will ground against the railroad tracks when the antenna touches the high voltage power lines overhead. When the conditions are just right (or wrong, actually), the ammunition in the turret of the tank will go off and that's very hard on anyone in the tank.
But the electric trains have their own appeal, I guess. They still have that clickety-clack rythmn and they have a kind of a neat whine to them. They rock you, sometimes not so gently (if you are prone to motion-sickness it is better to ride the bus).
Anyway...once you have ridden the rails and enjoyed the rythmn and the sway, you get hooked. I know not everyone is a train fan, but the size and power of them up close is addictive. It got me when I was a little guy and I have been hooked ever since.