Just Sayin’: Ode to a Train

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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Adrienne Jacoby
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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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    Hello kindred spirit! I remember my first train ride as a little Girl Scout. We went from LA to San Diego, and I loved the sounds, smells, and jiggles of the train ride. My continuing romance with trains came from my Lionel train, which choo chooed around our Christmas tree for as long as I can remember. My dad kept the tracks nailed to a big green board, which he'd store in the garage rafters waiting for the next Christmas season. When I met my husband (12 years ago), I told him about my train which had been broken for some time, and I missed it terribly. Well, he became my hero when he got that old Lionel down from the garage, and fixed it! We got rid of the board, added a bunch of new track, and we've had that train up at Christmas every year since. Now the real joy is being back here in the north state near our grandkids. The tradition of "helping grandpa" put the train up is one we all treasure each December, and those kids are true train lovers. They just don't make things like they used to. That Lionel will be handed down for generations to come, I'm sure. Thanks for the sweet article, and as with most things we love, it's the people associated with them that really capture our hearts.

  2. Avatar Yvonne Boring says:

    As you we too are train nuts. We have ridden almost every steam train left on the west coast. Papa is now affecting a new generation with our G scale. We have found all sorts of small trains to get our grandson and granddaughter over the top for trains. This summer we are going to rework the strawberry bed in hopes of putting the G scale in there for the kids to play with when they come over. Keep your fun stories coming!

  3. Avatar Janet Kriz says:


    I loved this article. I grew up along the Erie-Lackawana Line. We rode the train to get to high school. The men on the trains, all worked in New York City. There was a smoking car and it was awful.

    The "men" (I don't remember women on it) all had their morning papers in front of them.

    They folded them to read them. That way, they were out of their seatmates way.

    The seats were some sort of wicker look and would move so that you could face your friends and sit across from each other. Perfect for us high school kids.

    Trains have secret views of the world, tracks where you could see into people's lives . After all, you couldn't see that side from the roads.

    Your article brought so many memories back. Thanks for the memories. I hear you humming it.

    • Avatar AJ says:

      Oh yes, that secret vantage point. I was always amazed the difference when viewing the same area from the train that I had just traveled by car.

  4. Avatar SoCal RndMtn Redding says:

    Good job, mom and dad:


  5. Avatar Stan says:

    Trains seem to have a magical quality. Otherwise, why are so many folks fascinated by them? Sure are lot's of folk tunes written about trains, too. Also in jazz and pop music. We just played Chatanooga Choo Choo at out last gig. My all time favorite is "Lonesome Whistle."

  6. One of my fondest memories was the train trip my brother Mike (still there in Redding) and my train ride from Eureka to Ukiah when I was about eight? My parents put us on the train to go visit my aunt and uncle. The train ride was certainly the best part aside from coming back with a nice new baseball glove!

    My son in Vegas must have picked up on some of those genes, as almost the first thing he did after getting his own place and putting up a Christmas tree, was to put a train around the base of the tree!

    Good article as it sure brought back some nice thoughts!

  7. Avatar Diane Knapik says:

    As a youngster, my mom and I made several trips on the Daylight, between L.A. and S.F. to visit my relatives. As an eighth grader in So. Cal, our graduation trip, was from L.A. to the San Diego Zoo and back, by train. But my favorite memories, come from the old coal burning trains in Europe. I spent a year of college, attending the U of Copenhagen in Denmark. We went all over Europe in those trains, standing outside of the compartments, in the walking areas, leaning out the windows and arriving at our destinations covered in soot. Now, those were train rides!!

  8. Avatar Sally says:

    Loved seeing Diane mention the Daylight. I grew up in Los Angeles, but my father's family lived in Berkely, so at least once a year we would take the Daylight or the Lark (an over night journey). I loved every minute of it! The only steam engine I ever rode was the McCloud Dinner Train. They only had one and in the middle of the trip, one would stop to fill with water to produce steam for the ride back to the station. Sorry that adventure is no longer.

  9. Avatar sheri says:

    What a wonderful train article. It's really cool to think of you as the little girl tagging along. Thanks for sharing that heart-warming story.

  10. Avatar Diane Knapik says:

    Does anyone remember the childrens' record called "Sparky and the Talking Train"? It gave me chills, just listening to it. I got it as a child and was still playing it for my students years later. It was about a little boy who loved trains soooo much, that he would stand near the tracks and call out to the trains as they passed. The train whistle would respond with a "Helloooooo, Spaaaarky." One day his dad took him for a ride on the train. As they rode along, the train started chanting to Sparky about a loose wheel. I can still hear it in my mind "Help me Sparky, help me Sparky. Left front wheel, left front wheel." Over and over. Of course his dad thought he was imagining things, so Sparky pulled the emergency cord. The conductor was furious, but the engineer came back, eventually, and verified Sparky's concern. He had saved the train.

    I have goosebumps, just typing this! Wow!

  11. Avatar Cindy Lu says:

    Great story, AJ. The kids of today still enjoy the true excitement of the train. My grandkids and I can be busy playing with trucks in Great Grandma Purple's living room when they will jump up out of the clear blue and say, "train". I don't hear anything until they are jamming towards the front door, bounding down the steps, and looking into the street with total awe! The roar, the rumble, the toot, and finally the glimpse about two blocks down, a 40 foot span of pure locomotive reveals itself. Wow, they are all about that two minute thrill, and me, I am all about that energy and that "throw their head back laughter" and joy to see another memorable train. Just reminded me, AJ.

  12. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Great article Adrienne, My last train trip to L.A. from Redding was memorable. I read, roamed, stretched, ate, knitted, looked out the windows at scenes of California, and did not miss the tension of driving a car for 10 hours. I wish I could take a train to work.

  13. Avatar Canda says:

    How could I forget the two other favorite train memories from my childhood! In the San Fernando Valley, about 55 years ago, there was a hamburger place called the Choo Choo. Similar to Yama Sushi's boats, the food would come around to you at the counter on a train. It was soooooo fun! The other wonderful memory was climbing on the trains in Griffith Park. I'm not sure it's even safe to take kids there now, but it sure was fun in the 50's. Whoo whoo!

  14. Avatar Vickie says:

    Love time spent on the train! Fond memories of trips on Amtrak's "Coast Starlight" and "Empire Builder" and "California Zephyr." And riding the high-speed train, TGV in France, from Paris to Bordeaux during a bicycle/train tour. And loved the cog railway in Switzerland up to the Jungfraujoch! I'm thinking of hopping the Amtrak's "Coast Starlight" from Redding to Portland soon for a short vacation getaway……spend the day strolling around Portland's downtown and gardens, bringing a picnic, then take the next train back home. No driving, no gas costs, no hotel fee, & eat one meal in the dining car!

    Check out Amtrak.com

    • Avatar AJ says:

      One of the most breathtaking (in my opinion) is the trip from Seattle to Wenatchee and points east. Going up over the Cascades and watching it all from the dining car is just . ..just… well. .. beyond description.