Ode to a train.
No, that is not to be confused with eau d’train!! And then you wonder who on Earth and why on Earth anyone would want to eulogize trains.
I love trains. No argument against them is going to gain traction in my court. I simply love trains. I love to watch them, I love to ride them, I love to look at movies about them, I love to speculate on their future . . . . no, that part I don’t enjoy so much.
It’s all my Dad’s fault because he, too, was a train lover. He passed that passion on to his kids. I laughingly say that when we were born if we couldn’t tell the difference between the sound of a front-end Mallet and an articulated 5000, we were sent back to the womb for reprogramming.
My mother also said that when I was little, if it came dinner time and she couldn’t find Daddy and me, she knew we were down at the train yards watching the switch engine do flying switches or an engine taking on water and oil. These were steam engines, after all.
Daddy would take me down to the depot and to me it was a magical place. We only lived a couple of blocks from the station when I was 3 and 4 years old so we would walk over quite frequently. We’d go in and watch the telegraph operators doing their magic with the Morse Code. We’d go into the freight room and watch them load the mail. It was really fun to be at another station that wasn’t a stopping place and watch the conductors grab the mail on the fly as the train thundered thru town.
Daddy taught me to read the logos off the box cars, long before I could read a book. He also taught me about semaphores . . . they weren’t lighted signals then . . . and the flags on the trains that meant “second” or “third” section following. And the whistles! Did you know that there was a time when engineers, brakemen and flagmen did not have cell phones or even walkie-talkies? So they would communicate with whistles. Two long and a short meant “flag man in from the west” while two shorts and a long meant “flag man in from the east” . . . or was it the other way around? Hmmm, it’s been a few years since I was 5.
Daddy worked for CalTrans, before it was CalTrans. With a last name of BYROADS, what else could he do? Part of his road responsibility was highway 111 along the east shore of the Salton Sea and along which the Southern Pacific tracks ran. There was frequently little traffic on that stretch of road and one of his favorite things to do was to pace a train, especially if it was a 5000 pulling a load. The rhythm of the canted piston just fascinated him . . .and consequently, me! He said it reminded him of Hungarian Rhapsody #II (Liszt)
And you do realize, these are STEAM engines we’re talking about. I remember distinctly when I saw my first diesel engine. I was 9. We were driving down the Cuesta Grade into San Louis Obispo. The SP tracks follow the opposite side of the canyon along there. My brother pointed the train out to me, “Oh look, Adrienne, there’s one of those new diesels.” Sigh . . . there goes the neighborhood.
I know diesels are new and improved. I know they are more efficient and economical . . . but I wax nostalgic at the sight of ol’ engine 4449, Daylight liveried steam engine any time it happens down the tracks.
Reading back over this piece, perhaps this is rather an ode to my Daddy.
Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years.
A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes . . . she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.
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