November 14, 2009


Before the winds de-leafed us, one of my lunch searches for fall color took me down to Commencement Bay along Ruston Way. The sight of this train, perched on the trestle, caught my attention. So, it was back and under the trestle for a better look. Twin vivid orange engines, butted together were at the head of a shorter group of cars.

Trains pulling cars or second engines facing backwards have always disturbed me. Makes me kind of dizzy. Some would argue that's my natural state. Anyway, the combination of that and having this big one parked, by appearances, on a small strip of trestle was equally unsettling as I drove under it.

The unplanned stop with it's resulting photo touched me on a few levels.

Visually. The image is nothing fancy but I like it for a few reasons; that top heavy feeling with the train over water, the engine giving an odd sense of movement in one direction with the runner below moving in the other, the stenciled crow graffiti on both sides of the trestle base and the deep colors. It was interesting standing there with the underlying tension of the train possibly moving at any time. The engineer was sitting in the lead engine window looking ready to roll.

Memory. Coming from a small rural town, we had a small rural train station. It was privately built in the late 1800's, along with a handful of other stations in the area, to provide competitive transportation for agriculturally grown goods traveling to areas it had taken days to reach by other modes. The same goods, grown in areas close to main rail lines had a clear leg up prior to the development of these private stations. Of course the trains carried people as well, ultimately bringing my grandparents to town in 1913. Relative newlyweds in their twenties.

Both of their parents had arrived in Texas as kids on wagon trains around 1860-70. When my grandparents were children, travel across the country by rail had become possible, not necessarily affordable, but possible. Pretty significant travel option changes in a relatively short period of time. Ruts remain today on the most commonly traveled of the wagon train trails.

What's the point? It's this, when I was a child in the fifties, my grandfather (Pappy) would be gleeful when he heard a train engine's whistle. The drama of those big work horses, especially to those who had little access to other areas, still lived in him. Though he owned cars and traveled widely in them, he never lost his love and respect for trains.

When I was small, Pappy and I had a Sunday train station ritual. By the early fifties there were other trains running, but on Sunday morning a steam driven train would come through. Riding on my grandfathers shoulders, the two of us would eagerly wait for the whistling to begin. Once in full view and slowing, the sounds, sight, steam and rumbling ground vibrations made by that big black mechanical wonder were amazing. An experience that always made my grandfather grin and laugh. That laugh was infectious.

It wasn't long before age and design forced the old steam train out. In most places they were already a foreign sight. The switch didn't alter our Sunday ritual. When my younger cousin was big enough, off we would all go, he now riding Pappy's shoulders as I held his hand. Both happy, safe and experiencing something I doubt either of us will ever forget. That ritual of respect and celebration.

Time and age changed our Sundays and then in the late 1960's Pappy gave a final hat tip to the engineer. My grandfathers departed Irish spirit seemed to leave a mighty gap in our town and how I felt there. To this day, I don't see a train without thinking of him. Without feeling his childlike excitement build as we stood beside the tracks at the little train station. Without seeing him wave and smile at the engineer just as, I suspect, he did for his father who worked for the railroad.

My stop at the trestle in Tacoma resulted in a snapshot; an image, catching a moment in time and a reflection. Hope you didn't mind riding the rails with me for a bit?

Have a great week!


Basket gal said...

I enjoyed your story about Pappy and your photo is wonderful, too!

Sea Mist and Sunsets said...

BG, He was a real character. Have some other Pappy related tales to post when I get a chance. He often seemed bigger than life to me. In reality he wasn't much taller than I am, very agile and usually up to some semi-dignified mischief.

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