"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Rythmn of the Rails

There's something about trains. Little boys especially are obsessed with them thanks the bizarrely popular show about Thomas The Tank Engine coupled with the importance of the wonderful wooden train sets now so ubiquitous in toy collections. I was never a little boy, I never had a Brio train set and as a child I had never hear of Thomas and yet from my early childhood till now trains have been a  romantic notion.

We had a day trip recently, while Nana and Grandpa Alan were visiting to take in the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in combination. I do recommend the outing if you get the chance. It is a bit expensive so it was a special splurge gift from the visiting grandfolks. If you are trying to trim costs, feel free to cut the riverboat section. It was nice to be out on the cool river on a blazing hot day (100 degrees at our house further south) but the actual boat itself didn't offer much in the way of a unique experience. I think you get the same feeling from any boating experience. The train is where its at.

When I was a little girl I remember being pretty impressed and swoony about the freight train that ran behind my grandparents house. Even though I didn't grow up anywhere near a rail I never found the sound of the train going by annoying or disturbing, it was all about romance. As an adult I found out that my maternal grandpa was a genuine boxcar jumping hobo for a while in his youth, riding the rails to California to seek his fortune. After that I always thought of him when I saw train tracks curving off into the distance. I still do.

The rides on the Essex Steam Train vibe exactly how you want a nostalgic souvenir train voyage to feel. They keep it short but long enough to feel real, they use original cars with original seats and decoration (albeit updated with modern lights and such) and the giant engine is painted black and belches smoke exactly like a painting. The boys were open-mouthed walking past it to board.

One of the things I love about train travel in general is the way you feel genteel and historic while partaking. Even Manhattan's modern trains run on rails and rock you rhythmically, and the conductor still walks through the cars taking tickets just the way that Laura Ingalls and Heidi describes. There's little something about rail travel that is so unchanged, so elementally the same as in "the olden days" that it seems completely possible that we could really be in Anna Karenina or The Orient Express.We ought to all carry valises and watch for our trunks at the station!

I love the surreal view out the window of an airplane at the Cloudland above it all but the running visual commentary out the window of a train is an integral part of the trip to wherever you're going. Trains take you past waterfalls and deep into canyons, smoothly through quaint town centers and along the sides of mountains. I don't think I'd ever nap well on a train or get any reading done....too much to see. And lots of it untouched by car travel or billboard advertisements.

When Nana and Grandpa Alan went home they left the boys a large box full of new wooden tracks and cars for their train set, so much so that a new giant box had to be purchased to house them all. I am not a toy collecting queen but I don't mind this one. Link those cars up boys and squint down the squiggle of tracks you're arranging on the living room rug....I'm all for dreaming in that direction!
wooden toy train bridge
wooden toy train bridge (Photo credit: uccemebug)
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