Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trains in Black and White

The sound of a train whistle brings images of another era show in my mind's eye. Several years ago, I bought my grandson Dillon a wooden train whistle, but I really bought it for me. I wanted to hear its melancholy, haunting, yet reassuring blows... The sound reminded me of my youth. Growing up in Trenton NJ I could hear the distant whistles from the train station when the wind and temperature were right. It was often last sound I'd hear before falling asleep.


My first memory of riding a train is when I was four years old, I don't remember the actual ride, only the train arriving. My mother called attention to the cattle bumper on the train, and emphasis the train we were going on was a steam engine. I looked at the huge black engine with the steam puffing from its chimney. It was a replica of my brothers' Lionel engines except they used a white pill with water in its puffer to make the fake steam rise.


Their engines pulled trains though paper Mache tunnels, over lakes of mirrors, and past tree lined city streets, assembled on an enormous piece of green painted, thick cardboard that was set up in the basement year around.


Trenton is between New York City and Philadelphia, and we often took the train to NYC or Philadelphia. The train brought us shopping, seeing the Christmas show at Rockefeller Center, and once it brought it back from Florida. The memory of the trip is from the Glory days of the railroad, the exquisite dining car with its highly polished silverware, crisp white linens, and our porter a dark black man, with a radiant smile, and wearing a stark white uniform. That contrast of colors is etched in my memory not only because of the porter but also because of segregation.


The trip gave me, my first exposure to the arcane practice. . I don't know what town we stopped at, but it was down south. It was hot and I went to get a drink from a water fountain. My mother stopped me, and redirected me to another fountain, explaining the first fountain was for blacks only. In Trenton, we did not have segregation, and the idea struck me as being mean

"That's not right," I said.

"Ssshhh, I'll tell you later." My mom said. Later when I asked why it was, she said she didn't know. I never received a good answer.


The sound also reminds me of walking along the train tracks, and listening for an oncoming train. Both my brothers played baseball, first in the Little League and then in Babe Ruth. The train tracks ran behind the baseball fields, and after watching the baseball game for a while, I would take a walk along the tracks. It gave me a sense of traveling, exploring, and discovering a magical, unfamiliar world waiting for me to discover its wonders and beauties.


Trains have always been part of my life in one way or another. Flattening pennies on the track with my best friend Janice as a teenager, taking a train back home after moving to NH, or going to NYC with Janice thirty years after we put pennies on the tracks.


This summer I've been taking pictures to show the Glory Days of the railroad for a photo competition. Traveling to the various railroad stations, walking the tracks and photographing trains from my viewpoint, has renewed my love of the train, the magic, the mystery, and adventure. I hope my pictures captured my feelings.