All Aboard!

I woke up this morning in an unexpectedly foul mood.  Just pissy and irritated, and for the most irrational of reasons, which only pissed me off more. If I have a reason to be irritated, ok, well fine then. But to be irritated for no good reason (but to know what that reason is, none-the-less) and be unable to shake it by sheer force of logic, well…that really pisses me off!  But what the hell, it is what it is, and I was all set to sit down here and just spew it all out.

But then in the course of organizing my day in my head as I drove to work this morning, I remembered something that I had wanted to mention, something really cool, so I’m going to write about that instead.  Maybe I can turn my attitude by simply redirecting my thoughts, eh?

So it probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that I am a bit under the gun on some writing I need to get done. (When am I not?) When I got in to work this morning I realized I am not as bad off as I thought–my school research paper isn’t due til NEXT Wednesday, not this one, as I had thought. But I do have a story for submission that is due by EOM, and although I’ve got a good start on it, I am not where I would like to be at this point (um, in the revising and polishing stage. Yeah, I am pretty far behind on it.) Anyway, the story involves a scene on a old-style Pullman sleeper car, the kind with open berth sleeping. They don’t make them like that anymore, and I had only ever seen one in a movie and in books, but I really wanted to see one in person. Well guess what? We have a Museum of Transportation here, and they have dozens of old train cars!

I’d known about the museum for a long time, but never considered visiting it. I’m not much of a car person, nor have I had much interest in big machines, trains or planes. In fact, I probably never would have gone there at all except for this story. But go I did–and what fun!

I grew up around trains. The itty-bitty town (~2,000 souls) I grew up in was a “railroad town,” a small community founded for the express purpose of providing a midpoint at which to switch train crews before the long haul across Nevada. My stepdad was a crew caller, and as such, he pretty much knew everyone in town. He knew who would be home on a Saturday night and who would be down at the bar (and which of our two bars the guy would be at.)  (And everyone knew him. Which meant that I couldn’t make a move without him knowing exactly what I was up to–but that’s another story.)

In any case, I spent my childhood listening to the mournful wail of the train whistles and the rhythmic clack of train wheels going over the tracks.  I used to stand at the side of the tracks as the trains thundered by, feeling the rush of wind from the cars and the pounding of the engines in my heart, and dream about hiding away in a boxcar and just letting it take me somewhere else.  Anywhere else, as long as it was away.  I’ve always loved trains, for that very reason, their power, their size, and the knowledge that they were going somewhere, somewhere I could hardly even imagine.

Later, when things got bad between my stepfather and I, though, the railyard and the trains symbolized him, and I was glad to turn my back on them when I moved away. Since that time, even though my relationship with my stepdad has repaired itself, I’ve never gotten close to trains, except in those odd, euphoric moments when I find myself at a train crossing when one goes by.

Until this weekend, that is.

The museum has literally dozens of cars and engines. And they have two restored sleeper cars of the open berth style, though only one is available to tour inside. I didn’t know this when I got there, though, and the place was so big, I realized I was going to need some direction if I was going to find one. So I approached a girl at the gift shop counter and asked her if they had a vintage sleeper car, the open berth sort, that I could go into.

“That’s all you want to see?” she asked.  I felt kind of bad at that. Here they have this great collection, and all I want to see is one car?

“Um, yes,” I said, a bit sheepishly. “I’m, well, I’m sure I’ll want to come back and see them all another time, but for now I’m writing a story and I need to do some research…”

“You’re writing a book on a train?!?”

“Well, no, just a short–”

“That’s so cool!  Is it a children’s book?”

“No, it’s just–”

“Hang on, I’ll find out where the sleeper car is…”  And she was off, telling three other employees on the way that she was helping a writer do research for a “book,” leaving me, red-faced with embarrassment, trying to insert a “no, it’s just a short story, nothing at all, really–” in edgewise and getting nowhere. This was enacted yet again when she escorted me to the correct area and introduced me to an ancient volunteer standing next to the train I wanted to tour, and then again, several more times, by that gentleman to everyone else that joined us while he gave me the tour.

Because he really did give me the tour. A personal 30 minute tour through 4 cars, including the one with the sleeper berths, all the while telling me anecdotes from his own time working for the railroad more than 30 years ago, pointing out little details, and thoroughly delighting me. Truly, I hadn’t expected to enjoy myself so much, or to learn so much.

The only downer was that after I got done, all I wanted to do was to share my pleasure with someone, and I couldn’t get hold of Ad, nor, of course, W.  But what the heck–I get to share it all here, now! So it’s all good.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll meet my stepdad there and we can do the tour together. I think he’d like that.

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