I've always been fascinated by trains. Since I was about 5 years old, when my parents took me to Strasburg, PA, and we rode the short line steam engine there, I've loved trains. My grandfather also had this fascination, and he had a subscription to Railroad magazine, and he passed the copies on to me after he read each one. The photos of train crashes in the magazine really got to me. But, really, it was seeing these incredible machines in person that I found most amazing. My other grandfather (Pap) worked for the railroad years ago.
Pap told one horrible story about a time when the train he was working on hit a car at a crossing. The car had apparently stalled on the tracks. When the train hit the car, the man driving was tossed aside, but the lady with him landed right on the tracks. The train ran over her, severing her body in two. By the time the train got stopped, Pap ran over and was the first one to get to her. She was in shock, but would have brief moments of coherence. She would ask what happened, reach down and realize something was wrong, and fall back into shock. My grandfather said he will never forget seeing all of the blood, and the man that was driving the car kept yelling in anguish. Years later, Pap still could remember all of the details, and he would mention it every time we passed by the old railroad crossing (which is now gone, but had been unfortunately placed right at the bottom of a long hill).
My office building in downtown Silver Spring runs right next to the railroad, and for several years, my desk looked out at the tracks, so I was able to see the trains all day long. Some of the freight trains could shake the building, they were so loud. But, again, I was really fascinated by them. Some of the engines looked really old and beat up, while others were pretty nice. The Amtrak train would fly by every afternoon, too, as well as the MARC (commuter) trains, which would go by early in the morning and in the afternoon.
I had two close calls with trains, though in reality they weren't really that close. They only seemed like it because of the circumstances. The first was late at night. My father and I were on our way to my aunt's house, and we were cutting through the back roads of Uniontown, PA, on our way there. One particular road ran along a stretch of tracks in an industrial area. We could see that the train was barely moving, but we couldn't see much of it except the bright headlamp on the front of the engine. We approached the railroad crossing, which didn't have a gate, just the blinking red lights of the railroad crossing warning sign. I was driving, and Dad said I could easily cross the tracks before the train got to us, so I gunned it. As we were crossing the tracks, the engineer blew the loud air horn on the engine and it about scared me out of a decade of life. Dad laughed at me for the rest of the evening, though I know he was just as scared as I was. We had plenty of time, but the engineer has probably seen this kind of thing numerous time, so he blew his horn anyway.
The second incident was with my wife way out in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. It was late, and out there, with no street lights anywhere, it was pretty dark. Much like the first incident, we were approaching a railroad crossing, and the red lights were flashing, but there was no train in sight, at least that we could see. We waited a few seconds, and since we didn't see a train, we decided to drive across. Once again, the engineer used that moment to blow the air horn, and the blast shook me to the core. My wife screamed. Then we finally saw the train, with its headlamp the only light that could be seen. Anyway, we were pretty scared, but never in any danger. It made for a fun story.
Despite the close calls, I still love trains. My daughter and I took the train to Chicago (from DC) several years ago, and it was such a great experience. We were in a sleeper car, with our own room. it was a blast. There's some romantic and relaxing about train travel. It reminds me of being in a different era. If you ever get the chance to take a train trip, I recommend it.
Have a great evening, everyone!